Tuesday 16 February 2016

Pulis' Road Block.

A Tony Pulis side was at it again on Saturday afternoon.

WBA traveled to Everton, points-wise becalmed in the high 20's following a win-less run since the first game of the New Year. It's a run that inevitably befalls lower table teams at some stage of the season and drags them gradually, in the minds of the supporters at least, into the relegation mire.

Based purely on shot data Everton routed their visitors 33 attempts to 5, 6 to 1 on target, but Pulis has never been respectful of raw counts and the Baggies won three points with a 1-0 win.

No one has played the payoff between  creating few Ben Woolcock "big chances" while allowing lots of long range attempts in return more than Pulis' Premier League teams, most notably Stoke.

WBA's winner, bundled in from a couple of inches out following a near post flick on from a corner proved enough on the day to outscore 33 attempts of which around half were from outside the area and just one from inside the six yard box.

Gradually accrued superior expected goals defeated by the relative certainty of one virtually unmissable opportunity.

Back in his northern hinterland, Pulis' "stats busting" win failed to garner the press accolades that he won when lifting the manager of the season award for similar performances that rescued a slightly fallen southern giant from an imminent return to the second tier.

Stats that are beloved of the advocates of the beautiful game, possession, pass completion, open play as opposed to putting it into the mixer set play deliveries have been the natural habitat for Pulis' contrarian approach.

If there was a coveted stat associated with "playing the game the right way", a Pulis team were inevitably the ugly outlier, cutting their cloth accordingly.

Saturday's win exhibited another Pulis staple that rarely nudges the dial in one direction or another for the vast majority of Premier League teams.

15 of the 33 Everton attempts were blocked, saving Foster the trouble of making additional saves, without the inconvenience of having to deal with any wicked deflections.

Few teams stray for from the league average in terms of blocking shots, even when shot type and location is incorporated into the model. And while single seasons in which Pulis demanded his Stoke team make around 10% more blocks than expected from a location based model may not provide compelling evidence for an atypical, coach driven tactical quirk, the season on season blocking over performance for his teams perhaps does.

Even when faced with Everton's 33 attempt barrage, 15 blocks is excessive. The average Premier League team would most likely block around half that number and succeed in blocking 15 or more in only around 1 in 100 such games.

So we perhaps have more evidence to add blocking to Pulis' statistical reign of terror. And judging by the enthusiastic way in which Robert Huth, a graduate of the Pulis school of defensive arts, threw himself in the way of some of Arsenal's shots on Sunday, some aspects of Pulisball are gradually seeping into the mainstream Premier League playbook.

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