Tuesday 17 April 2012

How Dangerous are Manchester United Late in the Game.

Stoke City have now played Manchester United four times at the Britannia Stadium during their Premiership career and in three of those four games The Potters have managed to arrive at around the 80th minute with the game all square.The remaining 13 or so minutes of those three games haven't been the most rewarding from a Stoke perspective,as first Tevez in 2008 and then Hernandez in 2010 claimed late winners and only recently did Stoke manage to hold onto their hard earned point.The home side's hoped for cumulative haul of three points became one and the Red Devils increased their points tally at 80 minutes from three to seven.

Watching from the stands there certainly feels like a certain air of inevitability about the possibility of a late United winner.The pressure becomes unrelenting and but for an uncharacteristically skied chance by Ryan Giggs in injury time of the latest encounter,Stoke would be on the wrong end of a 0-3 when playing United to an 80th minute stalemate at home.

Three points for a win was introduced with the intention of persuading teams to take an attacking stance instead of settling for a draw.Two wins and three defeats initially compares favourably with an unbeaten run of five draws,the latter nets a team 5 points instead of 6,an increase of 20% for the former.However,this oft made calculation usually omits to mention that the five opponents in this scenario have also seen their cumulative points total leap from 5 points to 9,an increase of 80% in their case.So denying an opponent an extra two points can still be a better option than a gung ho attempt to turn draws into wins at the expense of more losses.

The adoption of a more attacking outlook where a stalemate is looming would therefore appear to make more sense if it was used by the better team in the match up.Ideally you want to turn more draws into wins than you do into losses in case the extra points you allow your opponents come back to haunt you later in the season.Indeed the final 10 minutes of a stalemated game would appear to be the perfect setting for the best teams in the league to take advantage of the rest.The inferior opponent will at best have eight tiring starters and three,fresh but inferior substitutes.Maximizing effort combined with a widening of skill differences between the teams may combine to see goals flow more freely for the superior side as time expires.

 To see if Manchester United and by inference the rest of the best EPL sides can turn late draws more efficiently into wins,we will start with a typically league average result from tied games after the 80th minute.Two equally matched sides will typically score around a quarter of a goal each in the last ten minutes plus injury time of an EPL game and this will give each side an Expected Points total of 1.16 points from that position.If we take a look at United's record when being held to a draw to the 80th minute,as you'd expect we find that they perform considerably better than an average side.

Man Utd's record when level after 80', EPL 2005-2012 (57 games) and likely record of an Average Side.

Points per Game.
Goals Scored in Final 10' per Game.
Goals Allowed in Final 10' per Game.
Man Utd.
Average Team.

United have found themselves level with just 10 minutes of regulation remaining on 57 occasions since 2005-06 and while an average side pitched against a team of similar quality to their own would expect to turn 10 of those games into wins and 10 into defeats,The Red Devils scored game clinching goals in 22 of the 57 matches and succumbed in only five.Points per game were almost 50% above average and goals scored and allowed were similarly elevated and depressed,respectively.So United do appreciably better from similar conditions compared to average sides,but that's no more than we should expect.The are perennially one of the top two sides in the EPL and as such are the best team in virtually all of their match ups.

At any time during a match each team will have an associated win and draw probability depending upon the score and the time remaining.Therefore,it is possible to calculate the Expected Points that ManU had in every game where they went into the 80' still level with their opponents and we can compare this total to the actual cumulative total of points they actually achieved in those games.As an illustration I've charted all games from their 2005-06 season below.

The EPL is increasingly a league comprising a bulk of similarly talent mid to lower table sides,with a cream of three or four outstanding sides rising above the herd and the occasional visitation by the Ghost of Derby County at the bottom.Therefore,any attempt to model game outcome will tend to more accurately reflect the mediocre sides which make up the majority of the teams,as opposed to the Derby's and the ManU's of the EPL.If we find that teams at the extremes appear to diverge from our predictions we should at least entertain the possibility that our model has not accurately captured how good or how bad some teams can sometimes be in certain circumstances.

ManU's Game by Game Record when level after 80' in 2005-06.

Opponent. Goal Time. Scored by ManU's EP at 80' ManU Points at FT.
Man City. No Goal. 1.58 1
@Liverpool. No Goal. 1.21 1
Blackburn. 81' Blackburn. 1.66 0
Spurs. No Goal. 1.48 1
Everton. No Goal. 1.66 1
@Birmingham. No Goal. 1.58 1
@Arsenal. No Goal. 1.19 1
Liverpool. 90' ManU 1.27 3
@Wigan. 90' ManU 1.46 3
Sunderland. No Goal. 1.86 1
Middlesbro' No Goal. 1.69 1

With this caveat in mind we can fully let loose our Expected Points model on ManU overall over the seven almost complete seasons from 2005-06 onwards and over the 57 tied games at the 80' minutes.Cumulative Expected Points totals from pre game estimates for every ManU league game since the opening day of the 2005-06 season predicted that the often Champions would accumulate 580 points over that timescale and that compares very well with the 590 points they actually achieved.Therefore on a game by game basis,spread over nearly 250 games a relatively simple goals based model can accurately capture a lot of information about how an outstanding team such as United can perform.

If we now look at the 57 tied games and total the Expected Points for each of the 57 games we find that our model expected United to gain 85 points from a position of equality at the 80th minute mark.The reality was that they overachieved by 11 points and gained 96.In short over a run of 250 completed games,United overperformed against the predictions of a reasonable robust model by under 2%.In more extreme conditions of the final ten minutes of a tied game they overachieved by almost 13%.

How a Goals Based Model predicted United would Perform in various Game Scenarios since 2005.

Team. Predicted
Points Over All Games
Points Over All Games.
Points at 80' in Tied Games.
Points in Games Tied at 80'.
ManU 2005-12 581 590 85 96

The sample size of tied games is 57 and although this appears impressive it is only the last 13 or 14 minutes of those 57 games.So the reality is that United's presumed large over performance in late game stalemates has been detected in only 800 minutes of football or around 8 and a half games.I've found similar figures in Arsenal games over the same timescale,so we can combine the figures and say that over performance appears to occur late in tied games where the tied,soon to be over performer is a very top EPL side and this has been seen in the equivalent of a 17 game sample.

SAF,Master of the Last 10 Minute Drill?
In such circumstances,the top side will almost always be dissatisfied by the current stalemate,their opponents by contrast will most likely be pleased with a point against top class opposition and so they are likely playing passively compared to aggressively.We have already speculated that tiredness and the differing quality of substitutions will have resulted in the quality between the side being at a peak and additionally tactical approaches by the better side may see them aggressively seeking the win.In short the final moments of such games are fundamentally different from other game situations,which is why an unaltered predictive model may consistently under estimates very good side in these circumstances.

SAF has been quoted as saying that the title race starts in March,although this excellent post on Ravi's Analyse Football makes a great case for that claim being mere mind games from Sir Alex,but there is at least tentative evidence that United under Fergie have a very effective last 10 minute drill in tied games.

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