To Hull and Back

How the League Table Tells Lies

After 4 games this season, Hull were in 8th place in the Premier League.

If all the teams were ranked at that time according to the volume and quality of chances created versus those conceded (xGD), then Hull were 17th best.

Hull did an Aston Villa and handed care-taker boss Mike Phelan the job full time.

Funnily enough, Hull now sit in 18th place and according to those underlying xGD numbers are now 19th best in the league.

xG numbers are normally a better predictor of how the league table eventually takes shape than the table itself.

Hull’s Problem Visualised

Shots for:


Shots against:


Putting Data in Context

Hull pass the ball around the back like an elite team. The numbers surpass even those of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Michael Caley tweeted these out while I was in the middle of my research:




Hull pass the ball out from the back like a relegation team. The team cannot get the ball out of its own half and keep possession.

Below is the passing network for the most likely line-up this season. The thickness of the arrows denote the volume of passing between the player combinations. Each player’s circle is sized according to the number of passes he makes and each is positioned at the average place on the pitch he makes a pass:




This is the flattest team shape seen in two and a half years of making these passing networks.

It took roughly 12 minutes of watching footage to find the perfect example of Hull’s problem here:

HCT in One Clip from Paul Riley on Vimeo.

Playing football this way, Hull City Tigers not only create the least amount of chances in the league in open play, they create the worst quality chances in the league in open play too.

Hull City Tigers put the ball in the box less than any other team. Put simply, this is a recipe for relegation.

Give us a few possible solutions from the data then

Tom Huddlestone advances the ball into forward areas more frequently than any other central midfielder at the club. He was doing so whilst playing against good quality opposition in the early games but has since fallen out of favour. Huddlestone has to play to rectify Hull’s problem with advancing the ball. Jake Livermore is next best at this and he also provides some legs to protext Huddlestone.

Robert Snodgrass is the most creative player at the club. He was the most creative player at his previous club Norwich too. As a left footed player playing on the right, he is more likely to cut inside and take poor quality shots from distance than to find good angles to get the ball into the box. A central role behind the striker gets him closer to goal for better shots (like those around the penalty spot in the graphic below) and gives him better angles to play the ball into the box. He is also more likely to retain the ball in the central areas of the final third than anyone else in the squad.


Mohammed Elmohamady was a key creative element of Hull’s promotion charge last year (and the previous year in the Premier League). His move to right back has really curtailed the amount of chances he creates for the team. He should be pushed forward into the area currently occupied by Snodgrass. Splitting that partnership up may also alleviate that heavy trend towards right sided build-up seen in the passing network earlier, which opponents will by now be well aware of.

I don’t wanna make this post too long, so that’s your lot. Follow me on twitter @footballfactman


Posted in Sports

In search of a balanced Barry and Gueye…

A ‘ball recovery’ is when a player picks up a loose ball or makes a tackle/interception and his team retain the ball.

All interceptions and tackles aren’t ball recoveries but just looking at ball recoveries might still be useful. Where a team recovers possession of the football probably matters at some tactical level, right?

If a player is designated into a certain position, it probably matters where they’re recovering the ball too?

Central midfielders with a mainly defensive remit will find themselves screening and plugging holes around the pitch. The thing with both Gareth Barry and Idrissa Gueye, is that they spend way more time recovering the ball in areas wide of the penalty box than ANY other pairing in the league.

Everton’s defensive numbers are pretty damn good this season. Only four teams are better at preventing good shots on target – Man City, Southampton, Middlesboro and Chelsea. Of those, only Boro and Chelsea play a straight two in the middle regularly like Everton do.

Boro and Chelsea’s pairings (de Roon/Clayton and Matic/Kante) are way more compact than Everton’s pairing in terms of where they recover the ball:

final-ball-recoveries-gifI looked at Everton centre backs too. New boy Ashley Williams gets dragged wide of the box for 14% of his recoveries (no centre back gets dragged less). On the other side Phil Jagielka does the opposite. 43% of his recoveries are in areas wide of the box (only two get dragged more):

williams-and-jagielka-premier-league-ball-recoveries-2016-17What does this say about the shape of the team?

Let’s have a look at the tape. First, a quick 30 second vid of what a ‘ball recovery’ looks like courtesy of Messrs Barry and Gueye:

So the next video contains some cherry picked examples of where Everton’s defending is pretty haphazard. Every week Koeman talks about upping the pressing game. He’s not wrong.

You’ll see in these clips, the lack of co-ordinated press and lack of communication between the players when it comes to handing off responsibility for zones or players. There’s lots of basics missing:

Early on in the season it felt really refreshing for Everton players to be actually just trying to put pressure on the opposition. Now that the novelty’s worn off a bit, my eyes are seeing these issues for the first time. They’re not in the xG numbers. They’re in the ball recovery ones.

Follow me on twitter @footballfactman


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