We have all the time in the world

I think this is probably quite original analysis. Bear with me then while I explain myself.

In basketball they have a notion of ‘pace’. This is important in the way players are analysed: if a basketball player averages 20 points per game in a team that attacks 100 times a game, he’s not the same as a player who averages 20 points per game in a team that attacks 50 times a game. Different teams employ different approaches: you get fast break sides that go back and forth a lot, and other teams the slow the tempo down.

This applies to football as well to a degree. With the help of Opta stats I first took each game from last season and checked to see how long the ball was actually in play.

So let’s call this step 1, and let’s say that in match 1 the ball was in play for 60 minutes.

In step 2 we look to see what percentage of possession each team had. So if team A has 75% of the ball and team B 25% of the ball, that effectively means that team A had 45 minutes to do things and team B 15 minutes.

Do you see why this might be important? By doing this we get an idea of how teams are playing, how good they are at creating opportunities and at stopping opponents from creating same.

When Fulham fans moan that the team’s buildup is too slow, we can in part counter that actually, in home games at least, Fulham get a shot in every 2 1/2 minutes of actual possession, which is normal (away from home is another matter).

Let’s work this through then, using data from the 2012/13 season.

First, here are the numbers for overall shots in teams’ home games.  Again, what is shows is that in their home games, Spurs get a shot off every 2.1 minutes they actually have the ball.  They allow their opponents to get a shot off every 3.8 minutes of their possession.

There’s not much differentiation there, but it shows that some teams are quicker in making shots in their home games than are others.  Remember, all numbers are minutes.

Note how hard United and City make it for opponents to get off a shot. Fulham, by contrast, are not particularly good here: I suspect it’s one reason fortress Cottage is no longer really fortress Cottage.

Next, total shots in teams’ away games. Spurs are at it again, piling in the shots.


Note that FUlham are pretty much a disaster, needing the ball for almost four and a half minutes to get off a shot, and allowing a shot every two minutes. It’s probably the worst combination in the league. Spurs were very impressive in preventing shots away from home, too. They had a terrific away record last year and here we can see why. From the numbers, their away games were more like most teams’ home games.

Fine, that’s overall shots, but this isn’t the be all and end all. You need *good* shots, and that’s where a bit more differentiation becomes apparent.  Numbers now are for shots on target, which are A Big Deal.


The first thing that stands out is how hard Manchester City made it to get off good shots against them. It took 10-11 minutes of possession at the Etihad to create a single on target effort. Wow. Fulham are again middle of the road. It’s curious to see Chelsea landing where they do.


Away from home it’s again Spurs and City, with Fulham again right down there. In our away matches it’s taking us almost 10 minutes of possession to get off a shot on target. We effectively turn home teams into Man City! Swansea actually had a pretty good away record so what you’re seeing there, I suspect, is a team picking its moments quite carefully. Reading gave up a shot on target every 3 1/2 minutes, which is worse only than Fulham.

I can break all this down by outcomes as well. We need to be careful here as small sample sizes are all over the place, but nevertheless, some nuggets:

Villa won five away games in and in these games their opponents went a remarkable 13 minutes of possession between shots on target. In Villa’s away defeats it took five minutes to get through them. Actually they were really interesting in these away wins: despite being battered at Anfield, they held Norwich, Reading, Stoke and Sunderland to a combined 11 shots on target in almost two hours of defending.

Chelsea’s home numbers are weird. In wins and losses they got off a shot on target every three minutes. In draws it’s every nine minutes. Clearly they had five big stalemates where they were completely shut down.

They were probably quite unlucky away, too. In five defeats their opponents got off a shot every 12 minutes of possession and Chelsea every three. They must have been unlucky there (these were close defeats to Newcastle, Southampton, WBA and West Ham).

Fulham attacking didn’t vary much in home games regardless of outcome, but in the wins we stopped the opposition shooting (sot every seven minutes) and in defeats we didnt’ (every four).

For most teams there’s a fairly straightforward relationship between success and stopping shots on target.

What does it all mean? For one thing I think it really draws out teams’ strengths and weaknesses, also asking questions about their style, what works, what doesn’t. It shows that Fulham are no longer dominant at home and have a fairly disastrous combination away, whereby it takes us a long time to get off a good shot, but opponents find it easy to do same against us. This is pretty damning and perhaps suggests that what looked like an improved away performance last year may have merely been quite fortunate.

Thanks to Opta for providing me with the numbers I needed for this.

15 thoughts on “We have all the time in the world

  1. Somebody ought to say wow and thanks so I will.

    Presumably the club has access to this information and is constantly analysing.

    The recruitment early of Amorbieta, Steklenberg and Boateng would have been an attempt to improve the shots against stats. An indication that the real weakness was in defence not attack.

    1. I agree (and have been saying this all along). Jol correctly identified defending as our weak area last season and acted decisively to address it. Whether the players signed are the right ones is still an open question, of course.

  2. Interesting as always, Rich.

    Whilst many think that it is our attacking which has been below par (and at points it has) it is the complete destruction of our ability to defend in open play which will ultimately be the end of Jol. When he goes, either next summer or before depending on results) the next manager will have a bit of a slam dunk in reorganising the team because instilling some basic defensive understanding will improve the team no end.

    I would be intrigued to see the same results done for Jol’s first season in charge – I’d imagine that we look considerably better. Partly this will be down to the remanents of Hodgson’s defensive shape, but for me, the crucial aspect this team has lacked since then is a player or two in the middle of the park who is comfortable on the ball and wants to run the team. Murphy and Dembele took the pressure off us with clever positional play and passing, something we sorely still lack.

  3. As usual, great work Rich in bringing some meaningful stats to show how our team are performing.

    Some very interesting (and somewhat depressing) reading concerning us allowing teams to shoot. It’s been driving me mad the amount of time we allow teams to shoot around our box and this is borne out by these stats.

    I think Roy did allow teams to shoot around the 30 yards mark based on the probability they won’t score and are more likely to cause damage getting the ball closer to our area. The odd “worldy” apart, it made us difficult to score against.

    I hope the likes of Parker and Amorebieta will change this stat whilst still allowing us to attack.

    TIme will tell but unless it improves, Jol will be in for a very tough time very soon.

    1. Generalising massively, but when teams shot against Roy’s Fulham there’d have been 8 men between them and Schwarzer, by and large. Now it’ll be 4-5, which I suspect is half the battle.

      1. Very true. Shakhtar Donetsk away stands out in the memory. They were hot favourites and had all the possession but were reduced to efforts from outside the box. We had one first half attack from which we won a free kick near the corner flag. Duff floated in a rather tame cross and Brede scored.

        In Roy’s time the midfield (especially centre field) sat much tighter to the back four, whereas now when one of our attacks breaks down there can be acres of space there.

        Slightly unrelated, but why can we not find one, just one player who can strike a decent cross from a corner or free kick.

        Fascinating material again Rich. Well done.

        1. To add to this, if you recall the Guardian Chalkboards (in memoriam) that we posted so often during Roy’s heyday, the opponent rarely got a pass off in the final third, let alone a shot.

          Oh the days…

  4. THIS is why we have missed you!!

    Pure science – hypothesis, find the ‘proof’ to back up your hypothesis, publish to get peer reviewed.

  5. The major cause in my mind of the difference between Hodgson’s rigid 8 in front of the box plus the two target men harrying is the wing attacking under Jol. Last season we had both Riise and Reither overlapping and the likes of Kaca, Duff and Dejegah high and wide – that reduces the defensive screen from 8 to 5 and the numbers bear that out. Ironically this year it seems Reither and Richardson have been told to stay deeper and Dejegah has been missing so whether Jol has the measure of the issue or not I dont know.

  6. So glad you’re back!

    I think the critics are over-thinking things. We used to have Dembele and Diarra running the midfield. Those guys together were incredible! Now they’re gone, and we’re not as good. That’s not Jol’s fault.

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