koonal shah's column
08.08.2002 How Very 'Sir' Les
21.08.2002 More Misery for Poor Sergei
10.09.2002 Love of my life
29.01.2003 The Football Genius is Leaving
20.08.2003 Forward thinking
03.01.2004 You Canuck Be Serious
01.09.2004 Oh, Fredi Fredi
23.3.2005 The Best Team In Europe
04.07.2007 Losing Is The New Winning
16.07.2008 2007-08; what do the numbers tell us ?
Over the past twelve months, I've witnessed Tottenham fans using statistics to do things such as:
(i) promote the merits of a generally maligned player – e.g. "Bent's goals-per-minute ratio is actually pretty decent."
(ii) downplay the achievements of a generally well-regarded player – e.g. "Berbatov's shooting accuracy isn't all that."
(iii) confirm conventional wisdom – e.g. "we always concede last-minute goals!"
Personally, I've never known quite what to make of such claims. With the old adage "you can show anything with statistics" in mind, I usually try to approach conclusions based on numbers alone with a degree of caution. However, I was keen to see if I could uncover any interesting trends myself, and so decided to spend a day analysing Tottenham's season, without making a conscious effort to reach any conclusion in particular.
The data is admittedly limited. All I used was a list of Tottenham's competitive results in the 2007/8 season and a list of the players who participated in each match. My aim was to investigate whether the inclusion of a particular player had a systematic impact on the team's fortunes.
I made a few potentially controversial decisions that should be borne in mind when assessing the findings. First, I only considered a player to have participated in a given match if they were on the pitch for 45 minutes or longer. This is to avoid unfairly attributing a result to a late substitute or to a player who was withdrawn early due to injury. Of course, the problem with this method is that it fails to account for 'super-sub' appearances such as that of Darren Bent against Portsmouth, in which he was arguably the architect of our victory despite only being on the field for 20 minutes.
Second, the overall assessment excludes any player who made less than five appearances over the course of the season. If I were to relax this rule, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Chris Gunter would come out top in just about every category. For example, Ekotto appeared in just two matches – one of which was a 6-1 victory – and it seems overly generous to let him take all the credit. Applying a five-match minimum limits the extent to which a player's overall rating is affected by similarly anomalous results.
Third, I made no adjustments for the difficulty or importance of each match. However, I did attempt to rank each team in order to measure the average standard of opposition that each player faced over the course of the season. My rankings were based on the 2007/8 Premier League final standings (Manchester United ranked as 1, Chelsea as 2, etc.). Ranking cup and European opposition was less straightforward, and I rather arbitrarily decided to rank PSV as 4.5 (between Liverpool and Everton), Blackpool and Anorthosis as 20 (surely nobody should be rated lower than Derby?!) and all other UEFA cup opponents as 11 (mid-table Premier League quality).
Finally, I counted our extra-time victory over Chelsea in the league cup final as a win rather than a draw.
Of course, limited data mean limited conclusions. Crucially, no measure of the quality of a player's performance is considered. This can generate misleading conclusions that can be either excessively harsh or excessively lenient. Jamie O'Hara, for example, distinguished himself in the 2-1 defeat against Arsenal in December, whilst Kevin-Prince Boateng will take credit for the 3-0 victory over Derby despite having put in a dreadful performance. However, short of applying my own (probably biased) judgement I feel that this is the most accurate way of approaching the analysis.
My basic analysis also implies that each result depends on the performance of 11 individuals, when in reality we know that it is more about how the team performs as a unit. For instance, it is all well and good saying that we conceded less with Cerny in goal, but to what extent is this due to the fact that he had a stable, experienced defensive duo playing in front of him? An in-depth study of the various permutations and combinations regarding team selection would be fascinating, but is beyond the scope of this article.
Now to the results. Tottenham's 2007/8 season was characterised by underperformance and inconsistency. Overall, we won 39% of our matches with an average goal difference of approximately +0.40 per match. Excluding cup and European matches provides a gloomier view: in the league we won only 29% of our matches with an average goal difference of 0.13. According to my subjective ranking system, the average difficult of opposition lies somewhere between West Ham and Newcastle.
The numbers suggest that our top statistical player was Ledley King. We were victorious in an impressive 50% of matches in which our captain played a part, recording an exceptional average goal difference of +0.90. However, it is worth noting that in spite of the view that King's presence in the team delivers a sense of stability in the defence, this remarkable goal difference is driven not by goals conceded, but by goals scored. Indeed, the team conceded an average of 1.70 goals in each match that King played in – only Bale's figure of 2.11 is worse.
King's record is even more remarkable if you consider the fact that he was often brought in for particularly difficult matches such as those against Arsenal and Chelsea. Overall, King and Woodgate tended to face a much tougher quality of opposition than the overall club average, whilst the likes of Bent and Defoe tended to play against weaker teams.
Another strong performer was Young-Pyo Lee, who played in 29 of Tottenham's 57 matches. Lee's inclusion in the team saw a healthy win rate of 45% and an average goal difference of +0.59. Bent and Defoe both do well in terms of the win rate measure, but as mentioned above this is likely to have been because they tended to start against the weaker teams. Rather surprisingly, Aaron Lennon comes out well above average on all measures, suggesting that perhaps he didn't have quite as bad a season as many are making out. A possible explanation for this finding is simply that our lack of decent options on the right meant that even an off-form Lennon was likely to do a better job for us than any possible replacements. The much-maligned Younes Kaboul and Kevin-Prince Boateng also performed well compared to the team average.
One of the key problems with this analysis is that it doesn't enable strong conclusions to be made about players who featured in the majority of matches – rather, it is more useful for analysing the impact of fringe players who took part in, say, 10-30 matches. For example, Steed Malbranque appeared in 52 of Tottenham's 57 matches and so will always show up close to the overall team average for any given measure – we have very little indication of how the team fares without him. With this is mind, however, it is interesting to note that we tended to perform slightly worse – both in terms of win rate and goal difference – with Dimitar Berbatov in the team.
The weakest performers were Gardner, Bale, Rocha and O'Hara. In fairness to the first three, they managed only twenty appearances between them, almost all of which occurred during the turbulent August-October period. Despite some very promising moments, O'Hara tasted defeat in 50% of his outings last season and suffered an average goal difference of -0.36. If this form were to be carried across the entire season, it would have meant relegation.
By most accounts, January arrivals Jonathon Woodgate and Alan Hutton have settled in well and are now key members of Tottenham's first team. Both are associated with a below-par win rate but an impressive loss rate - this is consistent with the fact that we took our foot of the gas towards the end of the season, culminating in a run of four consecutive draws.
The central midfield position provides some interesting results. For the reason outlined above, Jenas scores close to average on the basis that he played in most matches. Zokora and Tainio perform poorly on all measures, although the latter's case is helped by the fact that he tended to be brought in against relatively difficult opposition. Tom Huddlestone, one of those controversial players who usually generates a divide in fans' opinions, comes out looking like an important player for the club. With Huddlestone in the team, Tottenham score more, concede less and win a lot more points.
Finally, on the goalkeeping front Paul Robinson conceded more goals per game than Radek Cerny (1.51 compared to 1.15). The difference in quality of opposition was negligible, but actually in Robinson's favour.
So, what can we draw from these results? The most striking conclusion is one that most of us already knew – Ledley King is a vital player for Tottenham Hotspur. If he had been fit and available at the start and end of the season, it is likely that we would have finished much higher than 11th.
We can also see that we appear to be better off with the likes of Lee and Huddlestone in the team than out of it. Both players have been linked with moves away from the club, but the stats suggest that they can make useful contributions next season.
Finally, we can conclude that statistics (at least when considered in isolation) don't really mean much in themselves. Earlier, I suggested that Boateng's stats might have been biased by the fact that he has occasionally been the weak link in an otherwise satisfactory performance. A detailed examination of all the data confirms that this is indeed the case. Conversely, an evaluation of Malbranque's season is hurt by the fact that he was one of the squad's most consistent players.
I leave you with a selection of some of the more interesting standings.
% of matches won
% of matches lost
Average goal difference
Average goals scored
Average goals conceded
Average opposition quality
2007-08 statistical team of the year
Matchday Diary: Tottenham vs Aston Villa,
December 26th 2006
As I say every December, all I really want for Christmas is three points.
Once again, Santa delivered !
Best Team In Europe
money is the primary concern: last year’s Porto-Monaco final was
clearly far less lucrative than, say, a showdown between Manchester
United and Barcelona. But surely the competition’s purpose is to
determine the best team in Europe, not ‘the best team out of all of
Europe’s biggest and most powerful’ ? The achievements of Porto
provide inspiration to everyone – they have shown that with sound
management and hard work, anything can be achieved. The fact that people
like Gill have suggested that such an outcome is “not good” does
nothing but undermine their success.
season, we’ve witnessed something truly special at Everton, a club
with, and I think I’m being pretty kind here, a playing squad that can
be described as average at best. Admittedly, they’ve wobbled a bit
lately and might well have slipped down the table by the time you read
this, but as I write, they’re in fourth place – and I rate their
season as having been nothing short of outstanding. Although I have no
attachment towards the club, I am delighted to see them up there
(imagine us in their position, and Arsenal in the position of their
local, ‘superior’ rivals Liverpool, and you’ll understand why).
But Everton aren’t exactly TV-friendly, and Gill’s proposals imply
that the game is better off if such ‘fairytales’ never happen again.
Effectively, the big clubs seem to want to create a closed shop in order
to ensure that small fish like Everton and Porto aren’t given the
opportunity to obstruct their path to world domination.
Canuck Be Serious
'More misery for poor Sergei'
Football Genius is Leaving…
is great at breaking up play and ‘winding up’ the opposition.
And he takes an excellent throw-in. Granted, his ball skills are
close to non-existent and his passing is a little wayward at times, but
I feel much more comfortable in the knowledge that Freund is playing in
midfield rather than his rivals for the position (Tim Sherwood and the
recently departed Stephen Clemence). It is no consequence that
after Freund got injured in the Worthington Cup semi final last year,
the club’s season went downhill and we became much more fragile at the
has said that if Freund were to score on the final day of the season, it
would go down as one of the greatest moments in the history of the
club. I agree, but personally I wouldn’t be too disappointed if
he didn’t score. Steffen’s goal-to-game ratio is what makes
him the hero that he is.
Love of my life
have just read Mark Waldon’s ‘this illusion’ column (http://www.mehstg.com/dis_illusion.htm),
in which he speaks of how his life as a Spurs supporter has become so
miserable that he wants ‘a divorce’ from the club. A very
interesting read. He asks whether it is possible to divorce your
team … my answer to that question is yes. It is widely believed
that once you begin to follow a football club, you can’t then change
your mind and turn your back on them. But that’s rubbish …
just look at Sol Campbell. Do you really think that he still
considers himself to be a Spurs fan? Many players talk about their
‘boyhood club’ in interviews – referring to the club they USED to
How very 'Sir' Les
Sherwood and Les Ferdinand have their similarities. Both arrived at
White Hart Lane slightly overpriced. Both have underachieved, due to a
mixture of poor big-match performances and injuries. And both now find
themselves on the bench (or even in the stands) in most fans' ideal
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