A stat-and-a-half for every A-League team: Part 1

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    Sydney FC host Melbourne Victory in the final round of A-League action. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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    There will be two consequential matches in this week’s final regular season round.

    If Western Sydney – 33 points, and in sixth – lose to Adelaide – 36 points, and in fifth – then the winner of Brisbane v Perth – both equal on 32 points, in seventh and eighth respectively – could snatch that last finals slot.

    In the event of a Wanderers loss and a draw between the teams below, goal difference would need to be taken into account, with Brisbane and the Wanderers equal on -8, and Perth further back on -12. Brisbane, it seems, in this case, would have the advantage if they drew and Wanderers lost.

    This is a glowing point of relevancy on the table, with everything of real consequence already sorted.

    So, with that in mind, why not stroll through some of the data that the 2017-18 season has produced? This has been a season that has swayed a little uneasily, troubled by a general downturn in enthusiasm, a few wincing off-field nonsenses, all while muddling through under the light sedative of Sydney FC’s near-pillar-to-post dominance.

    Let’s start with that dominance.

    Sydney will finish the regular season having held the top spot for 22 of the 27 rounds. They have scored 63 goals and conceded 22, which means their goal difference of +41 is a higher figure than more than half the league’s goal-scored tally.

    Newcastle’s is the next highest goal difference, at +14. Their points-per-game rate is 2.35, almost a full point above the league average.

    They have conceded 0.85 goals-per-game; the next stingiest team is Melbourne City, at 1.19 goals conceded-per-game. Four out of their 19 wins were by four or more goals, more than any other team.

    They conceded more than one goal on six occasions, but only three of those matches resulted in defeat. Their potency in attack and miserliness in defence was astonishing for the second straight year.

    But are there any slightly less obvious numbers to note? Well, of all the defenders who have completed more than 80 long passes, Jordy Buijs has done so at the highest rate of accuracy (63%), by some distance. Alex Wilkinson (58 per cent) isn’t far behind.

    Anyone who has watched Sydney play – and play well – this season will have noticed how often Buijs’s passing range is used; the Sydney fullbacks surge up, the central pair split and cover the vacated areas on the wings, and Buijs is given the ball and told to distribute up the field from deep.

    This is a mechanism that Graham Arnold has developed to suit the talents of his players, the mark of a keen tactician.

    Newcastle have lost their last three matches, conceding 10 goals in the process; to put that in perspective, it took nine games for them to concede that many to start the season. It has put a serious dampener on their campaign, which has otherwise been astonishingly successful. 

    A high-octane offence was based on directness and speed; they have the fewest passes-per-goal of any A-League team and have the second-lowest average possession.

    But they’ve smacked in more total shots-on-target than any other team (148), and Dimi Petratos and Andrew Nabbout are fourth and fifth for shots-on-target among players, even though the latter left for Japan in early March.

    Their system was unashamedly vertical in nature; no team played fewer backwards passes than Newcastle, and every other team sent in more crosses – if you have vague memories of the Jets crossing the ball a lot, it’s likely Petratos you’re thinking of, and only him. Strangely enough; only Leroy George sent in more crosses than Petratos this season, but no other Jet appears in the league’s top 20 in this regard – it seems as though only Petratos had the license to cross in volume numbers, for some reason.

    We’ll see whether this system can survive the heightened conditions of the finals and whether Newcastle’s scoring form can return; of the players to score more than five goals this season, only Oriel Riera and Bobo needed more shots to do so than Petratos. 

    Johan Absalonsen challenges Jason Hoffman for the ball.(Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

    For City, these final few rounds have been hugely encouraging; the continued brilliance of Daniel Arzani and the return of Bruno Fornaroli has fired them to three straight victories – likely four straight, with Wellington next this weekend – to end the regular season.

    Arzani’s dribbling numbers are truly frightening; he’s made 78 successful dribbles this season, 15 more than second-placed Andrew Hoole, and 20 more than third-placed Diego Castro, both of whom have played at least six more games than Arzani.

    No A-League player beats their man more easily or, indeed, goes down quite so easily.

    Warren Joyce also seems to have found a settled starting XI; the same team has started the last four matches, three of which have been clean sheet victories. Remembering back to the Tim Cahill saga, the sudden departure of Ross McCormack, and Joyce’s prior habit of fiddling with the line-up, this sense of permanence is something of a relief. 

    For Melbourne Victory, a six-match winless run to begin the season has really hamstrung what would have been a better campaign. Their standout player has been Leroy George, whose personal season ranks among the best in league history, certainly in attack.

    In almost every play-making metric, George appears inside the top five: assists, shot assists, goal involvements, chances created, key passes, accurate crosses – Leroy is there, near the top of the list.

    He’s also scored the equal-second-most goals from free kicks (3) and has smacked in three goals from outside the box. When the Victory were mired in their early-season rut, George often appeared the only functional attacker on the pitch.

    His brace-and-assist performance against Ulsan in the Asian Champions League was probably the best individual performance seen by an A-League player in that competition, save perhaps for Ante Covic’s heroics in the Wanderers’ 2014 final victory.

    If I could tack on an odd stat here too; Victory have performed better away from home this season, for some reason, earning slightly more points-per-game on the road (1.67) than at home, and conceding slightly fewer goals (1.33) per game. Could this have anything to do with the North Terrace ceasing their active support at the end of last year?

    Adelaide have settled at the top of that belt of mediocrity that spans the bulging middle section of the table, five points below fourth, three points above eighth. Unsurprisingly, the numbers are equally middling; as a team they’re seventh in goals scored, and sixth in goals conceded.

    They’re seventh in passes attempted and completed. They’re solid defensively, but not remarkably so, allowing the equal-third-fewest shot on target. Is there anything statistically noteworthy about them at all?

    Well, actually, yes; Marco Kurz appears to have instated a system that utilises crossing to such a degree, it’s almost startling. As a team, Adelaide lead the league in crosses made, but they’ve attempted over 100 more crosses than the second-placed team.

    Isaias

    (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

    Naturally, they lead the league in completed crosses as well, but this due to pure volume; their rate of accuracy is good (25%) but not enough to justify the mammoth amount they bloot in every game, sitting second to Sydney’s (27%).

    They shoot often, but, as Ante Jukic elucidated beautifully in this Guardian piece from last month, generally these shots are not quality opportunities.

    This is further reflected in the fact Adelaide has won the equal-most corners in the league; crossing endlessly to set defences will result in a fair few corners, but this clearly shows that corners are not always a byproduct of quality offensive pressure.

    There is a caveat to this; Johan Absalonsen, who has been injured for huge portions of Adelaide’s season, is actually third in the league for goals-per-90-minutes, among players to have made 9 or more appearances (Absalonsen has made 10).

    He also ranks inside the top five for headed goals-per-90-minutes. To put it more simply, he’s started just seven games for the Reds this season and has managed to score in all but two of those starts.

    Adelaide have dearly missed his finishing, especially in the air, and so their approach may seem a little less futile if he’s fit and firing in the finals. 

    Feel free to discuss the lingering impressions you’ve all had of this regular season – statistical or otherwise – and what they might mean for the finals below the line.

    Part two is coming tomorrow.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (16)

    • Roar Rookie

      April 12th 2018 @ 8:08am
      Grobbelaar said | April 12th 2018 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      An interesting aspect about the Victory stat that they performed better on the road than at home is that if they reach the semi final, they will play away from home.

      They will win that game and earn a grand final berth….away from home.

      • April 12th 2018 @ 8:25am
        Nemesis said | April 12th 2018 @ 8:25am | ! Report

        MVFC can still have a home Grand Final – literally, or geographically.

        • Roar Rookie

          April 12th 2018 @ 8:56am
          Stevo said | April 12th 2018 @ 8:56am | ! Report

          There is a distinct possibility that we could see an all Melbourne grand final. Now that would be something.

          • April 12th 2018 @ 9:04am
            Buddy said | April 12th 2018 @ 9:04am | ! Report

            Agreed it would be something….but what exactly? Without igniting the obvious debate, the idea just leaves me not knowing what conclusions to draw from the season. If only we could finish with a proper knockout competition final or League winner vs Cup winner!

            • April 12th 2018 @ 9:45am
              Kangajets said | April 12th 2018 @ 9:45am | ! Report

              An end of season 7 a side gala day with all the teams involved.
              That should sort out who is the best .

      • April 12th 2018 @ 9:41am
        Kangajets said | April 12th 2018 @ 9:41am | ! Report

        Gr
        Thought you might be interested, there is an interesting article in the “economic truth ” , basically saying that t v ratings are incredibly inaccurate.

        • Roar Rookie

          April 12th 2018 @ 10:00am
          Grobbelaar said | April 12th 2018 @ 10:00am | ! Report

          Maybe put up a link on wookie’s article from yesterday?

          • April 12th 2018 @ 10:06am
            Kangajets said | April 12th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

            Nice defence and deflection

    • April 12th 2018 @ 8:08am
      James Rosewarne said | April 12th 2018 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      Great stats, Evan. Genuinely love the work you do. Im very curious however as to what source(s) you use for those stats? Keep it up!

      • Columnist

        April 12th 2018 @ 10:06am
        Evan Morgan Grahame said | April 12th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

        Thanks James, I have to trawl through a number of sites for the stats; Fox Sports and the A-League website’s stats area can be good, and I’ve recently discovered sofascore.com, which has very detailed player stats database, and can be sorted by per-game, per-90 minutes, or by raw totals. Transfermarkt is used for appearances, team formations, and starting XI information. There can be certain amount of inconsistency between these source, I assume this must be due to the way each outlet tracks and records the individual metrics.

    • April 12th 2018 @ 9:17am
      Nemesis said | April 12th 2018 @ 9:17am | ! Report

      “Could this have anything to do with the North Terrace ceasing their active support at the end of last year?”

      Really? Is that what you observed as a football analyst? You really think MV’s poor home form – especially early in the season – was due to lack of visuals people not jumping & singing in the stands?

      And, North Terrace have been out of action a lot longer than this season. They’ve hardly been at MV matches in past few years. Having said that the new Active Fans (Back Row Melbourne) create a more vibrant atmosphere at home matches than North Terrace did in their final years.

    • April 12th 2018 @ 9:26am
      Kangajets said | April 12th 2018 @ 9:26am | ! Report

      Newcastle have gone from scoring 28 goals last season to scoring 49 this season

      Newcastle conceded 53 last season compared to 35 this season
      These statistics show that Newcastle are an 80 per cent better team this year

      Sydney conceded 12 last season compared to a massive 22 against this season , almost a 100 percent decline in Sydney defense,… the stats show how fragile Sydney are in defence

      Statistics, …. they never lie

      • Roar Rookie

        April 12th 2018 @ 12:29pm
        Waz said | April 12th 2018 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

        Statistics never lie.

        It’s the muppets interpreting the statistics that do that 😉

        • April 12th 2018 @ 7:36pm
          Kangajets said | April 12th 2018 @ 7:36pm | ! Report

          Muppets

          Stadler and Waldorf are my favourite grumpy old men

    • April 12th 2018 @ 10:53am
      Mark said | April 12th 2018 @ 10:53am | ! Report

      I don’t really buy the talk of Victory’s apparently superior away record as having any significance whatsoever for finals.

      Derbies are effectively neutral territory, particularly those played at AAMI Park. This season, Victory won their two ‘away’ derbies, and lost their ‘home’ derby. I would be interested to see how the figures hold up if you exclude the derbies.

      Also, of their potential semi final opponents, Victory lost their away game to Sydney FC, and lost both their away games to Newcastle.

      I maintain what i’ve said here a couple of times before. I can’t see Victory getting past the semis, because they cannot win big matches away from home.

      • April 12th 2018 @ 11:29am
        Nemesis said | April 12th 2018 @ 11:29am | ! Report

        “Victory lost their away game to Sydney FC”

        Maybe, this will be true if you write it on Saturday. Right now, it’s an ALT-FACT.

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