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Do Man City Start Games Slowly?

It is a simple question and easily testable with a few numbers.

Alex Livesey

The Question

Do Manchester City start games slowly?

Why Are We Asking This Now

Paul Sarahs, who you should probably be following, tweeted that he thought City occasionally started games slowly. I thought it'd be interesting to see if Paul was right about that.

How Are We going To Answer The Question

I am going to record the time of every goal scored and conceded in the Premier League and then lump that information into 4 buckets:

  • First 20 minutes
  • Minutes 21-45
  • Minutes 46-70
  • Last 20 minutes.
Putting the information into these buckets should enable us to break down City's performances as the game decays. It will also enable us to check whether City actually do start games slowly. But there's a problem: goals are rare events. Luck plays an enormous role in the scoring or conceding of a goal as the game against Liverpool proved (think of Silva's goal, or Liverpool's clearance off the line, or Fernandinho's slip, or Silva's leg being too short!).

Seeing as goals are such rare events we will also be counting shots for and against. Shots will act as a pretty good proxy for control during a game. If a team is struggling with its shape and tactics in a game it is likely they won't register too many shots for and may conceded more shots against as a result.

So we are gonna quickly look at goals for and against and then take a deeper look at shots for and against.


This is City's goals for and against area chart.


The first thing we notice is that City outscore their opponents through the first 32 games. The frequency of goals for and against is seemingly random bar City's ability to outscore their opponents at the start and ends of each halves.

Total For Against Home For Against Away For Against
1st 20 17 2 1st 20 9 1 1st 20 8 1
Mins 21-45 17 9 Mins 21-45 11 3 Mins 21-45 6 6
Mins 46-70 25 8 Mins 46-70 13 1 Mins 46-70 12 7
Last 20 22 11 Last 20 11 2 Last 20 11 9

This is the data table containing goals for and against as a Total, Home and Away.

As we can see City heavily outscore their opponents in the first 20 minutes bucket. As expected, City aren't quite as potent a team away from home.


Now for the shots information.


The shots frequency still seems randomly distributed, but City are heavily outshooting their opponents except for a few glimpses of red on that chart. City are outshooting their opponents at the start of games which matches up well with the fact that City are outscoring their opponents at the start of games.

Lets look at City's share of the shots for those four buckets of minutes:

Shot Share % Total Home Away
1st 20 66.7% 73.6% 60.0%
Mins 21-45 60.7% 68.6% 54.0%
Mins 46-70 62.2% 62.7% 61.8%
Last 20 66.1% 67.9% 64.5%

If we look along the Total column we see that City are heavily outshooting the opposition during every bucket of minutes but there are differences between Man City's home and away form as we may expect.

At home, City are destroying opponents regardless of how much time has elapsed. Score effects be damned! But away from home, City are still mighty good posting >60% share of the shots in all buckets except one: minutes 21 to 25. I am not entirely sure why Man City are barely outshooting the opposition and only break even in goal difference during those minutes but it is not something I'd be too worried about.

City are a mighty good team except when playing away during minutes 21-45. It is likely a random blip that would even out during larger samples.


Have We Answered The Lead Question?

Yes, I think we have. Man City are not particularly slow starters. During the first 20 minutes of games Man City outshoot their opponents 2:1 and outscore their opponents heavily. The data tells us Man City are really strong starters in games, some may still disagree with the data and say "but they still look sloppy and disorganized" but those arguments just aren't manifesting themselves in the data where, if such claims were true, they probably would.

What Other Good Stuff Have We Learned?

City are a mighty good team with excellent fundamentals (shots share) and the manager should be credited for putting a system in place that enables these excellent players to succeed. City outshoot opponents across the board and this leads to scoring more goals than the opposition.

Any Bad Stuff Here?

Not really. City aren't as good away from home as they are at home but this is normal. City's narrow goal difference in the last 20 minutes of away games despite heavily outshooting their opponents has cost the club vital points in the title race.

Reasons for outshooting but not outscoring in those last 20 minutes? Errr, variance, luck, bad luck, lack of fitness, consolation goals by beaten opponents. Whatever it is it's likely not tactical. City's shots for/against rate remains very good during those last 20 minutes and it certainly doesn't appear as if City, as a general rule, are sitting deep and trying to hold onto narrow leads and paying the price for it.