It Takes a Team of Individuals to Win the League

31 May

There have been some great end of season posts recently about the EPL by the likes of @JamesGrayson and @FootballFactman.  Each has taken a detailed look at the performance of teams as a whole and demonstrated that there are several indicators of success.  However looking at the stats from Who Scored I was amazed to see just how little Manchester United featured at the top of any of the team statistics.  Admittedly they did finish top of what may be considered the two most important metrics; goals scored and passes completed (see table 1).  However, what’s interesting when calculating the Coefficient of Variation (CV%), basically the significant variation between scores, we can see that United score significant lower in a number of key areas including through balls (33.33%), total shots per game (13.45%) and dribbles (25.15%) than the top team, which you would normally associate with a better attacking team.  While they have scored significantly more goals than their nearest rival (6.83%) when breaking the goals down into those scored from open play (1.96%) and from set pieces (1.96%) they are not that far ahead.

Manchester United Team Performance

This led me to ask the question with United winning the league so convincingly without dominating the top of the ratings are individuals more important than the team?

There is a ME in TEAM

To test this hypothesis I again looked at the Who Scored stats on individual players as surely they must have players dominating at the top of these tables?

Looking at the overall player rating United suddenly started to show more dominance with the only team having 4 players in the top 20.  However both Liverpool and Tottenham both had 3 players who scored a higher average ranking.  Interestingly Arsenal and Chelsea only had 2 players and Manchester City had had a paltry 1.  So looking at this I started to conclude that maybe to be the best you need more individual players to perform at a high level over a season as opposed to a team of steady eddies.

Top Players

@TedKnutson recent great work on identifying players has targeted the importance of assists.  Looking at the table 11 out of the top 20 players play for top 4 teams however Arsenal (30 in total), Chelsea (29), and Manchester City (23 in total) have 3 players each with United having 2 (18 in total). Interestingly when looking at the key pass metric United didn’t have a single player in the top 20 while Arsenal had 2, Chelsea 2 and Manchester City 2.

Assist Top

Hmm so I wasn’t really sure if this proves the theory or not, so I then went on to compare the number of players each team had that contributed the following:

  1. An assist
  2. 3 or more assists
  3. A goal
  4. Scored 3 or more goals

Assists

As the results show United had significantly more players contribute an assist and more than 3 assists, in addition they also had significantly more players score a goal however there was no significant variance in the number of players who contributed 3 or more goals.

What is an interesting aside is the number of players who have both scored and create goals for all 4 teams with none being lower than 11 proving how much football is now a squad game.

Conclusion

This piece suggests that to win the league you need both a group of 3-4 top performing individuals throughout a season and a team that can reduce the pressure if one or more of these top players fails to perform.  This is quite clearly a blend the United have managed to create time and time again.  While they might not have had as many players in the top 3 sports as Chelsea or Arsenal across the different metrics they have had a greater depth of players contributing.  This is clearly demonstrated by the number of players who scored and assisted goals significantly out performing their nearest rivals.

This finding is quite intuitive with teams like Arsenal and Tottenham having to heavily rely on the same top performers i.e. Carzola and Bale week in week out in order to stay in touch.  This indicates that to be a top 4 team you need 3 top class players leading the way in several categories but to win you need a full squad (look at how many players contribute to United’s goals and assists) to be able to back them.

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