Any one that reads this blog regularly will know that I am a big fan of FourFourTwo magazine. I believe they offer some great football articles, blogs and the latest football news on their website – however some of the stuff that they produce in their magazine is second to none. I blogged in the week about the latest top 100 list and where United players feature but the December 2008 edition also has an amazing article on the statistics that can help to predict what can happen to your side using the latest coding technology known as the Powertable.
Gone are the days when you wack on your best eleven players and sit back to see who will be victorious. As football has evolved both tactically and technically, with the speed and pace of the game, so has the technology to analyse football matches and a side’s form. The Powertable is a complex system that splits the Premier League into four tiers, with United obviously being in tier one, and the analyses home form, away form, goals scored, goals conceeded and disciplinary issues.
Analysis of football isn’t a new revolutionary idea brought about in the past decade. A gentleman called Charles Reep was one of the founding fathers of football analysis. Now, I’m an advocate for good football which is why I don’t necessarily subscribe to Reep’s findings. Reep is credited for bring the ‘long ball’ game to England – something that has dogged the style of play in this country for years. Reep claimed that as most goals resulted in having three passes or less it was recommended that side’s get the ball forward as quick as possible. As any true football fan knows this is purely nonsense and any top footballing side will be moronic to adopt such a footballing philosophy. Of course a side with limited resources may have to resort to such a style of play if the players aren’t avaliable – but surely this shouldn’t be classified as a theory on how to play the most effective football. Imagine a world that didn’t have the smooth slick passing of United or the brilliance of Brazil in 1958, 1970 and 1982 or the creative genuis of a Johan Cruyff led Holland. I wouldn’t never recommend basing your playing style on such research – something the Norwegian football association did, with some success I might add, in the mid 1990′s.
So back to the Powertable and what does it show. Last season United had a 71% effectiveness rating against the tier one teams – compared to Liverpool and Arsenal who had 33% and 50% respectively. What is concerning is that we now have one point from a possible nine against the tier one clubs – with Liverpool improving their ranking already with wins over United and Chelsea. United won the title last season by winning a number of these top fixtures – all three of them at home and one win, one draw and one defeat away from home. The study also reveals that United struggled last season against the tier three teams – like Bolton, West Ham and Citeh – games that we all lost last season. If you can compare that to Chelsea (93%), Liverpool (67%) and Arsenal (83%) - United fall short with 47%. Reasons for this slump could be down to a number of things such as injuries, suspensions and also expectation – but it’s something that we will need to address now that Liverpool and Arsenal have increased their percentage for tier one.
Other interesting points that came from the study are Liverpool are vulnerable to concede when they attack teams, November will make or break Arsenal’s season as they play three tier one teams (already played United and Villa are considered a tier one team) whilst Chelsea’s home record is more of a curse than a plus point – of course thats all gone now but the result concluded that they drew a number of games last term compared to United who did lose at home but returned more points. For the reason’s behind this you’ll have to buy the magazine – and I would fully recommend it, great read.
So – what do you think of statistics in football? Are they worthwhile? Is football about creative expression and freedom to play in game of the unexpected and that we shouldn’t be restrcited by facts and numbers? Does the inclusion of statistics in football deminish the romance of the game? Let’s hope that United get a greater return from the tier three teams and that Arsenal and Liverpool don’t improve their tier one results even further.