Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Player Comparison: James Collins vs Winston Reid vs James Tomkins

Player Comparison: James Collins vs Winston Reid vs James Tomkins

James Collins
DOB: 23/08/1983
Age: 29
Squad Number: #19

Signed: 01/08/2012
From: Aston Villa
Reported Fee: £2,500,000

Club Appearances: 95
Club Goals: 4

Debut: 20/09/2005 vs Sheffield Wednesday
Debut Goal: 26/12/2005 vs Portsmouth

2012/13 Premier League
Apps: 29(0)
Goals: 0
Mins: 2,489

Winston Reid
DOB: 03/07/1988
Age: 25
Squad Number: #2

Signed: 05/08/2010
From: FC Midtyjlland
Reported Fee: £4,000,000

Club Appearances: 83
Club Goals: 5

Debut: 14/08/2010 vs Aston Villa
Debut Goal: 21/02/2011 vs Burnley

2012/13 Premier League
Apps: 36(0)
Goals: 1
Mins: 3,143

James Tomkins
DOB: 29/03/1989
Age: 24
Squad Number: #5

Signed: -
From: -
Reported Fee: Academy Graduate

Club Appearances: 150
Club Goals: 7

Debut: 22/03/2008 vs Everton
Debut Goal: 04/04/2009 vs Sunderland

2012/13 Premier League
Apps: 18(8)
Goals: 1
Mins: 1,738


As the season draws ever closer, the debate is soon to switch from 'Who should we bring in?' to 'Who should we start with?'. One area that is sure to cause a bit of a headache for Wesr Ham fans and staff alike is the first choice centre back pairing. Each of James Collins, Winston Reid & James Tomkins performed admirably last season for the club, and all three pairings have been used so far in pre season.

So who should start against Cardiff City at the Boleyn Groun on August 10th? Should Collins & Reid continue as the first choice pairing, given their excellent partnership towards the end of last season? Should James Tomkins come in to replace Collins and rekindle his understanding wiith Reid, developed in our promotion season of 2011/12? And should Reid be guaranteed a starting spot? Can Tomkins & Collins make a claim as a pairing themselves?

Defensive Play

The common consensus seems to be that Hammer of the Year Reid has cemented himself as our first choice centre half, and it's easy to see why. The New Zealand international not only made tackles with a greater regularity than his competitors, but made easily the most interceptions of the trio, and won the most aerial duels.

However, Reid was actually the least successful in the tackle, winning 77% of his attempted tackles, compared to 79% by both Collins & Tomkins. Of course, a lower success rate may be reflected by the significantly greater number attempted, with Reid attempting a tackle once every 44.9 minutes, compared to 47.0 minutes by Collins, and 52.7 minutes by Tomkins.

Reid also makes the fewest defensive actions of the three (clearances, blocks, interceptions). The Kiwi made a defensive action once every 7.4 minutes in the Premier League last season, compared with 7.3 by James Tomkins. Collins, meanwhile, leads the way be some distance, clearing, blocking or intercepting on average once every 6.1 minutes.

This figure is boosted greatly by Collins' massive block frequency. The Welshman made 1.4 blocks per game last season, compared to 0.7 by his centre back colleagues. He also made more clearances than Reid & Tomkins, with one coming every 7.8 minutes on average, compared to 9.5 (Reid) and 9.0 (Tomkins).

The fact that Collins made defensive actions most regularly last season may not come as much of a surprised, given his blood and thunder approach to the game, flinging himself in the way of shots and making last ditch tackles.

What may be surprising though, is that, despite a reputation for being an excellent header of the ball, he was signficantly outdone in the air by his greatest challenger, James Tomkins.

Tomkins won 73% of his aerial duels in the league last year, compared to 64% (Collins) and 62% (Reid). He also competed in duels more frequently, with one coming every 17.9 minutes. (Collins 19.5; Reid 22.6).

Being an aerial 'duel', this figure doesn't count unchallenged headers, meaning the numbers are smaller than memory may serve. However, this does give an indication of how successful Tomkins, and the other centre halves, are at winning the ball under pressure in the air.


One main criticism of James Collins since he returned to the Boleyn Ground last season, is his insistance on playing long balls, and his poor generally passing ability. It's very common to see the ball rolled into Ginge and him loft a high ball as far forward as possible.

This perception is completely borne out by the facts. On average, the 'Pink Pelé' plays significantly more long balls than either Tomkins or Reid, at 5.9 per game compared to 4.0 (Reid) and 4.2 (Tomkins), respectively. Additionally to this, 27% of passes by Collins were long balls, whilst both Tomkins and Reid played just 17% of their passes as long balls.

Collins is also the least successful of the three with long passes. Of the 171 long balls played by the Welshman, just 40% (69) met their target. Reid, on the other hand, hit the mark with 82 of his 145 long balls (57%), and Tomkins was accuarate with 56% of his (61/108)

Somewhat surprisingly, Collins is also the least successful with headed passes. Just 48% of his headed passes were accurate (58/122). Tomkins, in compairion, was successful with 53% (52/99), and Reid led the way with 62% of his headed passes reaching a team mate (106/171).

In terms of a short, simple passing game, Tomkins plays a far higher proportion of his overall passes short to a team mate than his colleagues. 67% of his total passes were short balls, with a fantastic success rate of 87% reaching a team mate (359/414). Reid wasn't significantly far behind, with 62% of his passes going short, and with an equally high success rate of 87% (450/515).

Shockingly though, Collins actually has a short passing success rate to rival his positional competitiors. 86% of his 342 short passes (293) reached their target, a fantastic return for any professional. What lets Collins down is the fact that just 54% of the passes he attempts are short, with a large portion going down as wayward long balls or headers.


For this comparison, errors are: misplaced passes, dispossessions (tackled), turnovers (loss of possession due to miscontrol) and dribbled by (being dribbled past by an opposition player).

The final area to compare is that of defensive mistakes. Top class centre backs excel not only in their ability to win and keep hold of the ball, but their concentration and consistency.

Part of the reason Winston Reid has become such a cornerstone in the West Ham defence has been his incredible consistency and reliability. Reid made fewer mistakes per game, and made mistakes less frequently than both Tomkins and Collins in 2012/13. On average, the Kiwi made a mistake once every 13.7 minutes, compared to 10.5 (Tomkins) and 10.1 (Collins).

Perhaps the most key of the combined areas from a defenders perspective is the ability to stop an opponent going pass you. This is an area in which Reid performs admirably, only being dribbled by once every 150 minutes; significantly outperforming James Collins, who was dribbled by once ever 108 minutes.

That said, Reid was not the best performer in this area, with James Tomkins only being dribbled by once every 248 minutes, an astonishingly high return for a player in his position. This goes to show how far the young defender has come since our relegation season of 2010/11 under Avram Grant, when it seemed he couldn't put a foot right at times.

Errors are a part of the game though, with all players making mistakes throughout every game. What is important is how much they cost you. According to Squawka, no mistakes made by James Tomkins in the Premier League last season led directly to a shot on goal, let alone a goal conceded. Winston Reid made one mistake leading to a shot on goal, though no this chance wasn't converted.

James Collins, on the other hand, made 4 mistakes leading to shots on goal last season, with two of these leading directly to goals conceded. Both of these mistakes live on in the memory, with woefully short backpasses allowing Miguel Michu to open the scoring back in August, and handing an easy opportunity, and eventual three points, to Pavel Pogrebnyak at the Madejski Stadium in December.

In summary, West Ham are very fortunate to have three very strong centre backs, who each excel in key areas.

Collins makes more defensive actions than his colleagues, and is by far the most aggressive of the trio. Tomkins makes the best use of the ball, with a greater frequency of his passes going short to a team mate.  Whilst Reid is the most consistent of the three. Rarely making mistakes, major or otherwise, and boasting an excellent pass completion rate of 77%.

I think it's safe to say that one half of the partnership is already guaranteed. Winston Reid had such a successful last season, that he has become one of the first names on the team sheet.

The dilemma is deciding his partner.

Collins' is the sort of defender who puts his body on the line and throws himself in the way of anything that might trouble the net, but his concentration and his poor passing success rate, particularly with the long ball, let him down.

Tomkins, on the other hand, is exceptional in the air and possesses a high quality of passing skill (a trait that has seen him step up into midfield on occasion), but he lacks the experience and authority of Collins', and his overall defensive game still needs improving (he made the least interceptions per game of the three, suggesting his reading of the game is not quite as tuned as his competitors).

Against Cardiff, I'd go with Tomkins and Reid. If the preseason friendlies so far are anything to go by, Sam Allardyce looks to be tweaking his tactics to include a greater emphasis building attacks from the back. If this is the way the club want to go, then Tomkins and Reid are a partnership that can be central to the building up of the club over the next five years or more.

But, in Collins, we have an incredibly capable backup, and should either of the starters slip up, they should be aware that the Welshman will be ready to pounce.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Popular Opinions About Sam Allardyce; Part Three

Popular Opinions About Sam Allardyce

Part Three

“Tony Carr has done an absolutely terrific job but unfortunately it is getting more and more difficult due to the circumstances that we have to work under. There is more development money coming into the game but yet again it is still a question of time. There really isn't enough time."
- Sam Allardyce, West Ham United Manager

The final piece in my analysis into some of the popular opinions about Sam Allardyce is youth vs experience. It has been claimed by some that Sam's pragmatic approach to football results in an overliance of older, more experienced players, to the detriment of the progression of younger players.

Allardyce is famed for his ability to squeeze a few extra seasons out of a player entering the autumn of their career; a reputation carved out at Bolton Wanderers with the successful signings of Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff and Ivan Campo. But Big Sam's ability to spot talent and develop teenagers into established first team professionals isn't something we often hear much about.

Despite this, the current West Ham first team squad contains several players given their big break by Sam, with academy graduate Dan Potts joined by the likes of Joey O'Brien, Kevin Nolan and Ricardo Vaz Te.

So is it as one sided as people claim? If it is, does that make Allardyce a break from the norm? And does it even matter?

For the purposes of this comparison exercise, cup games are not considered.

Taking just the 2012/13 season, the figures seem to support the perception. West Ham used 27 different players with 30% of these (8) aged 30 or above. Players aged over 30 shared over 12,000 minutes between them in under Allardyce, at an average of 1,525 mins each. The team average minutes played was 1,393, meaning players aged over 30 averaged more minutes througout the season than the average squad player.

In the same season, just two players aged 21 or under (Potts & Robert Hall) represented West Ham, appearing for a combined total of 132 minutes, and average of 66 minutes each for the season.

Only four managers gave less minutes per U21 than Allardyce; Paolo Di Canio giving 14.7mins per player to the 3 youngsters used by him, while Mark Hughes, Tony Pulis and Martin O'Neill used no players aged 21 or under at all. Leading the way in the Premier League were Michael Laudrup (1,600 mins per U21) and Alex Ferguson (1,265).

The chart below shows the amount of minutes played per each player aged 21 or under in the 2012/13 Premier League.

In terms of actual players used, again, four managers used less U21 year olds than Allardyce. The aforementioned Hughes, Pulis & O'Neill used no young players, while Chris Hughton only used one. Despite giving the most minutes per each player aged under 21, Michael Laudrup is actually tied with Allardyce in using just 2 younger players in the league.

The manager to use the most U21 year olds last year was Brendan Rodgers, who used 9 different youngster, making up 32% of his squad. Closely following behind Rodgers were Paul Lambert, Roberto Martinez and Alan Parew (8 each), and then Arsene Wenger and Nigel Adkins from his time with Southampton (7 each).

What does seem clear, is that most managers in the league operate under the same lines as Allardyce, i.e. if a player is good enough, they will play, but most managers don't try and play youngsters as a rule.

For example, it is arguable whether or not Michael Laudrup would have given such extensive opportunities to the younger players in his squad in ordinary circumstances.

Young left back Ben Davies only made his way into the starting XI when Neil Taylor broke his ankle just after the close of the summer transfer window, and the only other player aged 21 or under was Kyle Bartley, who only made two appearances in the league.

What this seems to suggest is that youth players at Swansea are unlikely to break into the first team in ordinary circumstances, but should an injury leave an opening and the player proves themselves capable, they will be continue in possession of the shirt.

It seems to me that this is situation is not unlike the one at West Ham. Had George McCartney gotten injured at the start of last season whilst Joey O'Brien was in possession of the right back position, maybe Dan Potts would've seen as much game time as Ben Davies.

The chart below shows the proportion of players used by each manager that were aged 21 or under.

One reason why I believe that some fans disaprove of Allardyce's use of younger players, and particularly those who have graduated from Tony Carr's academy, is a warped perception of the success of the academy in recent years.

Since the start of the 2004/05 season, 20 players from the academy made their debuts for the club:

Mark Noble, Elliot Ward, Trend McClenahan

Kyel Reid


Freddie Sears, James Tomkins, Jack Collison

Junior Stanislas, Zavon Hines, Josh Payne

Jordan Spence, Anthony Edgar, Bondz N'Gala


Dan Potts, Robert Hall, Callum McNaughton

George Moncur, Matthias Fanimo, Dylan Tombides, Elliot Lee
Of those who've broken through only Noble, Tomkins and Collison could really be counted as long term suceess stories.

Obviously that's not to say that the quality isn't there. If some of those players had broken through at different times over the past 10 years, they may have experienced more success. Elliot Ward was a success for the club in the Championship, but our promotion led to his failure to keep a first team space. Equally, had Freddie Sears, Junior Stanislas and Zavon Hines managed to avoid working under the unbelievably inept Avram Grant, their development may have continued.

Moving the ifs and buts away from the scenario for a moment, what is apparent is that Allardyce has actually handed more debuts to youngsters than any other West Ham have done since 2004. The chart below shows the number of debuts handed out to under 21 year old academy graduates by each manager from the start of the 2004/05.

It appears to me that Allardyce isn't actually that different from any other manager in the league. He seems happy to give youngsters the opportunity to shine, but those opportunities are not handed out freely. It seems that there is a clear methodology to Big Sam's approach: impress in the youths, impress in the development squad, impress on loan, impress in first team training, impress in a cup game, take your chance when someone gets injured.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that Allardyce gets a bit of a rough deal when it comes to his reputation for blooding youngsters. People tend to look back fondly at the times of Gianfranco Zola with this idea that he only played kids from the academy. The only academy graduates to make debuts under Zola were Stanislas, Payne, Spence, Edgar & N'Gala, and he only actually used Stanislas more than twice.

It's true that a lot of us (and I include myself in this) would like to see a less cautious approach to the introduction of young players to the first team. We all love it when a player breaks through, and it doesn't happen nearly enough for a lot of us. But, let's not kid ourselves that this was commonplace before Allardyce arrived.

This is the final part of my series on popular perceptions of Sam Allardyce. Overall, I'd conclude that Allardyce is pretty much how he seems. The issue isn't the way that Sam is painted, but the fact that he is viewed so differently to everyone else. If Sam is going to be accused of being this, that or the other, then there are plenty of other managers who should be too.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Popular Opinions About Sam Allardyce; Part Two

Popular Opinions About Sam Allardyce

Part Two

“If they were going to get anything, it was always going to be that way because they play very poor football. I suppose if they want to play that way, it’s their choice. I guess it paid off in the end."
- Simon Mignolet, Sunderland Goalkeeper

It's fair to say that there is a common perception of the way Sam Allardyce sets out his sides. Over his career Allardyce has tried to tell the world that he isn't all about bully boy tactics and the long ball, but to no avail.

Style of play is another area in which many West Ham fans are divided. Some think we are served up a style akin to that of Stoke under Tony Pulis, whilst other believe we 'mix it up'.

We have seen some wonderful performances at the Boleyn Ground since Big Sam came through the doors. The 6-0 demolition of Brighton and the 3-1 mauling of Chelsea will both live long in the memory. But we have also seen our fair share of dross; for me, the 0-3 defeat away to an out of sorts Sunderland side was the epitomy of poor football.

But is the style as bad as people think? Are West Ham all about the long ball under Sam Allardyce? And are the rest of the league actually doing that much different?

Whilst the tika-taka passing and possession game has been all the rage in across the footballing world for the past few years, it's fair to say that West Ham haven't exactly embraced that style under Allardyce.

In the Premier League in 2012/13, West Ham averaged 323 attempted passes per game, and an average possession of just 46%. We only actually outperformed three managers in both areas last season, with Tony Pulis' Stoke City the most similar performers, with 46% possession and 316 passes per game. Brian McDermott's Reading were also outfperformed, whilst the worst side in the league for passing were Paolo di Canio's Sunderland side, who averaged just 44% possession and 272 passes per game.

The chart below shows the average number of passes attempted per game by teams under each manager in the league last season.

A common trait of Allardyce's supposed style is a reliance on the long ball. It's common to hear an opposition player talk about the way in which West Ham are supposed to play in the build up to games (Simon Mignolet & Patrice Evra spring to mind), and it seems to be a bit of a sore point for Allardyce supporters.

I've seen lots of fans point to the stat that West Ham played less long balls per game than sides under 16 other managers, including media darlings Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool, Roberto Martinez's Wigan Athletic and Michael Laudrup's Swansea City.

However, whilst this may be a point of comfort for some supporters, it ignores the important fact that West Ham are among the teams who play the fewest passes per game. When combining the two data sets, you can see that West Ham are tied 4th for the highest proportion of passes as long balls.

In the Premier League in 2012/13, 14% of passes attempted by West Ham were long balls (equal to Newcastle United, Norwich City, and Reading under Nigel Adkins). This figure was only beaten by Stoke City and Brian McDermott's Reading on 15%, and Paolo di Canio's Sunderland on 16%.

Although only two teams in the whole division played less than 10% of their passes as long balls (Arsenal and Manchester City, 8%), the overall total for the league was that 11% of passes attempted by all teams were long balls.

The chart below demonstrates the percentage of passes attempted that were long balls by manager.

The higher proportion of long balls that were attempted by West Ham may also explain the fact that Allardyce's side played the joint third highest proportion of passes forward in the league (67%). Whilst managers like Martin Jol and Michael Laudrup were happy to play almost 40% of passes toward their own goal, managers like Di Canio (67%), Pulis (68%) and McDermott (68%) were far more interested in getting the ball forward as often as possible.

However, despite getting the ball up the pitch with more frequency than many other sides, Allardyce's team failed to turn this intent into chances. West Ham attempted 9.4 shots per game in the league last season, and scored just 1.18 goals per game at a conversion rate of 12.6%. All three of these figures are below the league totals, with teams attempted 10.2 shots per game, scoring 1.4 goals per game, and converting 14% of chances.

Again, West Ham aren't the worst performers in these areas, with sides managed by the likes of Chris Hughton, Martin O'Neill, Tony Pulis and Paolo di Canio scoring worse in each area.

Although West Ham may have struggled to create and convert chances, it appears that this issue is primarily from open play. 36% of West Ham's goals in 2012/13 came from set pieces, a figure best by Stoke, Norwich, Brian McDermott's Reading, Martin O'Neill's Sunderland, and Roberto di Matteo's Chelsea.

Allardyce's total for the season was significantly higher than the league total, with 27% of Premier League goals coming from set pieces.

The chart below shows the break down of set piece goals by West Ham.


The final area I want to look at within style of play is the perception that Allardyce's sides are overly physical. We've heard managers and players this season complain about the 'battle' they have had to face against the Irons, suggesting that the West Ham players might have a bit of an aggressive streak.

Well, this doesn't necessarily appear to be true.

Allardyce's team committed an average of 10.5 fouls per game in the Premier League, the 19th highest of all permanent managers. Interestingly, Tony Pulis' Stoke, commonly compared with an Allardyce team, committed even less fouls per game (9.7). Both of these results are well below the average of 11.1 fouls per game.

Only two managers were in charge of sides who committed more than 13 fouls per game in the Premier League last year, David Moyes' Everton (13.6) and Mark Hughes' QPR (15.1).

However, despite a rather low number of fouls committed, West Ham under Allardyce were among the most carded sides in the league. On the basis that a red card is the equivalent of two yellows, West Ham received on average 2 cards per game, and were one of only 5 sides to receive 2 or more per game (Aston Villa, Newcastle, Stoke, Di Canio's Sunderland).

Despite what some West Ham fans (myself included) thought about the managers who came up with us last year, the three sides to receive the least cards per game were Brian McDermott's Reading (1.3), Nigel Adkins' Reading (1.0) and Nigel Adkins' Southampton (0.9)!

This disparity between fouls committed and cards received could be explained by the low proportion of cards received by West Ham for fouls. Just 65% of cards received by the Hammers were for fouls, 7th lowest in the league. However, West Ham also received the highest number of cards for "Other" reasons (not Fouls, Unproffessionalism, or Diving), 22.

The chart below shows the number of cards received per game by each manager.

So, to conclude.

As with part one of this piece on the system used by Allardyce, it appears that the rumours are true.

West Ham under Allardyce play a large number of long balls, retain little possession, create a low number of chances, score few goals, and receive a large number of bookings.

However, what I believe to be the most interesting aspect of these findings isn't what it says about Sam Allardyce, but what it says about West Ham supporters.

Despite being a supporter of Sam, I am one of the many legions of West Ham fans who has a desire to see Paolo Di Canio back in East London as our manager one day. I often see and hear arguments from West Ham fans who suggest getting rid of Allardyce and his style of football, and replacing him with Di Canio to introduce a free flowing brand more akin to the traditional 'West Ham way'.

But these stats have made me question this. Di Canio's Sunderland played fewer and longer passes, created and converted fewer chances, committed more fouls and received more cards per game than Allardyce's West Ham. They even contested more aerial duels per game (39.0 to 38.6).

I think it's plain for all to see that Allardyce isn't perfect. But Di Canio, so far, appears to be playing in an almost identical style to one that many fans want to dispose of.

Maybe Di Canio would fulfill all the hopes and dreams of an idealistic fan base. Or maybe, the grass isn't always greener, and we should be careful what we wish for.

Check back next week for part three: Youth vs Experience

Friday, 12 July 2013

Popular Opinions About Sam Allardyce

Popular Opinions About Sam Allardyce

Part One

For years now, Sam Allardyce has been a divisive figure in the world of football.

His fans point to a proven track record of getting results with unfashionable teams, a history of pulling off the odd upset or giant killing, and an ability to introduce a never say die attitude through the core of his sides.

His critics say that he is a footballing dinosaur who relies on long balls and a physical football to bully the opposition, that he values experience over youth, and that he only plays with one system.

Since joining West Ham United back in June 2011, it's fair to say that this hasn't changed. West Ham fans these days appear to be split into three camps; those that support Allardyce and want him to stay; those who are waiting patiently for him to leave; and those who actively want him to leave.

Just to be as clear and up front as possible, I'm in the first. I believe he has done well for us, and that he gets an unnecessarily hard time from the media, the opposition, and his own teams fans.

However, that is based on my gut feeling, and this wouldn't be much a stats blog if I didn't look into some of the popular opinions on Sam Allardyce into a bit more detail now would it?!

#1 - One System
"These negative and boring tactics are a clear trait of the manager who will not change his system no matter how badly the team may be doing."
- Vinny Ryan, ESPN Blogger

A criticism that I regularly hear from West Ham fans about Allardyce is his insistence on playing one man up front, and reluctance to try anything new. Okay, so he occasionally sticks on another striker for the last 10 minutes if we are chasing the game, but a lack of creativity in the starting line up is a fairly common gripe for supporters.

To understand this argument a little better, I decided to look at the tactics that managers used from the start of each game in the Premier League in 2012/13. Something that was noticeable, was that some managers tended to play very similar tactics each week, with a slight variation (i.e. 4-3-3; 4-5-1; 4-2-3-1 are all pretty much the same thing). For this reason, I've grouped some tactics together to make it more clear when a completely different system is used. The key five formations used by managers last season were: 4-3-3; 3-4-3; 4-4-2; 3-5-2; 5-4-1.

The managers to employ the most different systems last season were Roberto Mancini, Roberto Martinez and Paul Lambert, who all started games with four of the different systems listed above on at least one occasion.

There were also a few managers who began every match with the same tactic. Arsene Wenger, Michael Laudrup, Rafa Benitez, Roberto Di Matteo, Paolo Di Canio and Nigel Adkins (Reading) were the most stubborn tacticians in the Premier League this season.

But how does Allardyce fare among his peers? Well, Sam went with his tried and trusted 4-3-3 (or variations of) 97% of the time, with a sole attempt at 3-4-3 against Aston Villa the only variation of the season. This means that Allardyce was the 7th most consistent with his system.

However, something that does stand out is that only 4 managers of the 25 permanent managers to take control of Premier League games last year, used their primary tactic less that 75% of the time. Mark Hughes used his favoured 4-3-3 to start just 67% of his games in charge of QPR, Alan Pardew began 66% of Newcastle's games with 4-3-3, and Paul Lambert used the same tactic for 63% of Aston Villa's. The most versatile tactician in the Premier League in 2012/13 however, was Brian McDermott. The former Reading manager most commonly tried the 4-4-2 system, but began 45% of his matches with a different system in place.

The chart below shows the % of games each manager started with his own preferred tactic (the green line depicts the average).

As already stated, the other gripe that people have with Allardyce's style is that he only uses one striker. West Ham fans can rightly be proud of some of the striking partnerships over the course of our history, and, understandably, some of us don't want to turn our back on that particular avenue just yet.

However, it seems unfair that Allardyce takes the flak for this one. Although he clearly doesn't favour tactics with two strikers, it is highly unlikely that any other manager would do any different in his position.

In the Premier League in 2012/13, 82% of teams were set up in Allardyce's favoured 4-3-3 system, with just 12% starting with the classic 4-4-2. In fact, only two managers out of 25 primarily used a tactic other than 4-3-3, and, tellingly, they were either sacked (Brian McDermott, 4-4-2), or relegated (Roberto Martinez, 3-4-3).

The pie chart below shows just how dominant the 4-3-3 formation was last season, with more than 4 out of every 5 teams beginning with this tactic.

So, the popular opinion that Sam Allardyce only uses one system. According to the evidence, he does have one favoured system, and he uses it more consistently than most of his peers. However, he is far from alone in preferring this formation, with the vast majority of Premier League managers adopting the same approach.

Check back next week for part two: Style of Play, including the dreaded Long Ball.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Player Spotlight: Modibo Maïga

# 11
Modibo Maïga
DOB: 03/09/1987
Position: Striker

West Ham United Career
Joined: 18/07/2012
From: FC Sochaux-Montbéliard
Reported Fee: £4,700,000

Appearances: 2(15)
Goals: 2
Assists: 2
Average Capello Index Rating: 61.54

Debut: 18/08/2012 vs Aston Villa
Debut Goal: 28/08/2012 vs Crewe Alexandra

Throughout the summer so far, a common feeling among West Ham supporters is that the club need both a striker, and a winger who scores goals. The general feeling is that the likes of Joe Cole, Ricardo Vaz Te, Matt Jarvis and Matthew Taylor are unlikely to trouble the goalscoring charts regularly enough to make up for the likely tactic of a one man strike force.

There is a feeling among some, though, that the answer may lay within the club already. Step forward last seasons's £4.7m summer signing Modibo Maïga.

Hopes were high in July 2012 when the club announced the rather expensive signing of Malian striker Maïga. At that point, he was our most expensive recruit of the window, and had been publicly courted by Newcastle United's famously effective French scouting team.

Yet, despite the odd moment of quality, the 2012/13 season didn't have a lot to write home about for Modibo. Starting in just 4 of his 19 appearances (2 of 17 in the league), and scoring just 4 goals (2 in the league), averaging just 25 minutes per appearance, and a failure to play 90 even once in the league were the story of Maïga's season.

Unfortunately, the over riding memory of the Malian's debut season wasn't his spectacular goal against Southampton back in October, but his being hauled off after just 30 minutes against Spurs shortly afterward.

Despite all of that though, there are a number of supporters (myself included) who hope to see the attacker given another season to prove himself.

For Maïga to claim the right wing spot as his own, Sam Allardyce will need to see increased confidence on the ball. Maïga attempted just 10 dribbles in league games last year, just one per 60 minutes, with 4 of them successful. In fact, his a lack of ability to take on and beat a man has been one of the bigger criticisms from supporters.

However, looking back at his time in France with Sochaux, beating his man was something Maïga relished. For West Ham, he beat his man just once ever 150 minutes. In his final two seasons in Ligue 1 though, this figure comes down to once every 85 and 73 minutes, respectively.

To put this into context, using Opta's performance data, West Ham's key winger last season, Matt Jarvis, managed to beat the man once every 94 minutes. 

Another area in which Maïga's confidence appears to have taken a knock since moving across the Channel has been his attempting a shot on goal.

In 2010/11 when he bagged himself 15 goals, he averaged a shot once every 18.5 minutes in the league. However, in his debut season in East London, Maïga attempted just 14 shots in total, one every 42.9 minutes. Considering that his appearances lasted only 25 minutes on average, this means he attempted just one shot per two appearances.

The image below shows the accuracy of his shots. Of the 10 shots that weren't blocked, four hit the target, with two of those ending up in the back of the net.


As I mentioned before, there have been a few moments of promise. A goal line clearance was all that prevented him bagging a goalscoring debut against Aston Villa, two goals in two starts in the cup, the wonderful goal against Southampton and the icing on the cake against Chelsea are some of the stand out moments.

However, the key moment that made me change my mind and believe he deserved another year came against Reading.

Maïga had not appeared in the 17 games since New Years Day against Norwich; he'd only made the bench on three of those ocassions. So when he was named among the substitutes for the final game of the season against Reading, few expected him to make any contribution. However, coming on for the final 10 minutes, Maïga impressed.

It may have only been a short cameo on the final day, but Maïga worked up and down the right flank. He completed all of his passes, and even worked back to win a tackle about 30 yards centrally from the West Ham goal. He also completed all 8 of his passes, with one a beautiful cross for Kevin Nolan's hat trick goal.

The image below shows those passes.

(Green = Completed; Yellow = Led Directly to a Shot on Goal)


If Maïga is to claim the right wing spot as his own, he will more than likely need to wrestle it away from the player in the squad most similar to himself; Ricardo Vaz Te.

Vaz Te managed to secure the starting role toward the end of last season with a series of solid performances. However, he is famed for inconsistency and frustrating the masses with his decision making. It seems fair to suggest that the right wing position is the one that is least secure in the side.

Bearing this in mind, I've compared the performances of the two in a series of performance measures. The table below illustrates the minutes per shot, goal, chance created and possession lost, by the two players, and the success rate of aerial duels, tackles, dribbles, and a breakdown of passing success rates.

Interesting, each player is the more successful in 5 of the performance areas, and they tie in the remaining two. Maïga scored more regularly (mins per goal), lost possession less frequently, won more of his attempted tackles, completed more attempted dribbles, and had a more successful long ball game.

Vaz Te, on the other hand, attempted shots and created shooting opportunities more regularly, won more aerial duels, and was more successful when passing with head and with crossing.

The figures below demonstrate how evenly matched the two men are in terms of performance data. Obviously Vaz Te has proven his ability over a longer period of time (playing around 1,000 minutes more), but the the differences in each of the areas are minute.

Although it's not really supported by the statistics, there is something about the way in which Maïga plays that excites me. The way in which he tore through the Southampton defence to score his first Premier League goal, and the bizarre shift in weight to execute a fantastic curling finish will live long in my memory.

I guess I see him as a kind of maverick. A player who may go missing for large portions of a game, but possesses that unknown quality that means he can suddenly turn it on and change the outcome of a match. I like a player with a bit of flair, someone unpredictable, and I think Maïga can be that man for us.

Besides, almost £5m is a lot of money for a club like West Ham to throw the towel in after 12 months.