‘Success is where preparation and opportunity meet’Bobby Unser – Former Automobile Racer
There are so many inspirational quotes regarding preparation; ‘Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail’, ‘Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance’ & ‘The best preparation for tomorrow is to do your best today’ are just a few of my favourites. Although I don’t officially start the new job until July 1st I see no reason why I wouldn’t give myself a head start and there is plenty to look at.
How you prepare is a personal preference, some want to be involved in the minutiae whereas others are happy to let their staff collate the information and for them to give the final sign off, for me I like an mixture of the two. There are so many balls to juggle at a football club and you can’t get yourself bogged down in office work because when it’s all said and done your business is done on a football pitch. It’s all about prioritisation and for me I prioritise by what has the biggest influence or impact on my football club. Don’t sweat the small stuff until you’ve got the time to deal with it or you’ve been found out!
As I mentioned, results on the pitch have the greatest immediate impact so I wanted to analyse last season’s performances to understand how the club fared against the competition. Expected goals, or xG as it is commonly referred to, is a calculation to determine how many goals your team were expected to score using a number of metrics to determine the number of expected goals. Complicated stuff and not something I’ll be doing the maths for, after all, that’s why we have Data Analysts. When the data is available you can use it well to present interesting comparisons against players, teams and leagues. Below is an example of one graph that gave me a snapshot of the how we performed in the 2018/19 season against the other teams in the league.
The graph itself is pretty self explanatory which in itself proves how good basic analysis can be and it highlights a major problem, we’re not creative and we’re not clinical but you don’t need a rocket scientist to tell you that, just look at our league position.
When you add the graph to other data available it starts to tell a story. Last season we scored 43 goals in 46 games compared to team that finished first who amassed a total of 95 goals scored, an obvious difference, but if you compare both teams defensive records we conceded 53 goals against the top sides 58, in fact the top 6 conceded 54 goals on average so defensively we are competitive which means, barring any sales, I can focus my transfer activity on improving the offensive area of the squad. The graph also gives me a head start on scouting as the data would tell me that teams in the top left quadrant should have strikers that are more likely to score when given the opportunity and the team that finished 10th are likely to play more expansively taking more risks leaving themselves exposed (note: 10th place had an ExPos of 4th). I can tell you now that I’ll be looking for a creative player and a goalscorer and you know where I’m sending my scouts first.
A players ability will only get you so far and unless you have a Ronaldo or Messi the tactic and style of play has to match the ability of the players available, have you ever heard the saying ‘Right man for the right job’? As I looked back at last seasons data I saw that we favoured a 4-3-3 system with an alternative 4-1-4-1, our top scorer finished with a paltry 8 goals for the season and the player with the most assists played on the right of a three. My job, is to figure out how I can increase our scoring opportunities whilst building on our defensive record from last year and to do this I will need to assess the playing squad during pre-season. Selecting the opposition will be important, if I want to assess the attacking movement I don’t want to be facing a Barcelona or a Liverpool. During these matches I want to discover where our POMO is and develop my tactic to take advantage of the numbers game, something Sam Allardyce was doing long before blogging about analysis was popular! POMO or Position of Maximum Opportunity is a principle that does exactly what it says on the tin, the faster you can get the ball and players in to this position the greater chance you have of scoring a goal. Pre-season is important for conditioning but equally there is no better time to implement some tactical R&D, does the team respond better to floated or whipped crosses? Do we have the height and physicality to compete in a penalty box set-piece? Are we a long ball team?
My first impressions of the squad are mixed, the spine of the team feels solid but there is an obvious lack of quality in the wide positions. Modern day full backs are a key part of any system and with no stand out performers on either side I can already anticipate the number of phone calls I’ll get once I ask my scouting team to find me suitable options. With the xG graph from earlier still fresh in my mind, the lack of creativity last season is something that needs to be addressed, it’s all well and good being defensively solid, but not at the expense of not scoring goals.
Then there’s my backroom team, were they undervalued and underused by the previous manager or are they simply not good enough for the project?
I suppose only time will tell and I can’t wait to get started.
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The Secret Football Manager.