#4 Team Analysis: AS Monaco – Realistic Expectations

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In this piece I will take a look at AS Monaco’s Ligue 1 performance to see why they are sitting in 19th after 13 games. Looking at their recent transfers, I’ll investigate what their expectations would have been compared to what their expectations should be.

This is a team that only two years ago won the Ligue 1 title, holding top spot for most of the season, and was a team full of emerging young talent. Players such as Kylian Mbappe, Bernado Silva, Thomas Lemar, Benjamin Mendy, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Fabinho all contributed greatly alongside veterans such as Radamel Falcao and Joao Moutinho. This season the only player still at the club is still Falcao, Monaco were a club that thrived off the talent of these rising stars and cashed in. Larger European clubs such as Paris Saint Germain, Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea and Liverpool all came in and stripped Monaco of their title winning team.

Since the system worked so well previously, it’s not hard to see why they have tried to replicate their success and have looked to reinvest in a new crop of youngsters to compliment the likes of Falcao once again. They have brought in the likes of Youri Tielemans, Pietro Pellegri, Willem Geubells, Benjamin Henrichs and Aleksandr Golovin who are all under 22, with Pelegri and Geubells both 16 at the time they were brought in. The concept which they are trying to repeat is to build the team around giving these promising youngsters lots of playing time, hoping to accelerate their development and mature early, therefore prolonging their careers at the highest level.

This transition couldn’t happen overnight, and has taken two years for these recruitment changes to occur. Last year Monaco managed a 2nd place finish behind a resurgent PSG team, which is respectable considering they loaned Paris their best asset in Mbappe for the year and lost Bernado Silva and Mendy to Manchester City. That’s a lot of attacking threat to lose, however they managed to keep hold of Lemar, Fabinho and Moutinho. Fabinho and Moutinho are two competent central midfielders who can take control of any given game, allowing Monaco the foundation to let their forwards do their thing. It could be suggested that losing Fabinho to Liverpool and Moutinho to Wolves in the summer before this season are the losses that were hardest to replace. Fabinho has proved himself worthy of a spot in a Jurgen Klopp midfield three which is saying something and Moutinho is part of the Portuguese midfield duo at a Wolves team proving themselves already a competent Premier League team.

Out of those youngsters brought in over the last two years, only Youri Tielemans has the suggested promise to be able to replace either. However, Tielemans has been playing in a more offensive midfield role previously at Anderlecht and Belgium, relying on a young player who’s still getting used to controlling a game from deep may not be the best idea.

That moves us on to Monaco’s current crisis, they sit 19th in Ligue 1 after 13 games and just been thrashed 4-0 for the second time by PSG [PSG have won their opening 13 games and sit 13 points clear]. After 9 games, Leonardo Jardim, who was in charge of their title winning season, mutually agreed with the club to leave and has been replaced by Thierry Henry in his first managerial role.

Monaco v PSG 11Nov18

A team that has finished 1st and 2nd in the previous two seasons shouldn’t be anywhere near the bottom of the league at this point of the season. They have underperformed their xG and xGA across the 13 games, so they haven’t scored as many as they should and have conceded more than they should have. Though not by a huge margin, they have 12 goals from 16.31 xG and conceded 22 from 17.47 xGA. Regressing to the mean, we can expect Monaco to perform better than current standings suggest, but that is nowhere near challenging for the title. Based on previous seasons, expectations would be to dominate most games by creating lots of chances and giving away few. Their goal difference of -10 and xGD of -1.16 shows a difference in expectation versus reality but compared to 2nd place Lille’s xGD of +7.28 [PSG’s xGD = 23.66] shows how far away from pre-season expectations they are.

Except, there doesn’t seem to be anything clearly wrong. Their defence is as leaky as suggested, conceding 1.69 goals per game. They aren’t creating enough good chances to score the goals to win games, scoring 0.92 goal per game. They have had 150 shots, creating 15 big chances but conceded 154 shots and 19 big chances so far. Most worrying is that they aren’t controlling games, they aren’t putting the opposition under pressure and they seem to be playing in matches on a level playing field with many of the teams in the league. So far this season they are performing like an unlucky mid table side, nowhere near their expectations of European qualification.

When I say there doesn’t seem to be anything clearly wrong, I mean that there doesn’t seem to be anything immediately fixable wrong. It’s not the case that they can change just one thing and go back to being the title challenging side they used to be. That’s because they are literally a completely different team to that one, even if the expectation hasn’t changed, the players definitely have and they are not as good as those who left. Unfortunately, it seems as though Monaco’s attempts to recruit a new group of young title winners, or at least challengers haven’t worked so far. Which isn’t surprising. It will take time for the players to get used to playing in a top 5 European league and playing with each other and handling the expectations all at once. They aren’t suddenly a bad team, just not what they were last year and the expectations surrounding the team need to reflect that. It is also worth noting that they have had some serious injury concerns which has forced them to play maybe more youngsters than planned.

*credit to Understat and @Statszone for the numbers and figure

@TLMAnalytics

#3 Are Man City Better Without The Ball? – Defensive Analysis

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In this piece I will take a look at what makes Manchester City such a good defensive team by looking at the types of recoveries that they make. Comparing games that they have dominated and those they have ‘struggled’ in (used very loosely) suggests there’s a reason why they have looked less clinical in some games, and can identify a potential chink in the City armour.

We all know that City are one of the greatest teams at keeping hold of possession. Pep Guardiola has brought with him and adapted his style of play from Barcelona and Bayern Munich with great success. They are beautiful to watch, passing the ball around the pitch with such patience, precision and ease that it makes you think you could do it watching from the couch. What’s not immediately obvious is the defensive prowess of teams under Guardiola and how they manage this, despite not even training tackling (!).

“I am not a coach for the tackles so I don’t train the tackles.” – Guardiola, Dec 2016

To score a goal, you need to have the ball, and when playing against Manchester City you don’t get the ball for long. This means that you need to make every time you do have the ball count, if you are wasteful then you might not see it again for a while. The problem is that as good as they are in possession, once Manchester City lose the ball they are arguably even better, making it extremely difficult for opposition teams to take advantage.

They have played 14 games this season and only twice have they made less recoveries than their opponents. Considering City are so good with the ball, you may hope that they are at their weakest when they don’t have it. This shows that they are just as good, if not better than most at getting the ball back.

Not only are City at least as good as everyone else at recovering the ball in general, in terms of where they recover the ball, they are by far better than most. Out of 724 total recoveries made so far this season, 231 were made in the opponent’s half (~32%). Whereas only 112/628 recoveries were conceded in City’s half (~18%). This means that City are recovering the ball higher up the pitch more often than against them, which is important since there is less distance to goal and usually fewer defenders the higher up the pitch you win the ball back.  Even more astounding is the fact that the minimum number of times City have recovered a ball in the opponent’s half is 11, which was away to Arsenal in the first game of the season. Every game they make at least 11 recoveries in the opponent’s half, the most so far was against Fulham at home (shock) where they made 25 recoveries in Fulham’s half.

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Whilst only on four occasions have their opponents recovered possession in the City half more than 11 times. These games were the three away games against fellow top 6 members (Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs) and their only defeat, at home to Lyon in the opening Champions League game.

Out of the 14 games City have played, these four were among those where they looked the least clinical version of themselves. They beat Arsenal 2-0 however arguably should have won by more. The 0-0 draw against Liverpool looked like a game with two teams who didn’t want to lose cancelling each other out, hardly any chances were created in that game. They won 1-0 against Spurs in another game where arguably City should’ve score more. In their 1-2 loss to Lyon with Guardiola in the stands, they met a clinical Lyon side and couldn’t create a big chance all game. In each of these games City didn’t look at their best, and in each of them, their opponents recovered the ball in City’s half as much as City recovered the ball in their half (63 v 54). In the other 10 games, City recovered the ball in the opposition half 168 times and conceded recoveries only 58. That’s only four more than the four least clinical games City had.

Not only does recovering the ball high up the pitch prevent the opposition from getting anywhere near your goal and therefore no chance to score, it also instantly puts you on the front foot and creates better scoring opportunities for your own team. We know that City are such a good team with the ball, however this suggests that many of their great chances probably also come from winning the ball back from teams high up the pitch. It may seem obvious and easier said than done, but if you are able to prevent City from doing this to you or if you are able to recover the ball high up the pitch against them then that looks the best way to disrupt them. Limiting the number of times they recover the ball in your half gives you the chance to move the ball further towards their goal and prevents them from exploiting your defensive transitions.

The players with the most recoveries per start for Manchester City seem to be the players who have played the most this season. This suggests that it’s something Guardiola keeps an eye on and favours in his players. I have counted the number of times a player has made 5+ recoveries in a game compared to how many starts that player has had. The top 3 are Mendy (8 times/9 starts), Fernandinho (12/14) and Laporte (10/14). The games which Mendy missed, Delph (3/4) and Zinchenko (1/1) covered for him and appears to be a recovery gold mine at City’s left side.

Credit to @StatsZone for the graphics and recovery numbers.

@TLMAnalytics

#2 Team Analysis: The Rise (and Rise?) of Deportivo Alaves

I will take a look at the intriguing situation that Deportivo Alaves have found themselves in. Comparing where they were a year ago to where they are now, I will look to identify whether or not their current results are sustainable.

In 2016/2017, Mauricio Pellegrino managed Alaves to 9th place in their first season back in La Liga for 6 seasons. This was a great achievement and quickly drew the eyes of the Premier League where he went on to manage Southampton. Luis Zubeldia, an Argentine who had never managed in Europe before, took over for the start of the 2017/2018 season before being sacked after losing and failing to score in each of the first four games. Gianni De Biasi, who was previously the Albania coach who managed to qualify them to their first major tournament, replaced Zubeldia. Though he managed to get them their first goals and wins, it wasn’t enough as after only two months in charge his contract was terminated as Alaves sat rock bottom of the La Liga table on 6 points. They had 2 wins and 11 losses from 13 games, only scoring 7 goals and conceding 22. After a great first season back in La Liga finishing 9th the year before, this wasn’t exactly how they’d hoped the start of their second season would go. Since then, Abelardo Fernandez has been in charge and has won 19 out of 35 La Liga games, winning 1.74 points per game. Alaves would’ve finished 5th in the 2017/2018 season had they maintained that across a season and qualified for Europe. After 10 games in the current 2018/2019 season, Alaves find themselves 2nd only behind Spanish giants Barcelona.

Apart from the set back early in 2017/2018, Alaves have proved they are well worth their place in La Liga. In only their 3rd season back to La Liga they are sitting in 2nd place, I will take a look at the stats behind their recent fixtures to judge how sustainable their recent results have been.

So far Alaves have won 6 games, drawn 2 games and lost 2 games, meaning they are at 2 points per game and results are better than average across Fernandez’ tenure. They have scored 14 goals and conceded only 9, however their expected goals (xG) is 10.41 and expected goals against (xGA) is 13.59. Alaves are outperforming their expected returns at both ends of the pitch, they are scoring more than and conceding less than is expected based on the shots that have occurred. When a team is outperforming their expected goals, it is usually not sustainable, elite level finishing is the exception. We can expect that Alaves will regress back to the mean, wherever that mean is.

Even though Alaves have outperformed their xG/xGA as a total, looking at each match they’ve played individually tells a different story. Since they appear to be over performing expectation, you may expect that they over perform in each game. This is not the case as there is only one game that they have won where they had a lower xG than their opponent (1.10 – 0.85 vs Real Valladolid [away]). This includes their win against Real Madrid in which they snatched victory in the last-minute to earn a 1-0 win with xG of 0.95 – 0.84.

Two games in particular highlight the importance of looking at individual games, their first game away to Barcelona and their away trip to Rayo Vallecano. Barcelona thrashed Alaves 3-0 on the opening day after receiving a guard of honour for winning the title last year, with xG of 3.27 – 0.25. So 3.27/13.59 of xGA and 3/9 of their goals against all came in the first game, in the nine games since then they have had an xG of 10.32 and conceded 6. They are still out performing xGA, however it’s a much more representative view. Several games later, Alaves won 1-5 away to Rayo Vallecano with xG of 1.08 – 1.25. Helped out by a Rayo Vallecano red card and some excellent finishing in the first half, they created some higher xG chances in the second half with more space to counter into and ran away with the game. There were 5/14 of Alaves’ goals but only 1.25/10.41 xG in this game, meaning that in the other nine games they had and scored nine goals from 9.16 xG which looks much more reasonable and sustainable.

Rayo Vallecano v Deportivo Alaves

Across each individual game the xG prediction for a winner is correct 70% of the time (2 draws and 1 loss), if Alaves carry on putting up these numbers for xG and xGA then there’s no reason why their success isn’t sustainable. The only question is whether they can keep it up. Of course, xG doesn’t win you games, actual real-life goals do. Let’s delve into what type of goals and when these goals are scored.

Alaves haven’t scored a single goal in the middle 15 minutes of any half (15-30/60-75mins). This means all of their goals have come at the start or the end of a half, these are very good times to score. A goal at the start of a half will put you on the front foot and a goal at the end of the half gives the opposition little time to react, if it’s just before half time you can go and regroup whilst if it’s just before the end of the game there’s usually no time for reply. It is not a conscious decision when they decide to score but provides insight into the flow of how Alaves try to play. Explosive starts to each half with a quieter middle to relax before ending strongly. Alaves are very good at finishing halves but whether that style of play is sustainable is another matter, out of the 10 games they’ve played in they have scored in 90+ minutes five times. This has won them three games and drawn one meaning that they have gained seven points from last-minute goals. That is not sustainable.

Considering that Alaves appear to be over performing their expected returns at both ends at a total level, the fact that they have scored goals in 90+ minutes in half of their La Liga games and they are currently sitting at 2 points per game which is above their average in the last year, it doesn’t appear that their current results are sustainable. That’s not to say that they will revert back to the relegation battling side a year ago, but they will regress back to their mean somewhere in between.

Credit to understat.com once again for their amazing site and xG models. Check them out.

@TLMAnalytics