by Tony Attwood
Today I stumbled across an article with the headline A misguided pre-season tour, tactical muddles and transfer failings have left Jurgen Klopp with serious questions to answer at Anfield... In the past it would have been written about Arsenal now it is written about Liverpool. So the club that is in a muddle has changed, but the muddles remain the same.
Meanwhile, there has been talk about Tottenham being the best team of the second half. “The numbers that show why Tottenham are more dangerous in the second half. Antonio Conte’s side has become second-half specialists”
As ever it is necessary to check if these thoughts are really based on reality. And even if it is true that Tottenham “are more dangerous in the second half” I am always suspicious of articles that single out one club and one attribute and don’t give us the full picture. Could it be that all clubs are more dangerous in the second half?
And I wondered if this were really true – not least because the article does that thing that so many articles do these days. It produces a view, backed up with a very limited number of statistics – in this case only statistics about Tottenham. Those stats make them look like masters of the second half – but it leaves open the notion that all teams score more in the second half.
So here is a table that helps us judge, and a fascinating one it is… The figures are derived from data provided by the wonderful Soccer Stats site
In the tables below we show the Big Seven as we are calling them this season, showing the number of goals scored in each half and the number of goals against. The third and sixth column show the improvement in the second half, or in the cases of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool the decline in the second half.
|1st half goals for
|2nd half goals for
|2nd half gain %
|1st half goals against
|2nd half goals against
|2nd half gain %
The first result that we note is that all clubs except Newcastle score more in the second half. Arsenal and Manchester City however are only slightly up in the second half.
So we might ask, do Arsenal, Newcastle and Manchester City have anything in common apart from having little or no “second half gain” in terms of scoring goals? The answer is that they are first, second and fourth in the league.
Now let’s look at goals against. Three clubs let in fewer goals in the second half than in the first half. Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. So they tighten up in the second half, but that is not enough to take them to the top of the league.
Three clubs let in more in the second half than they do in the first half: Arsenal, Newcastle and Manchester City. It doesn’t seem to be doing them much harm.
What can we conclude?
Arsenal and Newcastle maybe need to tighten up the defence in the second half, but it is really not much of a problem – Arsenal for example are top of the league.
They could make an improvement maybe by bringing on fresh legs or it could be by having new defenders come on at halftime, or by increasing the level of fitness of the defenders who play the full 90 minutes so they don’t lose focus near the end. But what they are doing is working: the club is top of the league.
Tottenham, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool need to score more goals in the first half if they are seriously going to compete at the top of the league. And they really do need that because they are currently, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 9th in the league.
Put another way, three clubs need a better defence in the second half and four clubs maybe need a better attack in the first half, but it is not that essential.
So here’s the conclusion. If the clubs not at the very top want to improve they need to score more first-half goals. Leaving it to the second half is the tactic of teams further down the league. This is the tactic Arsenal and Manchester City are getting right.
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