I’m a bit of a stats buff to be honest. I happily while away a few post match hours looking at graphs on possession and shots on goal and the newly fashionable ‘expected goals’ data brings plenty more colourful charts to the party.
This seasons surprisingly decent opening few results caught me a bit off guard but when I was watching and re watching our games highlights something about the goals we were conceding seemed to nag away at me. I decided to turn to some data and make some pretty diagrams of my own to try to make sense of it and illustrate those doubts accurately.
We have predominately played a midfield diamond so far this season; now I have my reservations about this because at times last season I thought it left our usually lacklustre or part time full backs exposed when teams set up against us with numbers out wide.
Anyway, the nagging doubt I had this season was not directly towards our full backs or indeed the back four, but the midfield, so with my ‘Moneyball’ hat on I stated plotting the goals we have conceded on a diagram. I have charted the area of the pitch which led to the assist or a major contributing factor (a turnover of possession, key pass etc) marked with an ‘X’ and also where the goal scoring shot was taken from, marked with a red spot. The thing that jumps out from this (apart from my amateur photoshop skills) is that most of the goals we have conceded (7 out of 8) have originated from the inside left and right midfield areas, or the ‘sides’ of the diamond formation, usually occupied by Matty Blair and Tommy Rowe.
Blair is at his best when he is going forward operating as a wide man, head down, using his pace to get to the byline and deliver crosses or burst into the box at pace. He can’t do that with freedom in a diamond and coupled with the understandable personal problems he has been dealing with, has not been at his most effective; his defensive work is certainly not the strongest facet of his game.
Tommy Rowe is unquestionably a good player, but I do think he has a tendency to drift in and out of games. He really wants to play more advanced, at the top of the diamond in a number 10 role, but whilst James Coppinger continues to roll back the years he is forced to play deeper. Rowe is good going forward, but doesn’t give enough when defending on a consistent basis and is sometimes absent when teams are running onto us.
The biggest midfield issue for me though is that we are not aggressive enough, both in the tackle but also in our closing down and harrying of the opposition, both individually (including the centrally positioned Ben Whiteman) and as a unit. In spells it feels more like a training exercise in shepherding players around than a belief and desire to win the ball (big contrast between the two sides in the Blackpool game – they snapped into every challenge and always looked hungry for the ball and a result) and too often our midfield three have been shrugged off by people running at them, something Tommy Rowe has been guilty of a couple of times in the lead up to goals.
Defensively, Rowe and Blair are a little bit like square pegs in round holes but if they are to play in these areas of the pitch then they are going to have to work harder out of possession and try to add some bite to the midfield otherwise we will continue to be vulnerable through the midfield or the personnel in there will have to change – a shame given what they offer going forward; the stats speak for themselves…