The graph below shows an extrapolation of data taken from The Guardian’s “Chalkboard” system. In greyscale you have a graphical plot of the cumulative passes both attempted (grey) and completed (black) under the management of Chris Hughton as permanent manager. The same is also presented for our time with Alan Pardew in charge with the dark and light blue plots relating to passes attempted and completed respectively.
I am a huge fan of Pardew, and fully signed-up for watching and defending the football he advocates off the pitch and tries to implement on it. The degree to which this intended style of play has engendered our current high-stock in Ligue 1 as well as assisting in the acquisition of players of known passing accuracy and élan such as Yohan Cabaye and Mehdi Abeid is not fully known, but there have been numerous articles and interviews both here and in France where they have praised what Newcastle United and Alan Pardew are trying to do. As I am currently halfway through my first season of concentrated following of the French top division and hugely enjoying it, this encourages me for the future when inevitably we are required to replace sold players. Young, French players will be attracted to us because of our technical and accomplished style of play, right? Maybe not..
The graph above actually shows Hughton both attempting and completing more passes than Pardew game-on-game. When looking at their time from an average perspective, the results below are found.
Under Pardew we are making/completing around 50 passes less per game than under Hughton. This would not seemingly matter were the statistics of these passes to show an increase in accuracy via completion, but the chart to the right shows that this is not the case. The actual figures are 72.1% for Pardew and 73.7% for Hughton.
To be honest, this is not the piece I expected to write. I am actually quite surprised with what the last couple of hours research have shown. I remember a far more direct, longer, and speculative passing system under Hughton, mainly to best utilise the trio of Barton, Nolan and Carroll, but I hadn’t expected to find that system incorporating more exchanges.
What to take from this then? Pardew is actually a charlatan? That we’d have been better sticking with Hughton? The system is failing? I would say no to all three.
Simple ‘passing’ statistics cannot illustrate fluidity, technicality, speed, or expectation. These qualities are impossible to quantify in a graphical, mathematical fashion, and therefore to use data to analyse. It’s far better to compliment these numbers with your memories; think back to how you felt watching us play last season in comparison to this, in doing so one may find reason to give Pardew credit, despite his 1.6% passing completion deficit on Hughton.
On reflection the above only reinforces my current belief that we should be careful not to read everything into mathematical analysis of football. Read a lot, but not too much. I thoroughly enjoy the analysis of Prozone, Zonal Marking, EA/EPL index et al - it’s refreshing to have a degree of cerebrality emerging as an antidote to the tired, archaic, and clichéd musings of dinosaurs such as Hansen, Lawrenson and Coyle, but that said, the numbers aren’t absolutely everything.
The ‘crosses completed’ by Gabriel Obertan can be logged, and held up as an example of a ‘bad winger’, but how do we quantify the distance he has carried the ball away from our goal a game? Or how many square metres he has opened up for Yohan Cabaye or Hatem Ben Arfa by drawing two, sometimes three, opposing defenders to him? Do we need a ‘yards carried’ database, as well as a ‘space opened’ chart? How would we even record this information, let alone display it? I would love to see it.
In summary; we’re playing better football now, and it makes me happy. I sought out some maths to ‘prove’ that we are and I found results showing the opposite (in the traditional sense.) What actually ‘proves’ our progression to me is my own (subjective) emotional and empirical experience our games, and not solely a reflection on our games’ genetic makeup. An over-reliance on the numbers of football is just as bad as an ignorance of them. Analysis of games by percentages will naturally miss unquantifiable facets of game just as easily as those too focused by a gut-reaction to an individual player’s attacking performance live may miss key contributions to the team’s dynamic as a whole.
End note: Please look up the outstanding On Goals Scored blog for some attempts to ‘cut through’ the pure mathematics of football and graphicise some of the more emotional and intangible qualities of our game.
1 year ago
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