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Possession is up but goals are down for City under Pep

Citizens less effective in attack

City boss Pep Guardiola
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Betting wisdom from the soccer boffin

What went wrong for Manchester City in the first half of the season? If we compare it with all of the previous five seasons, we can see. Today City are fourth in the Premier League, seven points behind leaders Chelsea. On Friday they gave themselves a lift with a 5-0 win at West Ham in the FA Cup.

After Pep Guardiola became coach last summer it was always likely that City would have more possession than they did before. Guardiola won 21 trophies with Barcelona and Bayern Munich encouraging attacking football made possible by dominance of the ball.

Over the previous five Premier League seasons, 2011-12 to 2015-16, City averaged 58 per cent possession. In the first half of this season they averaged 65 per cent.

The ball is in play for fewer than two out of every three minutes that tick by on a clock. This season there have been four minutes of playing time per match in which City have been attacking when in previous seasons they would have been defending.

Even though they have done more attacking and less defending, however, City have not scored more goals or conceded fewer. In fact, they have scored slightly fewer per game and conceded slightly more.

Across the previous five seasons City scored 70 per cent of the goals in their Premier League games. In the first 19 games of this season they scored 65 per cent.

Let’s give those numbers some context. Premier League teams who score 65 per cent of the goals in their games typically finish third. Teams who score 70 per cent of the goals in their games typically finish second. City’s average position in the previous five seasons was second. Do a little bit better, as City did in two of those seasons, and a team can become champions. Premier League winners typically score 72 per cent of the goals in their games.

Why did City score fewer goals than in previous seasons and concede more?

The last ten Premier League champions averaged 61 per cent of all shots in their matches. During the last five seasons City fired 63 per cent of the shots in their games. In the first half of this season they hit 64 per cent of the shots in their games.

So City’s attempts were slightly less effective than before and their opponents’ slightly more effective. Fine margins, we are often told, can distinguish success from failure. City might have been just on the wrong side of some. It would be sensible not to get too carried away.

City do not seem to be passing for the sake of it – a criticism often made of teams who have the ball for a long time. Since the start of the season, in fact, City have tried to get the ball forward quickly whenever they have sniffed an opportunity.

Nor does there seem to be a structural fault in City’s defending. They do not often get caught on the break. By which I mean that when opponents counter-attack City usually appear to have enough – often more than enough – defenders to cope. But they do still concede goals on the counter-attack, as in a recent defeat to Liverpool and a recent victory over Arsenal.

If anything is wrong it must be either curable actions of defenders, as Guardiola may hope, or a lack of ability in defenders, as critics complain.

With Guardiola as their coach, Barcelona and Bayern Munich averaged 70 per cent of possession and 80 per cent of goals. It was always unlikely that City would be able to dominate most Premier League games as thoroughly as Bayern and Barca dominated so many games in the Bundesliga and La Liga. But it was reasonable to think City might have more of the ball and a bigger share of goals. So far possession is up, but share of goals is down.


Little has changed for faltering Foxes

Defending champions Leicester ended the first half of the season 15th, three-quarters of the way down the table. Why? It would be more appropriate to wonder what went right last season than what has gone wrong this season.

Leicester’s stats this season are similar to those from the season before last, when they were newly promoted and finished 14th.

In the first half of this season and in each of the previous two seasons Leicester had 43 per cent possession.

Two seasons ago they turned 43 per cent possession into 47 per cent of the shots in their games and 46 per cent of the goals. In the first half of this season they converted 43 per cent possession into 42 per cent of shots and 44 per cent of goals. There was no difference in the initial inputs and hardly any difference in the final outputs.

Premier League teams who score 44 per cent of the goals in their games average 22 points over half a season. From the first 19 games of this season Leicester collected 20 points.

What still seems incredible is that last season Leicester managed to transform 43 per cent possession into 53 per cent of shots and 65 per cent of goals. And that they then turned 65 per cent of goals into 81 points.

As mentioned in the discussion of Manchester City, teams who score 65 per cent of the goals in their games typically finish third, where they average 73 points – though last season that would have been enough for first place.

Even though they have done more attacking and less defending, however, City have not scored more goals or conceded fewer. In fact, they have scored slightly fewer per game and conceded slightly more
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