By Tony Attwood
As we saw in the last article, Mr Mourinho is complaining. And we are not the only people to have noticed this. For the Guardian noticed it too, and wondered if “M” was really right to call his team “unlucky”.
In an article “Are Manchester United really the unluckiest team in the Premier League?” Paul Wilson posed this question: “Are a team unlucky if they keep hitting the woodwork, or do they need more shooting practice?”
Then, doing the sort of research I have been screaming out for, for months if not years, the writer adds, “In any case United are nothing special in that department. They are mid-table with five strikes against the frame of the goal, whereas Bournemouth are runaway leaders with 13, followed by Manchester City, Spurs and Arsenal on seven.”
And this is the point. If you want to make the case for luck, or Arsenal always having a bad time in November, or Mr Wenger dithering around and so never buying the right players for the club, you need first some facts, and then some analysis.
This is what the media is so bad at. For example, I noticed that the Telegraph is still today saying that November is Arsenal’s worst month. Which it is. But they are still not considering the key point:
Every team must have one month that is their worst, since clearly the fortunes of all teams go up and down. Even in the Unbeaten Season we had one bad month.
Is the case that Arsenal are always bad in November, while other teams might been poor in March one year but in September another? Indeed as we can see from any quick analysis, in Arsenal’s case the worst month is not always November. In 2003/4 it was September with three league matches played, two of which were draws. Two points out of nine. Terrible. We went unbeaten and won the league.
But adding up all the months, yes November is the one that comes out worst for Arsenal. But it is also the one in which we regularly have to play two of our main rivals. If we say that Arsenal have four main rivals, that means that eight games a year should be against them. One a month. But we persistently get double this in November. That is the statistic that is revealed – but of course not reported. And when we ask why, the most obvious reason is that the TV companies fix the schedules – not just moving games to Sundays, but also moving matches around to give a boost to November (for example) when their are internationals all over the place.
Anyway back to Man U. According to the Guardian they are fifth in the table for shots on target, fifth in the one for possession, fourth best team in the league for total shots and eighth best for the most number of passes in the final third of the pitch.
All of which relates to their position in the league so nothing weird there. But when we come to look at shooting accuracy and goals-to-shots ratio we can see that they are less likely to hit the target with each shot than Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and the Tiny Totts.
However even hitting the target is no good if the ball just drops into the arms of a well placed keeper.
The goals-to-shots ratio is what we really need to be seeing. And here we can see Manchester U need almost twice as many shots to score as Arsenal.
Indeed thanks to figures from www.oulala.com we can see exclusively how clinical each side has been a dozen games into the 2016/17 Premier League campaign.
Alexis Sanchez is Arsenal’s top scorer with six goals in 12 appearances. With his strikes coming from 34 shots, a conversion rate of 17.6 per cent has helped his side become the Premier League’s most ruthless side in front of goal.
And Manchester U? Well, keep looking down in the table below. They are indeed above State Aid United, Swansea and Southampton. But that is all.
There’s no luck in this. When it comes to hitting the back of the net from a shot, Man U need a lot more attempts. In fact Man U will need (at this rate) 293 shots to get the same number of goals as ARsenal have gained in 172 shots.
So I come back to my eternal point. We do need statistics, and we need to look at what is behind the statistics.
But this point raised in the Guardian is an improvement. A little while ago no football journalist would ever have questioned “M” on the veracity of his claims.
He could have said that Man U have scored more goals in the last 10 minutes than any other club and they are failing to lead the table because refs persistently give Man U less time added on for stoppages than any other club.
And the press would have printed that as gospel and for the next seven years everyone would have kept on repeating it.
As that wonderful, wonderful novelist Philip K Dick said (and as the very decent New Scientist magazine reminded readers last week) “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away”.
Football journalism on radio, TV and in the press is run by people who don’t care about the difference between fact and opinion. These are the people who have for decades laughed at their colleagues in the rest of the media for bothering to check facts. Now these other journalists have thought, hell, why am I bothering with all the tedious stuff? Let’s tell people you can prove anything with statistics, and save ourselves a lot of time and money.
Meanwhile the politicians, never that close to facts (or come to think of it, reality) have abandoned fact checking too. Then along comes Mark Zuckerberg, portrayed for many years as the great pioneering, far-thinking, IT genius, who tell us that people make decisions based on their lived experience not on facts. Yep, the sun goes round the earth.
Worse, their lived experience includes – indeed in many cases is dominated by the media. Voting patterns and explained reasons for voting in the EU in/out poll in the UK show this very clearly – the percentage of people voting leave the EU and citing immigration as their prime reason for wanting to leave turns out to have been the highest in areas with the lowest immigration. People it seems were influenced by what the media said more than what they saw.
As New Scientist says, the world is transformed by reason, discovery and innovation. Same with football. And the move towards pointing out that Mourinho’s wild rants are, well, wild rants, is a little step in the right direction, in my opinion.