Dafuge & Data: Season Summary 11 – The Premier Promised Land
Welcome to the Seadog’s first season in the Premier Division, all hosted at our lovely home in…Barnsley. Okay, that’s not quite how I imagined it but the new Flamingo Land stadium still has about 2 years left until it is ready. So until then Premier Division football and the Seadogs will be here in South Yorkshire.
It seems like there’ll be great uptake. We’ve sold around 20k season tickets. Initially this sounds amazing as our ground only held about 5k before. Quadruple the season tickets, and money. All good. But the worrying thing is that the new Flamingo Land Stadium is only going to hold 14k. There are going to be 6k or so very sad ex-season ticket holders in a couple of years. That’s a problem for the future though, for the money we are rolling in cash. So much so that we might stop using the copper penny slide machines and start on the silver instead.
This was easily the most active and enjoyable transfer window I’ve ever had. Because we have money and slightly more people were interested in coming to play at Scarborough (via Barnsley). It was so active that I’m going to actually break down our moves by different areas of the team (not strata, that’s a stupid word).
Before we do though, we also managed to shift some players. Now losing the likes of Cross and Gale was sort of predicted by our use of FMStag’s super spreadsheet at the end of last season. Shorrock never made it into the first team.
Sending Wormleighton and Robinson out on loan seemed a bit odd but in all honesty I had better options coming in and my coaches still only rated them as Vanarama potential players. I felt a bit bad for Wormleighton as he had been with us since the national league and was going to miss out on the Premier Division, but, thems the breaks kid.
Eyebrow raising transfers out are possibly Vlad, who was identified as a stand out by the spreadsheet, and stalwart Coyle. But in both cases I had better options at hand and they just wouldn’t stop complaining. I would have kept them but I honestly couldn’t stand the mithering from them. Vlad went out on loan with an option to make it permanent after a certain number of appearances.
Defence (and Goal)
We needed some fresh blood here. We got promoted despite getting hammered with shots, and a big xG against value. It was only going to get worse in the Premier Division. We sent the scouts out with a Scarborough information pack, complete with local attraction details, to tempt players in.
And tempt they did. I didn’t realise Blanco was a wonderkid until he arrived. He’s beautiful. 6 feet of hope. Alongside him we have new partner Avramovic. Not a bad combination, especially seeing as they cost a total of £2.5m, with Blanco being completely free.
More depth arrived with £4.9k spent on versatile Zoua, nothing on Potouridis, and a hefty £4.8m on Ngando. Leftbacks who have the potential to play for England cost a bit of money. There was also Angel, but he wasn’t due to arrive for a while, and cost £1m, going up to 5m with enough appearances. He was a bit of a punt, and was partly bought to help Blanco settle.
See that’s where I made a mistake. Desperate to get Blanco in I accidentally promised to get a player in to help him settle. I went nuts trying to get a Spanish player in and whilst Angel looked good he was too young. I didn’t realise there would be a delay so had to get another player in later.
Knight was brought in for about £4k too as keeper cover. In fact the coaches reckon he’s better than Harrison. Given that Harrison has played over 300 times for us, from the Vanarama national upwards I was still going to favour him.
I think from all of that recruitment, with Marks and Kamagate still around as well, it’s a bit clearer why even good players like Vlad the impaler and Coyle had to go.
Where to start? Well how about with Borja? A player brought in purely to keep Blanco happy. The moment his feet touched the hallowed turf at Scarborough/Barnsley he was smuggled away by Priti Patel as he didn’t have a work permit. I sent him to Greece on loan and Blanco was happy.
Proper transfers were made elsewhere. Grainger came in for £925k. The ex-Celtic man was to provide cover and competition on the right with Torres. Larios was tempted over from Mexico to do the same on the left and in the central AM position. He was free and was tempted over by the steady wage and the pulling power of fellow Mexican manager de la Vega.
Lynch was a bit of an odd one. I tried to get him in early but he wanted an insane wage. I left it until he was about to be turfed out by Spurs and he dropped his demands. No room for ego’s or flair here. In the end he only cost £30k. You can take the manager out of the Vanarama but you can’t take the Vanarama out of the manager. We had about £20m to spend and we were being careful. He had potential.
Lima was yet another age related SNAFU. I thought I’d snagged the next Ronaldo. And maybe I have. But I won’t know until 2033 when he finally becomes old enough to join.
Now some of these signings are possible midfielders. Depending on how you view the raumdeuter role. I’m being generous and assuming that as they are an attacker and getting into goal scoring positions they can be called strikers.
First up is Guadaramma. A player so good he sounds like some sort of Festival. He was free and I had visions of him being our Jared Borgetti. We spent £1.5m on Prince which was a bit of a panic buy. I actually bought him first before realising who else I could get in. He’s more of a targetman than the advanced forward we’ve been rocking but he’s young enough and good enough to be given a chance. And at that price we’ll be okay.
Usman came in on loan. I had tried to buy him and they wanted about £30m. But they were also fine for me to get him on an inexpensive loan. I had high hopes for a player touted as the next Victor Ikpeba.
This final signing wasn’t made until January. I had looked to bring him in during the summer but he wasn’t convinced. Come January though our rep had risen enough to tempt Zarate in. He was going to be in that raumdeuter role but could cover the AF position too.
What are our Premier Division Stats?
Now we’ve made it to the Premier Division, and are a team of means, we’ve got more opportunity to use statistics to our benefit. We can hire more people, recruit more players, scout further. Which means when we find an issue we have the chance to address it. Something we’ve not been able to do during our rise to the top.
What I really wanted to do was look at more advanced stats like Packing and PPDA (Passes Per Defensive Action) but I’ll be saving these for a follow up post. I’ve got a spreadsheet and system for working out PPDA, and I have a plan for Packing. I agree with the gents on Football Manager Therapy, and FMStag about how essential these stats are. The problem is they’re not easy to extract from the game. So keep your eyes peeled for a post on how I do PPDA soon.
In the meantime what I decided to focus on this season was xG, xGA and the use of a rolling xG/xGA graph to spot any peaks and issues. I think FM Old Timer uses them quite a bit, and they can be really useful for tracking changes. Especially if you’ve made a tactical or personnel based change and want to track the impact it as had. We’ll look at this a bit more later in this summary.
We started well. Our very first game was against FA Cup winners Leicester. It was a bit tense but we squeezed a 1-1 draw, and on balance probably were robbed because their goal came from a very soft, VAR supported, penalty.
We then grabbed our first win in the very next game against Nottingham. It seemed too good to be true. And it was as we then lost our next 4 games in a row. In fact over the 10 games after our first win we only picked up one more.
It wasn’t full blown panic stations but we had to consider changes. Stats wise our xGA was getting a little out of control. And this was borne out with our in match experiences. We spent a lot of time under pressure. Given we were averaging .9 xG a game but had 1.6 xGA we needed to bring the goals against down to squeeze more points out.
One change to relieve some of the pressure was to slow the tempo down slightly, and pass a little shorter. This went against our DNA as long ball merchants but it would allow us to reduce some of the pressure we were under and fashion out slightly better chances. We still had fairly direct instructions and early crosses for some of the team. It just meant we wouldn’t force the hoofball as much.
Another change was to change the DLP to a Roaming Playmaker. By doing that I hoped they would be a bit more mobile, add a bit more threat on and off the ball, but also still cover when we were on the back foot.
We tweaked the defensive line and line of engagement a little and made sure we were counter pressing rather than sitting back to increase our defensive actions per pass. More on that in another post though.
We chose an odd game to make the changes for (against Chelsea). But we stuck with it despite the initial loss. In the 3 games after the 2-1 loss to Chelsea we won 2 and drew 1. It seemed a little more stable, but still vulnerable when playing the bigger sides.
Like we did when we summoned Big Sam’s ghost to survive the step up to the championship we made a few hard decisions. Against much bigger sides, if there was another game within 5 days I would rotate the team a fair bit to keep the best players rested for the more winnable games.
I also repressed any memory of cup competitions and just let them play out with a second string. I was there in body but not spirit for those fixtures.
We also have the brief tactical changes mentioned above. Slightly less direct, slightly slower tempo, and a roaming playmaker rather than a deep lying one. We didn’t have the resources to make huge changes, and the stakes were too high to do so mid season anyway.
We made a January move for Zarate to improve our options on the left in the raumdeuter position. A role that had been shared fairly unsuccessfully between Pablo and Guadaramma. Erick wanted to play as an AF anyway so bringing in Zarate meant I could move him up front, and then play Fairs in the AMC hole behind him.
Things started to pick up. We still struggled against the bigger teams but we got some good runs against the smaller sides, and important draws against relegation battlers too.
With 4 games to go we were 8 points clear. We had two really tough games against Arsenal and Man City, followed by two just tough games against Brighton and West Brom. The match against Arsenal didn’t go well (2-0 loss), but a spirited draw against Man City meant we had done enough (because of other results).
It was a fairly joyful occasion in Barnsley as Man City sealed their title win and we secured survival. The ticker tape and fireworks were technically for Man City but we got in on the act too. Talk of conspiracies to draw flooded the message boards of fellow title and relegation battlers.
16th was more than enough for us in the end. We didn’t quite make it to the magical 40 points but 39 did the job.
Rolling xG, and xGA
I was tempted to make this pretty on Tableau and add Big Sam’s face when we had done something good but actually we only really made the changes around the very first Chelsea game and then stuck with it. Also I’m lazy.
The yellow line at the top is the rolling xGA data, and the brown line tracking under it was the actual goals against. Importantly here we were conceding fewer goals than expected. Just after the Chelsea game as well you can see that the goals against plateaued for a bit. The initial change seem to steady the ship a little.
Under that we have the green line for our rolling goals scored, and the orange line for our rolling xG. Again we were outperforming our xG and scoring more goals that expected. So all in all, shipping fewer and scoring more than expected. Still quite a gap between actual goals scored and conceded though. Ideally we want these swapped round if we want to succeed in the Premier Division.
At the bottom we have the individual xG per match in blue, and the xGA per match in grey. A few spikes in the xGA indicating that we have a few extreme results, often against some of the bigger teams, distorting our average. This partly fits with our Big Sam approach. Some matches were just couldn’t win, so didn’t try and in the end got pasted on xGA stats.
We took another look at FMStag’s wondrous spreadsheet, looking specifically at performance. A few things stand out.
One is confirmation of how important a signing Zarate was. Some great numbers there for the Mexican raumdeuter (I guess technically we should call him an Intérprete espacial). Only half a season but he was normally getting a few key passes, and contributed some goals. Once he’s a little more settled and the rest of the team improved he should really increase the impact he has.
High hopes for the defense with Kamagate, Zoua, Potouridis (even though he left on loan for a bit), Ngando, Marks and Avramovic all doing really well. Blanco’s numbers were a little low but nothing too alarming.
Though we played Usman a lot he didn’t have great numbers, but in part I think we can put this down to the fact we often played him in the AMC slot, and only really played him upfront part way through matches or off the bench. I want to keep him next season despite these numbers as I think these are due to me playing a square peg in a round hole.
Lynch also has some worryingly low numbers but I think we can put that down to age and carrying a lot of the midfield. We tweaked the tactics and made the DLP a roaming playmaking to get more movement and cover but it’s a very demanding job.
Some good performances but some clear areas to improve. For those of you who have followed for a while we had two important milestones. One was Fairs finishing the season on 159 league goals, beating Varian’s record of 147. And the second was Varian getting to play some Premier Division games!
Over 300 appearances, and almost 150 goals (more than that in all competitions), from the start of our journey in the Vanarama North to the Premier Division. Varian is a true seagull. He bleeds mushy peas and sand.
Planning for Premier Division Season 2!
We’ve survived. And whilst I don’t want to say we survived comfortably we never really spent time in the relegation zone. 17th was the lowest, and in the end we were 6 points clear. We had some good results against fellow small teams, and some spirited performances against some of the bigger boys. With all of that in mind I have high hopes for consolidating next season.
With around £40m to spend and an increase in the wages I think we will be able to build on the core of the team we have. We can improve pretty much everywhere but we’re not in a position to buy some ‘big’ players rather than desperately shoring up with a new 11. I’m thinking a goalkeeper, a right back, a central midfielder, and maybe a new wide targetman are all on the agenda.
Lynch has promise but needs support. Annesley-Smyth and Duggan have done okay but other central options like Perez and O’Brien need to be moved on. Grainger was inconsistent at best out wide.
Harrison was pretty amazing in goal. 10 clean sheets and conceded 4 fewer goals than the xGA. But my coaches still think he’s Vanarama national level. He’s been a hero but reducing the number of goals conceded, especially when we’re not scoring as many as we have in past seasons, is key. We might have to be brutal here.
So the plan is just gradual improvement. Both in players and in facilities. We’ve made some changes to training, and we’re going to expand and improve the coaching team (adding to Scholes, Moyes, Pearson, Holloway, Phil Jones, and Kuyt!). We’ve got one more year until we move to our new stadium, and so long as the money keeps rolling in (we have a £60m bank balance currently) we can keep improving the club.
Tactically I would love to make some changes. But that’s going to be partly down to our further analysis. Check out the next post for some of that in relation to PPDA.