Statistics support Swedish fans’ scepticism about Lindelöf

Last week, Noa Bachner wrote that, when it comes to the Swedish national team, the second hottest issue in his mailbag is Victor Nilsson Lindelöf. Many Swedes, it seems, don’t think the Manchester United defender lives up to the hype.

Knowing Swedes as I do (having lived here 11 years) I have come to see that this sentiment is an inevitable part of their national characteristic. The €35 million that took him to Manchester United marks him out as someone who might be getting too big for his boots. With the strange exception awarded to Zlatan (who always has first place in Noa’s inbox), Swedes don’t like it when someone is made out to be exceptional without a really exceptional explanation. And this, to many, is what has happened in Lindelöf’s case.

Noa argues, rather convincingly, that these Swedes are too hard on their star defender. But I decided to run the stats. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t look good for him. Here is his defending.

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Manchester United’s Top Six Players

David de Gea
Without question, Manchester United’s best performing player of the 2017-18 season was David de Gea. He finished the season without any medals but claimed a couple of personal accolades. De Gea won the Golden Glove after picking up 18 clean sheets over the course of the season. He was also voted in the PFA Team of the Year and was named the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Season by the fans for a record-breaking fourth time.

He made 115 saves over the course of the season with an 80% success rate with the shots he faced. He made zero errors that lead to goals, compared to the 24 made by Petr Cech, 15 by Hugo Loris and three by Thibaut Courtois.

There are a few games that stand out, with his excellent saves winning United games and enabling them to finish second in the league, but none more so than the 3-1 over Arsenal at the Emirates.

 

De Gea doesn’t make it in to the top five using Twelve Football’s scoring system though, limited by his position in goal making it unlikely for him to gain any points for off ball action or shots. But he was head and shoulders above every player at the club this season.

Romelu Lukaku
The Belgian striker ended his first season at United as the club’s top scorer with 27 goals in all competitions.

When you consider that United created 70 fewer chances than any other top six team, Lukaku’s goal return is pretty impressive.

The striker wasn’t just a scorer though, but a creator of goals too, with Paul Pogba the only United player to assist more than him. Lukaku claimed more assists than the likes of Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero and Eden Hazard.

Having been criticised for failing to impress against the teams at the top, Lukaku was in fine form as United beat his former club Chelsea at Old Trafford. Having gone a goal down, Lukaku scored the equaliser before assisting Jesse Lingard’s winner. United will be left to rue his absence from the starting line-up in the FA Cup final against the same team through injury.

 

Lukaku is ranked the third best player by Twelve Football with over half his points coming from his contribution with shots, which should come as no surprise, given he’s largely been the only player Mourinho has used as a centre-forward this season.

Paul Pogba
The Frenchman has been strongly criticised this season, from pundits, the media and his own manager alike. That likely has more to do with how short of his potential he is currently performing, rather than his general contribution. For the most part, he did OK for United this season, with the odd poor performance.

When he plays well, United tend to follow suit, such is his influence on the team. Despite going off the boil for chunks of the season, only four players have more assists than him in the league this season, and all four of them had more playing time than him.

When played on the left of a midfield three against Everton at Goodison Park he stole the show. His stand out performance was against Manchester City at the Etihad, when he denied United’s hated rivals from being the team to win the Premier League after the fewest number of games.

After a disappointing first half, he came back in the second looking like a totally different player, scoring twice to draw the game level before Chris Smalling bagged the winner.


Per minute, Pogba is ranked the best player of the season by Twelve Football, with his influence on the attack his greatest strength. But he is still a long way from playing the way on a consistent basis the supporters believe he is capable of.

Jesse Lingard
Having joined the club as a seven-year-old, Lingard has plenty of United supporters who have been willing for him to do well. Before this season, he had claimed crucial goals in two Wembley cup finals, but had failed to play consistently well over the course of a season.

Under Jose Mourinho, Lingard has performed well, with the manager a clear fan of the forward. He claimed 13 goals and 5 assists in all competitions, a return of a goal or assist every 119 minutes he was on the pitch.

However, his most memorable performance of the season was in the aforementioned game against Arsenal when he scored two goals in United’s 3-1 win and Milly Rocked in celebration.

 

Lingard is ranked the 12th best player for United, with his attacking scores his best asset. Yet what comes as a surprise is how low his score is for off the ball action, given this is widely regarded as one of his greatest strengths. His pace and ability to run behind the defence drags players out of position and creates space for his teammates but this isn’t recognised by his off the ball score, where he is deemed less effective than the likes of Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones.

Nemanja Matic
The Serbian midfielder was reunited with his former manager Mourinho at United this season, after Chelsea made the mistake of letting him leave with the hopeless Tiémoué Bakayoko his replacement.

Matic started the season exceptionally well but went through periods where his lack of mobility was exposed and he failed to have the impact he made at the start of the season.

His campaign will be best remembered for his 91st minute winner against Crystal Palace after United had gone 2-0 down, where he blasted the ball in to the net from outside the box.

The best performance of the season from him came against Chelsea though when he totally bossed the midfield.

 

The midfielder was ranked United’s best player of the season by Twelve Football, with, surprisingly, his contribution to the attack his biggest strength.

Ashley Young
Some United fans can hardly believe that Ashley Young is still at the club but he can owe his lengthier stay to his ability to reinvent himself as a full-back, having played most of his career on the wing.

While his defensive game does have flaws, with pacey and tricky wingers his downfall, he is always ready to put in a crunching tackle and crosses the ball better than anyone at the club (which, admittedly, doesn’t mean an awful lot).

Young claimed four assists this season, which is as many as Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Alexandre Lacazette, and more than Gabriel Jesus, Marcos Alonso and Harry Kane.

His best performance came against former club Watford when he scored two brilliant goals in United’s 4-2 win.

 

Young’s greatest strength, according to Twelve Football, is his work in attack, which paints an accurate picture. He is ranked third behind Matic and Paul Pogba.

Nick Pope – A revelation for Burnley (and for England?)

10.09.2017 – Matchday Four of the 2017/18 Premier League season

Burnley v Crystal Palace (at Turf Moor)

3.36pm: Burnley’s captain and talisman, Tom Heaton, came to claim a cross, before falling awkwardly to the ground in the penalty area. Following a lengthy stoppage in play, the Clarets’ stopper was helped off the pitch in obvious discomfort, with what appeared to be a very serious shoulder injury.

Embed from Getty Images

To many of those watching, including several of Burnley’s own supporters, there was concern that this might have marked an end to the Clarets season, or at the very least, the start of a much more difficult survival battle.

But from the bench came the relatively unknown Nick Pope. Here was another goalkeeper who, like Heaton, had been plucked by Burnley from League One, following his team’s relegation from the Championship at the end of the previous season.

What happened for the remaining 54 minutes of the Crystal Palace match, and then for the other 34 matches of the Premier League season was remarkable. Firstly, a hard earned 1-0 victory for Burnley, and a clean sheet for Pope, even though official statistics do not credit it as such, as he did not play the entire ninety minutes.

There then followed a series of performances in goal that belied Nick Pope’s previous lack of top flight experience. It doesn’t necessarily require in-depth data analysis to know that Pope’s contribution to Burnley’s season was a vital one, but it can help to provide some important context.

A plethora of statistics, from various sources, suggests that Pope had become a vital replacement cog in Burnley’s defensive system – goals conceded, clean sheets, xG improvement, number of saves, number of high claims, all of which were impressive in their own right.

However, the data available from Twelve, which I have used and posted at various stages through the season, shows something else, in addition to information from elsewhere. Points are awarded for actions throughout each match, and although for goalkeepers there may otherwise be a tendency to focus on the activity in the penalty area, the system also credits other contributions, most notably in terms of attack.

Nick Pope topped the Twelve leaderboard when it came to attack, with the plot below highlighting his most important contributions.

Nick Pope went on to win all but two of the thirteen individual Player of the Year awards at Burnley FC’s supporters’ groups awards evening, and also earned the overall Player of the Season and Players’ Player of the season awards too. The subjective consensus was most definitely in Nick Pope’s favour, but it can also be helpful to consider other methods of classifying performance.

In fact, there are several other Burnley players who could also stake a claim to the overall Player of the Year award. Based on the Twelve data model, the table below shows the players who rank more highly, using points per minute (excluding Dwight McNeil, who only came on for the last few minutes of the final match):

 

Of the other highest scoring Burnley players, the three at the back who have shared central defensive duties, James Tarkowski, Kevin Long and Ben Mee, lead the pack. They are followed by two more offensive players, striker Chris Wood and midfielder Robbie Brady, who each only played less than half of the season. Each player displays their own particular strengths in each area to which points are allocated.

It helps to have data to support decision-making processes, rather than to use data blindly, but few would argue with Nick Pope’s status as Burnley’s Player of the Season. More recently, his call-up to the England squad for the World Cup in Russia is a well deserved reward for a very successful first season in the Premier League.

Spurs Player of the Season: Do Kids Know Best?

The Tottenham membership have ended the 2017/18 season divided among a generational line. Jan Vertonghen won the Members’ Player of the Season and Christian Eriksen the Junior Members’. Is much lauded experience the key to identifying Spurs’ Star or are the new generation of analytics awoken youth wise beyond their years?

Eriksen comes out top on Twelve’s ranking system with Vertonghen coming in 3rd to sandwich Harry Kane.

It is a testament to both his award-competing teammates and the standards set by the striker himself that he could record a 30 goal League season and still be deemed to have had a slightly off season.

Although the younger fans have opted for the more attacking player if they were making their selection based on goals and excitement then Kane would have been the obvious choice. Instead they collectively voted for the dainty Dane, a player of subtlety and guile.

Christian Eriksen

The Twelve widget captures him not only performing at various stages throughout the season but able to pick out a pass from anywhere on the pitch.

 

Eriksen has played wherever needed this season; left, right, central and even deep, sometimes all in the same game.

Whether this season’s consistency has come from within his own growth – mental, physical or technical – or whether this is simply a case of the team around him providing him with a more consistent platform of time on the ball and making the right movements around him is a matter of debate. The latter somewhat calls into question the very nature of individual awards.

 

Jan Vertonghen

The senior members’ pick too, has demonstrated a special consistency but this is less positional, and more about the various phases of the play. Vertonghen has trotted out an unwavering defensive solidity but combined this with line-breaking forwarded passes, mazy, one-footed, runs with the ball and aggressive switches of the play.

Again, stylistically, this is nothing new from the Belgian but taken to new levels this year. Perhaps this was a vote of relief for the One Hotspur members who have seen it all. This season they witnessed Jan shining in the absence of his countryman Toby Aldweireld.

Alderweireld asserted himself as the best defender in the Premier League over the last two season before missing the vast majority of 2017/18, at first through injury, and what now seems fairly clear to have been extended due to contractual disputes.

To have Vertonghen immediately step up and fill his place, and in turn new boy Davinson Sanchez turn in a highly impressive debut season, has provided an immediate and easy solution to what could have been a quite catastrophic problem.


So who wins?

For my two cents, I think oldies’ favourite Jan Vertonghen just edges it, but to leave Christian Eriksen un-celebrated would be an injustice of it’s own. On balance an even divide of individual awards between the two ex-Ajax stars probably captures the mood on a very close call.

Salah, Firmino & Mane all make Twelve’s top 5 Liverpool players, but should Lovren and Matip be there too?

Using algorithms and points to assess the performance of footballers is nothing new. But how do Twelve shape up against the likes of WhoScored and Squakwa? I’ve taken a look at Twelve’s stats for Liverpool’s players to see if their ranking for the Reds’ player of the year matches what Kopites would believe.

However cynical you might be about football statistics, and whether you don’t really care about how many goals and assists he’s racked up, you’re going to say that Mohamed Salah is Liverpool’s player of the season, right?

It’s a relief for all concerned to see Salah atop this chart. The runner up aligns with public perception too; I ran a quick Twitter poll to see who Liverpool’s non-Egyptian player of the year is, and Roberto Firmino was the runaway winner with over 90 percent of the vote.

Few Reds fans would disagree with the notion that Sadio Mané would be in the top five either, but Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip? Careful now, Twelve, this is how football stats pick up a bad reputation.

They have an advantage over some of their colleagues in that they are ranked sixth and eighth respectively for minutes played in the Premier League, but amending the chart to ‘Points Per Minute’ does not dislodge them from the top five.

Defensive contribution is highlighted in red, so of course the players in third to fifth here would perform well as it’s what they’re paid to do. But do they really contribute to attack (which is the green bar, and excludes shots) more frequently than Salah? And not just them either; there are 15 players who contributed more points per minute to attack than the newly crowned Golden Boot winner.

It seems Twelve rates contribution from further back on the field more highly, as the likes of Firmino, Ings, Solanke and Sturridge are all outside the top fifteen too. While my scepticism surrounding these figures remains, I am at least heartened by seeing Jordan Henderson at the summit of the attack rankings.

The skipper is a very divisive figure among Liverpool fans. I’m of the opinion the Reds have looked better with him in the side, and while it’s easy to quibble over Twelve’s scoring system, it’s clear that Henderson is definitely contributing to the attack and not just playing safe, sideways passes as his detractors will tell you.

When it comes to off ball work, my player of the season for Liverpool was undoubtedly Roberto Firmino. What he provides when the Reds don’t have the ball is a sight to behold, so why is he so low down in the Twelve rankings?

As with the attack figures, it seems the system rates these actions more highly at the back end of the pitch. Jürgen Klopp would beg to differ though, as he famously stated that “no playmaker in the world can be as good as a good counter pressing situation”, and it’s for this reason that Bobby Firmino will always be one of the first names on his team sheet.

Even if Twelve doesn’t value Firmino as highly as Klopp does, the level of off ball work done by the Brazilian is abundantly clear from their interactive widget. It will initially appear blank, so make sure you select the ‘Only important actions’ button.

Look at how many actions there are, and note how they’re across the whole width of the pitch, even with the final third excluded. Click on any of those bubbles, and it will say ‘Pressure on Pass’, illustrating how the former Hoffenheim man is a master of closing down opponents with the aim of springing Liverpool into attack.

There aren’t any surprises with regards to the top points scorers for shots or errors, only to add that the latter emphasises why Klopp was right to abandon Simon Mignolet and opt for Loris Karius between the sticks for the run in.

No model will ever be perfect, and Twelve don’t claim that theirs is. While I don’t agree with their scoring system entirely, with Salah and Firmino in first and second place for Liverpool’s player of the season, Twelve are on the right track here in many ways.

The best attacking players outside of the Premier League’s big six.

The top of the Twelve rankings are dominated by players from the big six clubs. But if we exclude these players who tops our statistics? This is certainly an interesting question for fans of teams lower down in the league, wondering whether their favourite star will be whisked away by one of the richer clubs during the summer transfers.

The biggest within Premier League transfer-that-never-was in the January window was Riyad Mahrez (not) to Manchester City. And the statistics show us exactly why. When we look at attack, Mahrez tops the table outside (click here to see the whole list).

Looking in detail at his contributions over his last ten games we see that Mahrez’s attacking points come primarily from delivering longer balls that change the direction of play and from his dribbles in and around the box.

Add his goal-scoring to that and City would have a flexible player that would fit in to several roles in their attacking system.

Both Aaron Mooy and Pascal Gross, in second and third place respectively, have helped their teams survive to fight another Premier League campaign, contributing a lot to attack. However, neither of these players’ styles is particular similar to what the top teams are looking for. If we look at Gross’ most important contributions, they are primarily very long passes made as Brighton counter-attack.

This isn’t to say that Gross couldn’t play a different role, but he isn’t doing the things that most big-six scouts are looking for.

Probably the most interesting player from a big-six-signing perspective is Abdoulaye Doucoure. He is dribbling and making passes in that very difficult area in front of the box.

This is typically the type of player Arsenal like a lot and he could be of interest to a post-Coutinho Liverpool too.

Lastly, Xerdhan Shaqiri marks himself out not only in his creative midfield play, but also his goal scoring. Here are his shots and goals this season.

It seems very unlikely that Shaqiri will be playing in the Championship next season.

Who is the best player in the Premier League? Here is what the numbers say.

The Premier League is drawing to a close and its time to look at who the best players have been. We at Twelve don’t think that numbers alone can’t answer the question, but we can make the best possible answer based on stats. And that is where Twelve comes in.

This is the first full season over which we have applied the Twelve model. Our aim is to be able to give a value to every action that occurs during a match. If you play Premier League Fantasy Football, you will know that you get points for goals, assists, minutes played etc. But you will also know that these points feel rather arbitrary. While the strikers like Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane who get the most points are undoubtably good, other players—in particular defensive midfielders such as Fernandinho and defenders such as Azpilicueta—are not given the appreciation they deserve in fantasy football.

Our model puts this right, because it is based on an underlying statistical model of how each action increases a team’s chance of scoring or decreases the opposition’s chance of scoring. We assign a goal 1000 points and every other action can be evaluated relative to that goal. So if a pass increases the chance of a team scoring by 5%, we give the pass 50 points. If a defender recovers the ball in a position where a goal is scored 23% of the time, he get 230 points. Its as simple and as powerful as that.

If you have heard of expected goals, then Twelve takes expected goals and extends it to every action in every game.

OK. Enough of the technical stuff. Here are Twelve’s top ten players.

Green is attack, red is defence, yellow is off-the-ball and blue is shots (and goals). If you click on the picture you’ll go in to an interactive version.

It is Kevin De Bruyne who takes it this season. Salah scored more goals, of course, but De Bruyne’s contribution to attack edged it for him.

One of the most powerful features of Twelve is you can see exactly why he is best. The widget below shows his attacking contributions, making passes from everywhere in front of the box.

That De Bruyne and Salah top the charts is hardly surprising (although it does also provide evidence that our model works!), but a bigger surprise is Granit Xhaka in third place.

Xhaka has only scored once this season, but has collected points both for his defensive work and his long distance attacking balls. This solves the problem seen in other fantasy football games, despite playing in defensive midfield Xhaka is properly rewarded for his actions.

Actually, Xhaka ranks highly for another reason. He had alot of playing time. If we look at points per minute, he drops to 10th place. De Bruyne and Salah also drop and David Silva jumps to the top.

The Twelve system likes creative midfielders, like Silva, Fabregas, Pogba and Hazard a lot, they make the passes that create better positions for the team. It also ranks defenders, like Otamendi (7th overall) and Azpilicueta (13th overall), highly for both getting the ball back and creating the next opportunity for their teammates.

But Twelve doesn’t forget defenders, for the teams lower down the league table, who have been working hard to keep the ball out their teams net. Best defender this season (in 6th place overall) is Shane Duffy.

Lots of clearances, won arial duels and blocks have put him up there with the stars of the big-six.

When it comes to choosing our season’s favourites there is always room for personal opinions and discussion. But if you just want to know which players contributed most to their teams, from a statistically rigorous model of football, then Twelve is your answer.

Something Is Wrong With Manchester United. Is It Paul Pogba?

Manchester United have been running a high-wire act all season without any major falls. Their goalkeeper David De Gea is the only keeper from a top six team in the top six in saves. The United defense is consistently conceding good chances, more than any of the other top sides in the Premier League. Most weeks it seems like De Gea is up to the task. But in the recent weeks the strain has started to show. United were pressed off the pitch by Tottenham and two matches later lost away to Newcastle. These two losses have not yet cost Manchester United their second place position, but between the weak underlying statistics and a couple bad results, the drop seems to be beckoning.

This week, United will face Sevilla in the first round of the Champions League knockouts. They are favored to get through the tie, but not by an overwhelming margin. Their statistical profile is too shoddy, and their recent results back it up. So the questions facing Manchester United are, what has gone wrong with this team’s defending, and how can it be fixed?

Based on his squad management, it appears that manager Jose Mourinho has an incendiary theory of the case. He seems to think the problem is £90m midfield superstar Paul Pogba. In both the losses to Spurs and Newcastle, Mourinho took Pogba off the pitch after about an hour. And in the victory over Huddersfield sandwiched between those two defeats, Pogba did not even make the starting eleven.

The theory appears to be as follows. Pogba lacks the positional discipline to play in a two-man central midfield, and the club’s defensive issues can be tracked to Pogba not carrying his weight preventing attacks through the center.

It is certainly true that United has struggled to defend against opposition passing through the center of the pitch. In the Spurs match, Christian Eriksen completed five dangerous passes into the box from spaces where you would expect a central midfielder to have pressured him. And Newcastle had far too many opportunities to break through midfield driven by Jonjo Shelvey’s passing.

But identifying a problem is not the same as pinning the blame on Pogba and the two-man midfield. Last season Manchester United played over 1500 minutes in a 4231 and conceded only about 0.85 expected goals per 90 minutes in that formation. This season United are averaging well over 1.0 xG conceded in both the 433 and the 4231. What has gone wrong defensively cannot be limited to just one formation—United have struggled no matter how they have lined up. And as recently as last season, United were effective defensively even with Pogba playing in a midfield two.

The data suggests a more holistic cause rather than a single player problem. Since last season, star center-back Eric Bailly has been injured. Ander Herrera has played less frequently after taking a key role in midfield last year. 32-year-old fullbacks Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have had to carry a heavier workload. With key players at several positions aging or unavailable, it is reasonable to expect an across-the-board decline as well.
If the blame for United’s poor defense cannot be laid at the feet of one player, then the solution probably must be implemented at the team level. United probably need to either add another defensive midfielder to the squad and remove an attacker, or to switch their tactics to keep the fullbacks in reserve. Either solution would weaken the attack.

However, this is where the recent acquisition of Alexis Sanchez might be most useful. While Sanchez has produced similar levels of shot involvement to United’s wingers Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, his ball progression numbers are far better. Sanchez has averaged about 4.5 progressive passes and runs per 90 minutes, good for seventh in the Premier League, behind Pogba and just ahead of Eriksen. Because Sanchez can provide ball progression as well as goals, United may be able to solidify their defense without hamstringing the attack. A safer lineup with heavier attacking demands on Pogba and Sanchez may be the best way forward for the Red Devils.

Can Manchester City be Stopped?

Following their win in the derby, Manchester City are now unbeaten in 16 matches and on the way to changing the record books in terms of goals and points amassed during a Premier League season. If there was one team, one manager that had the know how on how to defeat a Guardiola team it was Jose Mourinho and his defensively disciplined Manchester United.

The script before the derby was all but known, City would dominate possession trying to tire and stretch their opposition, while United would defend with 11 men, be compact and try to hit them on fast breaks. This counter-plan from Mourinho had worked in the past; He had done it previously in his time at both Inter Milan, and Real Madrid respectively.

When pressed, City’s defense can be wobbly under pressure. This was evident when United pressed forward late on in the first half after going behind in the 43rd minute. Within 3 minutes of conceding from a set piece, United had created 2 opportunities. First, Martial created an opportunity for himself after dribbling from the half way line and taking on the entire City defence, only to produce a tame shot that was easily collected by Ederson. And then secondly, a hopeful long ball from Rojo into a dangerous area was not dealt with by either Otamendi or Kompany and popped up nicely for Rashford to finish.

In attack, City’s wing backs did not push up the field as they have done this season. They were marked by the pacey Rashford and Martial and had to be ready to defend United’s counter-Attacks. The affect can be seen in Kyle Walker who has amassed 7.5 attack points-per-minute so far this season, yet only contributed 4.5 attack points per minute versus United. Below we can see Walker’s role in City’s other matches this season compared to Sunday’s match.

City’s attacking play was, relatively, subdued as Mourinho sent Herrera and Matic out to man-mark the creative duo of De Bruyne and David Silva. And it worked somewhat as City found it difficult to break down United’s defence with their usual ease. Their two goals were scored from set pieces, they had previously only scored from 5 this season. Silva has contributed in 12.3 points-per-minute in attack this season, but in the derby his output in attack was only worth 2.6 points-per-minute. The comparison can be seen below.

Pep also took a few pages out of of Mourinho’s playbook. As he has often done this season, in the 60th minute he substituted his striker Gabriel Jesus. Yet, extremely surprisingly he was not replaced by Aguero but rather by Eliaquim Mangala as City played the last 30 minutes of the derby without a forward. Furthermore in order to run down the clock, in the last 10 minutes of the game Guardiola’s players took the ball into United’s corner, much to the frustration of the United players and the Old Trafford faithful.

Pep’s willingness to compromise, these chances created by United and the failure of the team to convert their dominance in possession into goals are all evidence that this City team is not invincible. Pep knows this and has developed as a manager to combat this. His foundations are the same, attack as a team and defend by controlling possession and not giving the opposition time on the ball. Yet, he has evolved his thinking and his tactics to fit the intense never-give-in style of the Premier League. We are seeing a new dimension to his footballing philosophy.

City’s tactics show that Guardiola have a plan B, which will make them a force to be reckoned with both domestically and in Europe. United had their few chances in the match, and with more efficiency, quicker transitions from defence to attacks, and greater lethality in front of goal they could have gotten more out of the match. Up next for them is a trip to Wales and Swansea. The Swans will be the next team that tells themselves that even City, just like any other team, have their weaknesses.

Originally appeared on Nordic Bet blog.

The Pressing Problem at the Heart of Spurs-Liverpool

This season, Anfield has been a fortress. Liverpool have yet to lose at home, and of their five draws, only the 1-1 against Chelsea reflected an even expected goals scoreline. The Reds have created ten non-penalty clear scoring chances in those draws and conceded only three. The typical home Liverpool performance has been dominant, even when the result occasionally has not been the win that performance deserved.

Liverpool will be looking to continue this run at home this weekend to Tottenham. But Spurs have something to build on too. Tottenham just beat Manchester United handily, and the last time they took on Liverpool, it ended in a 4-1 victory. Spurs created about 3.3 expected goals in that victory, the largest total that the Reds have conceded all season. In fact, the only other time Liverpool conceded more than two expected goals was against Manchester City, in a match that turned on an early Sadio Mane red card.

So which trend will be broken? This depends on one key dynamic. Can Liverpool push Tottenham back? The Reds’ home dominance has been driven by a relentless press and forward motion. They have successfully moved the ball forward in open play into the opposition penalty area 222 times in home matches, the most in the league. With waves of pressure to win the ball back and attackers pushing forward, Liverpool pin the opposition back and leave them no space to counter.

But at Wembley earlier this season, it was precisely this dynamic that Spurs thwarted. Liverpool managed only five open play attacking moves into Tottenham’s penalty area. Spurs successfully played quickly around the press by involving unexpected players into the play and looking to spring Harry Kane free against the Liverpool center backs.

One might expect to see Christian Eriksen’s attacking map featuring several key long passes forward, but right back Kieran Trippier was if anything more effective. His quick forward ball to Kane broke Liverpool’s press for Spurs’ first goal.


This weekend, Liverpool must contain Spurs’ quick-hitting attack and re-establish their suffocating pressure. The Reds will have two key advantages to press to make this happen. The first is Virgil Van Dijk. The new center back will likely replace Dejan Lovren in the lineup, and it was Lovren that Spurs targeted so effectively in their passes forward to Kane. If Tottenham seek to rush the ball forward, it might be possible to thwart this movement simply with better defensive play in the back line.

The second advantage is also a matter of personnel. Liverpool tried against Spurs to play a bruising midfield of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Emre Can. These stronger but slower midfielders found themselves pushed back and unable to challenge Spurs quickly. Henderson and Milner ended up doing more defending in their own half than pushing forward to win the ball and dominate play.

It is unlikely that Jurgen Klopp will make a similar selection on Sunday. In fact, Klopp started his three big midfielders against Huddersfield in midweek. Spurs should expect to see a faster and more dynamic midfield, likely featuring one or both of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum. This personnel should be more suited to closing down Spurs’ quick attacks and springing their own moves off the counterpress to pin Tottenham back. Liverpool’s press has been dominant at home, and the right personnel should enable the Reds to keep this run going.