“Is it getting better – or do you feel the same?”
Ah, Bono, thank you for your perceptive if unintentional question on City’s current situation.
Statistically (and I intend to come back to the subject of statistics later if my word count allows), things are getting worse.
How many points have we accrued from the last three games? And how many goals have we scored?
Yes Bono, that’s right on both counts. And it would have been better if we’d picked up that single point in one of the other two games, rather than letting both Cardiff and West Ham get all three.
But here’s the strange thing. Overall, I think it is getting better.
My biggest complaint all season has been that the team doesn’t appear to know what it’s doing when going forward. There’s been no clear plan of attack; even when we’ve enjoyed plenty of possession, it’s seemed that the players don’t know how to engineer real chances to score.
I’ve been gathering splinters on the fence for months now over Chris Hughton’s position – teetering more and more towards the ‘out’ side as I’ve watched in vain for a sign, however small, that things are starting to come together.
Now, just when our prospects look really grim, it feels as though the team is starting to click when we attack. As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer acknowledged, we ‘battered’ Cardiff. We made great chances at Upton Park; Redmond’s pass to pick out Snodgrass’s run in the first half, and the through ball for Hooper in the second, are just two examples. The movement and timing were excellent.
True, both of those chances were missed, so ultimately we’re no better off. But at least the more fundamental problem looks as though it’s belatedly being sorted out; we just need to find that final (albeit crucial) touch.
It’s this improvement which gives me a sliver of hope for the rest of the season. Well, that and the fact that the players are still giving their all. (A commenter on this site remarked after Tuesday’s game that the players lacked passion; I completely disagree. My seat on the front row wasn’t great for seeing the overall pattern of play, but it did give me the chance to look into the players’ eyes.)
Don’t misinterpret this as a ringing endorsement of our management team, though. Baffling, infuriating decisions are still being made.
“Will it make it easier on you now,
You got someone to blame?”
Oh, you’re still here, Bono. Actually I don’t feel better for pointing an accusing finger, but the manager’s propensity for applying the brakes rather than changing gear at vital moments continues to cost us dear.
Nor am I saying that I’m confident we’ll stay up. On top of the scary run-in that lies ahead, history is now making me feel anxious. Anyone else remember the two late goals we conceded at West Ham at around the same stage of the 1994/95 season? That match was a turning-point which precipitated a slide towards relegation.
But since the moment for changing managers seems to have gone for this season, we have to hang on to something. And hang together, whatever our views on Chris Hughton.
“We’re one, but we’re not the same –
We get to carry each other, carry each other…”
Er – yeah, Bono, I guess you could put it like that.
We all know already that they can be used to make any argument you like – but perhaps this has never been demonstrated so clearly as by the arguments for and against our manager.
We’ve had analyses of points per game over varying time periods, points per game against teams in the bottom half of the table, our overall win ratio, the (in)frequency with which we score in the first half etc etc… This week’s Stat of the Week was the revelation that none of our 63 subs this season has managed an assist or a goal. (Who had enough time on their hands to work that one out?)
I understand the desire to underpin opinion with fact, but I’m becoming increasingly wary – and weary – of the use of stats in football.
The widespread use of Prozone – prompted in large part by the Moneyball phenomenon in US baseball – is an obvious example. But it goes beyond that.
On Match of the Day, it seems that Gary Lineker can’t open his mouth without a stat falling out. Introductions, links, interviews – it’s just stat, stat, stat. I almost miss the terrible puns of his that the stats have replaced.
Stats can only tell you so much, as Harry Redknapp pointed out back in 2008:
“You can have all the computers in the world but your eyes have to be the judge. You can look at stats as much as you want – and we do – but you can have too much of it. You can spend too much time looking at computers rather than looking at the real thing which is out there on the pitch. I still think that being a good judge of players is the most important thing.
“I had that recently at Portsmouth with the fitness coach. I said that a certain player hadn’t worked hard enough that day. The coach said: ‘His heart monitor reading is OK’. I said: ‘I don’t care, my eyes tell me that he hasn’t run about and I don’t need a heart monitor to tell me that’.”
Stats can tell you how many tackles a player has made, but not how much snap and determination there is in those tackles; they can tell you how far a player has run, but not how intelligent those runs are (and sometimes it’s best not to move); they can tell you a player’s pass completion rate, but not how creative or incisive those attempted passes are.
And there are things that don’t register in the statistics at all. Little things, like a high-five between players after a great bit of teamwork, can tell you a lot about the spirit in a team. Or just the look in the players’ eyes, as mentioned earlier.
Football in general needs to take a step back from this growing reliance on numbers and trust more in our feel for the game.
That’s what I feel, anyway. And 87.5% of the people I’ve discussed this with agree with me.