Early Doors

Tactics Bored: ‘Fun’ teams continue to ruin football

A weekend in a basement is never wasted. That is never more true than when the basement is stuffed to the gills with PCs, iPads and prototypes of Deep Blue all wired up to find the key algorithm to discovering who would win between West Germany of 1970 and Italy of 1992, if they were playing on a pitch that was inclined slightly upwards, with West Germany kicking uphill first.

But as well as theoretical football, there is also the matter of real football that annoyingly gets in the way. It can’t - for now - simply be predicted and released as a ticker at the start of the season once transfers and fixture lists are decided. The future cannot yet be predicted with 100 per cent reliably, so we have to retrospectively analyse what’s going on. Here are the key tactical trends from Saturday and Sunday, February 2014, the year of our Lord (Rinus Michels).

ARSENAL 4-1 SUNDERLAND - FUN IS OVERRATED

With all the goals and (urgh) fun (spits) in the football over the weekend, you might assume that it was tactically a very poor weekend. And you would be right to think so. There is a graph passed around the meet-ups of tactical and statistical bloggers which is the first collaborative piece of work the group ever did, and it demonstrates how football works for us:

As you can see, goals are directly related to fun, and fun is inversely correlated with tactical quality of matches. So, the less fun you have, the better it is for the more intelligent, better informed, and generally cleverer tactics bloggers. We all know that the meek will inherit the earth, and who is meeker in public than a statistical analyst? Bow down to your superiors.

WON'T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF RESIDENT EUROSPORT FULHAM FAN?

Of course, it’s not just me who has an interest in tactics at Eurosport, there are the staff, who also have incisive, witty and counter-intuitive opinions when it comes to the mathematical stuff. Take Reda Maher, who has moved from talking about the geopolitical ramifications of the hooha in Ukraine to take a look at the change in Fulham’s performances from the start of the season under their three different managers, Martin Jol, Rene Meulensteen and Felix Magath.

If you have a look at the first diagram, you can see that Maher was quietly disappointed with the performances from Martin Jol, but he still respected the man and wanted things to come good:

The second diagram demonstrates the perception of the tactics and football on offer from Rene Meulensteen, ex-Brondby legend. He managed little success at all, but there is a contrast between the general level of Reda’s appraisal of Fulham under Meulensteen (on the left) and the exciting draw at Old Trafford (on the right).

Now, it’s only been one game, but Reda has also taken a look at the performance by his side against West Brom. It looked as if he might have steadied the ship in the first half, but the late conceding of a goal made Reda’s analysis rather more severe. You can see that, tactically speaking, Fulham are in real trouble if this is what they are doing to a man who is a top football expert and Fulham fan:

Reda will provide more analysis in future blogs, should he have anything similarly perceptive to offer.

LIVERPOOL 4-3 SWANSEA CITY - DEFENSIVE WEAKNESS

Liverpool can be grateful to their attacking force, with Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge performing especially well to rescue their club after a number of mishaps in defence on Saturday. It’s not apparent, on the face of it, why the back four of Liverpool have struggled for consistency this year compared to the rest of the team. All of the sides have had injuries and suspensions to deal with, but it is the defence that is noticeably weaker.

However, using high-tech influence maps, you can see that there is an ever so slight difference in the equipment the back four have been issued with compared to the rest of the side. If top-flight sport is decided by improving just the slightest of margins to give the edge, it might be worth noting the difference in how the defence line up:

This formation doesn’t seem to be working for the Liverpool defence, so things will have to be rejigged for the run-in.

That concludes the tactics lesson for today. The answer to the situation described in the first paragraph, by the way, is West Germany 1-2 Italy. Obviously.

Alexander Netherton (@lxndrnthrtn)