Monday, 20 January 2014

Crystal Palace. Just Like Watching Stoke City.

The sighting of a Pulis led side that was out shot, out possessed and out passed, yet still managed to take all three points was hardly a new experience for the 2,000+ Stoke fans making the trip to Selhurst Park on Saturday. This tactical wrinkle, based firmly around allowing poor sides the ball until they run out of limited ideas, before succumbing to either a set piece score or a mental error worked as well against Pulis' former side as it had against their exasperated opponents during his memorable time spent in charge at the Britannia Stadium.

Post match reaction of fans from the Potteries, following a largely dour and unattractive 1-0 defeat, ranged from the ironic "How can they watch that every week ?" to "I'd take him back tomorrow". All told, not a great away day, as the bottom of the table contracted even further.

It hasn't taken Pulis long to install his preferred approach and the most obvious change can be seen in the frequency at which the players are now making passing attempts compared to their rate of passing first under Ian Holloway and also under interim coach, Keith Millen.

Average Time Elapsed Between Passes Under Holloway/Millen and Under Pulis.

Player. Mins/Pass Before Pulis. Mins/Pass With Pulis.
Dean Moxey 3.0 4.8
Mile Jedinak 1.8 2.4
Damien Delaney 3.3 4.2
Danny Gabbidon 3.3 5.6
Joel Ward 2.4 3.1
Marouane Chamakh 2.4 2.7
Kagisho Dikgacoi 2.1 2.9
Dwight Gayle 2.0 3.7
Jason Puncheon 1.9 3.2
Adrian Mariappa 3.9 3.7
Barry Bannan 2.3 2.9
Cameron Jerome 3.8 4.1
Yannick Bolasie 4.0 4.5

Virtually every Palace player whom has played substantial time in 2013/14 under Ian Holloway/Keith Millen and now under Pulis has seen their playing time adjusted passing rate subsequently contract. It is always possible that random variation across sample sizes, combined with different opponent strength can produce similar effects. However, so extreme has the change been across all players, coupled with Pulis' previous preferences, there can be little doubt that there has been a major shift in emphasis. The chances of both sets of passing statistics being drawn from a common ancestor is remote, the differences are significant.

Palace players are making fewer passes per minute under Tony.

Saturday's match also produced a study of the type and frequency of shots at goal typically demanded by Mark Hughes at Stoke and Tony Pulis at Palace. Despite being comprehensively out shot by 17 to 12, Palace still amassed a slightly better cumulative goals expectation when x,y shot location was accounted for. 1.2 expected goals for the hosts compared to 1.1 expected goals for Stoke.

The culprit and recurring theme for Hughes coached teams was an abundance of long range efforts from the visitors. 12 of Stoke's 17 efforts from distance individually had a (much) less than 8% chance of producing a goal compared to just  just 6 for Palace. The hosts also dominated the high return efforts closer to goal, another Pulis trait carried over from his time at Stoke. Three Palace efforts had an individual goal expectancy of 20% or greater, a chance taking area where Stoke drew a matchday blank.

Three of Palace's high value opportunities came by way of a triple Jack Butland save, an indication of Pulis' fine eye for a keeper, that often deflects attention from his more scatter gun approach to recruiting successful out field talent during his tenure at Stoke. Therefore, if we wish to evaluate the fairness of the result in light of the shots attempted and conceded by each side, we need to acknowledge that, even in is partly artificial probabilistic reconstruction of Saturday's classic, Palace could only have scored once from this intimately related barrage of rebounds and shots.

Despite the larger footballs in use at Stoke, Assaidi is providing an unsustainable number of goals from distance.
Once the shot locations are evaluated, related events identified and outcomes simulated, the actual result falls well within the bounds of likely outcomes. Palace's slightly superior overall goal expectation is eroded enough by Butland's triple save to make Stoke narrowly the more likely to win a prolonged simulation of the soring chances. A 35% win probability based on shots taken for the visitors barely edges the 33% for the hosts.

A 1-1 draw was the most common scoreline seen in the simulations, closely followed by the actual 1-0 win recorded on the day by Palace. Stoke then pile in with a couple of higher overall total goal victories to edge Palace overall, but despite 29 total shots, the match was very unlikely to turn into the eight goal thriller that Stoke had fought out with Liverpool during round 21.

Pulis' relegation avoidance strategy, honed throughout his managerial career, particularly at Stoke is likely to give Palace a decent shot a staying up. Especially against limited opponents, such as the current, devoid of Fuller-esque pace and guile, Stoke team, against whom his strategy appears to work best.

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