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Sunday, 30 April 2017

Nothing To Play For (except the odd £15 Million).

The final couple of matches of the Premier League season have traditionally thrown up a host of matches where there is little for some teams to play for.

They are marooned in mid table, too remote from the title or European places, but relatively, if not mathematically safe from the threat of relegation.

Anecdotally, they are high scoring affairs, where teams care less for the physical risks associated with full bloodied defending, although this weekend to date appears to have deemed attacking play an optional extra.

However, the influx of Sky, BT and overseas rights money has potentially made these hitherto meaningless games a much more lucrative sideshow to the drama at the top and bottom of the Premier League.

A fixed cut from here and overseas, combined with a performance related slice and additional extras for more frequent TV appearances can inflate the end of season TV paycheck by upwards of £10 million, even at this late stage of the campaign.

Some teams are locked within a place or two of their current league position, but for a handful of mid table sides the up or downside can stretch to three or four places in either direction.


click image to enlarge.

The table above has simulated the remainder of the season 1,000's of times using data from the Infogol App , but rather than plotting the traditional likelihood that each team will finish in a particular position, this has been replaced with the cumulative reward each side would receive if they climbed or fell in the table.

Sunderland are the easiest side to explain.

They are virtually certain to finish bottom for which they'll receive £98 million, but there is also around a 3% chance they could win another £2 million for the club by ending up second botton.

For the likes of Stoke, Leicester, West Ham, Watford, Palace, Burnley and Bournemouth, the up and downsides are more widespread. Stoke are as likely to add £121 million to the Coates' family billions as they are to humbly submit a mere £105 million.

So whether the players will play ball or not remains to be seen, but the age where May saw the beach beckoning for swathes of Premier League players may be a thing of the past in the era of new found even greater affluence.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Arsenal's Shooting Accuracy, Nothing To See?

Expected models come in many shapes and flavours, using a variety of inputs and variables, but they almost all relate to goals scored or conceded.

Early expected incarnations also looked a similarly binary events to goals, such as whether an attempt was on target or blocked, but they've never really grabbed the limelight like their bigger, expected goals older brother.

The methodology is essential the same as that used in building an expected goals model.

Variables are the usual mix of shot location, type and attack classification, tested on out of sample data.

Here's the expected number of shots on target compared to their expectation for the top six teams up to the beginning of this month,

The data has been taken from the Infogol App.


It appears to give a fairly straightforward narrative, based around a relatively accepted family of metrics.

Without running a few simulations it would be easy to categorise the six best team in the Premier League as being either wasteful with the accuracy of their attempts (Manchester City) or more than a little pleased with themselves (Manchester United, perhaps slightly surprisingly).

What seems self evident is that there's nothing really to see with the remaining quartet.

Chelsea, at the time had six more shots on target than their expectation, albeit from the smallest sample size, very similar numbers to Arsenal's slight under performance and well in line with Liverpool and Spurs.

However, a cursory look at expected figures verses actual achievement to label a side either under achieving/unlucky or over achieving and fortunate often fails to reveal nuances in a side's scoring or shooting profile that is present in the data.

The only team that deviates significantly from the expected SOT model in the above table is Arsenal, despite masquerading as a side mildly under performing when it comes to working the keeper.

Arsenal are actually pretty poor at hitting the targets when taking shots that the model deems more likely to miss (usually longer range efforts). While they are a lot better at hitting the target with attempts that the model has decided are much more likely to be on target and require a save.

These two fairly large deviations from the predicted arc of expectation from the model at opposite ends of the likelihood scale roughly balance out giving Arsenal an actual accuracy figure that comes close to matching their predicted figure.

In short, Arsenal may look fine in the aggregate, but they're the only top six team that have individual ranges of actual outcomes that deviate by an interesting amount from this decently robust model for the Premier League.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Reading Between the Lines

The 2016/17 regular Championship season is almost done and dusted.

With two games remaining for each team it is left to Leeds to attempt to gate crash the play off picture, most likely at the expense of Fulham and Blackburn to try to leapfrog out of the final relegation spot to the detriment of either Forest or Birmingham.

What seems highly likely and certain is that Reading (GD currently +1) and Huddersfield (+3) respectively will contest the playoffs for promotion to the Premier League.

Whilst Huddersfield's underlying ExpG stats have gradually gravitated towards their lofty league position, Jaap Stam's Reading remain an uncomfortable enigma for advanced stats.

Ben Mayhew, who runs the excellent EFL orientated site Experimental361 has consistently rated Reading as a lowly Championship team and Colin Trainor, one of the earliest analysts to develop the concept of ExpG has also tweeted about the Royals' apparent over achievement.

In addition, the ExpG model which powers Infogol's football app has Reading's underlying stats being consistent with a side in the lower third of the table, rather than striving for the pinnacle.



Here's the rolling six game, ExpG differentials for the still active protagonists at the top of the Championship to the start of April.

Wednesday, along with the two automatic promotion teams have been the most consistent ExpG teams this term.

Huddersfield, as already noted have gradually produced underlying stats that are fit for their position, while Leeds and Fulham have been inconsistent, but overall in credit.

The sole exception is Reading, whose underlying ExpG differentials have simply declined, even with a cut off point that omits a 7-1 thrashing at Norwich.

In terms of traditional goal difference stats, they share a similar figure with Derby and Preston, who have nearly 20 fewer points than high flying Reading.

If we look at Reading's ExpG figures, there is little to quibble about in their goal scoring exploits. Their actual goal tally agrees almost exactly with the modelled ExpG values from each goal attempt they have created.


The disconnect is on the defensive side of the ball.

Reading's Exp GD is -13, which would place them in and around the likes of Burton, and still relegation sensitive Forest and QPR. So they have over achieved on the defensive side of the ball.

If you run simulations on all of the attempts Reading have allowed their opponents in this season's Championship, they concede their actual total or fewer around 5% of the time.

The chances of Reading doing as well, defensively, given the volume and quality of chances they have conceded is relatively small, but the chances that someone over achieved by as much as the Royals at sometime in the recent past or even just this season becomes more likely.

While defence is a group activity, much of the burden falls on the keeper, in Reading's case, the veteran Omani, Ali Al-Habsi.

We may use an alternative ExpG model for keepers, which focuses merely on shots on target and incorporates post shot information, such as placement. power, swerve or deflections to help us understand if the keeper is playing above the save expectations of such a model.

As with the general ExpG allowed model, Al-Habsi has also over performed. It is again around 5% that an average keeper does as well or better faced with the shots Reading's keeper has been required to deal with.

The goodness of fit of this attempts on target model can also be tested to see if Al-Habsi is coming close "breaking" the modelled ExpG or if we can speculate that he has been somewhat lucky.

If we rank the efforts faced by Al-Habsi in terms of difficulty, he has had a particular purple patch when dealing with moderately difficult attempts. He's conceded just 8 goals from chances that were ranked as being between a 55% chance and 80% chance of being scored, compared to an expectation of over 12 goals.

However, over the entire range of chance probabilities he's faced the deviation from the model has around a 15% chance of having occurred by chance.

In short, he's saved more of the chances that the model expected him to save and he's progressive, if slightly unevenly, let in more of the most difficult shots.

A 29 year old Ali Al-Habsi, six years from his peak?

Overall, Reading don't break a variety of ExpG models, even on defence and while luck is the most likely explanation for their over performance, I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to assume skill differentials or tactical nuances aren't entirely absent.

However, even if we allow an Al-Habsi inspired Reading a near equal GD, that explains why they aren't actually in the bottom third, it still remains puzzling as to why they aren't drifting aimlessly in mid table with Derby and Preston.

Newcastle are the poster child for out performing their actual GD, claiming around 10 more points than their single figure GD merited in 2011/12.

They share with Reading an imbalance of narrow wins with a handful of wide margin defeats scattered throughout the season.

Reading has won 16 games by a single goal margin accounting for nearly 60% of their current total points.

This may hint a the near mythical ability to "score when we want" as most exemplified by Manchester United, under SAF, Jaap Stam's former employer, but United perhaps aside, this ability is often difficult to maintain.

The effect is more striking in the Premier League, but a side which relies on single goal wins for a large bulk of their points sees their points total decline by around 6% in the subsequent season. Maybe implying their record was more down to unsustainable influences.

Reading have also profited from late goals. As a crude measure, 11 extra points have been won from goals scored after the 87th minute. Another alchemical trait practised almost exclusively in the longish term by SAF

It would be churlish to brand Reading as merely fate's flavour of the season, but it would equally be unwise to take their current lofty league position entirely at face value.