06 December 2018
When we look at statistics in football, it is fair to say that there is a much greater focus on the attacking aspects of the game. Whose scored the most, who creates the most chances, how much possession in the final third are just three of most common reoccurring themes when it comes to number crunching.
This means that the likes of Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane will earn the limelight as we praise just how effective they are in front of goal, while measuring such as metrics as how often they find the net in the Premier League in terms of minutes.
Players of this ilk are undoubtedly match winners, at the same time the increased focus on attackers arguably does their teammates a disservice. Especially when we look at the more defensive element of the game.
Goals win you matches, but clean sheets also mean you don’t lose them. Does this mean that one aspect is fundamentally more important than the other, well that is something that can be debated long into the evening.
And with that in mind the purpose of this article is to shine more light on the back four and make a solid case for the defence. Here we’ll look at just who does the most work in the defensive third and more importantly what correlation it has with Premier League places.
What we’ll set out to do is test certain hypothesis and see if they are correct or not and to do so first, we will need to show you the Premier League table (rankings correct up to November 30th before Cardiff vs Wolves)
Here is the table after one third of the season (13 matches), this is what we will use to compare and contrast against different defensive metrics:
|12||Brighton and Hove Albion|
|14||West Ham United|
And the hypothesis will offer up here is the teams at the bottom end of the table will in turn have the busiest defences in the Premier League.
How can we prove or disprove this though? First let’s look at the amount of saves a goalkeeper has had to make for their respective club this season – as a note we will work on total saves per club and not individual player stats.
Here is how the Premier League would look if it was ranked by saves alone after 13 weeks of the season:
|2||West Ham United||53|
|6||Brighton and Hove Albion||48|
As you can see Burnley’s Joe Hart who has been an ever present for the Clarets this season has also been the busiest goalkeeper in the Premier League. He has made 54 saves in 13 matches, this works out at 4.15 saves per game.
A total that just pushes West Ham and their ever present Lukas Fabianski down to second as the Polish international has made 53 saves across the same number of matches, something that works out at 4.07 saves per game.
Neither team is in the bottom three at the time of writing, so we can already get a sense that our first attempt at proving our hypothesis is incorrect, but what about if we flip it the other way around instead.
What if we were to say the teams at the top of the table need to make the least number of saves. Something that does ring true when you look at the two teams at the bottom of are list. Manchester City who are ranked 20th and Liverpool who are ranked 19th.
After 13 games each they have conceded just five goals each, this means they are conceding less than one goal every other game. A staggering statistic when spelled out like that and one that shows that it’s not all about attack.
Not only that but there is a perfect correlation between their league position and the amount of saves that have been made. As we all know Manchester City are top of the table and as we’ve just found out Ederson has had to make the least saves to boot.
The Brazilian international has had to make just 20 in this first third of the season, this equates to 1.53 per game. While his compatriot Alisson is not far off for Liverpool, his 26 saves work out at exactly 2 per game.
So, we know that these two teams fit our inverted hypothesis correctly and had Chelsea got the better of Tottenham at Wembley then the run of teams that were in the right positions would have extended to three.
Chelsea’s new signing Kepa has had to make 29 saves this season, a tally that puts Chelsea 18th in our list. We just mentioned that had the Blues beaten Spurs recently then it would have continued our perfect inverse.
However, one should not forget that Tottenham were rampant against Chelsea and were it not for the former Athletic Bilbao man in between the sticks it could have been a win approaching something in the region of five or six goals for Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
Not only that though, because Kepa was so busy it probably meant that Chelsea were 19th in the list before the game and therefore it would have made our hypothesis out of sync bar Manchester City who as we know are in the correct place.
That equates for three of the top five, so what of the North London duo of Tottenham and Arsenal?
This is where our theory unfortunately starts to fall apart, for the simple fact that they are the joint 4th highest in terms of saves made this season.
Between these two clubs they have had no fewer than five men play in goal this season, due to a combination of suspension and injuries. Both clubs have had to make a total of 49 saves already this season, this works out at an average of 3.76 per game.
Does their total saves ranking when coupled with their league positions perhaps suggest something else, that being that they must have a good goalkeeper who can make these saves and in turn make sure that their team are winning games.
With Tottenham third and Arsenal fifth in the Premier League at the time of writing, the standing in the table almost matches where they are in terms of total saves. However, this is the opposite of what should be happening.
In theory the best teams should be making the least saves, the worst teams for use of a better phrase should be making the most. But at the same time, maybe we are looking at this the wrong way and it’s not quite as black and white as we first thought.
If we propose that Tottenham and Arsenal are high in the list of saves, but due to having good goalkeepers then perhaps teams at the lower end of the Premier League table will be lower in our saves list due to having not so good goalkeepers.
If we look at Manchester City and Liverpool, they need to make far less saves overall, due to the fact that they have such a set of strong defensive units in front of both Ederson and Alisson, but how does that explain Leicester making the fourth least saves this season.
They certainly don’t have the fourth best defence, so is it more that they are leaking goals than opposed to making saves? When you look at the amount of goals that the Foxes have conceded after 13 games, this doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case.
They’ve conceded 17 goals at the time of writing, so that doesn’t necessarily suggest a porous backline. It could well be that Kasper Schmeichel is not called upon all that much and the explanation arguably lies in the amount of goals scored.
The 2016 Premier League winners have scored 18 goals over the same period, a positive goal difference of 1. This suggests that although the Leicester goalkeeper isn’t overly busy, they don’t have the necessary firepower to win matches.
A point that is further backed up when you consider that they currently lie in the perfect mid-table position of 10th at the time of writing. So, if a team is making less saves, it could well be down to inactivity more than anything else.
But before we look at the variance between the two metrics (Premier League placing and total saves ranking) let’s shift our attention to Fulham who after 13 games of the season found themselves at the bottom of the table.
Not only that but they also had the leakiest defence in the division. Now in theory this means that they should be top in terms of total saves, but as we know that is not necessarily true because you can either make saves or ship goals. The two factors don’t really combine.
If Fulham made the most saves, then the chances are they would not be at the bottom of the table. Something that goes a long way as to dispelling our original hypothesis, be it inverted or not. But let’s try and see if we can back it up through variance of factors.
If we work with total saves minus premier league placing then Manchester City should have 19 (20 minus 1), Liverpool 17 (19 minus 2) to Fulham having minus 19 (1 minus 20), let’s now see how it looks:
|Brighton and Hove Albion||6||12||-6|
|West Ham United||2||14||-12|
So, as we know Manchester City and Liverpool are exactly where should be in terms of variance when we measure this against our hypothesis, while Chelsea would almost be on the perfect figure of 15 if they were still third in the table.
While at the bottom end of the table Fulham are on -17 instead of -19 due to the fact that they have made the third most saves and not the first. What is also notable is that there are very few high negative numbers at the bottom end of the list.
This means that after the top three teams the correlation is a negative one, this is because the pattern of variance does not continue once we get past Chelsea, who themselves are not quite in sync.
For our hypothesis to be perfect, the variance of the two factors (total saves vs Premier League placing) would have to look like this:
|Brighton and Hove Albion||-3|
|West Ham United||-7|
This is if the Premier League after 13 weeks, then had the reverse order in terms of total saves made. Fulham making the most, then followed by Cardiff, Southampton, Burnley and so on and so forth.
However, this as we know now this is far from the case, to the point we can now compare what the variance between the two metrics actually are and what they should look like if our top teams/least saves hypothesis was true:
|Brighton and Hove Albion||-6||-3||-3|
|West Ham United||-12||-7||-5|
This is where we can really highlight what is true and what is false in terms of hypothesis. The larger the swing either positive or negative, the lesser correlation that there will be, with Tottenham and Arsenal being the perfect example of this.
We pointed out earlier the anomaly between their saves and league placing and here you can see that Tottenham have a -13 difference when measuring their actual ranking variance and what it should be if the hypothesis was true.
The same goes for Arsenal who are on -12, again more saves and a high league position have no real correlation and apart from Manchester City and Liverpool who match up completely, the only other team in which to do so are Wolves.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s men are 10th in terms of saves and 11th in terms of league placing giving them a variance of -1. Which is exactly what they would have if our hypothesis was true, meaning just three of the 20 clubs in the Premier League are where they should be.
When 17 out of 20 or 85% of the teams you are analysing are not matching to what you predicted, then it is an overwhelming negative correlation. Admittedly though the three teams with the highest negative variance between saves and placing are not a million miles from where they should be.
But even if we said that 14 out of 20 or 70% of the teams are going against the grain, then again it does little to suggest what we wanting to prove at the start of the article is correct. Therefore, if we were to offer a summary it would be as such.
Do teams at the bottom end of the Premier League make the most saves? Then the answer to this one, is not necessarily.
Do the teams at the top of the Premier League make the least saves? Then the answer to this would be yes, but only at the very highest point.
After that there is no real positive correlation between the two factors, something that ultimately highlights just what a competitive competition the Premier League is as saves tell only a small part of a very interesting story.