Liverpool

Liverpool vs. West Ham United Preview: Naby Keita key for Klopp

Liverpool go into the season as second favourites to win the 2018/19 Premier League title. If they are to make their supporters’ long standing dream a reality, they will need to be stronger at home. They may have gone unbeaten at Anfield for only the seventh time in their top flight history in 2017/18, but they also only won 12 times; the Reds only won fewer in nine of the preceding 25 Premier League seasons.

In fairness to Jürgen Klopp, five of their seven draws were against teams who finished in the top eight, and it looks unlikely West Ham will do that well this season. Or won’t they? After all, with four days to go in the transfer window, the Hammers were the second top net spenders behind Liverpool.

The east Londoners also have a new manager in the shape of Manuel Pellegrini, which makes it tricky to know how they’ll play at Anfield on Sunday. The Chilean has employed a 4-2-3-1 formation in five of their six pre-season matches, but the combination of Slaven Bilic and David Moyes only used that system five times in the league last season. The Hammers picked up just one point from those games, so hopefully their new signings perform better than the players they have replaced. Read More

Chelsea Huddersfield preview

Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea Preview: Do you feel Sarri?

Here we are starting a new Premier League season with great tactical ideas coming from the best managers on earth. And if Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino reigned before, there’s a new knight on Queensland. He’s Chelsea’s new manager, and he speaks with his hands.

For me it’ll be a pleasure to follow Italian coach Maurizio Sarri’s work at Stamford Bridge and bring it to you here on Twelve Football, using these amazing tools and producing some thoughts about tactics and analytics.

Sarri marks a significant shift in tactical strategy for Chelsea following 14 years of reactive counter-attacking football instigated by Jose Mourinho way back in 2004. It became a Blues tradition to hire coaches with principles of conservatism, with Andres Villas-Boas the notable exception.

From Rafa Benitez to Luis Felipe Scolari, from Mourinho’s second term to Antonio Conte, Chelsea had always preferred not to propose the match, but to suffer without controlling the ball. That’s coming to an end now.

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Newcastle United vs. Tottenham Hotspur Preview: Do Spurs Have Any Players?

Things may well change in the 11th hour but at the time of writing Tottenham haven’t signed a single player. Add to that the majority of the squad going deep in the World Cup and Spurs fans have been treated to one of the most comically irrelevant pre-seasons imaginable.

The vast majority of minutes, that we are told are crucial to building fitness, were absorbed by squad players unlikely to be in Pochettino’s long-term plans and youngsters, who while promising and we are glad to see sight of, are some way off breaking into the squad on a more permanent basis.

With the likes of Harry Kane, Dele, Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris only returning to training this week they may well remain out of the starting XI for the season opener against Newcastle.

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Manchester United

Manchester United vs. Leicester City Preview: Fred to make debut?

Manchester United kick off their Premier League season against Leicester City on Friday evening, with the hopes of getting off to a good start in a bid to challenge Manchester City for the title.

After finishing second last season, a long way behind their rivals who had more or less sewn up the title by the turn of the year, United need to raise their game this campaign. A good performance against Leicester would be a great place to start.

One positive is that their best outfield player, Paul Pogba, returns to Manchester as a world champion. The renewed confidence and swagger this will give the Frenchman should work in United’s favour over the course of the season, but with his holiday starting later than his teammates’, it’s unlikely he will feature in the opening game.

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Tottenham Hotspur’s Company of the Cup

No fewer than nine players through to the semi-finals of the World Cup are signed to Tottenham Hotspur; more than any other club. The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson proposes that Mauricio Pochettino is the ‘most influential coach’ at the tournament.

It’s certainly nice to view his coaching through that lens and to also look at this as a mark of Spurs’ academy production and focus on smart recruitment of young, often domestic, talent paying off.

Another element is Pochettino’s clear influence on England’s play-style. Bielsa style counter-pressing and use of a three man defence to facilitate a Positional Play model are two major principles shared by both the club and the national team – though similar traits are also shared by Conte’s Chelsea and Pep’s City.

There can be little doubt that Pochettino is at the forefront of tactical and coaching development, a spearhead of effective, proactive football. The reality of the situation, though, is that it’s simply quite a lot down to chance that Tottenham boast such an impressive nine man ‘Company of the Cup’.

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A new role for Roberto Firmino in Brazil

There is no centre forward who works as hard to win back the ball as Roberto Firmino. He sets the tempo for Liverpool but he is so much more than just a workhorse. He gets into positions where many forwards would go for glory but Bobby is unselfish.

And yesterday we watched a new chapter on that story when Firmino entered for Brazil against Costa Rica; not as Gabriel Jesus’s substitution, as usual, but as Paulinho’s replacement.

Playing in a 4-1-4-1 formation Paulinho has many defensive skills, but he is well known for his entries in the six yard box and his potential as a striker. There is even a joke in the Brazilian team saying Paulinho is the true centre forward of the Seleção.

Unfortunately, the Barcelona midfielder did not have a good day, and the Brazilian team felt his poor offensive contribution. He was also marked by the good defensive job of Costa Rica and their line of five.

Taking a look at Firmino’s work in the Premier League with Liverpool, we can see a typical centre forward action: offensive presence in the opponents’ area and defensive presence is his area, to assist with set piece balls.

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Colombia 1-2 Japan: A Whisper in Davinson’s Ear

Have a search on Twitter for “fullback whisperer” and you will find the unending adulation of Spurs fans towards Mauricio Pochettino. His rapid development of, first at Southampton, Luke Shaw, Callum Chambers, and now Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier has been remarkable. Hope for the future of Serge Aurier and Kyle Walker-Peters is quite high, despite the former’s ugly start.

But as a former centre-back himself it’s slightly surprising that it is wide defenders that he is most closely associated with as a coach.

On Tuesday many Tottenham fans will have tuned in to watch Colombia. A chance to get a sight of rumoured target Wilmar Barrios, and to see familiar face Davinson Sanchez. But he failed to turn in a familiar performance.

There’s no doubt that Carlos’ Sanchez 3rd minute red card had a significant impact on the remaining ten men’s games but it was Davinson’s fluffed clearance that led Carlos to reactively, illegally throw out his arm and stop the on-target shot.

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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.