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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

How everything and nothing has changed for West Brom

Words of wisdom from the Soccer Boffin

Salomon Rondon has not been as productive as West Brom would have liked
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West Bromwich Albion owner Guochuan Lai has sacked two managers, a chief executive and a chairman, all in less than five months. But it has not done any good.

West Bromwich are bottom of the Premier League and almost certain to be relegated. Caretaker manager Darren Moore drew his first game on Saturday.

Lai is probably scratching his head wondering what he and others should have done differently. I can tell him. None of the people he has employed did anything wrong. West Brom have played as well this season as they did last season, when they finished tenth. They are bottom of the table for reasons that are beyond anyone’s control – in fact, beyond anyone’s understanding.

West Bromwich this season have averaged the same number of shots for and against as they did last season. They have averaged as many shots on target for and against. But they have scored fewer goals and conceded more.

It is not because they have shot from worse positions and allowed opponents to shoot from better positions. Expected goals is a stat that takes into account the position of attempts. The best expected goals stats I have found are on the website FiveThirtyEight. According to FiveThirtyEight, West Bromwich this season should have scored an average of 1.0 goals per game and conceded an average of 1.3.

That is what they did average over the previous two-and-a-half seasons, the earlier and longest part of Tony Pulis’s managership, when everyone was happy with results.

If West Brom had got what they deserved this season they should have 38 points, which would put them between 12th and tenth, where they finished last season. Instead they have 21 points. They have scored 0.8 goals per game and conceded 1.6.

Do Albion have worse forwards and a worse goalkeeper than they did before? I do not think so. The squad is nearly the same as last season. Defenders have blocked as many shots this season as they did last season – four per game.

Let us go more deeply into the figures. This season Albion have averaged ten shots for and 14 shots against. Last season they averaged ten for and 14 against. And what about shots on target? Last season Albion averaged three for and four against. This season they have averaged three for and four against.

There was little difference this season in the 12 games for which they were managed by Pulis and the 18 games for which they were managed by Alan Pardew, who was sacked last Monday. In between Gary Megson was caretaker manager for two.

Albion had more possession time under Pardew than under Pulis – 44 per cent, up from 37 per cent. But the effectiveness of attacks and defences did not change. The proportion of attacks and defences that ended with an attempt on goal did not alter.

By any meaningful comparison West Brom have played as well this season as they did last season.

Results last season were good and everyone was smiling. Results this season have been awful and everyone is scowling.

Owner Lai probably will not learn the lesson he should. I say that only because other owners have not. And it is a shame because the lesson is one of the most useful anyone can learn, inside or outside of football. Sometimes things just happen.

More by Kevin Pullein

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West Bromwich are an extreme example of a general trend. So are Southampton. Last season Southampton finished eighth, two places above West Brom. This season they could be relegated with them.

Most seasons there is not much difference in ability between many Premier League teams. Some finish above others because they enjoyed kinder rolls of the ball. A team can challenge for a Europa League place without being any better than a team who get relegated. Just luckier. Next season luck could desert them.

I compared the results of Premier League teams from one season to the next. I did so across more than two decades from 1995-96 to 2016-17.

Most teams who were not relegated won between 42 and 57 points. Teams with 42 points in one season averaged 47 in the next. Teams with 57 points in one season averaged 47 in the next. And so on, more or less, for all the others in between.

Typically there was no difference in the next season between teams who had won either 42 or 57 points in the previous season, even though those in the second group had just accumulated 15 points more than those in the first group.

Play matched pay but results have not

West Bromwich’s payroll in recent seasons represented between 3.3 and 3.4 per cent of the Premier League total. Over nearly 20 seasons other clubs with payrolls in that range averaged between 44 and 45 points.

Teams who win 44 or 45 points take on average 42 or 43 per cent of the shots in their games. This season and last season West Bromwich took 42 per cent of the shots in their games. Last season they won 45 points. This season they have 21 points from 33 games – equivalent to 24 points over 38 games.

Both seasons West Bromwich performed at the level the owner is paying for. That is all an owner can reasonably ask of a manager and players. Last season the results came too. This season they have not.

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The lesson is one of the most useful anyone can learn, inside or outside of football. Sometimes things just happen
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