We will be surprised and possibly shocked by certain events from now until the end of the season. But will anyone be surprised when Steve Bruce gets fired!? How shocked will we be if both Aguero and Costa remain fit for the rest of the season? Surely can't happen, right?
1) Chelsea Dominance
Chelsea. The 13/14 version of this team was good, like really good. Add Cortouis, who is an upgrade on Cech, and the frighteningly creative/clinical duo of Fabregas and Costa and this Chelsea team has shifted from a very good one to an elite one. The early return on these upgrades is overwhelmingly positive:
- 8 wins from 10
- Chelsea have scored 70.2% of the goals
- Taken 65% of the shots on target.
- Chelsea have spent over 60% of their game time in winning positions.
Chelsea's PDO is a little high but that is to be expected from a team who spend soooo much time in a winning position. This is a dominant Chelsea team.
2) Reasons Why It May Fall Apart For Chelsea?
I am hoping they have a really tough schedule full of tricky games against tough teams. Here's Chelsea's next 9 games:
Hope is often fleeting. There's nothing here. Liverpool and Southampton away? Is that something? I'm not sure.
If we want a thrilling twisting and turning tension-filled title chase we are relying on injury to Fabregas or Costa and/or a severe dip in PDO. #Pray
3) Southampton's Progress
Pretty cool story brewing at Southampton football club. At least 5 key starters were sold over a summer which saw a former ice hockey coach hired to upper management, an experienced European coach hired as manager and what looked like a patchy rebuilding plan.
At the 10 game mark Southampton sit on 22 points, their shots metrics are outstanding - some of the best in the league - and they have scored 80% of the goals that have happened in their fixtures. Tadic and Pelle, two imports from the recruitment minefield otherwise known as the Eredivisie, have settled well and lit the fucking league on fire. Nobody talks about Ralph, although maybe we should at some point down the road. Everybody is lauding this pretty yet structured Southampton side and there is no genuine talk of a Top 4 place (1.78 ppg needed from here on out) but I have an issue with this.
It's about a team who started the 13/14 season really well: the results were positive, the shots numbers were good, the save% was through the roof and they had enjoyed an easy schedule. Then at around the 12 or 13 game mark of this particular season, the injuries began to pile up, the schedule got tougher and the save% crashed through the floor and ended as the worst number in the league by seasons end. The shots numbers remained good but they couldn't prop up the fall in PDO. Who was that club?
What do Southampton's upcoming fixtures look like?
Southampton's save% is 79.2% and league average is 65.8%.
The similarities of this season and last season for Southampton are pretty spooky thus far. In 13/14 recorded 37 points in their final 28 games which is OK but not close to Top 4 good.
Will Southampton suffer another schedule/save percentage driven dip in form? Who knows. Southampton's excellent shots numbers (usually fairly predictive of future form) have, in my opinion, been driven along by the soft easy schedule. I remain to be convinced that this Southampton team is the best shots team in the league. Nor am I convinced that their Save% is real and sustainable.
Southampton's strong start to the season was a timely and soothing tonic to supporters who must have been concerned with the events of the summer. Yet, I'm not sure how long that strong start can continue with the fixtures on the horizon and a little regression in their shots numbers and Save%. But you know, that's fine. Southampton may still put in a sustained challenge for the top 4 and if they do so it will be the story of the season what with, you know, the media hordes tipping them for a relegation battle.
3) Man City Are Fine
City will be OK, they are an outstanding shots team who have a slightly below average scoring% which has led to a drying up of those butchering's they dished out in 13/14. The goals have dried up a little, the defense is still prone to the odd mistake - weak left side, as always - and the media turn on Pellegrini - a man some say they never like in the first place.
Talk of a crisis brews. And it is all bullshit, really.
It is tough chasing an opponent (both Chelsea and Southampton) who has been near perfect so far and it will always increase the scrutiny on any slight faults the chasing club has, but there's not too much wrong with this City team. It is an outstanding possession team, a dominant territory team with some of the worlds best players.
So, are there any problems? Are they players jaded? Maybe a little after the World Cup but it's nothing serious. Is their a little tactical inflexibility with Pellegrini? Possibly. He likes his system and there's likely not much that will force him to deviate from a winning formula.
City will be fine, the increasingly tiresome media circus will move on. Crisis talk sells papers, journalists are prisoners to short-termism. It's probably nothing personal against Man City.
4) Yaya Toure
I often hear that Man City are a simple tactical change away from drastically improving the dynamics of the team and it goes a little like "play Toure up top, like, as a #10 ya know". It's a nice idea. Can Toure play as a number 10? Yeah, he probably can. In fact, I think Toure could probably play anywhere if he put his mind to it and that includes playing as a genuine center forward. But the question is: would playing Toure as a #10 be best for Manchester City? I'm not sure.
We know Toure seems to have little interest in tracking back from midfield or cutting off opposition passing lanes as a responsible midfielder usually does. But what Toure does in that midfield is control games when City have the ball (around 60% of the time.) Toure is a splendid passer from deep, he has the Barcelona-like ability to receive the ball under incredible opposition pressing and retain possession, he can carry the ball out of trouble, he can break opposition midfield lines with his incredible pace and strength but most importantly he is Man City's "hub". Toure passes the ball around 90 times per game. His two midfield partners both pass it around 40 times per game, though this number would be higher if Toure wasn't playing in midfield.
If Toure was to be played as the #10 you lose his ability to control the tempo and passing from midfield. You lose his game management, you lose that dynamic ability to break lines from midfield, the defenders lose that one guy who can receive that "out" ball under any pressure, you lose the "hub". And what would City gain? Well, Man City would be a little more defensively responsible when the opposition have the ball (40% of the time), they may be a little more dynamic in attack having Toure's pace and power higher up the field.
We can't clone Toure. City either have his dynamism and pace deployed as a #10 or they decide that Toure as a the midfield hub, poor defensive work and all, is the best option for the team and for Toure.
5) The Perfect Manchester City #'10 isn't Toure.....it's David Silva.
If Pellegrini decides to move away from his favoured system, and the Lord knows he should for European games, then I would like to see Man City run this system.
Silva as the #10. Nasri on the right and drifting in to play in close proximity to Silva. Fernandinho plays right side of center midfield to shore up Nasri's drifting and Zabaleta's forward runs. I want Toure as the midfield hub and Milner playing a hybrid left midfield/shuttling role to cover any forward bursts that Toure or Clichy make. But really this is all about getting the truly devastating Silva on the ball in central areas in order to feed passes to Aguero or to the running full-backs.
If City fans want Pellegrini to drop the twin striker system and play a more creative #10 then that player should be David Silva and not Yaya Toure.
All things set piece.
7) Race For The Top 4
I set the bar for qualification for the top 4 at 72 points. This is the average points total required over the previous 10 seasons.
Only Southampton sit "above" the required points pace. Strange stuff.
8) Liverpool Replacing Suarez was an impossibility and the wise thing to do was to try and replace as much of his output as possible but spread out over several players. The signings haven't panned out yet, but there's talent in Balotelli, Markovic and Lallana plus there's the assumed continual improvement of Sterling to factor in. Long term Liverpool should be fine, but this year? Er, yeah.
Liverpool are still outshooting the opposition (5 shots per game) but that isn't translating into outshooting the opposition in terms of shots on target (0.9 SoT per game). Liverpool's scoring% is way below average after being way above average last season. Oh, and Liverpool's defense, when the team doesn't play deep, looks like this:
Liverpool's issues aren't that bad but without some improved defensive structure, a healthy Sturridge and some greater control in midfield then Rodgers is going to battle and wail as his team labours toward (away from?) a Champions League place.
9) West Ham
Are West Ham any good or are the media merely picking up on some good term form and turning it into "Big Sam is the greatest!"?
West Ham after 10 games are very close to a standard league average shots and shots on target team (50%) yet West Ham's Goal% sits at 57.6%. As always the gap between Shots On Target Ratio and Goal% is always the evil PDO (save% +Scoring%). Can we expect West Ham's PDO number to regress and thus dragging their Goal% number with it? I think the answer is probably yes.
But we can never be certain that their conversion percentages will regress. West Ham's PDO number was very high last year and it is very high at this early stage. Maybe West Ham are shooting closer to goal than their opponents are, maybe they are fashioning better shot quality (still not sure what that actually means) than their opponents. Maybe those things are true, but I have yet to see any evidence that location or "shot quality" is particularly repeatable over the course of a season for all teams.
PDO is a simple yet useful tool that helps us red flag teams whose results may potentially regress. Then we check to see if the PDO may be explained by team talent, or score effects, or tactics or Big Sam's moneyball methods, or just plain luck. Maybe there's all 4 of those elements in West Ham's PDO or maybe there's just one element to it.
West Ham are not likely to sustain a PDO of 113 at all game states or a 125 PDO at close game state. It may not regress all the way to 100 but it's probably going to come down a little. If that happens West Ham's Goal% number will more closely resemble the SoTR number which is currently 50%.
10) Player Data
Sortable player data, this time in a graph form. I have set the Time On Pitch cut-off at 70%. So we are only talking about full full-time players here (and a smaller graph.)
11) How Good Is Aguero?
Well, the man has 62 goals in 81 Premier League games and just how many of those games have been played when Aguero was far short of full fitness!
This year Aguero seems to have shifted into a higher gear in terms of his output:
- 6.2 shots per 90
- 3.3 shots on target per 90
- 1.3 goals per 90
- 20.8% shooting% (goals/shots)
The shots numbers through 700+ minutes are insane and almost Messi-like. The shooting percentage is a touch high, but it is not completely unsustainable like Costa's is (39.1%.)
Aguero is scoring all these goals due to his incredible shot generation, which may just dip from this high water mark as the season rolls on. It is worth noting that Aguero's 26 shots on target in 702 minutes is more than Aston Villa has managed in 900+ minutes of football and just 3 shots on target behind Burnley's total of 29.
Staggering stuff from Aguero and it is possible we are currently witnessing the career peak of one of the best strikers in the world.. Aguero is contracted for a further 5 seasons, so we are probably going to find out just where He will rank among the very best that the Premier League has seen. Let's all pray that injury doesn't take his body like it took Owen's. And Torres'. And Fowler's. And....
12) How Bad Are Burnley?
4 points, scoring just 20.8% of the goals featured in their match but the shots numbers look a little better. A little better does not equal good, though.
Someone should tell the people at Burnley that this isn't North America, they are not the Buffalo Sabres and the prize for coming last is not a Connor McDavid.
Hull are on course to become one of the worst shots teams in recent Premier League history. Hull, due, in part, to a difficult shots game against Arsenal (-21), are being outshot by 8.1 shots per game. A shot differential this severe puts Hull on course to fall just short of all the all-time record (my numbers, at least) for a negative shot differential, a record which is currently held by the 12/13 Reading team (-312 shots).
Are Hull really as bad as some of the truly awful shots teams on this list? Probably not. That Arsenal game skews things a little but Hull have shown little ability to control the shots count against the rest of their middling schedule.
So if Hull have been outshot this heavily then how come they have 11 points and only a minus 1 goal differential? Well, their shots on target differential is a lofty 16th best in the league, which is better than their 20th best shots differential, but Hull's form is really about the rate which they have been scoring their chances and the rate which they have been preventing the opposition from doing so. On both sides of the ball Hull are an above average team at converting/saving the chances that occur in their games.
A problem: neither converting those chances or saving those chances is a particularly repeatable skill.
Of the 5 teams listed in that graph above only West Ham survived. And West Ham did so by somehow being simultaneously terrible at controlling the shot count and miraculously brilliant at maintaining the high rate at which they converted their chances and saved the oppositions. It's a risky strategy.
Apologies for the quality. You try and find a Premier League goal on YouTube.
15) Score Effects
Interesting stuff here. Teams that are winning by a single goal, on average, sit off/forced back, cede territory, and are out-passed by their trailing opponents. Not only are they out-passed overall but they are out-passed in the final third, they are out-shot in terms of TSR, Shots On Target Ratio and Fenwick. All this leads to the leading team scoring 49.1% of the goals and the trailing team scoring 50.9% of the goals.
These numbers will vary over the course of the season and the numbers vary from team to team. It also matters if a team is home or away and how much time has elapsed in the game. But the general pattern is pretty clear across all of those metrics.