Monday, 12 May 2014

Tottenham 2013/14: Stats, disharmony & general craziness

'Well, Saint, it's a game of two halves.'

So said erstwhile Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves to his TV partner Ian St John way back when.  And for Tottenham, the season 2013/14 was a season of two halves; a season of Villas Boas and Sherwood, a season of selling Elvis and buying the Beatles only for them to disband & start staging naked love-ins, a season of transition & settling in & of disagreements & disharmony right the way through to the bitterly disjointed end.

On paper the successes, or lack of them, weren't too dissimilar to seasons prior. Nearly but not quite, although the nearly became 'nowhere nearly' and the not quite became 'not at all.'  A surfeit of organisation countered by a void of goals characterised the early months until the plan went more than awry at the Etihad.  Limping on until a dismantling by an ascendant Liverpool, the departure of Villas-Boas mid way through was nonetheless unexpected & i've maintained since that he was less pushed and more agreeably escorted from his office.  Never before have I sensed a man's fate be so clearly apparent as was his during that game & particularly in the subsequent interview.  Wearing the redundant air of a man choosing to quit before he was fired, I suspect the final meeting was quick & painless, along the lines of 'I'm going' & 'Yes, you are.'

Left with an unforeseen vacancy, Chief Dan Levy cast his net far & wide & found a barren ocean of managerial fish so thawed out a fish finger from the freezer in Tim Sherwood and let things be.  Also thawed out was Adebayor, the mercurial striker arriving with vigour & panache whilst as time went on others were cast back to the sea.  The existence of the elusive 'Lamela Mermaid' remains, to this day, unproven.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a 'Statistical Analysis' rather than a creative writing exercise & i've done plenty of work in trying to piece together a coherent story from the embers of what for many fans was 'another Spursy season.'

[Throughout this article I shall make extensive reference to my 'Impact Values'; these are a set of values i've created with the express intention of rating the players.  The midfield values have been littered through my previous Arsenal & Man Utd articles & consist of clear Offensive (OP) and Defensive Power (DP) values.  The forwards have a similar structure but with greater emphasis on the OP.  There is a bit of a chicken or egg situation here regarding inputs & the possibility of almost endless tweaks as a basis for future work, but where we're at is a good starting point. Also, as any model will include user-generated biases, i've attempted to minimise this by normalising the inputs and standing them against the league's top performers.

*NEW FOR MAY 2014* I have wrestled long and hard creating defensive values for the defenders, problems arose during the writing of this article for whilst Villas-Boas had a better general defensive structure, the nature of his play dictated that his teams performed far fewer defensive actions that Sherwood's & in a ratings system initially derived with a 'the more you do, the better you rate' ethos, adjustments had to be made to reflect team effectiveness.  Can of worms! Yup. It's been a journey.]

I should add that I am a Tottenham fan and one way or another i've watched the overwhelming majority of their games this year, so i'm not just some guy with a calculator here.  This is my team & I damn well care!

Now let's start with a question a lot of people wondered way back in early September:

What exactly did Spurs buy?
And immediately replace it with a different question.

What exactly did Spurs sell?
They sold one of the best attacking forces in the league, Gareth Bale.  This shows how he compares with the pre-eminent attacking non-striker in the league, David Silva (Silva is a useful comparison because he represents a player who isn't necessarily a goalscorer):
Yeah. Elite. Scoring over 0.90 OP is exceptional & these guys are off into the sunset.

I'll ask again: What exactly did they buy?
A like for like replacement? How about *shakes head remorsefully* Erik Lamela?
*through gritted teeth* Lamela is producing fantastic numbers at a very young age, I think they speak for themselves and show that signing him was a very good idea.*sighs*

Who else?
World renowned elite striker Roberto Soldado!
Here's what he looked like in Spain, with by way of arbitrary comparison: Chelsea's motley bunch from this season, an elite striker playing well (Sturridge) and a guy having one of the great seasons (Suarez):


'Chief Levy!'
'Quiet please, I need to concentrate while I write out this cheque for £26m.'
'Mr. Baldini!'
'Mr. Baldini is in Spain today, please be quiet.'
'But... I have been doing some research on Soldado...'
'ELITE STRIKER Roberto Soldado, you mean? Yes? What is it?'
'Nothing, Chief Levy, sir.'

And?
Capoue had good numbers. Anything around 0.80 DP is a good benchmark for a DM and quite often a pure DM will rate quite negligibly in the OP column. I'll compare him to Arteta who posts very solid numbers for a pure passing DM & Matic who appears to be that rare beast, a rock solid DM with attacking talents too:


Also?
Due to not featuring in leagues without (to my knowledge) widely available data, I can't analyse the other purchases in this manner but I can say a few words about each:

Eriksen: young, widely praised, talented attacking midfielder. probably Denmark's best player.
Chiriches: young, ball playing centre back, probably Romania's best player.
Chadli: enormous winger/forward, great technique & scores goals, full Belgian international
Paulinho: widely decorated, well liked starting Brazilian international central midfielder.

Soldado apart, as I've attempted to show, the transfer business looked very good on paper.  Even Soldado's claims were superficially seductive, being a free-scoring, often coveted player of great perceived nous and experience. 
 

From Villas Boas to Sherwood via the road of discontent
The lazy version is as follows:

'AVB? Couldn't score! Bloody useless, no penetration, just passing it around then give it Townsend & he'll larrup it into the stands. Sherwood got 'em playing, give 'em their heads and crack on, get at them, give it Adebayor-he'll score & Eriksen's a little maestro.  Still got stuffed by City.  And Liverpool. Twice.  Each.  And Chelsea.  Lost to Arsenal 3 times.  And West Ham 3 times.  Beat Man Utd though. That's it. Bollocks, really.'

The season can be characterised as a whole quite simply.  Tottenham performed miserably against the teams around them in the league and had a good general record against the rest of the league.  A piece of analysis based on that sentence (^) places them as 6th/7th in the league and sure enough that's where we find them, alongside the other flailing failures, Man Utd.

In terms framed around their win record and goals against the two tiers of opposition (Top 7 & the rest) Villas Boas & Sherwood have similar records:

Most fans have been able to perceive the differences between the approaches of the coaches.  Villas Boas favoured strict possession football, a fixed formation, a high defensive line & encouraged long shots but above all his team attempted to exercise control. Contrasting entirely with this has been Sherwood's varying formations, non-committal to defensive midfielders or indeed any assistance to the defence from midfielders, fluid positions & star focus (Eriksen, Adebayor).  Throw in a large portion of injury malaise & squad disharmony & you have a potent blend.  

But underneath the bonnet, how's this Tottenham car been ticking over? Are Villas Boas or Sherwood master mechanics?

Sherwood's teams:
  • Take less shots
  • Make less shots on target
  • Concede more shots 
  • Concede less shots on target (!)
Villas Boas' teams:
  • Dominated possession more
  • Kept more of the ball via passing
  • Restricted the passing efficiency of the opposition.
The varying importance of these individual statistics is less important that the overall trend here: Sherwood's teams have provided lesser underlying numbers against all types of opposition than Villas-Boas' have.
In particular, the shots for totals have seen a huge drop-off during Sherwood's tenure.

In my search to standardise the player defensive ratings and with a fair degree of mathematical manipulation, I generated some team defensive contribution figures (TeamDefCon) based around the amount of defensive actions a team is required to perform, the simplified theory being  that a better team will commit less defensive actions through dominance.  Here a LOW NUMBER is best:

Sherwood: 0.87
Villas Boas: 0.66

Big difference. 

The Players
*Applause*
Roy Walker (for it is he): You've chosen Tottenham Hotspur season 2013/14, so Question One: What do Adebayor, Holtby, Vertonghen, Eriksen, Paulinho, Capoue, Lamela, Chiriches, Dembele, Townsend and Sandro all have in common?'
Contestant: 'Looks like a list of quality players to me, Roy'
RW: 'It's good but it's not right'
Contestant: 'Hmm... have they all been marginalised or fallen out of favour at some point this season?'
RW: 'RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!'

RW: 'OK, Question Two: What common factor links Rose, Sandro, Adebayor but only maybe, Lamela, Dembele, Vertonghen, Townsend, Capoue, Chiriches, Kaboul, Dawson, Lennon & Walker?'
Contestant: 'Fucking injuries, Roy.'
RW: 'You're lucky this isn't live TV, sonny.'
Floor Manager: 'It is...'
*cut to commercial*

Same old Tottenham, always injured.
Here are the minutes played by each of Tottenham's squad under each manager:
Lloris is literally the only player to have a) not been injured for a long period of time or b) spent time out of favour.  Of the 7 summer signings only Paulinho and Soldado found instant approval, fitness & ubiquity under Villas Boas & under Sherwood only Eriksen.  This tallies pretty accurately with who were perceived to be distinct influences behind the transfers of each of the three. Villas Boas seemed entirely reluctant to trust other new players, particularly Eriksen & Lamela, arguably the two most potentially exciting young players in the squad and both were bit part players under him.  The contrast in their fortunes under Sherwood couldn't be more pronounced.

Dawson, Walker, Rose & Vertonghen have all found favour under both coaches & have generally played when fit, however, all 4 have missed chunks of time due to injury, giving time to Kaboul, Chiriches, Naughton & Fryers. In midfield, an area with many options, injuries permitting, Villas Boas was more democratic than Sherwood, a situation brought on by a surfeit of players at points during the autumn, so much so that on occasion, Chadli missed match day squads though simple omission, which at the time seemed harsh.  In time, the large squad size was needed with the demands of Europe and continual injury worries having great impact.

Sherwood claimed to be content that the club signed nobody in January but quickly promoted two players with differing backgrounds; the untried Bentaleb & the formerly AWOL Adebayor. In contrast, and not helped by injuries, both Sandro & Townsend quickly fell out of favour & Holtby, never fully trusted in 18 months at the club, was farmed out to Fulham.

On the whole season only Walker, Dawson & Paulinho played over two-thirds available minutes.  This is a damning statistic & suggests both coaches had very different ideas about the qualities of the players, injuries have impacted strongly & a first choice XI has been difficult to maintain.

Underneath all this, rumours of player dissatisfaction under both coaches have been rife with whispers about transfer requests (Vertonghen, Capoue), public disagreements (Sherwood/Sandro) & private disagreements (Villas Boas/Adebayor).  Indeed as we reach the end of the season there are potential question marks & gossip surrounding the futures of Lloris, Vertonghen, Sandro, Paulinho, Lamela, Soldado, Adebayor, Townsend and Capoue.  The camp remains divided but any agents looking to move their players on will do well to remember that these player's price tags are likely to be at the higher end of the spectrum and non-negotiable.

This excellent resource here: Tottenham minutes & injuries shows exactly how commonplace time in the treatment room has become.

Who did well?
1. Defence



Kaboul, despite somewhat limited minutes, has been Tottenham's most effective defender.
Yep. I wasn't expecting that either.  But any which way I plug the in the inputs it comes out that way. I've not adjusted for the 2 red cards he's received (Kompany gets reds, Sktrtel scores at both ends), which will have impacted on the effectiveness of his team mates in those matches & nearly all of his playing time has been under Sherwood but he simply does a lot of defensive things often.  Having being largely injured for the last two seasons, there had been talk of premature retirement or his leaving.  I'd suggest that's a little hasty.  Dawson, who deserves credit for surviving Villas Boas' reign & indeed cementing his place in the face of fan criticism is a good second.  Again, he's a player who does a lot, he heads the 'raw DP' figures under both coaches & has played more than anyone else.

Chiriches has had a decent enough first season despite at times seeming like an easy scapegoat but beyond him and especially on the flanks there is clear room for improvement.  Rose and Naughton's figures are adequate enough for back-up players but both have spent long periods of time in the first team, especially Rose.  First on the shopping list for many fans is a new left back & i'm undecided whether Rose deserves the benefit of the doubt due to age & Sherwood's less disciplined tactics; a matter that will surely be addressed by a new coach.

I'd expected better figures from Walker as the general fan view is that he's had a good season, but he was a mainstay in the team throughout the many poor defeats at the hands of top sides.  Vertonghen's figures are both dismal and disappointing.  After an excellent first season, it was thought he would star this year, but continual surliness, often due to being played at left-back, coupled with a lackadaisical general manner has been unimpressive.

More concerning from the figures is the decline in defensive standards under Sherwood.  The blue figures show that Chiriches, Walker, Vertonghen & Rose have all recorded far lesser numbers & as I stated before, Tim's teams have had a hell of a lot more defending to do; indicative of the reduction in control in games.

2. Midfield:


Attacking Midfielders:
Eriksen is the star here. Sparsely used by Villas Boas, his form under Sherwood has been nothing short of exceptional.  His DP number is low & I can only presume this is why Villas Boas was reluctant to use him; he was running an attack that emphasised hard work & defensive duties for all & that doesn't come into Eriksen's field.  It's the same issue Mata had at Chelsea but Sherwood has incorporated Eriksen as the core of his attack & maybe this is why the continually underperforming but tactically disciplined Lennon has been often played on the opposite flank?

Based purely on the Sherwood tenure, as a pure creative midfielder Eriksen has been only superceded by Silva in the whole league.  He has become the standard of player it was hoped Lamela would & represented fantastic value at £11m.  Surely one of the signings of the season.

Townsend's strengths & weaknesses have been well discussed by many this year, his wasteful shooting a negative & his ability to run & run a positive.  He was doing fine under Villas Boas who seemingly saw a touch of Bale or Hulk in him & gave him the license he denied Eriksen.  Still young & with improvement possible he remains an interesting option much like Chadli, who has taken time to settle, has played all across the midfield and shows decent promise, his strength & technique the raw tools that could be exploited & he has improved as the season has progressed.

Lennon's season has been miserable.  Feted by both coaches, he has consistently baffled fans with typically speedy but ineffective performances yet has  remained largely undroppable.  His figures under Villas Boas are that of a bad defensive midfielder! Under Sherwood, he's been under par all round. I can only presume his positional discipline has acted as a counterpoint to the attacking whims of variously Townsend & Eriksen.  Surely the time has come, arguably years late, to realise he'll never be a starter in a top 4 side.

Lamela? Reportedly injured since the turn of the year, he simply hasn't been on the pitch enough to generate a reliable rating.  A real shame & I can only hope he's persevered with next year; he surely will as with a question mark over his head, for now, his potential fee will be too high for any suitor.

Defensive Midfielders:
Capoue rates highest off limited minutes.  He has spent time at centre back, with limited success & been blighted by injuries & seemingly fell right out of favour under Sherwood, although rumblings of discontent around his attitude surfaced under Villas Boas too.  When he's been on the pitch, especially in the first matches he's played, he was dynamic & committed & performed well.

Sandro has also been blighted by injuries & seemingly fallen out with Sherwood.  When on the pitch he has rated like a solid defensive midfielder.  I've been concerned that his level of discipline has gone down & he's not performing at the level he had in the 2012/13 season; indeed he's not: he had crazy numbers then (OP 0.78 DP 1.06 Total 0.92, this is Ramsey/Gerrard level).  If his injury has caused long term damage it's a real shame, cos he was shaping like one of the best midfielders in the league until he blew his knee out.

In what is becoming a recurrent theme here, Dembele has been blighted by injury & may well have fallen out with Sherwood.  His performances have been slightly mixed; he still waltzes past players with ease & struggles to find a final pass & his skillset is different to anyone else in the squad but a hip injury that has reputedly been 'managed' hasn't helped.  He probably needs an operation but with a World Cup coming, it must be doubtful whether he's gong to have one any time soon.  Unconfirmed rumours persisted around his relationship (or lack of) with Sherwood.

Bentaleb has not fallen out with Sherwood & has shown great promise in a tough role for a young player.  He too rates as a solid defensive midfielder and shows a tactical maturity that belies his 19 years.  A hint of temperamental issues can hopefully be calmed in the future & credit is due to Sherwood for recognising he had talent & could step up. 

All-round Midfielders:
Holtby did fairly well from a limited run of minutes.  Never entirely trusted by Villas Boas, he was quickly cast out by Sherwood with rumours about attitude & was only this week the subject of a stinging rebuke from his current manager Felix Magath.  He had done OK at Fulham too (OP 0.65 DP 0.52 Total 0.58) but where his future lies must be uncertain.

Paulinho, from which big things were expected after a successful Confederations Cup, has had a curate's egg of a season. At times looking very good and at times looking pedestrian, he has put up numbers that suggest just that: average.  He's neither done anything particularly well or badly but has retained the faith of both coaches almost throughout.  Villas Boas played him too often & he looked tired in parts but the only time he spent benched was under Sherwood.  Following an expression of dismay in the press, he was quickly restored to the starting line-up.  A taster for what Brazil loves about him was cut short by the recklessness of Charlie Adam, who curtailed Paulinho's involvement in the one match he looked a world beater, leading to weeks out.

Sigurdsson has all the hallmarks of a squad player & hasn't impressed with his general play.  His goal record is good, his frequent anonymity not so good.

Forwards:


A greater contrast could not be found between the Villas Boas and Sherwood reigns both in terms of personnel and performance.  Villas Boas fell out with Adebayor & entirely trusted Soldado, who failed to thrive in his disciplined system, was often isolated & cut a frustrated and lonely figure.  Defoe provided substitute minutes before his North American transfer & the strike force was entirely ineffective.

Cue Adebayor: in from purgatory to provide a run of goals & more energy than had been seen since the Redknapp days.  An Adebayor with a point to prove is a more effective player than a comfortable one & he duly delivered plenty of goals whilst supplying good but not outstanding numbers.

Kane, an England U21 international, showed good promise when partnered with Adebayor in late season & had significant strength in finding positions to shoot and subsequently shooting. His actual finishing & decisions need work but the raw tools are there.  It is to be hoped he has played his way into the squad full time next season, he certainly deserves a chance.

Poor Soldado came good under Sherwood. Really?  Well, if you recall the numbers he put up in Spain from earlier in the article that weren't as elite as one might have hoped, they bear a close likeness what he has contributed in 2014.  This level of form, whilst better than under Villas Boas, is likely as good as he is, and whilst he's a likeable player, his pretense towards the elite is unbacked by the numbers.  A quick sale back to Spain might sadly be the best outcome for all parties.

There is room for improvement in the striking corps.

Goalkeepers:

Lloris missed one match this year after barely surviving a meeting with Romelu Lukaku's knee.  His form has been generally decent, but I lack statistics to back this up, so you'll just have to believe me.  I'm well aware that he's perceived to have a weakness regarding shots across his body and his sweeper style will always cause concerning moments, but particularly in recent months his standard of keeping has been very good. He has regularly impressed with his agility although his distribution has been varied.

Future plans?
Transfers:
I would recommend a versatile full back, a young striker and like for like replacements for any first teamers that choose to move on. Plus a back up keeper, cos Brad is er... very old.

Coach:
By the time you read this Sherwood may well be managing Norwich or something & it's a difficult choice for Levy to find the right new man.  As I think i've shown during this article, Sherwood's greatest failure has been failing to maintain the general underlying standards of Villas Boas' tenure.  Goals have been more forthcoming but rarely has the team looked coherent and organised, the defence has often been left uncovered & tactics have seemed largely arbitrary.
His interactions with the media, at total odds with Villas Boas cautiousness, have been painfully naive & unnecessarily honest & there have been far too many rumours of player discontent throughout.  I've no doubt that Sherwood's intent was positive but he's not been able to implement a strong tactical system & came up very short when faced with better opposition.  He can be credited with bringing through Bentaleb & Kane and introducing Vejlkovic & Pritchard to the first team squad & this youth focus is likely to be his legacy, and a very positive one at that.

What is to be hoped is that any future appointment has experience, a discernible style & an inclusive nature.  The squad currently appears fairly disparate & could do with coherence & motivation.  There is plenty of talent within & the right manager has an excellent chance to bridge the gap to the top 4, although we all know that will never be easy.

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Appendix

Players that departed:
Parker & Huddlestone departed last summer as the midfield was reshaped, here's how they and Livermore (loan) have performed in their new, less successful teams:
Not bad? Huddlestone has probably been Hull's most effective player & Parker is doing what he's always done: pirouette & release.  Livermore has done OK but his hopes of a future in the Premier League most probably lie in remaining where he is.

Recommendations:

I wouldn't even be writing this were it not for my consumption of all at the STATSBOMB site. Go have a scout around and read!
I can also heartily recommend these two articles if you've enjoyed what i've written; these guys are waaaay ahead of what I can do statistically:

Michael Caley: How AVB and Sherwood failed Tottenham
Ben Pugsley: Don't give Tim Sherwood the Tottenham job

Thanks for reading!

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Feel free to check back here over the summer.  I've been writing a weekly Premiership review since mid-March & intend to continue that next season.  In the meantime, i've got a world of data to process & will aim to get a few articles up during the summer to pique the interest.

Thanks for visiting 'The Big Ripple'

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