Let’s forget Fulham’s 2015-16 forgettable season

 

(by timmy; apologies for mislabeling when Kit was fired/Joka hired on a few of these images)

The 2015-16 Season can be told in 3 chapters: Kit, Interim, Joka. Throughout these chapters was the same bad stats, poor defense, inconsistent offense, and otherwise anonymous cast of characters.

Kit was kept on as manager because he initially did extremely well taking over for Magath’s Reign of Terror. Things regressed heavily toward the end, as we crawled toward the finish, but we felt most of that could be attributed to the poor squad composition and PTSD from Felix. I dare you to visit a match report from late 2014-05 and not laugh at the starting XI’s. That wasn’t a team, it was a casserole.

This season was supposed to be different. Summer signings like Tom Cairney, Ben Pringle, Jamie O’Hara, and failed attempt at Lewis Dunk showed the club’s movement toward analytics and the process, over big names well past their prime .

A full offseason of Kit’s philosophy would undo whatever damage and upheaval the past 18 months had left.

TSR.png

rollingTSR

PDO

But, things never really took off. Inconsistency reigned supreme. The defense kept shipping goals. The offense made up for this with an astronomically high conversion rates, but most knew it couldn’t last. Soon it became evident Kit simply wasn’t the right man, and probably shouldn’t have been kept on over the summer.

There was an interim period where under the guise of Alan Curbishley(?!?) and Peter Grant, furtive gestures were made to Steve Clarke (got fired anyway!), Nigel Pearson (wanted his assistants still at Leicester to come with; good thing they stayed put!), before finally convincing Slaviša Jokanović to leave Israel for London.

Joka corrected the defense, but the that offensive regression we worried about came with a vengeance. A league-high 36% Shooting Percentage under Kit would tumble to a league-average of 29%. DangerZone shots for would also decrease from 36% to 32%, with about a half-less shot in the DZ per game (when you’re only attempting 4 to begin with while giving up 6, that’s a big drop).

SoT Share

Rolling Sh%.png

Shooting% For

Three wins in a row for the first time since 2012 (was that the year?) would be immediately followed with the wheels falling off the bus. 13 goals against in final 5 games. Opponents shots surpassing 19 on 4 of the final 6 games.

The task at hand, already appearing daunting, requires more work than most suspected. Unless Joka can work magic this summer, a long stay in the Championship beckons. The pieces are there, but several of the large ones must be sent away in exchange for additional parts.

dz fordz against

On Saturday this not particularly fun or noteworthy season ends.

Let’s analyze Slavisa after just 7 games!

(by timbo)

As I mentioned yesterday, Fulham’s TSR has increased whereas the Shooting % has decreased in Slavisa Jokanovic’s 7 games in charge. This is a very small sample size, and barely half of what Kit’s is, but it’s still illustrative of the changes he’s made.

Below are four graphs. The first set is Fulham’s TSR and then PDO under Kit, the interim period (weren’t like 3 people in charge then, including Alan Curbishley?), and Slavisa.

The second set is Fulham’s Shots on Target Share (i.e. our % of a match’s total shots on target; if we have 3 and our opponent has 7, we have 30% SoT Share) and Shooting % (how many shots on target result in goals). There’s also our Danger Zone Shots For % and Danger Zone Shots Against %.

TSR & PDO

Notice the TSR uptick under Slavisa? Despite our overall bad TSR metric (see yesterday’s post), we’re actually trending upwards, ever so slightly.

The defense, Kit’s achilles heel, is actually improving ever so slightly. We’re giving up 1 less shot in the Danger Zone per game than before (6.3 to 5.4). That might not sound like much, but our offense was carrying this team in a very unsustainable way.

And the second set of images:

Shooting % & DZ %.png

Holy crap our shooting has nosedived, especially in the Danger Zone. This may contradict what I wrote about our TSR improving, but that’s why it’s helpful to look at these things in many different ways.

Part of this is because:

  • We’ve played some very good opponents since Slavisa took over. Hull are currently in an automatic promotion spot. Derby and Sheffield Wednesday are currently in the playoffs. Wolves were a top-10 team in mid-January. Blackburn, despite having the then-tied-for-worst-offense, has a top 6 GA defense.
  • He’s kept the same formation between matches just once (Kit changed formations once in his 16 games in charge).
  • If you count his first game as zero, he’s averaged 2.6 changes to the starting lineup between each match (Kit averaged 1.5).
  • Ross McCormack missed a match where we had but 9 shots total, 2 on target (remember, this is only a 7 game sample size).
  • Just watching the team you see a new offense: whereas before the offense was an open, exciting/frantic give-and-go system that too often exposed the defense; now we’re possessing the ball and playing with a high line.
    • On average we’re still shooting the same amount of times, but far less on target and much less in the Danger Zone. This isn’t surprising when you introduce an entirely new offense half way through the season.

Slavisa was given half a season to try different things to see what will work for next year. He’s clearly attempting that, and some metrics are taking a slight hit.

It will be fascinating to see where these numbers, and the team’s results, go in the remaining 15 matches this season.

 

Championship Advanced Stats

(by timbo)

I’ve been keeping advanced stats for Fulham all season long, but I’m happy to announce that I’ve finally figured out how to tally up data for the entire league. Here are the fancy numbers, via WhoScored:

# Team TSR SoT Share Shooting% Save % PDO
1 Hull 0.584 0.621 31.1% 79.3% 1.105
2 Middlesbrough 0.533 0.563 28.9% 84.8% 1.137
3 Brighton 0.545 0.546 29.2% 73.7% 1.029
4 Burnley 0.450 0.510 36.4% 79.5% 1.159
5 Sheffield Wed 0.508 0.555 37.1% 68.9% 1.060
6 Derby 0.543 0.554 31.0% 74.0% 1.050
7 Birmingham 0.476 0.486 30.4% 77.3% 1.077
8 Ipswich 0.515 0.542 28.0% 67.8% 0.957
9 Cardiff 0.475 0.502 30.2% 73.6% 1.038
10 Notts Forest 0.525 0.533 21.2% 78.9% 1.001
11 Preston 0.490 0.507 26.4% 72.9% 0.993
12 Wolves 0.471 0.451 32.3% 72.2% 1.044
13 Brentford 0.472 0.465 30.2% 70.0% 1.002
14 QPR 0.518 0.518 28.5% 68.6% 0.971
15 Reading 0.618 0.592 23.9% 65.3% 0.892
16 Leeds 0.479 0.430 29.6% 73.8% 1.034
17 Huddersfield 0.542 0.523 30.9% 64.5% 0.954
18 Blackburn 0.529 0.578 22.2% 70.7% 0.929
19 Fulham 0.457 0.463 34.1% 66.9% 1.009
20 MK Dons 0.452 0.415 25.0% 70.2% 0.952
21 Bristol City 0.474 0.504 22.3% 59.7% 0.820
22 Rotherham 0.492 0.470 28.3% 61.5% 0.899
23 Charlton 0.386 0.435 21.7% 64.1% 0.858
24 Bolton 0.481 0.452 24.4% 65.1% 0.895

Unfortunately I don’t have a sorting function handy (feel free to copy/paste into your own excel or google spreadsheet), but here’s where Fulham are overall within each metric, with notes in parenthesis:

21st overall in TSR (this means we’re getting outshot a lot, and it’s happening more often than the rest of the league. This is not news.)

19th overall in Shots on Target Share (we’re giving up less shots on target than we’re giving up in total, but 18 other teams are both shooting and conceding on target better than we are.)

3rd overall in Shooting % (our offense is scoring a lot of goals despite not attempting many shots on target. This is probably due to the system we were running under Kit, but that is material for another post. That said Experimental361 dubbed us “Languidly Clinical”—so I guess the ghost of Berbatov still lives with us!)

18th overall is Save % (our Save %, which is essentially ‘Goals Against’ divided by ‘Shots on Target Against’, is where it is because our defense is so atrocious. If you look at the current table you’ll see only Rotherham & Charlton have conceded more goals. The fact this metric is not worse is, in my opinion, a credit to the play of Andy Lonergan.)

11th overall in PDO (this is hard stat to compare each team with, but as the mean PDO is 1, we’re basically where we should be in the table because of our, in the context of of our defense, astronomical Shooting %. Yep, things could be worse.)

One silver lining is that our TSR has been increasing steadily since Slavisa Jokanovic took over. However, our Shooting % has nose dived—presumably because he’s running an entirely different tactical setup.

I’ll write another update this week discussing his first seven games in charge, especially comparing things to Kit and whoever was in charge during the interim period.

Fulham go moneyballing for gold

Football and analytics fight!

This has been going on forever in baseball, so no shock to see it happening here, now, either.  Worse, much of what the likes of Bill James discovered in the 70s and 80s was more or less indisputable, but it still took until relatively recently for his ideas to take hold.  Now all baseball teams (it really is all now, I think) embrace analytics, looking for an edge anywhere they can find it.

Football is harder.  Anyone unconvinced with the whole notion will tell you that: instead of discrete batter v pitcher matchups, football is a fluid game with indefinite happenings.  Chain reactions abound. There’s more noise than… not noise.  It’s a minefield, it really is.  But still, you look for edges where you can find them, right? Better to spend £250k on a middle of the road midfielder from Slovakia than £2m for a middle of the road midfielder from Leeds.  If you can pull it off.

Anyway, much excitement on twitter over this recent piece.  I won’t go into the details, but what fascinates me is what the powers that be can have seen in Madl and Mattila in the first place.

Now, we can’t retro-fit these two at all.  The data that must be in use is not in the public domain as best I can tell, so we must go top-down (e.g. look at a team level).  I don’t think this is the worst idea, anyway: after all, a top down approach means you’re looking at what happened to the team the player played in.  It takes a brave man to see a poor defensive side and decide that there’s a centre-back in there who’s doing a fabulous job.

So…

I can’t see anything.  Have a look at these numbers, which are the games Mattila played in before we signed him.

Mattila.png

This is what I’m getting at.  Here we have a team that, in 2015, was beaten by five goals twice and four goals twice.  Now that could be a systematic failure from any number of perspectives, but from an analytics POV, what can you see in there that makes you think a defensive midfielder is worth a punt?  He’s making lots of tackles?  I bet he is! His team’s being attacked relentlessly.  He passes well?  Maybe, but if so he must be a lone beacon of positivity in what seems to be a very poor side.  We know, we think, that even the best players are only worth a few points over an average player a season, so it’s possible he has been playing brilliantly, but using a top-down viewpoint at least, it’s a mess, to the point where I’d be nervous about unpicking an individual’s contributions.

The sensible retort might be that the team has used several years of data, which I hope is the case.  The comeback might be that he’s bounced around from team-to-team for a while, only settling in his recent stint at Aalesund, which itself is confusing.  There must have been pedigree there or Udinese wouldn’t have bought him in the first place (they are scouting masters), but after that, nobody seems to have been convinced.  A true diamond in the rough if he works out.  From here, it’s hard to see.

Michael Madl is half-similar: he’s come from a team (Sturm Graz) that appears to have been comfortably top half for the last couple of seasons.  They’ve scored and conceded goals at a perfectly normal rate in the last couple of seasons.  So what do we take from that?

Madl

This uses standard deviations to unpick where a team’s strength lies.  I can see here that Sturm Graz have been a better defensive side than might initially have been guessed: they were a pretty good side in 2014-15, and much of that was because they had the second best defensive team in the league.  Now, sometimes there’s an alarm bell around this, because the attacking play isn’t all that.  What it could mean is that this is just a team that sets itself up defensively (e.g. keep men behind the ball even in possession): goals dry up and so any top-down measure will make defenders look good and attackers less so.   This could be what we see here, as the Sturm Graz games have been among the lowest scoring in the league for the last couple of seasons, implying more closed, cagey games.

All of which is a long way to say that I really don’t know.   Madl, I can see, maybe there’s a sniff of something, and if Fulham got Opta numbers to probe further maybe they did see that Madl’s leading a defence that is perhaps a bit better than average in Austria.  It’s a reach though.   As noted from the outset, it’s very hard to unpick an individual contribution from his team’s performance, and there’s nothing I can see (which doesn’t mean much, of course!) that suggests we might be on to some kind of dynamite.

The key here is scouting.  If the club have enough analytically to peer deeper, watch the player a few times, then that’s fabulous, and hopefully what’s happened.  Otherwise, well, your guess is as good as mine.

We do know that previous signings have had an analytical ‘calling card’, e.g. the key passing acquisitions of the summer, and to an extent Ream and Stearman doing their thing (what was it, blocks?  I can’t remember), so perhaps it’s as simple as that: they’ve found players who, in ways I can’t see, are statistical outliers, and, at lowish cost, have taken a punt.  Time will tell.

Roy Hodgson book now on Amazon

Hi

Still here.  I will write more soon.

I just wanted to give a heads up: my Roy Hodgson book is now available as a paperback on Amazon.  It’s a proper paperback format, and I’m pleased with how it’s come out.

The link’s here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Roy-Hodgson-Football-biography-Englands/dp/1499640773/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1454240532&sr=8-2&keywords=roy+hodgson

The initial self-published paperbacks sold out, so this is your chance.  I’ve re-read it, and I think it still stands up quite well.

cpver

Why Kit Had to Go

(by timbo)

What to say about Kit Symons that hasn’t already been said? We got our immediate bump when he replaced Magath, but have essentially plateaued for the past calendar year.

Our offense is on fire and something to behold when fully functioning. The one-two passing and fluidity were such a reprieve from the nebulous Magath and static Jol era. And it worked: currently we lead the league in goals scored and shooting percentage. Our PDO is second to Boro.

Yet this type of offense would be Kit’s undoing, as the defense would be exposed whenever our midfielders moved upfield. It was also due for a major regression (those numbers weren’t going to keep up with a defense this bad).

Speaking of, stating our defense is bad is now akin to saying iTunes sucks. It’s been so bad for so long we’ve sort of just accepted it.

Ted Knutson, creator of of StatsBomb.com and now analytics honcho at Brentford, came up with a theory that relegation candidates often average 16 shots against per game.

Although this is presumably for the EPL, and things in the Championship are slightly different, but if we still apply that metric Fulham were averaging about 14 shots against per game this season. Last season was over 15.

Additionally, Fulham’s Danger Zone Against percentage (this being shots that are essentially point blank) this season is 42%. Last season, when I last calculated it in early April, it was 41.9%.

Despite all the changes in personnel, there hasn’t been much systemic improvement with our defense.

So Kit had to go. It’s a shame as he seemed like a genuinely nice person. And one thing becomes evident when looking at the numbers: if we wanted to remain a mid-level Championship club, Kit would have been a fine manager.

But we don’t want to be mid-level Championship side, let alone remain in it.

We want to be in the Premier League.

Those final 15 minutes vs Charlton

(by timbo)

Sometimes leads are blown because the lead was perilous to begin with, a result of some fluky behavior and good fortune, and it catches up with the team as some sort of metaphysical reckoning.

Other times it’s bad luck or a momentary lapse in judgement, a result of some cruel joke by Loki.

And then there are other times when you’re two goals up with 10 minutes plus stoppages to go. Then but fifteen minutes later,  you are no longer two goals ahead but instead level with your opponents. And it’s because you made a Gamble when you should have probably just, oh, I don’t play cards but you know what I mean.

In the first 80 minutes of the game, this was Charlton’s shot chart:

first80

In the final 15, it was this:final15

Numerically, they had slightly more shots in the first 80 minutes. But only 4 of the 12 were in the Danger Zone, and most were speculative long rangers.

In the final 15 minutes, 7 of 9 (not the Star Trek character), nearly 80%, of Charlton’s shots were in the Danger Zone, basically point blank.

Here are their shots in this span, logged by minute:

81(g), 82, 85, 86, 88, 88, 90, 90, 96(g)

I don’t normally like to speculate on substitutions, but Cauley Woodrow is worth looking at. Kit gambled, and it almost paid off after clearly not paying off and then eventually did not pay off at all. In the 88th minute The Gamble could have very easily could have iced the game for us had an unfortunate deflection not nicked his shot wide. But, the shot didn’t go in. There was no goal and no ice and no two goal lead with minutes remaining.

Up to that point Charlton had gotten a goal back and attempted 6 shots, 4 within the DZ. After The Gamble they’d attempt 3 more, all in the DZ, and one would score.

A second defensive substitution was not made until Mattila came on in the 90th, about ten minutes in to Charlton’s blitz of point-blank shots.

Thoughts on the QPR thrashing

A win that raises all sorts of questions.

What is the modern Fulham? The team that crushed QPR 4-0? Or the team that has been beyond ordinary for as long as we can remember?

Realistically you have to err on the side of caution, but just as there were reasons to be negative before, there were plenty of reasons to be cheerful on Friday too.

I think this was a crucial win in this respect. Few of us, I suspect, felt that the team had this kind of performance in them. That being so, where did it come from?

1) Ryan Tunnicliffe is not as good a footballer as some of the recent centre-midfield candidates, but he has a role and he sticks to it. Without overplaying this, a few of us have been moaning about this for ever. Football is a team game and sometimes you need less talented players to make the overall unit function. Tunnicliffe showed glimpses of this in a couple of very disciplined and restrained performances under Renee Meulensteen, and it’s been pleasing to see him used now. So merely accepting the need for a player like Tunnicliffe feels like a big thing.

2) I recently read the latest Secret Footballer book, and there were a couple of interesting parts in particular. In one, the player – Dave Kitson we believe – talked about how fans are overly impressed by players who throw themselves around, but not by players who show real bravery, trying the difficult pass that has high rewards but which, when it’s not successful, leads to groans from the crowd. For whatever reason – and it might be just how QPR defended – the players seemed somehow bolder. I think it helps having a genuine playmaker like Jamie O’Hara in the side. O’Hara – and I was quite wrong about this – isn’t just about the spectacular for the sake of it. There’s an intelligence to his play that opens up opportunities. I think perhaps that confidence spreads to his teammates.

3) alright, let’s be honest, the back four is new and improved and this makes everyone else better too. Whatever the merits of those no longer playing, it must be said that Ream and Stearman have a steadying influence on the middle of the pitch, and the full-backs are on another planet altogether. James Husband looked good last year and has continued this. He just gets it. He seems – for this level – to have just the right kind of mentality for a full-back, good instincts, good decision making. The covering across in the second half, where he ended up sweeping up on the other side of the field, was a good example here. I don’t know how the Garbutt situation will play itself out but Fulham have the player they need, and while full-backs aren’t typically very exciting to those making transfer offers, we’ve all seen how hard it is to get good ones. Just make a deal, Fulham.

4) I don’t know if Ryan Fredericks can defend but if he can he’s too good for this level.

5) I confess to having had my doubts about Dembele. I thought I was seeing an age group bully, someone whose physical attributes made him a destroyer down the teams but unlikely to figure out the professional game. Of all our young players I was least impressed with him. Like all of us, I like to think I can spot a player, but clearly missed big here. He was immense on Friday and played an intelligent game in partnership with McCormack. And you can see plenty of room for improvement, too.

QPR were pretty awful but Fulham were excellent. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but just showing that we have this kind of performance in us is enough to bring about some optimism.

Fulham 2015-16 Stats

Timbo here!

Here’s a link to a google spreadsheet I will be updating with data from each match (or, I hope to keep updating): Fulham Data.

Notes:

  • It’s still very early, so there’s been a lot of wacky variance within and between each match (see: the PDO in our opener, our Sv% at Hull and then vs Huddersfield…)
  • Our PDO is about at league average, so we’re not lucky nor unlucky.
  • Despite getting, for all intents and purposes, a new back line our defense is still abysmal. Nearly 50% of our opponents shots are in the ‘Danger Zone’ (80% of Sheffield Wednesday’s were in the DZ!), and we’ve been outshot in all but two matches.
  • Our offense is much better, with marked improvements in Shooting%, DZ Shots For Total, and DZ Shots For %.
  • It’s still very early, so there’s been a lot of wacky variance within and between each match.

Once data for the entire league becomes available I’ll post that so we can see where we stand in comparison to others.