Wednesday 26 June 2013

QPR's Poor Shot At Staying In The Premiership.

Despite the best efforts of seasoned Premiership managers, Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp, QPR returned to the Championship at the end of the 2012/13 season following a brief, two season long return to the top flight. The seeds of their likely downfall were sown in the season's very first game, as an inability to score was compounded by a porous defence in a 5-0 home defeat to Swansea. Not the best of combinations and from those unpromising beginnings, relegation had become almost an inevitability by the time of their first league win in mid December.

QPR's season ending goal difference per game reached an eye watering -0.79 of a goal, sandwiching the side's performance between the historical averages of -0.75 for the 19th placed Premiership team and -0.95 for the bottom team. The -0.95 average is distorted by Derby's nightmare year, so in the absence of any similarly abject rival, QPR finished the campaign in last position.

Their relegation season can be better understood if we look at the type of shots they were attempting and allowing, based on the shooting location and the likely goal expectation of each attempt during 2012/13. In the table below, I've examined every shot from all of QPR's 38 league matches and calculated the likelihood that an average league side would score, miss the target or see their efforts blocked or saved. Shots have then been sorted into goal expectancy ranges and plotted for frequency. Alternate conversion rate bands have been omitted from the labeling for greater clarity.

Rangers, unsurprisingly were out shot by opponents in their relegation year by a ratio of around 1.2 to one. Despite shooting less often than their immediate opponents, they comfortably dominate the region of the plot which has the smallest expectation of resulting in a goal. Over 15% of the Hoops' shots had between a 1 and 2% chance of a resulting score. By comparison, their opponents attempted just 10% of their total attempts in this low probability, usually long range region of the shooting landscape.

The cumulative goal expectation for the 78 QPR shots with individual expected success rates between 1 and 2% was a paltry return of just over one goal and that is just the return they achieved. Low reward, long shots do not appear to be worth the almost inevitable loss of possession that usually occurs. Just 16 of the 78 shots required a save, 42 missed the target completely, 19 were blocked and only WHU conceded a goal to Taarabt, although they still won the match.

There may be a slight residual value from the blocked efforts. Blocked shots usually manage to travel around a quarter of the distance to the goal before they are blocked, but fighting for possession around the penalty spot appears a poor return from conceding possession in an attacking position outside the opponent's box.

The true scale of how Rangers were out shot in 2012/13 becomes apparent as we move across the plot from left to right towards attempts that carry a higher chance of finding the net. Higher quality chances created in QPR matches with a 20% or more probability of success quickly become almost exclusive to their opponents. This carries on a trend that became apparent once we moved away from the area of speculative long distance shooting that Rangers appeared to specialize, if not excel in.

Overall, comparing every chance allowed or attempted, an average side would have expected to score 35 goals from the opportunities attempted by QPR. Rangers managed just 29 (they were gifted an own goal by Everton). Defensively they allowed 60 compared to an average expectation of just 56. So their raw attacking and defensive qualities may also appear to be below par or alternatively, they were both ambitious with their speculative shots and unlucky at both ends of the pitch.

The only real bright spot was that they managed to numerically outdo opponents in creating 78% conversion rated penalty kicks, but they then proceeded to miss three of the four they were awarded.

This type of analysis can be further developed. For example, it is unlikely that even if the shooting from distance obsessed Rangers had been particularly fortunate and their opponents much less so, they would have managed to avoid the drop. In almost every simulation their goal differential lies within the range of a bottom three Premiership side. The shooting profile, either forced on them or voluntarily undertaken, or more likely a combination of the two, gave them virtually no chance of survival.

We may also attempt to spot any tactical change with changing lineup or leadership, although this may be a sample slice too far.

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