Stats And Stuff – 30/12/15

It is quite staggering just how much statistical information about football teams and individual players is now freely available within the public domain. Statistical analysis is now an accepted and growing part of the game and given the quality and depth of the data that I was able to unearth free of charge on the internet I can only wonder at the level of information that is gathered and provided privately to the clubs themselves.

I generally go to a wonderful website, WhoScored.com which provides a treasure trove of easily accessible data that can be understood even by a mathematical dunce like me.

What I find so fascinating about using the data before I write anything about Brentford FC is that it makes me question my judgement about pretty much anything that I have seen unfurl on the pitch in front of me when I watch the team play.

Watching Brentford play can be a veritable roller coaster ride with so many highs and lows as your spirits and emotions are taken to the heights and then plummet to the depths all within the course of a ninety minute match. Judgements can be clouded by what you think that you have seen rather than what actually took place out on the pitch.

We also all have prejudices and preconceived views about every player. For example if you spoke to a Brentford supporter today and asked for an opinion on John Swift, our talented midfield player currently on loan from Chelsea, there would probably be some purring comments of appreciation about his quality on the ball, eye for a pass, ability to glide sinuously and effortlessly past opponents and also make late runs into the penalty area but these would probably be interspersed with some grudging mention of his supposed defensive weaknesses, as to the naked eye he does not always appear to track back, press and support his defenders as much as you would like or is needed.

Is John Swift a defensive liability and a luxury player? Fact or fiction? Does his offensive contribution more than make up for his supposed defensive shortcomings? In order to come to some sort of conclusion I consulted the oracle and Stats God at WhoScored.com and here are the stark, objective facts, untainted by any bias or rose tinted spectacles.

I looked first at his defensive statistics and they were telling. Swift makes 0.9 tackles per game, comfortably the least of any first team regular, apart from Lasse Vibe. Yennaris and Colin make the most (2.5) and all of his midfield colleagues attempt more tackles than Swift. He also makes less interceptions than any of his team mates and he has yet to block a shot. These stats would therefore appear to bear out the suggestion that defending is not yet a strong part of Swift’s game. Tellingly in a description and profile of his overall game WhoScored.com rates his defensive contribution as weak.

Where things begin to look much better for him however is when you look at his offensive statistics. John has scored three goals and made four assists in his fourteen appearances to date. He also takes 1.3 shots on goal every game and makes 1.4 key passes per game, more than anybody else in the team apart from Alan Judge. He also attempts more dribbles than all his team mates apart from Max Colin.

I could break his game down even more, but hopefully the message is coming through loud and clear that John Swift is making an exceptionally effective offensive contribution to the team that more than justifies his starting position, even if he needs to pay more attention to the defensive side of his game, as it is what you do without the ball that can often be just as important as being a Fancy Dan when in possession.

I thought it might be interesting to delve a bit deeper into the Brentford team analysis on WhoScored.com and see if there were any trends emerging after the first half of the season. According to the figures our style of play is typified by the following:

  • Possession football
  • Attacking down the right
  • Play with width
  • Short passes
  • Playing in their own half
  • Opponents play aggressively against them
  • Aggressive
  • Consistent first eleven

Our strengths are:

  • Counter attacks
  • Finishing scoring chances
  • Shooting from direct free kicks
  • Creating chances using through balls
  • Creating chances through individual skill
  • Coming back from losing positions

Whereas we are deemed to be weak at the following:

  • Defending against attacks down the wings
  • Aerial duels
  • Defending counter attacks
  • Defending set pieces
  • Stopping opponents from creating chances
  • Avoiding fouling in dangerous areas

These all look pretty much spot on to me and it is reassuring that the figures in this instance back up and totally substantiate the subjective opinion I had already come to after watching the overwhelming majority of our twenty-four Championship games to date.

Our top six performing players given an analysis of all aspects of their game have been Alan Judge, James Tarkowski, John Swift, Harlee Dean, Jake Bidwell and Nico Yennaris, again, no surprises there, and interestingly enough, of the regular players, Toumani Diagouraga and Konstantin Kerschbaumer rate the lowest. Judge and Tarkowski are also rated as the top and fourth best player in the entire Championship to date – a wonderful achievement by the pair of them.

According to WhoScored.com the best eleven players in the Championship over the entire first half of the season were as follows:

Martinez (Wolves)

Onuoha (QPR)

Duffy (Blackburn)

Tarkowski (Brentford)

Friend (Middlesbrough)

Gallagher (Preston)

Norwood (Reading)

Stephens (Brighton)

Judge (Brentford)

Forestieri (Sheffield Wednesday)

McCormack (Fulham)

Not too many surprises there, in my opinion.

Of our thirty-six goals to date, one of the highest totals in the league, an eye-opening nine have come from set pieces, including two penalty kicks and two have come from counterattacks. That is a massive improvement on last season.

We attempt just under five hundred passes per game with a seventy-seven per cent accuracy rate. Eighty per cent of our passes are short, but we also hit nineteen crosses every match.

In that respect I only wish we could find out the average number of attacking players we had in the opposition penalty area every time we hit a cross as I am pretty sure that is an area where improvement is still needed.

I suspect that our analysis department might have a few words to say if they saw this article and would draw my attention to all sorts of facts and figures that have escaped my attention or that I have misinterpreted, and I am sure that I have barely scratched the surface of what is a fascinating subject that will become more and more important as the years progress.

Statistics have certainly changed the way that I look at matches and I have found them an invaluable tool in terms of helping me write more sensibly, rationally and objectively about players and matches and avoid going off on an unsubstantiated and ignorant rant.

Most importantly, what they show quite clearly is just how well we are performing as a team and also on an individual basis too.

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7 thoughts on “Stats And Stuff – 30/12/15

  1. This is a really interesting article Greville. I guess I don’t fully understand the statistics approach, but I found your explanation easy to understand.

    It certainly looks like our subjective view is bourne out by the more objective facts. What I think stats can’t do is predict with a high degree of certainty how a player in one team, will perform in another. Using perhaps an unfair example – Proschwitz (an easy target), for all I know his stats in his team before Bees may well have been encouraging, but obviously did not transferred to out team. And that is where a scout’s intuition, gut feel – call it what you want – comes into play.

    Thanks again for the article.

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  2. All good stuff as usual, facts are always a great argument to opinion. Then again take opinions out of the game and especially the teams we love, well then we have such a problem .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for introducing me to the whoscored.com website, it’s given me even more excuses to not going to bed at night. I have managed to sort out (statistically), that we need to play in a 5-4-1 at home, a 6/7-4/3-0 away (dependant on where you want McCormack)and overall a 7-2-1! But seriously, interesting reading and I’m pleased to note that we have 2 players in the Championship top 11 for this half of the season. Happy New Year.

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  4. Greville, I am also a great believer in the power of statistical analysis if properly analysed . However, in the case of John Swift whilst I don’t disagree with the case for including him based on his creative abilities and incisive dribbling – I do feel that pure statistical analysis does struggle to accurately and sufficiently assess the defensive side of the game.
    This is a point that has even been acknowledged by Rasmus Ankersen when pointing out the shortcomings of statistical modelling as an independent indicator of player value. For large periods of the Bolton game he left Bidwell badly exposed down the left and we were fortunate we did not get punished . He was ‘turned over’ for the opening goal against us at Cardiff and his distribution in the Forest game also often left us chasing back instead of maintaining momentum. I would therefore advocate that he is an automatic choice for games where opponents are more prone to sitting back and ‘parking the bus’ but in games where we may be susceptible to a high press and rapid counter he remains a luxury player who injects an element of unnecessary risk to the Goals Against column !

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