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.

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