Author Archives: Mark Thompson

The Curious Case of Who Are Scoring Headers

The power flexes from knees to pitch; a doorframe filler of a man stretches beneath the murky sky, elbows, like wings, extending outwards.

An inch of flesh, two centimetres above Andy Carroll’s elbow, glances a defender’s head, and the player, toes still touching grass, folds into a collapse.

The whistle blows, because football is soft nowadays, or so it’s often said. With the traditional values of British football – being big and strong and heading the ball – hagiographically mourned as a dying art in the Premier League, one would imagine that they are better exhibited in the not-quite-so-modern Championship. Continue reading

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Saves to the left of me, saves to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with save stats

Prompted by a tweet from @RandyHauser, I decided to have a look at some keeper stats and whether keepers had a weak side.

 

Below is a plot for Premier League, Bundesliga, and La Liga keepers for 2012/13 to 2016/17 who’ve faced more than 50 shots on target in a season, along with the difference between their save percentages for SoTs to the left side and right side of the goal*. Continue reading

One Man, One Game: Federico Fazio PART ONE (vs Chelsea 01/01/2015)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that.

Federico Fazio is an interesting case. At Tottenham Hotspur for 2014/15 before being kept off the wage books (presumably, at least partly) for the following two seasons, he was regarded as a flop in London, and had become something of a butt of jokes. Fast forward to 2017, and – first on loan, and then permanently this summer – at Roma he has emerged as one of their starting choices, displacing Antonio Rüdiger as the main man on the team-sheet alongside Kostas Manolas last season.

Opinions of players do swing wildly, but generally on a more short-term timescale, and often based heavily around one or two isolated moments in high-profile matches. With Fazio, the feeling – both with the mockery and the redemption – is, unusually, that his image has been altered by the long-term trends of his seasons in England and Italy.

So then, what’s the boy actually like? Is either reputation fully justified? Continue reading

One Man, One Game: Lewis Dunk (vs Leicester City 19/08/2017)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that.

Lewis Dunk belongs to that class of players, so large that it must make the outsiders feel left out, who have been touted as a future star for about the length of time that most people retain interest in their fantasy football teams. From there, they – like your ‘Wanyamas in Pajamas’ et al – fade from memory until they’re mentioned by someone else, at which point the thought ‘ah yes, that name meant something to me once’ drifts through one’s mind.

Dunk, after having been deemed one of the best centre-back in the Championship for the past couple of seasons, now has his chance to prove himself at Premier League level. At 25, he’s probably past the stage of his career where he would make the leap upwards, if he was ever going to do it. At around 23, the age that Michael Keane (who Dunk has received comparisons to) had his break-out season, the chances of potential being reached are still pretty good. Above it, it becomes a matter of what they’re producing now. Continue reading

One Man, One Game: Davinson Sanchez (vs Manchester United, Europa League Final 2017)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that.

We should start by dispelling a myth. Two myths, even. The first is what Jose Mourinho actually thinks of Davinson Sanchez’s ball-playing ability, which has been slightly overblown. The quote on the matter, as translated from the Tribuna Expresso, read “We let them go out to play, but blocking the right center, De Ligt, and letting the ball go to the left, Sanchez, who had more difficulties”.

I don’t read that quite the same as United targeting Sanchez as a specific weak point in the side, rather that United could limit Ajax’s build-up to an extent and that the better player to limit was De Ligt. Sanchez did indeed have difficulties, which is not exactly the same as that he has difficulties. (I’m also slightly suspicious about a manager talking through their tactical plans after the game has been won – it’s easy to spin things, whether by manager or by press, as genius decisions in hindsight of victory).

It’s also so misleading it should be expecting a visit from the Advertising Standards Agency. Continue reading

One Man, One Game: Paolo Maldini (vs Brazil, 1994 World Cup Final)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that.

It is said that if a defender comes off the pitch with dirty shorts, then they’ve not done their job well enough. Paolo Maldini himself once (according to legend, at least) said that ‘If I have to make a tackle then I have already made a mistake’. Building, or bastardised, from this is the mythos surrounding Maldini and his supposed lack of tackles made.

It is worth noting that in some places in Europe, ‘tackle’ means slide tackling alone. Even so, Maldini – a young 26-years-old on the day of this World Cup Final – clearly had a bad game by his own words, because he made four or so things which could reasonably be called slide tackles. But merely pointing that out isn’t actual analysis (and it should be said that blindly deeming slide tackles ‘bad’ is, in itself, bad anyway).

Maldini started the game at centre-back, though moved to left-back late on in the first half when Luigi Apollino came on for Roberto Mussi. And though I joked about him having a bad game because of the amount of slide tackles he made, Maldini genuinely didn’t look comfortable at times.

This wasn’t because Brazil were overwhelming the Italy back-line though, despite Brazil’s amount of possession – the Brazilians struggled to break through Italy’s forward and midfield lines for long spells of the match. Continue reading

One Man, One Game: Granit Xhaka (vs Tottenham, 30/04/2017)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that.

This week’s One Man, One Game takes on something of a departure, both similar and dissimilar to the recent Guardiola-esque experiment with Jose Gimenez. Similar in that Granit Xhaka is not a centre-back, dissimilar in that I’m not even interested in Xhaka being a centre-back. This is all about the stone-cold* midfield enforcer** himself.

*(Granit, geddit); **(funny because it isn’t true) Continue reading