#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

#1 Match Report: BVB 4 – 0 Atletico Madrid

Hello world,

After reading and consuming lots of amazing pieces of analysis that’s out there in the football analytics community, I found myself inspired. Watching football is now also an evaluation of performance rather than just for pure entertainment, here’s a place for me to keep tabs of some of the thoughts I have. Match reports, individual performances and defensive structure will all be on the agenda. Constructive criticism is welcome, please feel free to get in touch!

What this report aims to do is to look back on the game and highlight the key areas of importance. That will be looking at team structures and how the team has been set up to play, individual performances and suggested changes that may (or may not) have improved performance.

Initial Thoughts:

  • Dortmund have started the season exceptionally, unbeaten after 9 games in the league with 29 goals scored from only 18.42 xG. Mainly due to Paco Alcacer’s 7 goals from 2.4 xG
  • Atletico have been unspectacular, not really been tested since beating Real Madrid in the Super Cup.
  • The extreme result is what drew my attention to this game, it’s not every day that Atletico concede four.

Match Analysis:

We have an unexpected extreme score line, let’s see if there’s anything clear to explain why.

Number of shots, completed passes, attacking third passes, tackles, interceptions, fouls and possessions are all even. The main difference is in big chances and big chances created, where Dortmund have four and three respectively compared to Atletico’s zero. Considering Atletico only conceded two big chances to Real Madrid at the Bernabau at the end of September, four could be seen as significant.

Checking the attacking dashboards on Statszone for both teams explains where Dortmund were successful and Atletico weren’t. All of Dortmund’s goals were scored from shots between the width of the posts, this means the chances they created to shoot were optimal. Shooting from between the width of the goal produces the largest angle available of the goal to aim at. They favoured attacking down their left-hand side. Atletico lacked penetration into the box, with many incomplete passes and crosses into the box. They crossed the ball from deep into the box aiming for their forwards, if defences are expecting a cross they are easier to defend and attempts at goal resulting from crosses are harder to convert than others.

There is a clear distinction in styles of chances created between the two teams. Dortmund’s chances were of higher quality as they had shots from between the posts, whilst Atletico resorted to attempts from crosses.

How does a team that’s so rigid and robust in defence such as Atletico give up higher quality chances? If they did so on a consistent basis they wouldn’t be known for having that rigid and robust defence.

The context of how the goals were scored and when is important. At half time, Dortmund had only created one big chance from a corner and had scored from a long-range, deflected Axel Witsel shot. Not too much to split the sides. Considering both have won their opening two games, these two teams will be fighting for the top spot of Group A to get the best possible draw in the knockout rounds. This means that this is a game that Atletico would like to win, and after the uneventful first half, was probably a game that they felt they could win or at least get a draw out of the game.

In the second half, Atletico attempted 16 crosses compared to just 8 in the first half. Only 7 of the 24 were completed. Dortmund only attempted 6 all game. The increased frequency of crosses also came with an increase in clearances from 10 (8 in the box) to 14 (all 14 in the box) for Dortmund. This suggests that despite the increased frequency, Atletico weren’t creating any more or clearer chances. Atletico don’t play with clear wingers, this is part of what gives them such a rigid base, so their full backs have to provide the width. When losing possession getting back into that defensive shape quickly is important. Due to the nature of their attack, Atletico lost possession many times from attempted crosses which gave Dortmund many chances to counter attack. Producing chances from counter attacking against a team that is trying to recover defensive shape will produce good chances since there are fewer defenders and these defenders aren’t always set up properly. Not even Atletico are exempt from this. Dortmund completed less passes in the attacking third in the second half, but completed more passes into the opposition box. This suggests that Dortmund were able to be more productive with fewer opportunities. The difference is Atletico were set up defensively in the first half and were recovering from incomplete crosses in the second.

The resulting half boiled down to whether Atletico could break Dortmund down or whether Dortmund would extend their lead on the break. One well worked move, one perfectly executed counter attack and two assists later for Achraf Hakimi and Dortmund are 3-0 up. An extremely poor decision and pass from Felipe Luis gave Dortmund their fourth and the unpredictability of football wins again.

Ultimately, Atletico are still the defensive unit that we see them as. They just need to decide that’s the way they want to play the game. They did for 45 mins and were unlucky to be behind, they decided not to for 45 mins and conceded three late goals. Atletico will be okay as long as plan A works. Dortmund a tad fortunate, but we seem to be saying that so much recently that it’s getting uncomfortably like that’s just what they do.

@TLMAnalytics

Credit to understat.com for the xG numbers and Statszone for the graphics. Please go check them out they are amazingly useful resources.

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