I wrote just the other day expressing some mild frustration and concern about the times when Brentford are guilty of overplaying, our long spells of possession come to nothing and we frustratingly lose games where we have had the lion’s share of the ball.
I need to preface those remarks by stating that I remain massively supportive and appreciative of the overall style of play we have adopted, as well as our customary 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 formation, and am happy to accept our occasional defensive shortcomings as a natural result of our total commitment to exciting, positive and vibrant attacking football.
I was therefore delighted to receive the following thoughtful and detailed comment from another fervent Brentford supporter in Paul Grimes. His view is rather different, and perhaps far more pragmatic than mine, but rather than prejudge, I would prefer that you all make up your own mind once you have read what Paul has to say, and very interesting it is too:
Maybe its time…..
I wondered what exactly the title of this guest piece should be and I looked at ” To try something different,” “To play all three centre halves,” “To surprise our opposition” and, more controversially, “For Mark Warbuton to take some of his own advice.” I settled for “Maybe it’s time to think outside of the box?”
So what am I advocating exactly and are there any clues in the other prospective titles that ended up in the waste paper basket?
Well, yes, in a nutshell I think now is the perfect opportunity to play all three centre halves together and to tinker a little with our possession and footballing philosophies that have got us this far.
Why change, you might ask? But for me its evolving not changing, for me its learning something now that we will definitely try next season if this season ends up in disappointment. By “disappointment,” of course, I am not talking about relegation, or finishing in the bottom half or even missing out via the play offs, all of which would have been viewed as much more likely than…. disappointed that we did not get promoted to the Premiership having given ourselves such a good chance!
It’s madness to even talk about it but the fact remains that little over a fifty per cent win ratio from our last twenty-two league games would see us in the Playoffs from the position in the league where we are now.
So if we have done so well to get here why am I advocating using a different system? Well first of all it’s more technical than just that change, because I am actually saying let’s use it only for specific games starting on Saturday with Brighton in the FA Cup. A team rejuvenated under an interim coach over their last three matches and with a new manager that all of their players will be looking to impress. They will have had us watched and will also remember us beating them earlier in the season using our current system. But they have their tails up and so we should beware.
Throughout this wonderful season, Mark Warbuton has regularly repeated his mantra of “defeat is okay as long as the players learn from it” so maybe it is time also for Mark to learn from our experiences. For instance our home shots tally is just twelve higher than the total number of shots taken by our opponents in the first twelve matches. Without wishing to be stating the obvious but that is only one shot per game more than our opposition! Well it gets worse because Brentford and our opponents have managed to hit the target an equal amount of times, sixty-six in total.
So are the forwards misfiring, or are we too open and allowing away teams to come on to us a little too much? Well, no, not really, because we have scored eight more goals than our opponents. Twenty-three to fifteen.
Is it due to our preferred style of possession football or tiki-taka or tippi-tappa as my Dad calls it? I don’t think so or more to the point the stats do not back that argument up, as we have only won once with possession above fifty-eight per cent, and that was against Fulham in a charged atmosphere in front of a near sell out crowd at home in a local derby.
No, it’s about when we are NOT in possession, because despite strong stats in our favour in those twelve home games, we have only three times been on the wrong side of the dominant possession line and each of those three occasions have resulted in victories against Brighton, Leeds and Reading.
So instead of trying to work out how we can create more chances or score more goals, or increase the percentage of goals from those shots, maybe it’s time to start thinking outside the box or outside of both penalty boxes if you like? But particularly outside our own box where we have in my humble opinion been a little too open and, if we want to take full advantage of our excellent start, this is where I feel we need to tighten things up. We need to be more defensively minded in the second half of the season, to concede less shots and less goals and to earn the right to win ugly at times.
The player who drops out initially would be Toumani Diagouraga despite some excellent performances so far this season. Both wing backs will have even more freedom to bomb forward, Tarks will have licence to step in front and push JD up, who will in turn push Judge that bit further forward in support of Jota and Pritchard. On both flanks we would have options as Bidwell could tuck in at times and encourage Pritchard to go outside, Jota would no longer be as easy to read as he steps inside, as a marauding Moses up on his outside, or making an angled dash for the inside line would all be additional options, and all would pose problems for the opposition to cover and force them onto the back foot a bit more than has so far been the norm.
At the back we need defenders who can defend first and foremost, and the defensive positional cover play of each of our defenders needs to be paramount in their minds before they start thinking about where our next goal is coming from.
The defensive line should be curved and resemble half a revolving door. When the right edge is furthermost forward, the left edge is furthermost back, and vice versa, and the lines between our defenders or channels need to be narrower to stop teams getting in behind us, which is where we are vulnerable due to a lack of speed, height and strength.
We do not need to buy another centre half, rather we need to play another centre half. Basically, its time to grind out a few one-nil wins at home and to go away from home and come away with a clean sheet, something we have only achieved twice each this season home and away.
I have read Paul’s comments carefully and can appreciate his main point, that we need to tighten up at the back. If we carry on at our current rate we will finish the season conceding seventy goals and it is hard to envisage us achieving much if that turns out to be the case. In Tarkowski we have a decent defender but also a gifted footballer in every sense of the term, and Paul’s belief is that he could also act as the first line of attack as well as defence.
It is illuminating to look at the arcane world of statistical analysis in order to discover interesting insights into the game, and Mike Forde, formerly Chelsea’s Performance Director, hit the nail on the head when he stated:
If you look at ten years in the Premier League, there is a stronger correlation between clean sheets and where you finish, than goals scored and where you finish.
Chris Anderson is a well known author who specialises in football statistics and analysis and he totally agrees with Forde
Forde is right on the money. Clean sheets on average produce almost two and a half points points per match. And even only one goal allowed still gives a team slightly more than one and a half points on average. But by the time we get to two goals allowed, the point value rapidly declines. And once the other team scores three or four times, the point value declines to zero.
Compare this with offensive production. You might think that scoring at least one goal will help you as much as not letting one in. You’d be wrong. Scoring one goal only gives you about one point from a match, on average. Compare that to one and a half points for allowing one goal only.
So the point value of one goal allowed is fifty per cent greater than the point value of one goal scored. Another way to think about this is to ask how many goals a team needs to score to produce the points produced by a clean sheet. The answer for the 2009-10 Premier League season is slightly greater than three.
So a clean sheet produces about as many points for a team as scoring three goals. Keeping a clean sheet significantly increases your chances of winning a match and going from not having a clean sheet to having one, increases the average team’s odds of coming away with three points from .20 to .72 – a staggering difference in the probability of winning of .52.
So maybe Paul Grimes is onto something. Given our own dedicated team of analysts, I am certain that Mark Warburton is well aware of the figures quoted above and it will be interesting to see if the second half brings about a minor shift in emphasis or approach, or if we simply concentrate on executing Plan A better.
Your comments on this highly contentious subject would be greatly welcomed.