Category Archives: General

How important can a single player be?

One of the things I always wonder about in football is how important any given player really is. When you think about it, there are only so many points to go around.

First, a disclaimer: this is all theoretical. I know, I really do know, that football is a team game. That the interactions between players are complicated, that assigning individual value to a player transcends this kind of analysis. That managers sign players to fit into a role in a system, and that this system is often what makes a team win or lose. I get all that. This said, players must have some inherent value, right? Or why buy them? If you pay whatever million for Ross McCormack it’s with an expectation that he will make the team better. My question, then, is how much difference can one player make?

For reasons we’ll get to in a minute, take a look at the 1972-73 season. That year Liverpool won the league with what would have been an 85 point haul (2 pts for a win then). WBA were bottom with what would have been a 37 point haul. So over 42 games the best team in the league were just over a point a game better than the worst team. Put another way, Liverpool scored 34 more goals than WBA and allowed 20 less, so you’ve effectively got a 54 goal swing between the best team in the league and the worst.


So over 42 games the best 11 players in football are combining to be 54 goals better than the worst 11 players in football! If you want to divide this up and assume 11 players played all the time, we might assert that the very best players are worth 5 goals a season more than the very worst players!

Think about that for a moment.

In baseball they call “the worst players” replacement level. Simply put, it is assumed that most first division teams could field a team as good as the worst team in the division, so what you’re looking at is a concept of value over a replacement player. Here we see that to be the best team in the league you need to find 55 net goals over an awful team. So, on average, your players need to be worth five goals a season above bad. That doesn’t seem like much, but really, nothing else adds up. Sure, it may be that this 55 net goals breaks down as 15 goals above replacement for a superstar and everyone else four goals above replacement, but you get the general drift. The point is: there’s only so much value to go around. Unless something very odd happens, most players can only ever have incremental value.

For reasons best known to me I dug deep into that 72-73 season, focusing on Leeds United. I looked at all the games, looked at how Leeds did, how good their opponents were, and which Leeds players were playing at the time.

What I did then was to assign credit for good performances and debit for bad ones. So against Liverpool that season, if Leeds held Liverpool to fewer goals than Liverpool usually scored they got defensive credit, if Leeds scored more than Liverpool would usually allow, Leeds got attacking credit.

Leeds also finished 50 goals above WBA, so let’s divide up those 50 goals based on the digging I’ve hinted at above (I won’t go into the details). We get this:


What? All it is really is apportioning the surplus points based on how the team did when each player was on the pitch. So here we have a number of players who were on the pitch when Leeds did well. John Giles by this method was the most important player per appearance, Leeds doing best of all when he played, but he only played 33 games. The numbers respectively are those 33 appearances, 27.7 means that when Giles played opponents were held 27.7 goals (for/against remember) below what they achieved in all other matches that season, and pro-rated is just fitting all of this into our 50 goal surplus (how much better Leeds were than the worst team in the league).  When Giles didn’t play Leeds underperformed a bit, so players like Peter Lorimer, who played most games, don’t get much more overall credit than Giles. If Giles had played 42 games he’d be the clear leader.

Anyway, by dividing things up we get a sense of who contributed what. True, we can’t untangle exactly who did what, but we have some clues: when Roy Ellam played, Leeds struggled mightily. This wasn’t likely all Roy’s fault, but he played in what were otherwise full-strength teams. They lost 4-0 to Chelsea, 2-0 to Liverpool and 2-1 to Birmingham in those three games, as well as drawing 2-2 with Palace. Given that Leeds were arguably the division’s best team that year, we can see that Roy’s presence was not conducive to Championship form. It might have had nothing to do with Roy but I have no way to untangle that.

Otherwise most of Leeds regulars might be said to have contributed about 5 goals above that replacement level. I appreciate that this is fudged slightly because I set 50 as the total ‘pie’ to share out, but hopefully by working through a single team in detail we can see how – almost by definition – no single player can have *that* much impact on a season. There are only so many points to go around, even on great teams. If you think Allan Clarke’s worth 20 points a season to the team, if you think Giles and Lorimer and other superstars are similarly gifted, then before long you realise that you’ve run out of points, and that the likes of Billy Bremner and Jack Charlton and Norman Hunter, well they’re worth a piece of the pie, too, right? And so on and so on… So you come back to where you started, that even the best players in this team may only have contributed 5 net (attacking or defending) goals more than an average player might have done in their place. Nothing else adds up.

Right, if by some miracle you’re still reading, you’re wondering if this is the right way to look at things. It probably isn’t. But again, when we buy a footballer we assign a value to him, an expectation. And I’m saying that these expectations almost have to be too high. There’s only so much surplus value you can fit into a football team.

This affects the way all teams do business. If Fulham needed 50 net goals to be competitive this year (and actually the Championship still seems to broadly support this) then they had to understand a) what they had and b) what they needed. Ross McCormack brought all those goals with him, and we had a good wonder about what that might mean for Fulham, but in retrospect we needed more players of that quality, because a single star player on his own isn’t going to cut it.

The Secret Footballer on the Championship, and how Sam Allardyce’s analytics made a difference


More brilliant stuff from the Secret Footballer about how Sam Allardyce used analytics to his advantage:

Allardyce’s analytical ideas were impressive. He looked at everything, every component of the game.

At one point, he stationed a player at attacking corners in an area of the pitch that appeared to be in the middle of nowhere.

His logic was based on seasons of statistical research that determined where the clearing header was most likely to land on average.

The clearing header is the most likely result from a corner so it pays to know where it’s most likely to land.

The reason for that is because the stats for goals from a corner go down with every recycled ball.

It goes something like this. The corner is aimed at the middle of the goal.

Statistically, this is the area, actually just slightly towards the near post, where most direct goals, usually headers, are scored.

But there are stats at work here, within stats.

Because if that header isn’t a shot, then the next area that it is likely to end up in is the back post or “Pomo” – the position of maximum opportunity.

Allardyce would station a man here, running in on the outside of the back post for what would be a tap in. Very often this was Kevin Davies.

The third part of the area that the ball would end up would be just in front of the goalkeeper and you can still see Allardyce’s stats at work here. This time, with West Ham United.

In front of the keeper is exactly where Kevin Nolan stands and I’ve lost count of how many goals he’s scored from this position.

All of these three parts of the penalty area are dependent on a Bolton player winning the first header. After that, the stats go down markedly.

After that, the stats in play are for a recycled ball … or the second phase of play.

And given that the clearing header is generally towards the dugout near the halfway line, there are two options when keeping the attack going.

Either hit the ball to the back post, where players like Davies will knock the ball down for someone to shoot, or pass it to the corner taker, who hits an inswinging cross, usually nodded home by a centre half or a striker.

People thought that Bolton were a big, cumbersome team. They weren’t; they just played the stats better than anybody else.

He’s likely to talk about Fulham tomorrow, which should be interesting to say the least. It’s a fascinating series so far.

Scouting for Fulham part 3 – tying it all up

Some of you will have noted my starting with League One in this series. Why?  Well, simple: the method is looking for the very best players by looking at elements of teams that are performing exceptionally well relative to other teams.  Those teams will usually be towards the top of the league, so is it realistic, in our position, to be cherry picking the best players from the best teams? Not at all. But you can probably do that with the best players in League One.

Anyway, all well and good.  But where does this leave us?  A load of names that might or might not lead to anything.  Thing is, we can easily back check the method. It’s a manual process so I’m not about to do to much, but in the interests of validation I’ll do the Championship seasons 2010-11 and 2011-12.

Here’s what the method would have led me too.  In short, it’s effectively an approach that says “Dear Mr Scout: watch x team and pay attention to players in y positions”.  So:

Norwich: Grant Holt, Wes Hoolahan
QPR: Kyle Walker
Swansea: Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor, Angel Rangel, Joe Allen

I’m really happy with this group. Holt might not be everyone’s cup of tea but he was certainly effective. Hoolahan’s a terrific player. Any of those Swansea players would have been a big asset to Fulham.

Forest: Wes Morgan (now Leicester captain)
Southampton: Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana
West Ham: Kevin Nolan, Ricardo Vaz Te, Carlton Cole

Same here.  The West Ham cohort will raise the odd eyebrow but these are effective players, and the point here is that the system was looking for the best players in the Championship – it’s hard to argue that these players were not among the best players in the Championship.  The Saints players were clearly legit, and Wes Morgan probably would have represented something of a diamond in the rough.

I’m cherry picking after the fact but not by much. The whole point here is, as noted above, to provide scouts with areas to explore thoroughly. Any scout told to go and watch Southampton and to keep and eye on the forwards would have come back with glowing reports on the above players. Ditto Swansea’s defenders.  It works.

So there’s no reason you couldn’t do this for Sweden, for instance, or Denmark. If I may name drop for a second, while writing my Roy book (four paperbacks left – or find it on Amazon!), Erik Nevland really stressed to me the importance Hodgson and Lewington placed on professionalism, on character.  It’s no coincidence that they dipped into Scandinavia so often.  There’s no reason we couldn’t do this now.  We have a fair idea that the method works in identifying the better players, but we also know that we’d be paying a premium for the kinds of names we’ve been finding.  But dig around in Scandinavia, focus your search on the parts of teams that are excelling in their particular job, scout them intensively (note: you cannot, cannot, cannot, do this kind of thing with analytics only; you need every kind of information available to you, and attempts to create false dichotomies are a waste of brain-space) and see where it leads you.

This isn’t particularly sophisticated analysis, but it’s searching with a point.  Also during my research for the Roy book I found some really good quotes from the WBA chairman, who, after hiring Hodgson and director of football Dan Ashworth, was scathing about how English clubs do business:

“It reached a watershed seven years ago under Bryan Robson when we were bringing in older players who had maybe had their day. I thought to myself: ‘If I’m spending the club’s resource, based upon recommendations made by people who might not be here in a couple of years’ time – for whatever reason – and we are left with those problems, I’d rather make the decision driven by the right methodology rather than on a whim. Basically, if I’m going to make a mistake, I’d rather make it myself.’”

So he went around Europe to see how other clubs did it. They found a role – sporting director – which English clubs really didn’t like, but which European sides felt was all but essential. “They were all looking at England saying: ‘We cannot understand what is going on when we deal with England. The clubs there pay top price, they don’t really check what they are buying.’”

Hmm. If that doesn’t resonate, it certainly should.  This is why there’s a need to think about rigour, about processes, and yes, about backing up some of these decisions with analysis, not just the whims of people who might or might not be good judges.

Look, analytics is a dirty word among football supporters.  But it was among supporters in other sports, and in those sports, the teams that have failed to embrace all available sources of information have fallen behind.  Literally every misgiving you see about statistics on fans’ sites is not a reason not to do this.  Yes, football is complicated, yes you can prove anything with stats, yes you can mis-read stats, but that’s why you have some of the brightest people in the world moving into these fields, to guard against exactly this (against this, Sir Alex Ferguson apparently sold Jaap Stam because he misinterpreted some tackling stats – it happens!).  It’s a slow process, a hard one, and even when clear truisms are being found, getting buy in from the football side of things won’t be easy.  But any forward thinking club needs to do this.  It doesn’t cost much, but the rewards can be great.

Scouting for Fulham part 2

Okay. Well yesterday we used the power of high level analysis to try to find some players. I had to use some quite high level numbers because that’s all I have, but the thinking felt sound: identify teams who do a certain thing extremely well then try to identify which player might be behind this. Did it work? Who knows, but I enjoyed the process, so I’m back again today with the Championship.

I use standard deviations, which is a statistical measure of dispersion: the further away from the average you get the more unusual the skill. Generally speaking, anything over 2 SDs is pretty amazing. So:


Bournemouth are two standard deviations above average in scoring, shooting and getting shots on target. It’s clearly an attacking setup so hard to pull out individuals, but to be fair the defence is doing pretty well too. Looks like a fine all around team, well coached, and unmistakably for real. How do you pick a player or players blind like this? You can’t.

Middlesbrough are two SDs above average in not conceding, and in not allowing shots on target. They are not quite so good in preventing shots overall (still very good) which suggests that teams rarely get a good sight of goal and that there are men behind the ball doing a very effective job. So, as yesterday, we’ll look for players 27 or under who are in the right areas.

George Friend 27D, recently player of the year (12-13), signed from Doncaster (where he was supporters’ player of the year) with Ipswich and Forest wanting him.
Adam Clayton 26M, Manchester City from age of 7, Leeds in the pedigree, England U20, signed from Huddersfield last year, where he had also been that club’s player of the year (someone found 12 minutes worth of highlights!
Ben Gibson 22D North East Writers Player of the Year 2014, up through the ranks
Daniel Ayala 24D much touted as a youngster at Liverpool, now apparently playing extremely well for Boro

Norwich look awesome by these measures, good at scoring and shooting, and hardly allowing anyone to shoot against them (2.5 SD above average). The fact that they are shooting a good amount suggests a near absolute control of football matches.

Bradley Johnson 27DM
Nathan Redmond 21AM
Martin Olsson 26D/M
Jonny Howson 26MC

All of the above have been around the block a bit, playing at the top level and with some plaudits. Redmond well hyped, of course.

Watford don’t shoot that often but do score often. Top finishing or expert chance creation? Either way, some top notch front play.

Troy Deeney 26F has scored at a goal every other game for three years.
Odion Ighalo 25F I’m in love with Ighalo. He looks like a faster Clint Dempsey, apparently capable of scoring any type of goal you might imagine. . From the Udinese talent pipeline.
Matej Vydra 22AM aslo via Udinese, Czech international, another lovely player.

And we can’t do this without mentioning Fulham.  If we were scouting Fulham we’d note that the attacking element is passable but defensively less so, to the point where nobody at all in the division has allowed more shots on target.  That’s terribly damning: not awful in preventing shots overall, but give away really good chances, suggesting attackers not being picked up or closed down.  There’s nothing here that Fulham do well, so as an analyst, searching for hidden value (alright, hardly hidden), you’d take a quick look at those Fulham numbers and move onto the next team without dwelling for long.

Scouting for Fulham

Tony Khan, the owner’s son and statistical head honcho for the Jacksonville Jaguars, crashed into my world this evening via Twitter.


Well.  Given our current status we’re probably going to have to find players from leagues below our own, so that’s hard, because there’s not much data on League One.  Never mind, I thought, let’s see what we can do.

You will by now be aware of the general perception that football is about goals for and against (I’ve prattled on about goal difference being a good indicator for years, yes?) but also worth noting that shots, and particularly shots on target, tend to be even better.  And obviously there are two sides to this coin, those shots you take and those you allow.  So:


Hehe. So, what we’re looking at here is how the teams in League One do at scoring, not conceding, shooting, not allowing shots, getting good shots, not allowing good shots.  We then compare the teams to the rest of the league and highlight situations where a team is an outlier.  As an example of this, teams only get one shot on target for every three shots they take against Preston, which is sensational and suggests that it’s almost impossible to get off a clean shot against them.  This could be because of their defence or their midfield, but in any case, it’s what we’ll call a lead.  Below we explore some leads.

Bristol C better (outstanding) F/A than indicators suggest = v strong midfield?  Hard to know though, seem to be excellent everywhere so not clear who to spotlight.

Crewe half of their shots are on target, much better than rest of division.  Suggests creating v good opportunities and/or good forward play. So:

Nicky Ajose 23F Didn’t make it at United, but Ferguson sold to his son Darren at Peterborough suggesting Fergie saw something. On emergency loan from Leeds.
Anthony Grant 27M Chelsea youngster, made first team squad in 2005-06, no appearances.  England U16,U17,U19. Last year made available for loan by manager owing to attitude issues.

Jamie Ness (above) 24M – young Rangers prospect who had injury issues and who left when the club went into administration.  Signed for Stoke but didn’t break through. Been loaned out to Orient and now Crewe.

What I’m doing here is scouring the team’s stats for players who play regularly in the positions we’re interested in and who are under 27 years of age.  They might be rubbish but you have to start all this somewhere, right?  I’m delighted with my first three stabs, all three players having significant pedigree in the game.

Fleetwood – their opponents need a lot of chances to get one on target. Fleetwood concede many more shots than they take, but similar end up with similar numbers on target. e.g. they are much more efficient.  Suggests perhaps a good counter-attacking team?  Not sure. In any case, they have two young full-backs who seem interesting:

Josh Morris (above) 23M young left back on loan from Blackburn, where he was well thought of.
Conor McLaughlin 23D young NI international
Antoni Sarcevic 23M Man City youth from 7 to 15, fell away, played non-league, now working his way back up.

Preston have outstanding defence. Almost 3 Standard Deviationss above average for how hard it is to get a shot on target, which is nuts.

Paul Huntington (below) 27D centre-back, former Newcastle player.  I’m going out on a limb here: a centre-back, aged 27, came through with Newcastle, now anchoring one of the toughest defences in League One: I reckon Huntington’s got something going for him.

Tom Clarke 27D defender or midfielder, former England youth
Joe Garner (below) 26F – the thing here is that Preston have these insane defensive stats but Garner’s only gone and scored 20 in 29 games. Prolific all his career but hasn’t really stuck. Often a victim of numbers, e.g. signed for Forest for £1m but stuck behind a number of decent options. Worth a punt.

Bailey Wright (below) 22D Preston young player of the year in 2013. Australian youngster.



Look, I’m not an idiot.  I know that you can’t just pluck names out of thin air, copy a paragraph from wikipedia and proclaim yourself the Billy Beane of football, but there’s method to the madness.

1) we’re finding teams who are outstanding at a particular facet of their game. This is important: it gives us some assurance that we’re finding players who can do a job.  We’re not being blinded by perceptions, we’re finding defenders who are part of teams who are great at defending, for instance.  We can’t know from here why the teams are so good at defending, but by looking at the defenders who have played most often, not been a sub, etc, we can have a fair guess.  It is only a guess, but an educated one.
2) we seem to have stumbled upon a number of players with a decent pedigree.  This is suggestive of talent, which is a big deal.  It’s very easy for footballers to get lost in senior football, there’s so much luck involved in who makes it and who doesn’t (I really believe that).  So there’s little doubt in my mind that there are gems to be found down the leagues (or how do you explain Bournemouth or Brentford?).  I think this is one way to find them.3) clearly the next step would be to get some qualitative feedback.  That’s exactly what I’ll try to do next.

But I wouldn’t be that surprised if taking this kind of iterative approach to building shortlists might not be the way forward.  As I’ve discussed too many times to mention, our eyes are notoriously poor judges of anything, and if players could be effectively judged this way all managers would agree who the best players are and nobody would make mistakes in the transfer market.  This doesn’t happen.  When you break things down to actual achievement then you’re not letting prejudices blind you; you’re finding defenders who have had success defending.  Which is what you want.  Then of course you have to untangle the information you get, but it’s a start, right?

They’re human too

This is a really good story by the girlfriend of a baseball player.

Are there any more annoying comments from football fans than “for the money he earns he should be able to take it?”/”I pay for my ticket, I have a right to voice my opinion” etc etc.

It seems vaguely ludicrous that football players, by being rich, should somehow be above human concerns.  This article articulates quite well the hurt a player can feel when things don’t go well.

With or without you: Bryan Ruiz


And you know what?  It doesn’t actually change much even if we exclude the Magath games (goals against av drops to 2 from 2.2).

Interesting, eh?

This isn’t meant to be another “is he any good” provocation, by the way.  Just something I’d wondered about.

Northern Pitch

If you’ve been around here for any length of time you’ll remember Brian Quarstad, who contributed immeasurably to CCN and went on to write the award winning, influential and indispensible Inside Minnesota Soccer site, and Bruce McGuire, an ongoing inspiration in football fandom, blogging, and just in general.  I don’t know that you know much about these fine men but they’ve been very active in the world of Minnesota football for some time.

They’re both kind of a big deal, and I’m delighted to have made their acquaintance. Why would you care about that?  Well, I don’t know, maybe you wouldn’t, but the history and future of football in Minnesota is compelling.

They can tell it better than I but in the last few years their team has evolved considerably: it was the Minnesota Thunder when I first took an interest (hence the Dark Clouds supporters group now) and then the Stars, then United.  They play in the NASL, which is a kind of second tier in the US (there’s no relegation or promotion so it doesn’t quite work that way) and the trick has been that in recent times the team’s future has been somewhat up in the air, not least because the mighty NFL Vikings built a new stadium and threatened to have a soccer element to the site, which would have been annoying on a couple of levels: first, the Vikings could have helped out with soccer in Minnesota many times over the years and haven’t done so, but mainly because this rumoured Minnesota Vikings soccer suggestion would almost certainly have killed off Minnesota United, just as United had started to really be something.

Anyway, you don’t have to care about any of this but there’s a lovely purity to what’s happening in football ‘over there’.  I’m not so naive as to think that it’s really any different to football anywhere else, but Americans tend to do sport well.  So that means amazing stadia, cool logos, and excellent coverage.  No, that’s not what the sport need necessarily be about, but as an armchair fan the ‘product’ (am I even writing this!) tends to be pretty good.  I can get Minnesota United highlights on Youtube pretty damn quickly, for instance.  That counts.

Minnesota United have some great supports, some of whom even put together a Fulham Review style annual last year.  It’s better than anything I ever did, too.

So I dunno.  Lots of Americans have adopted Fulham as their favourite team, so perhaps going the other way we might find it in our hearts to follow Minnesota United.

Oh, I nearly forgot!  The team has just been given notional approval for promotion (agh!) to MLS in the near future.  So the future is secure!

You can read all about this, and much else besides, at Northern Pitch.  I strongly recommend it.

Win Puma trainers


I know our readership extends around the world so perhaps there’s something for everyone here.

To coincide with the launch of the PUMA Trinomic XT1, JD Sports have teamed up with PUMA and five influential magazines for a special competition launching over the next week.

The competition will be operating in five cities: London (18th March), then Bristol, Manchester, LIverpool and New York.

In each city a trainer Krate will be hidden.  Whoever finds it first gets the trainers.  Clues will be given out on the following twitter accounts:

London: @Flavourmag
Bristol: @Wordplaymag
Manchester: @Fluxmagazine
Liverpool: @Halcyonmag
New York: @ComplexMag

So follow the account for your city and get hunting.

To coincide with the launch of the PUMA Trinomic XT1, JD Sports have teamed up with PUMA and five influential magazines for a special competition launching soon.

If you’re the first to find the JD x Puma Krate, snap a selfie and upload it to Twitter, tagging the magazine in your city from the list above, @JDSportsfashion and with the hashtag #JDXPUMA to claim your prize.

Another ramble, this time about Fulham’s lack of attacking purpose

Curiously, I’m going back to the Grantland well.  This is an article I read the other day and is about basketball.  What?  No problem. The point is that in basketball there’s a new emphasis on moving the ball quickly so as to create open three point shots (three point shots being those taken from distance):

NBA teams are increasingly addicted to 3-point shooting. That’s been common knowledge for a while. The feeding of this addiction has changed the way entire offenses are run. Out with the ball-stoppers, in with the ball-movers.

The sneaky thing about NBA 3s is that they demand cooperation. While only 52 percent of the league’s 2-point field goals involve an assist, 84 percent of 3s involve an assist. As the league increases its appetite for long-range shooting, it must also ramp up its passing. Moving the ball has never been more important, and systems that keep the ball in motion effectively have never been more successful.

What does this have to do with anything?

A lot, I think.  I haven’t seen nearly as much of Fulham as I’d have liked this year, but my abiding image is of Ross McCormack taking stupid shots from miles out, shots which would have limited chances of success even if he had a clear sight of goal, which he generally doesn’t have at the time.  And if we cast our minds back, remember Martin Jol’s 4-2-3-1?  The defining experience as a spectator was to sigh with disbelief as the players’ flexible attacking roles led to widespread confusion and a lack of penetration and cohesion.  Ponderous was another word.

A key part of football is, of course, space.  In defence you need to restrict it; in attack you need to make it.  Fulham have, for some time, not had it in them to counter attack.  Counter-attacks are a good way to find space: draw a team onto you, leaving space behind them, then hit them when they’re on the front foot and kill them before they recover.  (This was the classic Eastern European philosophy in the 1970s and one of the best things I’ve ever read about football was an article in a book by Eric Batty about how the Czechoslovakie team of the 70s learned to counter attack.)

That’s not the greatest example but I wasn’t going to spend ages searching. Red Star Belgrade from 1991….

If you’re not going to counter attack you need to find other ways to create space.  Under Roy Hodgson this was done through cohesive teamwork: lots of balls into Zamora, who would then bounce them into the path of a cutting Damian Duff (hard to defend moves played out with such rapid precision) or clever patterns in wide areas that either freed Konchesky to cross or created pockets of space for a Gera or a Dempsey or even a Davies. Hodgson’s teams made space using pre-rehearsed routines that didn’t find opportunities every attack but which were adaptable enough to be recycled into a second or third phase (Murphy outstanding here) to continue that precise probing.  There was a direction to it, a purpose.

A typical high speed Duff attack (what a player he was)

I mentioned coincidence football the other day and there’s an element of the playground to proceedings.  Players playing off the cuff, improvising, seeing what they can see.  With no pace you’re relying on moment of genius or accidents. Now, clearly not all goals under Hodgson or even under Jol were well crafted acts of beauty, but the trick was a decisiveness and a purpose that is entirely missing.  This is an area where you can absolutely point at the coach.  No, he doesn’t have the Hodgson touch or Jol’s Diarra-Dembele-Murphy-Dempsey-Zamora setup (did that combination play much? It ought to have done), but he can find ways to make more incisive attacks.

Part of this lament relates back to the age old point about balance: if your defence is weak you end up over-compensating by pulling back too many attacking players.  That said, Fulham have uniquely in recent times managed to get neither correct.  This was Martin Jol’s genius, or lack thereof: give the team a more attacking outlook without scoring more goals (but conceding lots more!).  We’ve never got that hard-to-beat vibe back, and are presently in a hapless battle for control of football matches that invariably ends with the team being outshot and outscored.  You don’t conced five goals five times if you can defend, but arguably you don’t concede five goals five times if you can attack, either.

As the initial article pointed out: “systems that keep the ball in motion effectively have never been more successful.”  Fulham have got away from this.