Lies, damned lies and statistics
THERE are only two statistics that matter in football. The score at full time and the club’s position in the league table come May. Statistics are however becoming more and more common in the game, and are regularly used as both a stick to beat the club/player/manager with and as a crumb of comfort that an under pressure head coach, or disillusioned fan clings onto.
Whatever your views on them and their use, they can be a good indication of where things are going wrong, and what a club needs to do to turn around their fortunes.
At the time of writing, Celtic sit fourth in the league after 10 games, after their 2-0 home win over St Johnstone. The most striking statistic, and one that will worry Ange Postecoglou is the stark difference between his club’s home and away form. Of the five games played at Celtic Park, they have amassed 13 points, winning four and drawing once.
On their travels it has been a different matter entirely. They have won just twice, and lost three times. The most worrying statistic from those away games is the goals for and goals against. Whereas at home they have seen the opposition’s net bulge eighteen times, with only one breaching their own defences, it could not be more different when they are taken away from the comfort of their own ground.
They have conceded five goals in those games, but what has hurt them is that they have only scored five goals themselves. The figures for all three clubs sat above them in the table are very much more symmetrical.
XG – expected goals — are the Marmite of football stats, some love them, many despise them, seeing them as an unnecessary layer of complication when as stated before, there is only one statistic that really matters. Not many people know what they actually are though, and it is worth taking a few minutes to understand exactly what XG are, before deciding which camp you are in.
Looking at the XG stats for Celtic over those 10 games, they are 2.95 at home (against an actual goal tally of 3.6) and 1.66 away (with a tally of 1). That suggests they are over achieving at home in terms of their play, and underachieving away. Similarly, when you look at the goals conceded, at home it is 0.2 a match against an XG of 0.6, while away it is 1.08 and 1 respectively.
Once again that shows a team that is getting more out of their home games than their play suggests, while away from home they should have garnered more points.
That is worrying. If their home form dips, even slightly, they need to show a marked improvement away from home just to stay at the level they are today.
The possession statistics show that home and away the team have just over 70% of the ball, the difference being negligible. That shows that it is what they are able to do with that possession that makes the difference, something that is just as much down to how the opposing team sets out as Celtic’s ability to counteract it.
The shots conversion rate is twice that at Celtic Park to when they play away (14% to 7%), which is something else they need to look into. Are they getting into better shooting positions at home, or being forced to try from long distance on their travels?
Comparing that with Rangers, they have less possession and though overall their shot conversion rate is lower than Celtic’s, they score from a higher percentage of their chances away from home (10%) than at home (7%).
The upshot of all of this is that there are definitely areas that Postecoglou can look at. Turning a team around is done by incremental improvements across several different areas. It also requires patience, something that is unfortunately very often lacking in football played at the highest levels.