Monthly Archives: February 2016

3 things we learned* from Sunday’s football

*[the word ‘learned’ is used in the loosest possible sense, as it is for all ‘things we learned’ articles]

1. Goalkeepers are either heroes or villains.

Willy Caballero came into the League Cup final a ready-made villain of the piece, a prepared and packaged reason for City failure. Even before the deciding penalty shoot-out he was making pundits say that he had deserved his place with the saves he had made.

Simon Mignolet was a villain after letting in Fernandinho’s goal, a strike from a tight angle that seemed to pass straight through him. By the end of the match, he was redeemed, after having made several fine saves.

Perhaps this is an illustration of the bizarre way in which we see these players. We only notice them when they make horrific blunders or highlight-reel saves, and because of the nature of their position and the infrequency of goals in football, their errors tend to be costly.

(Compare it to the American counterpart – Continue reading


Manchester United. Midtjylland. Magic.

A glimmer of gold shines brightest amongst the dirt.

“It was only Midtjylland”. “They lost the first leg”. “Rashford’s two goals could well turn into another “MACHEDAAAAAA” moment”. No-one cares.

What happened on a cool Thursday night in Manchester was a magical occasion. Not because of the win or Rashford’s fairytale story or Memphis’ lightning level performance. But because of the happiness it brought.

For a season now, United fans have not only been subjected to underperformance, disappointment, of their beloveds. That would be bad, almost just a saddening inconvenience. A few losses here and there, a few fights, would be easy to get over. But as well as all this, as well as the feeling that not just the team but the club itself is being mismanaged, is the ‘something else’ that’s been hanging over our heads. The thing that’s made this season even worse than the one under David Moyes. Continue reading

*gestures* You see, a defender is a sieve… [Hidden track: A Rallying Cry]

The great/terrible thing about being in the stats community on Twitter but not having the necessary skills to ‘obtain’, organise, manipulate, and magic data is that you can throw ideas around without (being able to) test them in actual data. I do, however, big-headed though this may sound and probably is, think that my ideas may add something to the echo chamber of analytics.

One of the problems with assessing defenders through data is that a lot of defending is team reliant, there’s a decent extent to which you need to eliminate the work that is being done by the rest of the team. For example, Vincent Kompany will concede fewer shots than Russell Martin partly because he’s a better player but partly because his team have more of the ball and they’re more capable of defending without it than Norwich. Continue reading

In Real life, it’s the Galactico Empire that wins

It’s fitting, really, that Real Madrid’s famous home kits are all white with black trim. They are the Stormtroopers of the footballing Galactic Empire, a monied juggernaught steamrolling all in their path, their unfashionable grey kit in this match a visual marker of the Imperial Star Destroyers. This was the Battle of the forest moon of Yavin IV had it happened in real life. Roma played the part of the Ewoks. Continue reading

What to think about PSG

While coasting so breathlessly in Ligue 1, the Champions League tie against Chelsea, a struggling one nonetheless, would be a chance to see what Paris Saint-Germain were made of. One senses as well that the stature of the tie, a knock-out as opposed to the group stages – where they already faced significant challenges against Real Madrid -, had some bearing on the sentiment around this match.

The Parisian kop, as their team entered the field, threw bundles of paper into the air, creating a confetti that, unintentionally, brought memories of that FIFA press conference and bundles of cash, amusing considering the club’s Qatari owners. It was spectacle, possibly designed to draw away from the image of the club as an oil-rich bully strolling to the league title (which will be their fourth in a row). The stage-managing was certainly present in the stadium itself, in its bones, a careful image crafted – the stand along the touch line opposite the dugouts and, more importantly, the TV cameras have new seats, bright blues and reds; in all the other stands those red seats especially are faded, the difference stark. Continue reading

Toby Alderweireld (vs Manchester City 14/02/16)

Toby Alderweireld (vs Manchester City 14/02/16)



A fair amount of Alderweireld’s first half was spent in positions ready to receive the ball, as opposed to having to do much defending. During this time he executed several decent passes – through the opposition midfield or cross-field to Danny Rose, one of which forced Sergio Aguero back to head it away – though he wasn’t particularly under much pressure when on the ball. Continue reading

Plug and play – letting NERDS pick your starting XI (well, not quite)

So the recent discussion on Twitter about using analytics to help choose who to pick and how to set-up for an upcoming match got me thinking. I remember some stuff on pressing, and this by @SaturdayonCouch on using some of the stats work he’s done to make changes in match which I like. The discussion also mentioned tactical theory, something which isn’t my strong point.

I did however think of profiling players with their stats (not new, I know), looking at who creates chances against your next opponents and then looking at your own squad list to see if you have anyone similar (kind of similar to this by Neil Charles). Continue reading