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)