Premier League Projections, Week 24: The Roots of My Pessimism

Tim Keeton

I want to give some real talk. There's been a meltdown and a backlash in Spurs fandom in the last week or so, and that has kind of obfuscated the basic question for fans of whether this club is good. I want to address that, and I'm going to argue that it's been months since Tottenham Hotspur played consistent high-quality football. That's not good.

Tim Sherwood took over the managerial position at White Hart Lane in December, and he rattled off an impressive run of 16 points from six matches before losing to Manchester City and then drawing at Hull City. These numbers have done little to move the needle in my projections. My belief, in concert with the statistics, is that despite a solid points haul, Tottenham Hotspur have not played well enough in these matches. Put more starkly, they've been below average and not close to good enough to finish in the top four.

Now, a lot can happen in eight matches. I can find stretches of two months where excellent clubs played like mid-table sides and vice versa. There is every chance that Spurs can improve and play better. But to challenge for the European places will take a large and sustained improvement in the defensive solidity of this side. Brett Rainbow covered the tactical side in his most recent Tactics Tuesday, highlighting the consistent breakdowns in defensive organization that have plagued the club.

I do the stats, so these are the basic underlying numbers for Tottenham Hotspur in attack and defense since Sherwood took over.

TOT DZ SiB DZ SiBoT W SiB W SiBoT SoB SoBoT %Cross %TB %DZ Shot Qual
AVB (attack) 5.2 1.7 2.6 0.7 9.4 3.1 43.4% 6.1% 30.2% 0.076
AVB (defense) 4.4 1.8 1.9 1.1 4.4 1.3 42.3% 9.6% 41.3% 0.090
Sherwood (attack) 4.9 2 2.5 0.8 5.8 1 30.8% 3.7% 37.1% 0.091
Sherwood (defense) 6 2.3 2.3 0.8 3.5 1 54.2% 7.3% 51.1% 0.116

Spurs have only a slight advantage in total shots under Sherwood, and it's entirely an illusion based on the club's +18 advantage in shots outside the box. Spurs have been outshout by about 10 inside the box and by nearly that much from inside the danger zone.

The average shot in the English Premier League has a roughly 8.5% chance of being converted for a goal. The shots allowed by Tottenham's defense under Sherwood are around 40% better than that, with an 11.5% chance of being converted. Slightly more than half of the shots allowed have been from inside the danger zone, a ludicrously high number. Not only are Spurs allowing too many shots, the chances they are allowing are of far too high quality. The defensive breakdowns have led to a constant stream of good chances conceded by the opposition.

So what am I saying? is it over? No. Things with a 10% chance or lower happen all the time. There's talent on this club that certainly could spring to life and make a run. But I think we need to place that in the realm of hope rather than expectation. The recent play of Tottenham Hotspur, despite the points haul, does not augur positively. The hope is that something big changes, not that things remain mostly the same.

Am I saying that Andre Villas-Boas should never have been fired? I don't think the stats are sufficient to make such a judgment one way or the other. Whatever went wrong with the Spurs defense in the latter days of AVB has not been fixed under Sherwood. However, the choice to sack the manager certainly involved a lot more information that the six-week rolling average of shots conceded from the danger zone. So I just don't know.

Projections and Power Rankings

Because of rounding, not all the numbers necessarily add up quite right.

Club W D L Pts GD Team+ Top4% ΔT4 Rel% ΔRel Title% ΔTitle 5th
Manchester City 26 5 7 83 +59 162 99.5% -0 0% 0 52% -21 .5%
Chelsea 24 9 5 81 +36 144 97% +6 0% 0 24% +15 2%
Arsenal 24 8 6 80 +34 139 96% +2 0% 0 20% +7 4%
Liverpool 23 7 8 76 +45 154 85% -2 0% 0 5% -0 11%
Everton 18 13 7 67 +17 121 12% +3 0% 0 0% +0 39%
Tottenham Hotspur 19 9 10 66 +3 114 8% -4 0% 0 0% -0 27%
Manchester United 18 8 12 63 +16 123 3% -4 0% 0 0% 0 14%
Southampton 15 12 11 57 +11 113 0% +0 0% 0 0% 0 2%
Newcastle United 16 8 14 55 -0 98 0% -0.5 0% 0 0% 0 1%
Aston Villa 11 11 16 45 -9 86 0% 0 1% +0.5 0% 0 0%
Swansea City 11 10 17 42 -7 94 0% 0 4% +3 0% 0 0%
West Bromwich Albion 9 15 14 42 -6 94 0% 0 5% +1 0% 0 0%
Hull City 10 10 18 40 -11 80 0% 0 10% +1 0% 0 0%
Stoke City 10 10 18 39 -21 70 0% 0 13% -9 0% 0 0%
Sunderland 10 9 19 38 -19 76 0% 0 17% -14 0% 0 0%
Norwich City 9 10 19 37 -27 71 0% 0 30% +14 0% 0 0%
Crystal Palace 10 6 21 37 -25 73 0% 0 31% +8 0% 0 0%
West Ham United 8 11 19 35 -19 66 0% 0 47% -13 0% 0 0%
Cardiff City 8 9 21 33 -33 57 0% 0 67% -5 0% 0 0%
Fulham 9 5 24 32 -42 65 0% 0 75% -13 0% 0 0%

  • The more interesting stuff in the table is all them non-Spurs clubs moving around. The Chelsea victory over Manchester City broke the title race back open. Now both Chelsea and Arsenal stand at least 1-in-5 chances of knocking off Manchester City, who would have been heading toward inevitability with a win. Chelsea keep moving steadily up the ratings, rarely putting in the sort of dominant performance that earns them a big boost, but over time their consistency in not having really bad matches adds up.
  • Liverpool's draw could have hurt their top four hopes, but of the teams in the race for fourth, only Everton picked up points. For United and Tottenham, just keeping pace with Liverpool means another week lost in the chase.
  • I rate Manchester United a little unfortunate to have lost to Stoke City, who converted two of eight shots from outside the box while generating little real danger from closer areas. Nonetheless, Manchester United were unimpressive in attack themselves and are one more bad loss away from dropping out of even the top four race. Their home match with Fulham on Saturday is the very definition of a must-win.
  • I have been constantly higher on Swansea City than most commentators, and they have done little to justify my opinion. The quality of their play through the first 10-15 matches of the season, when they were quite unfortunate not to pick up more points, has continued to buoy their projections even when they manage zero shots on target against West Ham. A loss in the South Wales derby would probably push Swansea's chance of relegation north of 10%. I'm still not buying that a club with their talent and their statistical record (just -5 SiBoT difference, for instance) is really in danger of relegation, but the numbers are moving slowly in that direction.
  • The relegation battle still refuses to settle out. Cardiff City and West Ham United both won on the weekend, but did not gain much ground as both Sunderland and Stoke took upset wins and Hull City and West Brom managed a point each in tough matches against top of the table competition. Fulham remain mostly a disaster, at least.
  • It's too early to say I was right, but as bad as my Swansea City predictions look right now, my post from New Year's about the sackings at Fulham, Crystal Palace and Sunderland is looking pretty good right now. There's every chance, I think that Swansea will turn things around, but likewise Palace and Sunderland are no guarantees for safety.

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