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10 Points: Sunderland, Nasri, Bale, United's Defensive Shell (Week 31)

The usual.

1) Man City and Minutes Spent Winning Man City enjoyed did a rare thing on Saturday in beating Newcastle: They got into the lead in the first half. This was just the 5th time this season that Man City took the lead at home, in the first half and held it without being pegged back at any point in the game.


Man City have a good record at home, but it's not close to last years home points haul, and the drop off in easy wins where City scored early compared to last year is striking. City have been pegged back, conceded first or have only nicked a late winner in too many of this seasons home games.

City just haven't been as dominant at home this year.

2) Nasri and The Soft Parade Or why Samir Nasri only really performs when at home, against weak opposition.

Pass Assists
Villa 7
Newcastle 6
Southampton 5
United 3
Swansea 2
Everton 1

Nasri has some strong pass assist numbers vs United, but apart from that game? Nasri is, essentially, a flat track bully, racking up the pass assists against weaker opposition. In the tough games Nasri either didn't create much or wasn't selected to play.

Using only this seasons data I think it is fair to say that Nasri either struggles, or is perceived to struggles and is thus benched, against quality opposition. Is this seasons pass assist numbers a snapshot of Nasri's career as a whole: A fine player, who feasts on weak teams but who is over matched against the tough opposition?

3) Goal Difference at Close Game State I have looked at CloseGS quite often on this blog but why? If we just use teams' performance when losing by a goal, tying or winning by a goal we keep 80% of all the data and time from each fixture and have the advantage of removing the goals and shots that don't matter (hammerings, blowouts where one team has quit and the game is already over)


Close Game State goal difference correlates perfectly with the top 10 of the Premier League table by points won. The bottom of the table not so much. Close Game State goal difference sees Wigan drop into the bottom 3, Sunderland and Norwich slide a place and Newcastle and Southampton rise above the danger.

Man United's dominance in this table is the best basic stat I can provide which explains why Man United are so far ahead in the league. When the game is tight (CloseGS) Man United far by far the best team in the league.

4) Bye, Martin. Bye, Sunderland? O'Neill is gone, the timing may be strange but, for me, the decision is not. O'Neill has presided over a weak shots team this year who have gained points on the back of a strong PDO. That PDO has faded in recent weeks, the result: 1 win in 8. Exit stage left, Martin.

O'Neill's firing shows how seriously Ellis Short is taking the threat of relegation, he is willing to fire an experienced, but struggling manager with just 7 games to play. It is a huge risk by Short with so little time left in the season, but his panic and fear may well have overwhelmed his ability to stay calm and make rational decisions. The time to fire O'Neill was after 10 or so games in the 2012/13 season when it became clear Sunderland were a pathetic shots team:


Sunderland were a dire SoTR team after ten games. Improvement was noted in the middle section, but Sunderland's ratio, as highlighted by the gap between the red and green lines, seems to be increasing again. This fits with and article that SoccerQuant tweeted to me on the topic of relegated teams.

In that piece (some) relegated teams start poorly, have a mini recovery mid-season and then slip back into their early season poor form. Sunderland may well fit that hypothesis.

5) Man United and The Defensive Shell I would like to look deeper into Man United's away form, but time is too tight right now. Instead I shall merely show you a couple of graphs.

Firstly, Man United's away TSR:


We see a consistent drop off in United's share of the shots as we move through the game states. This may be a normal function of score effects, though Liverpool, Man City and Tottenham don't exhibit this quite so severely.

Or, maybe Man United are surrendering more shots to the opposition (evident in the TSR) as a consequence of a deliberate tactical set-up. Once in the lead is it possible Man United play a very different game, one which involves limiting their offensive ambition and instead sees the team tighten up it's shape and sit deeper?

This fits with United's declining TSR through the game states, but allowing the opposition to attack may be a risky option unless you are confident that you can restrict the quality of your opponents shots.


The graph above shows United's opponents shots and what percentage were shots on target or missed/blocked. This graph shows us in clear detail that once Man United take the lead (and at Tied) they restrict the quality of their opponents shots. this is clearly shown by the declining percentage of opponents SoT as we move through the game states.

Man United are displaying a rare ability to block shots when 1 goal ahead (+1) and the rest of the decline in opponents SoT may be down to Man United forming a tight shape around their own box and not allowing quality shots (blocked). The opponents becoming frustrated at their inability to break through and then begin shooting from distance or bad angles (missed shots). Just a theory!

Last of all, Man United's away game at Sunderland: Moving TSR by time:


This defensive shell of Man United is not only evident by game state but may also be evident in terms of the decaying of time on the clock : United retreat into their defensive shell, expending less tactical currency on attacking intent and focusing instead on defensive shape and the restriction of quality shots as time ticks down (I think most teams display this trait).

It needs more work, hopefully soon.

6) Wonder Bale My admiration for Bale is pretty well documented. I believe he is a game changer right now at just 23 years old. I believe he has room to grow and improve and a projected price tag of £40m isn't too much to pay, nor is £50m if you have the money. I'd rather one blockbuster transfer on a player of that caliber than piecemeal 2nd tier signings that we as City fans witnessed in the summer of 2012.

I wrote about Bale here for Tottenham's SBnation site and the evidence is clear: Bale is a shot volume monster who also is displaying some pretty high number in terms of shots assists. He is a beast and I want him in a Man City shirt next season, no (reasonable) price is too high in my opinion. Probably won't happen, but he is one of the few players in the PL who would instantly improve Manchester City's attack.

His performance away at Swansea was eye catching but not out of keeping with his usual levels of performance in 2012/13. At Swansea Bale recorded 6 shots (3 SoT/2 missed/1 blocked), he scored a goal, registered a nice assist and made a vital block as the clock ticked down.

T'was just another day for the King of WHL.

7) Swansea: Declining Offensive Output and Quality of Opponent Swansea, as we know are having a bit of a barren run: 3 points in their last 5 games, x in their last x. Away form may always be an issue for Swansea, but this recent barren points streak is concerning.

The last 5 Swansea fixtures not only show poorer defensive performance (Shots/SoT conceded) but a big drop off in Swansea's attacking output:

Games Games
Per Game 1-26 27-31
Shots 13.77 10
SoT 4.81 2.6
Goals 1.46 0.6
Points 1.42 0.6

The numbers speak for themselves, but we must always consider the small samples and the quality of opposition in a broad analysis like this.

Swansea have faced Liverpool, Spurs, Arsenal, Newcastle and West Brom of the Hawthorns vintage. It's a tough run of fixtures, and it's no real surprise that Swansea have been overpowered for a good portion of these fixtures, this then brings us to realistic expectations of Swansea .

Swansea are a mid-lower table side, one that who may impress stylistically but will, ultimately, be overpowered by top 8 opposition-especially away. Swansea's share of the shots has been declining as the season goes on and their attack is a little imbalanced with Michu accounting for a decent percentage of it. This has it's own issues as Michu is somewhat of a regression case, scoring at such a rate (goals to SoT) that it is expected that his form will cool off.

Swansea need attacking help to lighten the burden on Michu, this is particularly evident in their average shot creation numbers. If this attacking help is not found it may well be a long season in the PL next year, but in the end we mustn't forget what a fantastic achievement it is for a club of Swansea's wage bill to retain their PL place.

Maybe Swansea can push on over time, but a lot more attacking help is needed before they can live with the top 8 sides in the Premier League. No shame in that, though. Temper those expectations.

8) Andrew Carroll-Premier League Goalscorer Strange isn't it, but with 4 goals in West Ham's last 3 home games (West ham don't score away), maybe Carroll might have turned a corner. Tiny samples, I know, but Carroll looked impressive on Saturday in scoring a trade mark header and then surprising everyone with a high technique volley with his weaker foot.

Carroll can never be blamed for the ridiculous £35m fee which will asterix his career from here on out, but what he can do is continue to try and improve and live like a professional. Maybe the first signs of that are evident in Carroll's weight. Having not seen him play for 2 or 3 months, I was mildly shocked by what looked like a leaner, far lighter player.

Here's to hoping that it leads to more goals for the players sake.

9) QPR And A Must Win Saying QPR must win today is a little bit of a mainstream media thing to say, but a cursory look at the table tells us QPR have 8 games remaining and currently sit 7 points from safety. With remaining fixtures against Stoke, Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool to come there may not be that many chances to gain the full 3 points like there is tonight against Fulham.

A loss tonight may be too much to overcome considering QPR's fixture list.

10) Goal Of The Week Bale. Wooof! Quick back lift, fade away volley. Added bonus of seeing his beauty of a sand wedge assist.