Saturday, 22 March 2014

You can prove anything with statistics

The excellent news was announced this week that Lloyd Doyley’s contract has been extended by another year. The only puzzling thing is why the club has kept offering him one-year contracts for the past few seasons, rather than tying him down to a longer deal. Maybe they just take him for granted.

They, and we, shouldn’t. Recently I came across a section of the club website that I hadn’t looked at properly before, the Stats page, and the figures for central defenders make interesting reading:

Angella - 35 games, 42 fouls, 6 yellow cards, 1 red card
Cassetti - 32 games, 35 fouls, 8 yellow, 0 red
Ekstrand - 30 games, 27 fouls, 10 yellow, 0 red
Doyley - 23 games, 6 fouls, 1 yellow, 0 red

I’d say that fouls and yellow cards are a pretty good yardstick by which to measure a defender’s skill: after all, if they get their positioning right and time their tackles correctly, they don’t commit fouls and don’t get booked. Now I rate all four of these players highly, but the stats clearly show who the best defender is. Angella commits an average of 1.2 fouls a game and gets booked once every six games: Cassetti has a similar fouls/game average, 1.1, but gets booked once every four matches: and Ekstrand is on 0.9 fouls a game, but one booking every three (which isn’t going to make him popular with the manager – sorry, Head Coach).

Now look at Lloyd: 0.2 fouls a game (or, to put it another way, one every five games) and just one yellow all season. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why he is indisputably the best defender at the club (and has been for years). Angella may score more goals, Cassetti may have a better beard, Ekstrand may speak better Swedish (okay, I’m struggling here), but if you want someone to actually stop the opposition scoring goals, Lloyd’s should be the first name on the teamsheet every week.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Confused? You will be

Yesterday afternoon, as I watched that most paradoxical of footballing events, a dull thrashing (one bloke near me actually nodded off towards the end of the first half), it occurred to me that this has been a highly contradictory and confusing season for Watford fans. Consider the following:

  • We’ve scored six goals once, five once, four twice and three four times, and yet there have been long stretches when it was hard to see where the next score was going to come from.
  • Conversely, we’ve conceded three or more goals eight times, yet the defence features some of our strongest players. (Angella, Cassetti, Doyley and Pudil will surely all feature strongly in the Player of the Season awards.)
  • We’re not a remotely nasty or violent team, yet we’ve had four players sent off, and I read a couple of weeks ago that we’d been awarded more yellow cards than any other team in the Championship.
  • In the autumn, we were invincible away, but couldn’t buy a win at home. Now the opposite is the case.
Obviously, some of these patterns can be attributed to the change of manager halfway through the season. The high turnover of players can’t help, either. Yesterday’s two debuts took the total number of players used this season up to 35 – that’s three whole teams worth, plus change. Poor Troy Deeney has had to try to forge a working partnership with Forestieri, Acuna, Fabbrini, Ranegie, Park and Anya, and life’s too short to try to list all the combinations of players who’ve been used in midfield.

Even here, there’s a contradiction: despite the riches of our squad, the 18 players who featured on the pitch and the bench against Barnsley actually picked themselves – thanks to injuries, suspensions and loans, the only other member of the first-team squad who was available for selection was third-choice goalie Gary Woods. Hence the naming of a bench featuring two midfielders and four central defenders. Against more demanding opposition, we could easily have come unstuck.

Perversely, it reminded me of the days when Sean Dyche was in charge – when money was so tight that the team more or less picked itself, and when promising youngsters got a chance to show what they could do in the first team, gaining valuable experience in the process. (In the current squad, Ross Jenkins still ranks third in the list of first-team appearances, even if he has been effectively declared a non-person by being denied a squad number.) Compare and contrast the fate of Uche Ikpeazu, so short of opportunities to play football that he’s been sent on loan to Crewe, who then complained that he’s not fit enough.

Where am I going with all this? I’m not entirely sure. Like I say, I’m confused. If there was an end to the relentless shuffling of the pack in sight, the emergence of a settled first team which then, carefully augmented in the close season, could make a decent challenge for promotion next year, then I’d be happy. But, as Matt Rowson pointed out recently over on BHaPPY, an equally likely scenario is that a large tranche of the current squad will disappear in the summer, to be replaced by a fresh batch of undoubtedly talented players who won’t necessarily adjust immediately to the championship. And then the whole confusing merry-go-round will start again.