Monday, 22 May 2017

Tony Pulis Is Not A Slacker

Tony Pulis is never short of narratives.

Since the diminutive Welshman announced his presence on the main Premiership stage, guiding an under funded Stoke team, lacking in top flight talent to perennial survival, he's attracted plaudits and brickbats as the master of squeezing the most from meagre resources.

He's acquired manager of the season awards, as well as acrimony for his dour, anti football, laced with innovation, for which all Stoke fans will forever forgive him, especially as it came with the added bonus of infuriating Arsene Wenger.

Slacker, however, is a term rarely associated with Pulis or his three Premier League charges.

Until now.

Visually the evidence appears damning. In the 54 matches a Pulis led side has played after the black line in the graphic, only 45 points have been won.

That's relegation form in every season and the implication is that a manager who once infamously multi-tasked by cancelling Christmas, while also showering, has allowed his team to slacken when a likely survival target has been met.

So do the numbers support the view that a manager whose mantra is "work 'ard" actually relents during April and May.

"Can I have the month off, boss"?

Firstly, there is an element of selective cutoff points that do Pulis no favours in the graphic.

To surpass any target requires a side to either win or draw and in eight out of the nine seasons, Pulis' side reached the line set in the graphic with a win.

Therefore, just as "X has not won at Y since 2014/15, immediately tells you that they did actually win in 2013/14, each period of "rest and reflection" begins immediately after a positive result and that biases your perception of the ensuing games.

Secondly, gaining points is very difficult for mid to lower ranked teams, epitomised by those TP has managed.

It's quite easy to spot runs of 5 or 6 consecutive matches without a win during periods when Pulis was presumably cracking the whip (or wet towel).

Thirdly, the fixture list can get very unbalanced when broken down into segments of between 12 or just three matches, as has been done in the graphic.

Whether by quirk of the fixture list or design, Pulis has been sent more games against the Premier league's best and Arsenal in the latter phases of the season.

Rather than lounging on a deckchair, they've been taking on Arsenal (6 times), Man City (4 times, including once immediately after a FA Cup Final), Chelsea (3 times), Everton (3 times), Liverpool (3 times), and Manchester United and Spurs, twice each.

That's a disproportionately larger share of the current top 7 compared to a random draw.

The easiest way to quantify how a side has done over a range of games is to simulate the range of possible points won based around a probabilistic model that doesn't incorporate a "doesn't try when safe" variable.

This approach results in Pulis gaining the actual 45 points his sides accumulated or fewer in around 16% of trials.

So the return is an under performance, certainly, but one that might occur in 16% of simulations simply through the randomness of how points are won.

Here's an attempt to cherry pick a single season where the returns are so low compared to a odds based distribution of points that randomness is challenged as a possible contender for the actual points returned in the run in.

Seven out of the nine seasons are unremarkable, the two exceptions are the most recent campaigns at WBA, but even these two examples have respectively a 10 and 7% chance to just be random deviations from a bench line estimate of WBA's ability over the season.

And with a raft of sides hovering around WBA's performance expectation for points won going into April, the chances improve that someone, (not necessarily WBA), will appear to tank their season early.

Even if there is something in the tailing off of a Pulis side in two out of nine seasons, evidence must be presented for a possible cause, which could be plentiful.

Resting players carrying longterm injuries, experimenting with alternative tactical set ups, blooding inexperienced players, seeing your hot and unsustainable production from niche attacking methods regress towards less extreme levels each deserve scrutiny.

The list is nearly endless and almost universally laudable, but Tone giving the lads a breather would be way, way down my list, even if the data supported the claims.....which it doesn't.

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