Sunday 17 November 2013

World Cup Final - Striker Light?

What happens to the World's leading goalscorers in the World Cup Final?

Jurgen Klinsmann, Romario, Bebeto, Roberto Baggio, Miroslav Klose, Oliver Bierhoff, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Del Piero, Francesco Totti, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Robin van Persie, David Villa, Fernando Torres. All great players, all big names, all prolific scorers.

Between them they have 77 goals in World Cup tournaments.

All have played in World Cup Finals, all have failed to score.

For those fans lucky enough to get Brazil 2014 Finals Tickets, the chances are that it's not going to be decided by a striker.

The principal reason for starting this site was to see who the big game players were, and by looking at the ranking of the opponents, we've been able to identify these to an extent. But what of the biggest game of all? When researching the Thierry Henry vs Ruud van Nistelrooy comparison, I noticed the quality of Forwards on show in France's 1998 and 2006 World Cup Final appearances. Brazil's Ronaldo and Bebeto, France's Thierry Henry and Trezeguet, and Italy's Del Piero, Toni, and Totti. All quality players, yet none made an impact on the scoresheet.

And it's not just the 1998 and 2006 Finals. The 1986 Final saw goals from Burruchaga and Valdano for the winners Argentina, whilst Voller and Rummenigge did the same for the West Germans in a 3-2 defeat. Since then only one Striker has scored in the biggest game in World Football. Granted, it's only once every four years, but that's still 6 games, 12 teams, and on average two strikers per team - 24 opportunities. Only the great (and real) Ronaldo has managed to break the pattern with his 2 goals in 2002 - and the big story there was redemption from the 1998 Final, where he was anonymous - albeit under strange circumstances.

Two great Forwards, only one truly big game Scorer
On closer inspection, you could argue that the big game players in those Finals have been the defenders and keepers. On 6 occasions in the 6 World Cup Finals from 1990, there has been clean sheets kept. In fact, the only occasion that the runner ups have scored was in the 2006 Final, when Zidane scored from the spot, before seeing red.
Last 6 World Cup Finals
Indeed, the 2010 World Cup Final saw some vital saves from Iker Casillas, whilst the 1998 and 2006 winners, France and Italy, were teams built on strong defensive models. In those 6 World Cups there were five goals for Midfielders, and two each for Defenders and Forwards.
So why is this the case?
Change in Mentality:
For a start, the games are now a lot tighter. The mentality seems to have changed from the beautiful attacking game, to keeping it tight and building from the back. Although the 1986 Final was a classic, certainly in terms of goals scored, the change in mentality can be traced back to the 1982 World Cup.

Most commentators regularly nominate the 1970 Brazil team as the best side of all time, however, there is also a case for the 1982 side. Containing the likes of Zico, Socrates and Falcao, it has been described by many as the best team of all time, and certainly one of the best to watch. However, their lack of silverware coupled with a similar failure for Holland's Total Football team in the 1970s convinced coaches that attractive football didn't win trophies, as described more eloquently here and here.
The average number of goals in the last 6 finals is a miserly 1.5 per game. By way of comparison, the previous 6 finals generated a massive 27 goals, at an average of 4.5 goals per game.
Previous 6 World Cup Finals
Not a clean sheet in sight, which perhaps best illustrates the change in mentality. Of the 27 goals, 16 were scored by the front men. Comparing different era's can never be conclusive due to all of the different factors, but a swing from 4.5 goals per game to 1.5 per game certainly points to a trend.
The Occasion:

There's also the small matter of the Occasion. Whilst the World Cup Final has always been the biggest game in World football, the scale has undoubtedly increased, with the number of teams, the number of viewers and the coverage. The fact that the game is once every 4 years also adds to it. The idea of making a mistake at this level, with the World's eyes on you, and having to wait 4 years to make ammends (see Ronaldo) must undoubtedly play a part. It's also worth noting that most players to play the game don't even get a chance to experience the World Cup, let alone play in the Final.

So what of the next biggest games in Football - The European Championship Final and the Copa America Final. After that, you have Champions League Final, though of course this is repeated on an annual basis. So are those finals similarly troublesome for Forwards?

European Championships 1992-2012
European Championships Finals

Well the short answer is no. Of the last 6 European Championships Finals, there's been 8 goals by the forwards. Interstingly enough, Bierhoff, Torres, Wiltord and Trezeguet have all played in a World Cup Final without scoring.

Upon further investigation, the same patterns seen in the change of era and mentality can also be applied to the Euro's when comparing to the 6 prior finals - though not to a same extent. The average number of goals in the last 6 finals is 2.3 compared to 3 goals in the previous 6 finals. There were also only 2 clean sheets in the finals from 1964 to 1984 as opposed to the 4 in the last 6.

Similarly, for the South American equivalent, the Copa America, there's no problem for the Strikers there either. Of the last 6 tournament finals, only the 2001 Final won by Colombia didn't have a goal by a forward. And that Tournament was different due to the stay away stars - after fear of kidnapping. It was the host's Ivan Cordoba (DF) that settled it that year. In the other years? Ronaldo (in two finals), Rivaldo, Adriano, Suarez, Forlan, Edmundo and Delgado were all on the score sheet. As the tournament was previously held every 2 years, even going back to 1993 saw a couple by Garbiel Batistuta. Familiar names, performing on one of the biggest stages, but not the biggest.

And then there's the Champions League. It doesn't take much investigation to see the impact that forwards have had on the most recent finals - Mandzukic in 2013, Drogba in 2012, Messi, Villa, Pedro and Rooney all scored in 2011, Diego Milito grabbed a brace in 2010, whilst Messi and Eto did the business in 2009, both having scored in two separate finals.

All massive tournaments, but not the big one. Not the best players in the whole world and not the same coverage. The World Cup Final is the pinnacle in the career of any player, and it's only natural that nerves play a part in the biggest occasion of their careers.
There's also the matter of player form, both in the Tournament and the proceeding season. The 2010 World Cup Final showcased the talents of Robin van Persie, Fernando Torres, and David Villa, with supporting roles played by Kuyt, Robben and van der Vaart.
Robin van Persie wasn't fully fit going into the tournament
Looking at the form and fitness leading into the Tournaments, in 2010 Robin van Persie and Fernando Torres were battling for full fitness, and it showed. Since the 2010 Final, van Persie has scored a phenomenal 50 goals in 63 games for Arsenal, whilst Torres had 39 in 70 games for Liverpool before the tournament. Timing can be very important with over coming injuries. Torres for example was injured from April 2010, and endured a miserable World Cup, with no goals in seven games. Similarly, van Persie only scored one goal in the same number of games, whilst not fully fit.
However, Brazil's Ronaldo had missed the best part of 2 years with serious knee injuries going into the 2002 tournament, but crucially, his return to fitness allowed him to play 16 games for Inter, and regain some of his match fitness and sharpness. With that momentum in force, he went on to score 8 goals, and is the only Forward to score in Football's biggest game since 1986.
World Cup Final Forwards 2002-2010
In terms of club season, notable efforts include Henry and Toni's 33 goal hauls, Trezeguet's 29 and Villa's 28. Yet despite the great club form, none of them could manage it in the World Cup Final. In terms of tournament form, Klose, Rivaldo and Villa all had impressive totals of 5 goals in their 6 apperances prior to the Final, but yet again, none were able to repeat the recent good form in the Final.
There isn't a clear conclusion on why Forwards have a poor goal scoring record in recent World Cup Finals. There is the changing dynamics of football tactics, which have certainly contributed to the number of goals scored, but that doesn't explain why Midfielders have still managed to get in on the scoring. Perhaps you can point to the tight marking that Forwards have to endure, whilst they make space for the players running from deep. But then when we've looked at the other big games outside of the World Cup, the pattern hasn't repeated - with Forwards dominating the goal scoring.
There's the pressure of the biggest spectator event in the World hanging over the players, something that leads them to be terrified to make mistakes, and play safely, and perhaps even within themselves somewhat. With that pressure, there is the need for a strong psychology. It's surely no coincidence that Ronaldo scored in his second World Cup Final appearance (as did Zidane).
There's other aspects as well that haven't been covered above - such as how their team mates have performed. Strikers very much rely on the rest of the team to create chances for them. If the rest of the team are also playing it safe, and with the opposition much more defensive (as we've seen), then all the clever running and positioning in the world won't help in front of goal, unless you have the ball.
So in conclusion, the changing mentality of tactics, the pressure of the event, the luck with injuries and the performances of their team mates, all contribute to a Forwards chances of scoring in the World Cup Final.
And nerve.
Look at the major Finals that Brazil's Ronaldo has played in, 1998 World Cup excluded (on medical grounds). He has played and scored in the 2002 World Cup Final, the 1997 and 1999 Copa America Finals, the 1997 Cup Winners Cup Final, and the 1998 UEFA Cup Final. He epitomises the big game mentality that's needed. Similarly, Zinedine Zidane had the same mentality, scoring in two World Cup Finals, and a Champions League Final. It's this ability to perform on the biggest stages that makes them truly great players.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Player Comparison: Ferdinand & Vidic vs Bruce & Pallister

Next up in the Player Comparison series is a slightly different approach - it'll be a comparison of pairs, in this case the two great Manchester United Centre Back Partnerships of the last 25 years. With apologies to 1999's Stam and Johnsen, this is a look at which partnership has been best (statistically) between the 20th Century's Bruce and Pallister, and the 21st Century's Ferdinand and Vidic....


Steve Bruce was the first to join the club in 1987 after captaining Norwich City to a 5th Place finish in the 1986-87 season. Just short of his 27th birthday, Bruce cost the Manchester Club £800k and made his debut in a 2-1 win over Portsmouth on December 19th. He's been described as the best player never to have been capped by England, joining the likes of Billy Bonds and Julian Dicks (what?).
Gary Pallister joined two seasons later for £2.3m which was then a national record for a defender. Like Bruce, he also helped his club to promotion, but as soon as Middlesbrough headed back down, it was just a matter of time before the England International moved on. Five years Bruce's junior, he signed for United at the age of 24. In the 1992-93 season, the two of them formed the solid foundations at the back that led the club to their first English Title since Matt Busby's team in 1967.

Fast forward to 2002 and it was Rio Ferdinand breaking transfer records as he became the most expensive British footballer of all time and the most expensive defender in the World, for just short of £30m as he left Leeds United. Aged just 21, he was joining the seven time Premier League Champions following an impressive World Cup.
And finally, Nemanja Vidic joined the Red Devils in the January 2006 transfer window for a bargain £7m from Spartak Moscow. Whilst he was joining the biggest team in the country, they had failed to win the title since 2003.


I'll only be looking at the games they played together as partnerships, to see which pair performed better. When looking at League Games, and in keeping with the theme of the site, I'll be ranking the opposition by Bottom 6, Middle 8, and Top 6 - to get an idea of how they performed in the big games. The workings are available in the Rules & Workings menu above.

As they're still playing and will make this post instantly out of date, Ferdinand and Vidic's records are only taken up to the end of 2012-13.

Results and Goals Conceded

And so onto the stats. Want to check a successful defence? Well surely goals conceded per game is the obvious place to start. As partnerships, in all competitions, Bruce and Pallister (Brullister? Pace? Neither?) played a whopping 317 games together, compared to Ferdinand and Vidic's (Ferdic? Vidinand? Okay, I'm sorry), surprisingly low 183. Considering they've been at the club together for close to eight years, that's quite a low number.
Both partnerships conceded less than a goal per game, with the newer partnership on top with just 0.72 goals conceded per game, to Bruce and Pallister's 0.89. It should be remembered however, that Ferdinand and Vidic only ever played in a title chasing or title winning team. Bruce and Pallister started playing together in 1988-89, finishing 13th, followed by an 11th placed league placing in the following year. The lowest Ferdinand and Vidic finished is 3rd.

Bruce and Pallister had a decent 57% win rate compared to Ferdinand and Vidic's 70%.

Clean Sheets

A straightforward victory for the more recent partnership, albeit with a caveat of the teams they came into. After goals conceded per game, clean sheets are perhaps the most telling statistic for a defence. And both pairs have a very impressive number - the older duo keeping over 100 together compared to Ferdinand and Vidic's 92 in all competitions.

Once again, when taking into account the number of games played, the current Man Utd partnership come out on top, with a clean sheet every 1.99 games in all competitions. It's easy to see why they've won so many league titles, and reached three Champions League Finals in four seasons.

You can point to the quality of the teams that they played in again, but to counter that, Bruce and Pallister had a shield of Ince and Keane in front of them for two full seasons (1993-95). Compare that to Michael Carrick since 2006 as the predominant holding midfielder, and the current pairing play in a more open team.

Big Games

As mentioned above, the idea behind the site is to pick out big game players - so how did the two pairs do when separating the better teams. There are notable games to pick out, such as the aforementioned Champions League Finals (no clean sheets for Vidic and Ferdinand), or the 1991 Cup Winners Cup victory against Barcelona (2-1), but it's difficult to quantify which games should be included, so with that in mind, I'll look at the league games. I've kept the Top 6/Middle 8/Bottom 6 split to check the range of opponent, but it's worth noting that Bruce and Pallister played in some league seasons containing more than 20 teams. Where that is the case, the Top 6 and Bottom 6 will remain, but the middle group will increase.


No surprises here, with a clear win in every field for Ferdinand and Vidic. They let in a miserly 0.7 goals per match in the Premier League, and in the big games, it's close to just one goal per game when they play together. That's not to say that Bruce and Pallister had a poor record, far from it. With only 0.87 goals conceded per game, it was one of the great defences - and it's worth noting that they played almost 100 more games together in the League.

Ferdinand and Vidic also kept clean sheets more often, with one every 1.97 games, and only 2.2 games against the Top 6 teams - compared to a clean sheet every 3.33 games against the Top 6 for Bruce and Pallister.

So once again, it's Ferdinand and Vidic on top.

What's that? What if I looked at the seasons that Bruce and Pallister were in title challenging teams? To level the playing fields you say? Well, if you insist - here's the same stats for the North East duo from 1992 to 1996 (three titles and one final day 2nd place):

Well well well. That certainly evens things up. Now, in almost an identical number of games, they're stats are pretty close - with only 0.78 goals conceded per game, and only 2.20 games per clean sheet. However, Ferdinand and Vidic still edge them out in the biggest games - the games that you need to win in order to win the league - against the Top 6 rivals. They've kept 5 more clean sheets than their predecessors - though Bruce and Pallister can point to a lower goals conceded number of 0.97 to 1.03.

It's still favouring Ferdinand and Vidic, but it's a lot closer.

Other big games? Well if I delve into the mega mainframe then by choosing all Finals (excluding Charity/Community shields), Bruce and Pallister have clean sheets in two FA Cup Finals (Palace and Chelsea), the League Cup (Forest), and the Super Cup Final against Red Star Belgrade. Ferdinand and Vidic in response have two clean sheets in Finals - both League Cup (Wigan and Spurs). They each have individual clean sheets, but this is about partnerships - like Riggs and Murtagh, Laurel and Hardy or John and Edward.


Not really a measure of defensive brilliance, but it's worth noting Bruce's value to the team with his whopping 51 goals - some vital in winning trophies (such as that Sheffield Wednesday brace). Pallister (15), Vidic (19) and Ferdinand (8), don't really come close in this regard. All of which helped Bruce in his "Cult Hero" with the fans. In fact, this is an area where Bruce and Pallister definitely have the upper hand, both having ended the long wait for the League Title for the Manchester Giants.

In terms of opposition, you could argue that the quality of forwards has changed, but it's hard to quantify. For every Klinsmann and 90's Alan Shearer for Bruce and Pallister to face, there's been an Henry or a van Persie for Ferdinand and Vidic.


Normally I find these things end in a draw, and whilst this one is very close, the stats favour Ferdinand and Vidic. Even when looking at the seasons when Bruce and Pallister were in a title challenging team, the stats still favour the latter partnership.

The Ferdinand-Vidic Partnership wouldn't have existed if it weren't for the success of Bruce and Pallister but they've built on that early Manchester United success to bring it to another level - most notably in Europe. It's also worth noting as mentioned above that the Bruce-Pallister partnership had a shield of Keane and Ince for two seasons.

I'm well aware that Stats aren't everything, and can indeed be used to prove most arguments, so make of them what you will!



Thursday 29 August 2013

Big Games, Lamela and other Fellas - The Premier League Returns

The Premier League is back! Not quite with the bang we were hoping, but with plenty of new signings and a set of Sunday Fixtures that may well live up to their 'Super' billing, that looks set to change. I'll have a look at a few of the new faces, and put my neck on the line to suggest where you should put your money on the latest Premier League odds this weekend......

New Signings
And it's with a few of those new signings that we'll start with. At the time of writing, it looks all but confirmed that Erik Lamela will be joining Spurs as a replacement for the Madrid bound Gareth Bale, and whilst there's no doubt that the Welshman will be a huge miss for the North London outfit, the fans should be in for a treat with the tricky Argentinian.

One of the main aims of this site is to attempt to track who are the big game players - by looking at the level of opposition that they score against. Whilst Bale scored a whopping 21 League goals for Spurs last season, to Lamela's 15, it is the incoming player that did it most against the Top 6 teams in the league. Despite Roma  finishing 6th, the 21 year old scored five times against Serie A's best to Bale's four in the Premier League. Three goals were scored against Udinese (5th) over the two games, and a brace against third place AC Milan saw the winger/number 10 thrive in high pressure games. And just outside the Top 6 in 7th place was Roma's fierce rivals, Lazio, whom also conceded to Lamela. Chuck in a brace of assists against 2nd placed Napoli and you have proof of a big game temperament indeed.

Another deeper lying player who joined a London club was Andre Schurrle who somewhat surprisingly started the game away at Man Utd. Whilst he's a good prospect at 22, looking at his scoring performances against the Top teams in the Bundesliga last season (Below is Top 5 as it's an 18 team league), he was quite unlikely to worry the Champions defence.

Two other big name signings to join the Premier League in the summer were Spanish duo Alvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado. Both had excellent scoring records against the Top Teams in Spain. The new Man City striker Negrado scored 5 goals against the top teams despite Sevilla finishing in 9th, with 4 strikes against Valencia (in a 4-3 win) and a goal against Barcelona. Soldado went one better with 6 goals against the big teams, with Pellegrini's Malaga, Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid the victims.

The Big Games
And so onto this weekend's games. Whilst league positions don't really mean an awful lot at this stage of the season, it's fair to say that Liverpool vs Man Utd and Arsenal vs Spurs are massive games - both derbies of sorts.

So who are the big game players that thrive in these games? Based on last season, Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez scored the most goals against the Top 6 with six strikes each. Unfortunately for Liverpool, the controversial Uruguayan isn't available for this match. But all is not lost. Daniel Sturridge is in great form with 4 goals in 3 appearances this season, and looking at his 2012-13 stats, he managed 3 goals against the Top 6 despite only signing for the Reds in January - with goals against former clubs Chelsea (h) and Man City (a) as well as this weekend's opponents (also away). With that kind of form, the 6-1 first goal scorer bet looks a decent price and if you're feeling brave, he's at 13-1 to score twice. For those of you that fancy the away team, then RvP is at 4-1 for first or last goal.

Elsewhere, Gerrard had three goals against the Top 6 last season, one in the corresponding fixture, as well as strikes against City and Spurs, whilst Rooney topped the charts against Top 6 teams in the 2011-12 with 7 goals.

In the North London derby, Theo Walcott had a decent knack of doing it in the big games. And last season was no different, with goals against United, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Spurs. In fact it was only Man City in the Top 7 that kept him out. At 7-1 for first goal scorer the England winger could make it four seasons in row against Spurs.

For Spurs, if Lamela isn't available then there isn't a great deal of big game scorers to bet on. Last season, Adebayor only scored 5 league goals, but 3 were against the best teams. He's unlikely to play, as is Bale (4 goals) and their other big game scorer last season was Clint Dempsey (also 4 goals) who has since departed the Premier League. For an outside bet, Jan Vertonghen scored three times against Man Utd and Liverpool. He's available at 22-1 for first scorer or 15/2 at any time. If not, then it's Soldado at 7-1 that may be their best hope.

Good luck!



Sunday 7 April 2013


This isn't a David Bowie tribute (though I am a fan) no, this is a look at the changing landscape of a Premier League football club in terms of playing staff.....

Out of part boredom and part curiosity (mainly boredom) I started wondering how much teams have changed over the last 5 years. Why 5 years? Well that seems a reasonable amount of time to expect a player to stay at a club. How to measure it? I could have taken the squad as a whole, but players get loaned out quite reguarly, so decided the best way to monitor the changing team line ups would be to take the match day 18 at the same time of the season across the last five years. In this instance, I've tried to take the end of February/start of March as it allows for January signings to settle in.

What's it gonna tell us? I started putting the stats together with the prediction that consistency would result in relative success - for example, Wigan wouldn't expect to be winning the league, but staying up each season can be seen as a success, given the resources available. However, I'm writing this before I've analysed the numbers, so we'll see how accurate this hypothesis is.

  • Last 5 seasons from 2009-2013, end Feb/start March
  • The matchday 16 have been taken into account
  • Current Premier League Clubs only - includes Football League line ups where applicable

First up, the team stats. The first measurement is the number of new players in the matchday squad this season:

Aston Villa9
West Ham9
Man City4
West Brom2
Man Utd1

The most obvious check would be to look at the team with the most new players in compared to the team with the least. QPR, with 11 new faces in their squad are currently one of the favourites to go down. Aston Villa with the next highest number of new faces are fighting relegation, as are Norwich (8), Reading (7) and Southampton (7). At the other end of the table, Man Utd who are walking to the title, only had one new player in their matchday squad in their 2-0 win over QPR - Robin van Persie, much to the sorrow of Arsenal fans, and a player with 8 years of Premier League experience. Up next are West Brom with just two new players (Yacob and Lukaku), a club that have surprised many. On four new players are Top Four chasing Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City - along with a Wigan team that many tipped for relegation, but who are still in the fight.

So it's easy to point to conclude that the fewer new faces, leads to greater consistency - not a massive revelation. There are of course outliers - West Ham as a newly promoted club also had 9 new face, but are performing relatively well in their first season back. Swansea, in the notorious difficult second season, have made 8 changes as Michael Laudrup looked to put his own stamp on the team. And it's worked a treat as they're comfortably in the Top half and have a League Cup trophy for good measure. One of the 8 include Starman Michu, who's scored 17 league goals at the time of writing.

So what about longevity? Well it's a similar tale. When looking at the players in the match day squad five seasons ago compared to the same weekend this season, it'll surprise precisely no one that it's the same two teams at either end. Man Utd had a whopping 10 players in their matchday squad against Newcastle five years aga, and that's excluding Paul Scholes. Impressive stuff. QPR on the other hand have just one player left from their game against Barnsley in 2009 - 3rd choice goalkeeper Radek Cerny. Norwich City have just one player from five years ago, which is understandable when you consider that their last five years includes a spell in League One - Irish playmaker Wes Hoolahan. Also on one player from five seasons ago are Sunderland - currently one point above relegation at the time of writing.

Behind Man Utd with the most players still active are Chelsea, Everton, Newcastle, Swansea and Arsenal - all with at least 6 players still at the club today. All of which are enjoying decent seasons, with perhaps the exclusion of Newcastle who are currently under pressure.

Each team had at least five players from 2011, and Fulham had the lowest with 9 from last season.

In terms of player consistency, somewhat surprisingly there's only 17 players that have been in the starting line up of the same team over the 5 seasons. It's not a perfect measurement of consistency as players can be injured or rested before Champions League games  but it's still an impressive achievement. Less surprising are the names of some of them. Frank Lampard may have been in and out of fashion with different managers, but makes the list despite being in his golden years. As does the not so young American Tim Howard - forging a good career at Everton after not making the grade at Man Utd, which leads neatly onto another player that left Old Trafford for first team football - Ryan "he's not that sort of player" Shawcross. Leighton Baines joins his goalkeeper in the list as do fellow Merseyside heroes Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina.

Perhaps more impressively is the fact that there's several players that have gone through the leagues and are still in the team every season. Swansea's Dyer, Williams and Rangel underline why the club have that unusual quality of an easily identifiable playing style/culture. Southampton's Lallana has the claim to fame of playing across 3 divisions, Reading have Jimmy Kebe and Newcastle have Argentinian pair Sideshow Coloccini and Gutierrez - all having played in the Championship. Making up the list are Schwarzer, Figueroa, Zabaleta and Evra (three more full backs along with Baines and Rangel). Interestingly, there's no strikers in the list.

The interactive table below allows you to look at the Match Day squads for each current Premier League Teams going back the last five seasons.

And for those of you that ended up on this page whilst searching for David Bowie, I've included 9 of his song titles, but sadly couldn't work in Modern Love, China Girl, or Space Oddity.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

The Bale Effect - One Man Team?

There's been plenty written about Gareth Bale of late, and rightly so - he's currently the form player in the Premier League and his goals have been worth 17 points for Spurs this season. But what about the rest of the teams? And what happens when you take each of the main points winners out of each team?

It's been mentioned a lot that if you took Gareth Bale's goals away from Spurs, they'd be 17 points worse off and down to 37 points. That would leave them in 10th Position, and closer to the relegation zone than the Champions League places. Sound logic? No, not really - the only fare comparison would be if you levelled the playing field and took every team's top points scorer out to see what happens.

First and Foremost, the calculations: Using Gareth Bale (why not) as an example:

West Ham 2     Carroll, Cole
Spurs         3     Bale 2, Sigurdsson

Remove Bale's goals and it becomes West Ham 2-1 Spurs. This means they're down 3 points. Simple enough. If you were to remove one goal from a 1-0 win, then they lose 2 points as they would have still won a point for a draw. It's not an exact science as you don't play with 10 men and someone would replace them, but it's a good guide.

So on that basis, I've taken the top points scorers based on goals for each team in the Premier League and measured their impact on the team's position if all of them were removed:

Well that settles it! Whilst Bale is the difference between Spurs being in the magical top 4 positions or not, then he has been the difference. If for example you took him and Santi Cazorla out of their respected clubs then it's Spurs that would feel the pinch more than their North London rivals, who would actually go up a position. What does this mean? Well the teams that have risen up the table can point to less reliance on one particular player. Those in red that have fallen, are too reliant on just one star player.

Man Utd's Robin van Persie may be the highest points scorer, but United would still be top if his goals were removed. In fact, the two teams most reliant on their top points scorer in this measure are Sunderland (Fletcher) and Fulham (Berbatov). Both would fall three positions.

What else?

Well going back to that West Ham vs Spurs game, and at 2-1 to West Ham, Joe Cole played Matt Taylor clean through for a one on one opportunity against Hugo Lloris. The keeper was off his line in a split second and pulled off a great save. At 3-1 with 20 minutes left, it's unlikely Spurs would have won, regardless of Bale's second goal. This measure doesn't track the impact of these incidents, so is admittedly slightly flawed, but that hasn't stopped people from doing it anyway!

Monday 25 February 2013

Kevin Keegan - A Case for the Defence?

Throughout his managerial career, Kevin Keegan was widely regarded to be a passionate, great man manager, and motivator but never good defensively. The lasting opinion of Keegan's teams is that they'd try and outscore the opposition, without much regard for defending. I thought I'd review that and see if King Kev has been a bit hard done by......

I'd love it if people took my defensive record it!

A slightly different feature this time, in the sense that it's not about a Big Game Player or Flat Track Bully, but instead looking to try and prove or disprove one of football's longstanding assumptions - much like Maradona being a one man team. This time it's the turn of everyone's favourite Geordie Kevin Keegan and his defensive skills.

From his appointment as Newcastle United Manager in February 1992, Keegan has overseen over 500 club games, winning over half of them. A great record, especially when looking a bit deeper. Most will point to the 12 point lead that he lost with Newcastle in the 95-96 season but that would be doing the man a disservice. Promotions with three different teams from the old First Division (twice) and Division Two, as well as finshing 3rd in the Premier League with a promoted team before pushing Man Utd to the last day of the season in 1995-96. In fact, his perfUormance as a manager is severely under rated, and more eloquently highlighted here. So surely with three promotions and several Premier League top half finishes, his defensive record can't be that bad?


So without further ado, a look at the statistics. The best way to measure defensive capability is surely clean sheets and goals conceded, so with that in mind, below are the relevant statistics for Keegan's teams in League Competition.

An overall record of a clean sheet every three league games certainly points to a good defensive performance. When you take into account that the 1991-92 season was with a team fighting relegation to the third tier of English football, and that the 1993-94 and 2002-03 seasons were as a promoted team in the Premier League, then the record is even more impressive. Unsurprisingly, the promtion campaigns saw the highest number of clean sheets with 18, 24 and 16 for Newcastle, Fulham and Man City respectively, but there were also double figures in four full Premier League seasons.

The 1995-96 season was his closest to winning the Premier League title, and was also his best defensively, with 13 clean sheets in 38 games. When looking at this season's Premier League, only Liverpool and Man City are on track to beat that. Current run away league leaders Man Utd are on course to finish with 10 clean sheets this league season (7 after 26 games).

It's a similar story with the goals conceded. Of course with Fulham in Division Two he had his best record with 0.7 goals conceded per game. It should be pointed out that he had a bigger budget than most of the other clubs in the Division, but that's not always enough. Looking at his time with Newcastle, he had an overall recored of conceding 1.07 goals per game over 224 matches. A phenomenal record which gets even better if you look just at his first Premier League spell with Newcastle - 147 goals conceded in 143 games (1.03 goals per game). Looking at the all time Premier League Table, only 4 teams can better that - Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Peer Comparison

So we've seen that Keegan's best Premier League season would be the third best in terms of Clean Sheets in this season's competition, and the goals conceded rate of 0.97 per game would be the second best based on current defensive stats at the moment. So how does he compare to his peers?

Well the first thing is to identify relevant Managers. The main one that jumps out is Harry Redknapp - another English manager that's managed in the lower leagues like Keegan, has won promotion to the Premier League and who also has several top 5 finishes in common with him.

Redknapp has more clean sheets than Keegan with 202, but that was achieved over 677 league games, compared to Keegan's 141 in 421. Redknapp's rate of a clean sheet every 3.35 games is poorer than Keegan's and in fact, when looking at Redknapp's overall defensive record, he trails Keegan in each one - conceding on average 1.26 goals per game (to Keegan's 1.10). Keegan has a superior record in the Football League as well as the Premier League. Harry's most successful time was with Spurs where he kept a clean sheet every 3.06 games, and conceded an average of 1.12 per game - inferior to Keegan's time at Newcastle. A clear win for Keegan here.

Who else? Other managers that were around in Keegan's time include Dalglish, Souness, and Allardyce - all British managers, and all Newcastle manager at some point, but all without the tag of being defensively weak. Dalglish had a record of 0.93 goals conceded per game in Blackburn's title winning season, compared to 1.05 at Liverpool last season - more than Keegan's Premier record with Newcastle. Dalglish's one full season with Newcastle saw an average of 1.16 conceded per game. Souness conceded 1.35 goals per game at Newcastle whilst Sam Allardyce's short reign saw them conceded 1.57 goals per game - although his best season at Bolton saw just 1.08 conceded per game in 2005/06 as he led Bolton to 8th.

One last quick measure would be to look at his impact on each team he's taken over, compared to his predecessor. Now it should be pointed out that if a new manager has been appointed, it's likely that the old manager wasn't doing particularly well, so I'll look at the successor's record as well.

The only manager that has a better record was Stuart Pearce who took over for the last nine games of the 2004-05 season. Pearce followed that up with 1.26 conceded per game in his first full season. The Fulham stat is a little harsh on Paul Bracewell as Keegan had just got them promoted to Division One. I haven't included the last spell at Newcastle, but that ended in relegation, so it's fair to say they were better defensively under Keegan.


A clean sheet total of 141 and a record of one every three games would suggest that Keegan was not the defensively naive manager he's made out to be. Conceding less than a goal a game in four different seasons would also back this up. He compares favourably to his peers, and defensively, he improved every team he managed. There's no real debate - Keegan's defensive record is very good, it's just the perception of it that's poor.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Player Comparison: Ferdinand vs Terry vs Carragher

On the back of Jamie Carragher's retirement announcement last week, I thought I'd revisit the Ferdinand vs Terry player Comparison, and see how the Liverpool hero compares to his peers:

At the time of writing, Jamie Carragher has played 724 games for the Anfield Giants, and if you were to ask most fans of Liverpool who they'd have rather had in their team out of him, Ferdinand, and Terry they'd say Carragher, and most wouldn't even give it a second's thought. Certainly the Liverpool fans I know at least.

So statistically, how did he compare? When looking at the Ferdinand vs Terry defensive stats, there wasn't much in it - Terry was more likely to keep a clean sheet, but Ferdinand was more likely to do it against better opposition. Comparing Carragher to the two multiple title winning defenders isn't going to be completely fair given the quality of the teams the other two have played with - certainly the final league positions, but I thought it might be interesting nonetheless. This will be a shorter one that usual as most two thirds have been covered here.

Premier League

First up is the simple clean sheets against appearances. Terry leads the way in both the number of clean sheets (159) and the rate of clean sheets with one every 1.96. Unsurprisingly Ferdinand has the next best rate as you'd expect from five title winning seasons. However, when looking at Carragher, he actually kept more clean sheets than Ferdinand with 144, and like John Terry, has managed to keep over twenty clean sheets on more than three seasons - a phenomenal achievement.

And like Terry, Carragher kept at least ten clean sheets eight of the last ten seasons, compared to Ferdinands. Take into account Liverpool's average league ranking was 4.7 in that time - with a low of 8th last season. Ferdinand's Man Utd have an average ranking of 1.6 in the same ten year period, and Terry's Chelsea is 2.4.

Moving on to the range of opposition, this looks at clean sheets kept against the Bottom 6, Middle 8 and Top 6 teams:

Ferdinand leads the way with the rate of clean sheets against the Top 6 teams in the Premier League with one every 2.44 games, compared to Terry's 2.61 and Carragher's 3.13, though the Liverpool man has achieved two more clean sheets against the Top 6 teams than his Chelsea conterpart.

So whilst Carragher is behind his peers in the games per clean sheet rate, his 2.26 is certainly impressive, although the rate against the Top 6 isn't quite on the same level as the other two - reflected in Liverpool's league positions in the ten years.

It's a similar story on the goals conceded table:

All three have conceded less than a goal a game over the ten years, though the rate drops when taking into account the Top 6 opponents for all three players. 

Champions League

For new readers, the main aim of this site is to identify the Big Game players, and keeping with that theme, the biggest games in club football are in the European Champions League.

Onto the stats - All three players have won the Champions League Trophy and all have suffered defeat in the final. So how do they compare in the big tournament:

Clean Sheets

Carragher has played in 10 qualifying games - keeping 6 clean sheets, and conceding just 4 goals as Liverpool safely made it through in the five seasons needed. Moving onto the group stage, where the games are lower pressure and the opponents are in general weaker, Carragher has a decent 16 clean sheets in 36 games - a lower rate than Ferdinand and Carragher, but still a decent return. The big games however can be measured in the knock out games.

Whilst Ferdinand is the clear winner with a clean sheet every two games in the knock out stages of the Champions League, Carragher actually has a much better record than his Chelsea rival - keeping a very decent clean sheet for every 2.77 games, compared to Terry's 3.4 games. In terms of goals conceded, once again it's Ferdinand that has the lowest number per game, whilst Carragher's is just worse than Terry's with 1.1 each (1.07 to 1.12).

So on the big European Stage, Ferdinand is king, but Carragher out performs Terry in terms of clean sheets.


On the Ferdinand vs Terry piece, I looked at Goals scored as a measure. I think it's fair to say that's probably not necessary for Carragher!

However, another measure was the defensive stats in domestic cup finals - another measure of big game players. Whilst Ferdinand has three clean sheets for five domestic cup finals to Terry's two in seven, Carragher's appearances have seen one clean sheet (against Man United) in the League Cup and the 2006 FA Cup Final saw im concede three goals against West Ham (one of which he scored). He does of course have winners medals for the 2001 FA Cup and League Cups as part of their Cup treble - none of which contained clean sheets.


I'll leave this one up to the reader. The stats of course only tell half the story but they're interesting nonetheless. Many would argue that Carragher's best game for the club was in the 2005 Champions League Final - but statistically, they let in three goals.

All three have been outstanding for their clubs in the 10 year period from 2002-03 to 2011-12, and it's unlikely the fans of each club would swap for another.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Top 50 Big Game Scorers - Some Findings

Based on the large amount of feedback from the Guardian Football link to the Top 50 Big Game Scorers piece, I thought I'd add a bit more detail to answer some of the questions raised in the comments:

In terms of rankings, I've added an interactive table at the bottom of the post including the Top 200 - so filter on whatever you think is relevant for what you want to find out - whether that be club goals only, or just English Players, or even the decades - the tool can give a bit more detail.

Where's Maradona? (and others)

Maradona doesn't feature in the Top 50 Big Game Scorers list due to not scoring in the biggest games as regularly as others. That's not to say he's not one of the greatest players of all time, because only a fool would argue that. I'm just saying that based on major Global, European and South American Tournaments, Maradona scored just three goals in the Semi Final or Final stages - pretty low for the man many consider to be the greatest of all time. Given his club and national team goal scoring record, it's quite surprising - he has 311 in 589 club games and 34 in 91 for his country. That's a prolific strike rate for anyone - so for a man considered greatest of all time, and who has played in four World Cups, and Three Copa Americas, you'd expect more than just two Semi Final goals (in the same match 1986).

That's two World Cup Finals (1986 & 1990), a Semi Final (1990), and a Copa America Semi (1987) - without him scoring. In fact, he didn't score once in the 1990 World Cup. It's obvious that he was more than just goals - his assists tell you that, but for a prolific scorer, his strike rate wasn't carried into the biggest games. His other big game goal was a penalty in the UEFA Cup Final of 1989.

Andres Iniesta - 3 goals/9 points - World Cup Final (2012), Champions League Semi Final (2009 & 2012)

Didier Drogba - 4 goals/9 points - Champions League Final (2012), Champions League Semi Final (2 x 2008, 2012)

Andriy Shevchenko - 4 goals/8 points - Champions League Semi Final (2 x 1999, 2003, 2005)

Steven Gerrard - 2 goals/5 points - Champions League Final (2005), UEFA Cup Final (2001)

Frank Lampard - 3 goals/7 points - Champions League Final (2008), Champions League Semi Final (2004, 2008)

Rivaldo - 3 goals/11 points - Copa America Final (1999), Copa America Semi Final (2 x 1999)

Carlos Tevez - 6 goals/11.5 points - Copa Libertadores Final (2003) Copa Libertadores Semi Final  (3 x 2003, 2 x 2004)

Lothar Matthaus - 5 goals/11 points - UEFA Cup Final (1980, 1981), European Cup Semi Final (2 x 1987, 1989)

Luis Suarez - 3 goals/11 points - Copa America Final (2011), Copa America Semi Final (2 x 2011)

Lineker and Klose have just one entry each - World Cup Semi Final in 1990 and Euro 2008 Semi Final respectively.

Steven Gerrard for example, is known for stepping up at important times, but the 2006 FA Cup Final goal for example is a domestic cup and although very prestigious, not included in the biggest games in World Football. Similarly, the goal in the Champions League to get Liverpool to the next round against Olympiakos, was a group game match. Similarly, a hat trick in the Merseyside Derby is undoubtedly showing a big game temperament, but this list is for the very biggest games in World Football.

I can confirm that Roger Milla did not feature.

Appearances and Assists

Some interesting points were made on the opportunities that the players had. In this choice of games, George Best for example only had the one game that he could have scored in - the 1968 European Cup Final, in which he showed his Big Game pedigree by scoring 2 goals. Alternatively, Thierry Henry has played in the following Finals without scoring: World Cup 2006, Euro 2000, UEFA Cup 2000, Champions League 2006, 2009. Also the Semi Final stages of all of the above only brought one goal - in the UEFA Cup Semi Final against Lens.A footballing great without doubt, but not on the biggest stages.

So on that front, the opportunities to join the list are worth noting, but unfortunately the line up data for all of the tournaments going back to 1950 aren't available, so had to be omitted.

And the same can be said of assists. Although I mention Maradona's lack of goals in the World Cup Finals, he did create the winning goal for Burruchaga in 1986 with a sensational pass that split the West Germany defence and left the striker clean through. However, the assist information is not widely available for all of the big games from 1950, so unfortunately they had to be left out. That's why the article was specifically called Big Game Scorer rather than Player.

Weighting of Goals

Also another valid point is the weighting of goals. Should Fernando Torres' two European Championship Final goals be worth the same weight? The 2008 goal was the winning goal in a 1-0 win, compared to the 2012 goal which was the third in a 4-0 win. However, given the scale of the project, this just wasn't possible. Plus there's the further issue of weighting, when the games themselves have already been weighted.

Top 200 (and 10)