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

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