Digging Through Data: Ep 8 – Kicking off the Season

Tempo Tactics

So, through data analysis of the best players in the Championship, we have created an inexpensive, highly specialised team, designed to fit an incredibly specific system. This is unlikely to achieve immediate trophies or European football, but the hope is that it will provide enough of a platform for long term success. The time has come to work our way through the season.

The completed team, as outlined in the previous episodes, can be seen below, with only one change to the initial plan. Joe Rafferty of Preston did not wish to leave his club for Leicester, so unfortunately that transfer fell through. The alternative was the second-best crosser of the ball at right-back, Todd Kane.

The Tactics

As mentioned previously, the tactic is a basic, possession-based system, using the deep-lying regista as the primary creative outlet, collecting the ball from the defence, being screened by the box to box midfielders, and sending the ball wide to the wingers or overlapping fullbacks.

The centre halves are built on a mix of tackling (primarily Lockyer on the right) and aerial prowess (mostly Cooper on the left). Arguably the goalkeeper, George Long, is a better distributer of the ball, tasked with finding the wingers for quick counter attacks.

The majority of crosses will be coming from the right, with both Kane and Wallace well-equipped to run the right-hand side of the pitch, find space and get the ball in the box. Both Leko and Mounie are aerially proficient, so it will be up to them to win the headers.

The Seasons Begins

After 6 games, this is how the team is faring.

Pretty well, kept out of the European places by the usual suspects and a frustrating last-minute loss away at Southampton keep the team in 7th, but having played both Man Utd and Arsenal without losing is not too bad for a side built wholly from Championship players.

To reach the upper levels it is clear that a few more goals will be needed, but at this stage the game plan is being executed relatively well.

In the first game, a 1-0 win over Fulham, Massengo was required to play as the regista with Norgaard injured, and the above map shows how involved he was. No player on the pitch completed more passes, and he was involved in every phase of play. The bottom left of the map shows how he made multiple ranging balls out wide to Toffolo as the overlapping left-back. This outlines the importance of the role to the team.

The scene below also demonstrates the main route to goal, with the midfield finding Wallace on the right, who uses his pace and direct running to get past the left-back, and float in a cross to Leko at the back post, who unfortunately heads it over on this occasion.

All in all, goals are coming from multiple sources, which is key, whether its crosses, through balls or set-pieces. The only thing required is to be a little more clinical in situations such as the above, and the goals should continue to roll in.

Solid Defence

As the table shows, only 4 teams have conceded fewer goals than us, which is excellent considering our fixtures. This is largely down to a relatively cautious 4-1-2-3 shape, but also to the ability of the centre-backs.

Most notably Jake Cooper. This map is again taken from that first game against Fulham, but it demonstrates how key he is in the air. The only player to win more headers was Leko, although the winger actually lost 3. Cooper won 7 headers without losing a single duel, and it is because of this that we can have faith at the back that set pieces and crosses should be dealt with going forward.

The next episode will see how the team gets on towards the middle of the season, where a small squad may start to struggle with a congested fixture list (I should say I have retained most of Leicesters’ top players, for use only in the cups/as emergency subs).