Monday, 24 June 2013

Warmer Weather Training Camp

Warmer Weather Training

Back in February, West Ham United took the somewhat controversial decision to take their first team squad out of the country for some warmer weather training. It's fair to say that this wasn't a particularly popular decision among supporters.

This was a team who had just offered up one of the worst performances yet under the stewardship of Sam Allardyce; the limp 2-1 defeat away to Aston Villa. A team who had won just three of their previous twelve games, losing seven of those, and conceding almost 2 goals per game in the same period. A team who had conceded 11 goals in the previous 5 games didn't deserve a holiday, was the common argument.

Allardyce claimed that warmer weather training would help to rejuvenate the players, help to heal tired and worn muscles, and, most importantly, improve results.

Now that the dust has settled on the season, it's time to ask if Sam was right.

When comparing the results of the twelve games after the warmer weather training with the results of the twelve games before hand, it becomes apparent that there was a turnaround of sorts. There were fears in January and early February that West Ham's form would continue to drop, and that the club would slide towards the relegation zone.

However, after returning from their trip, results picked up dramatically. In the following games, we earned more points, scored more goals, and conceded less. The chart below shows the differences in results before and after.

Despite this upturn in the stats that count, the numbers for specific performance areas in the two sets of games don't make for particularly pretty reading. In the twelve games after going for the warmer weather training, West Ham averaged less shots per game, less shots on target per game, less possession, less successful dribbles and less accurate passing.

In fact, in the games following the training camp, West Ham failed to control move than half of possession in any game, with the 48% (according to Opta) against Reading on the final day the best of the bunch.

The chart below shows the average numbers of shots taken, shots on target, successful dribbles, and tackles per game from the two sets of games. As you can see, the margins between the two sets are minute, suggesting very little change in performance indicators before and after the training. This is rather surprising given the stark differences in numbers of points collected, and goals scored and conceded.

Considering the fact that individual performance areas did not drastically improve after the warmer weather training camp, it seems fair to conclude that performance levels were not significantly affected by the camp, despite what the upturn in results might suggest.

So, if the stats suggest that our performances in individual games did not dramatically increase why did we have a positive return in results?

Well, I think that the answer is consistency. It's widely accepted that a consistent, regular team is more likely to succeed, whilst a team dealing with injuries and regular team changes may struggle to pick up any momentum. When the idea of a training camp in the sun was discussed back in February, one of the benefits we were told to expect was that injuries are far less likely after training in the sun. There is plenty of research available that suggests that muscles are less likely to strain or tear when training in a warmer climate, and that muscles tend to heal quicker in the heat. 

After a quick scan through starting line ups before and after the training camp, this appears to be the case for West Ham. In the twelve games prior to the camp, 30 changes were made to our starting line up, 2.75 per game, with a particularly bad run of almost 4 changes per game being made in the games from New Years day up to the training camp.

Compare this with the changes afterwards, and there is an incredible difference. After returning from Dubai, we made just 1.33 changes to the starting line up per game, managing to name an unchanged eleven for 4 games on the spin (Manchester United, Wigan Athletic, Manchester City, Newcastle United).

The chart below shows the difference in the amount of changes being made to the line up across the time frames. What is particularly clear is the sudden from from game six onwards in the pre-training camp games. These were the games from Norwich City through to Aston Villa, during the coldest months of the year.

The positive impact that the sunshine may have made to the overall health of the squad is typified by Andy Carroll. In those 12 games leading up to the training camp, we saw Carroll appear just three times for the club. However, following the training camp, he appeared in 11 of the 12 games, only missing the match against Liverpool for which he was ineligible.

My belief is that the benefits of taking the players on a warmer weather training camp are plain to see. Although we didn't start dominating possession and creating tons of chances after returning, the increased points tally and comfortable run in speak volumes. The sudden drop off in numbers of changes being made to the team speak volumes to me, and I consider the consistency in our line up for the run in to be one of the main reasons for our successful end to the season.

I think it's fair to say that, on this one, Allardyce has been proven correct.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

New Signing: Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll

DOB: 06/01/1989
Age: 24
Position: Striker

Previous Club: Liverpool
Previous Division: Premier League

Transfer Date: 19/06/2013
Reported Fee: £15,500,000


The longest West Ham United transfer saga of the summer has been concluded! Despite only having an offer accepted for Liverpool striker Andy Carroll three weeks ago, it feels like we've been in negotiations (stuttering negotiations, if you believe the papers) for an eternity.

The media tried their damnedest to make this transfer into a will-they-won't-they soap opera, but, truth be told, I think we've all know for a while that this transfer would happen. At least, I can say with certainty that I've believed it would happen for at least a couple of months now.

As with other new transfers in, I want to focus on Carroll's stats and inform readers on what he can bring to the team. Unlike with other new transfers in, we already know what he brings to the team, having had him at the Boleyn last season.

Carroll is big and strong, great in the air, a real throw back. He can't play on the floor, he's a bully in and around the box, and he's a real throw back the days gone by. Well, that's the perception, isn't it?

I don't think that's the case. I felt last season that Carroll was given a bit of a raw deal by people discussing his footballing ability. He gets a great amount of credit for his aerial presence (which I'll come on to), but his ability to pass and play with his feet is often ignored. Okay, so his overall pass success rate from last season is a meagre 61%, but this doesn't paint a full picture.

If we only include passes played with his feet, this jumps up to 79% passing accuracy, which is a pretty good return. If we then remove long balls and just focus on his short passing game, it jumps up even higher to 81%.

Just to provide a bit of context, Mark Noble's short passing produced an 88% success rate, and Joe Cole's 84%.

Despite bringing his overall success rate down rather dramatically, it would be amiss to suggest that Andy Carroll cannot use his head. We all know that he can. We've seen some beautifully controlled flick on's since he rocked up last August, and he is a constant danger in the air. In fact, Carroll contested 345 aerial duels last season (14.4 per appearance), winning 224 (9.3 per appearance), 65%.

(For reference, an aerial duel is when a player goes for a header in direct competition with an opposition player, rather than going up with no challenge)

Carroll was successful with 124 of his 321 headed passes for West Ham last season, a success rate of 39%. Initially, this seems to be a low score, and it's impact on his overall passing success rate is evident. However, after looking into this a little more, you see that 39% is actually a very good rate.

Carroll won more aerial duels per game than any other player in the Premier League last season. He was closely followed by Peter Crouch of Stoke City, and Christian Benteke of Aston Villa in second and third respectively.

Between them, they attempted 1,250 headed passes last season, and were accurate with 488 of these. Crouch managed an overall success rate of 39% (204/519), whilst Benteke managed an identical success rate (160/410).

Contesting more duels per game than his competitors means that more of Carroll's attempted passes were played whilst under pressure from an opponent than either Crouch or Benteke, suggesting a greater difficulty of pass. Either way though, Carroll's headed passing success rate is right up there among the best target men in the division.

Another important element that Carroll brings to us as a side is his defensive work. We've all seen him heading clearance after clearance from corners when the defence is under the cosh, I even recall him sitting and playing out the final few minutes of one particular game as a centre half!

In fact, Carroll made 60 clearances last season, 2.5 per appearance. This makes him the 90th most frequent clearer (if that's the word) in the Premier League, and comfortably the most frequent of all attacker. In fact, the next strikers after Carroll are Dimitar Berbatov, Olivier Giroud and Peter Crouch (1.3 per game) sitting back in 126th, 127th and 128th position.

The final area that I want to cover is Carroll's injury record. A lot has been made of his poor injury record over the past few seasons, including his time at West Ham last season. Managing just 24 appearances is a poor return by anyone's standards.

However, Carroll was only eligible for 34 league games last season for West Ham (he was at Liverpool for the first two of the season, and was ineligible for games against Liverpool), meaning he actually appeared in just over 70% of possible games. He also played a full 90 minutes in 70% of his appearances (17).

I think it's also important to remember that Carroll actually played 90 minutes in 13 of West Ham's final 14 games  of the season (he was ineligible against Liverpool). West Ham fans, myself included, will hope and pray that this is the kind of consistency we will get on a regular basis for the next 6 seasons, particularly as he scored 6 goals and assisted 4 in those 13 appearances!

This is a transfer that genuinely excites me. It's not often West Ham are in a position to sign an England centre forward... unless of course they're in their mid thirties and looking for a final resting place!

All that I have left to say is: Welcome back, Andy Carroll! You're made the right choice.

Friday, 7 June 2013

New Signing: Adrián San Miguel

Adrián San Miguel

DOB: 03/01/1986
Age: 26
Position: Goalkeeper

Previous Club: Real Betis
Previous Division: La Liga

Transfer Date: 01/07/2013 (announced 05/06/2013)
Reported Fee: Free Transfer


The second incoming transfer for West Ham United this summer has arrived in the form of Spanish goalkeeper, Adrián San Miguel del Castillo, or simply Adrián.

The 26 year old has spent the past year as the first choice keeper for Real Betis in La Liga, after having come through a youth system he had been a part of since the age of 10. Despite being relatively inexperienced in the top flight, Adrián burst onto the scene in September 2012 taking his chance as a substitute, and started the following 31 games.

Signing a goalkeeper wouldn't have been my personal priority for this summer's business, but I do understand that there are a lot of Hammers out there who are pleased to be seeing someone come in to challenge the current incumbent, Jussi Jääskeläinen.

Jussi has come in for a range of criticisms in his debut season for West Ham, so let's see if Adrián's stats suggest he can improve on the experienced Finn. Initially, the pair seem evenly matched. 11 clean sheets each (although Adrián made 6 less appearances), and a similar number of goals conceded (46 - 53). However, delving deeper into the numbers starts to show some differences.

To begin, I'll look at some of Jääskeläinen's criticisms. There have been suggestions that Jussi struggles when facing shots from range. Of the 53 goals that beat him in the Premier League this season, 15 (28%) came from outside of the box. Adrián, on the other hand, conceded just two from outside the area, equating to 4% of the goals he conceded (46).

The images below shows the goals conceded by Adrián and Jussi respectively.

Another area for which Jääskeläinen has come in for criticism is his distribution. Spanish goalkeepers are often championed for their distribution, so, is Adrián an upgrade in this area?

Well, there are a couple of areas in which we can expect a change. Firstly, Adrián doesn't possess as long a kick as Jussi. Whilst Jääskeläinen averaged 60.3 metres with goal kicks, Adrián averaged 55.4 meters. On the other hand, Adrián actually averaged further with kicks from hand (56.9 to 54.8).

However, the real difference between the two comes in the way in which they choose to distribute. When a goalkeeper has the ball in hand, he has two main options: kick it or throw it. Jussi opted to kick 55% of the time, Adrián threw 51% of the time.

Although Adrián had a lightly worse accuracy rate with throws (92% to 97%), he attempted a higher number (132 to 101). The slightly lower success rate could suggest that the Spaniard attempts slightly more daring throw outs than his new team mate. Should this prove true, it could lead to a change in the style in which West Ham build attacks, looking to break quickly from defence, rather than getting the ball forward in just a few passes.

On the other hand, there are areas in which Spanish goalkeepers haven't covered themselves in glory when playing in the Premier League. European keepers have traditionally struggled when dealing with crosses. So how does Adrián stack up?

Well, he has a fantastic record when claiming crosses, having successful claimed 114 of the 115 he had to deal with in La Liga this season. This is slightly better than Jääskeläinen's 97% (89 of 92). Not only does this suggest Adrián can handle himself in the air, the fact that he claimed more than 1 per game than Jussi (3.6 to 2.4) hopefully stands him in good stead when playing in the Premier League.

However, where Adrián does play to the European stereotype is the manner in which he claims crosses. 21% of crosses claimed by the Spaniard were dealt with by punching clear, whilst Jussi punched just 5% of his. In England, punching tends to be frowned upon, so it remains to be seen whether this element of Adrián's game will be stamped out by Sam Allardyce and his goalkeeping coaches Martyn Margetson and Jerome John.

One thing we can say for sure about this signing, is that it gives us a different option. Stephen Henderson doesn't appear to feature in the managers plans, which led to very little competition for Jääskeläinen to contend with last season. Personally, I believe Jussi deserves to retain the number one spot come August, but this time he knows that he has to fend off a challenger who has proven himself more than capable of dislodging a more experienced goalkeeper.

All that remains to say is: Welcome to West Ham United, Adrián!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

New Signing: Rǎzvan Raţ

Rǎzvan Raţ

DOB: 26/05/1981
Age: 32
Position: Left Back

Previous Club: Shakhtar Donetsk
Previous Division: Ukrainian Premier League

Transfer Date: 01/07/2013 (announced 21/05/2013)
Reported Fee: Free Transfer

What's that? West Ham United have signed a thirtysomething fullback?! Again?!

Although we have become all too familiar with ageing left backs over the years, it seems fair to suggest that Rǎzvan Raţ is a bit different. Rather than joining the likes of Stuart Pearce, Nigel Winterburn & Rufus Brevett as an elder statesman of the defence, Raţ comes with a high pedigree. What's more, he comes with a recent pedigree.

The Romanian skipper joins West Ham after a fantastic decade with Ukrainian powerhouse Shakhtar Donetsk. During his tenure in Donetsk, Raţ has racked up an impressive 301 appearances (90 of which came in European competitions), and has amassed 83 caps for his country, bringing his total up to 88.

He also brings with him a winning mentality. Throughout his career with Shakhtar, and previously with Rapid Bucuresti, Raţ has collected 9 league titles, 6 national cups, 4 super cups, and a UEFA Cup.

Unfortunately, performance data from the Ukrainian Premier League is hard to come by, so data on Raţ is somewhat limited. However, we are able to analyse his 8 Champions League performances from 2012/13, so we can get a bit of a feel for what he's all about.

In his 8 appearances on the highest club stage, Raţ completed an impressive 81% of his 353 passes (44.1 per game), delivered 6 successful crosses (out of 33, 14%) and created 9 goalscoring opportunities (1.1 per game). However, what stands out is his defensive work. Raţ averaged almost three clearances, two interceptions, and 1.4 tackles per game. 

The chart below shows Raţ's defensive actions per game in comparison to two of the men he will be competing with for a place in the West Ham United starting eleven. As you can see, Raţ made fewer defensive actions per game than the current incumbent, Joey O'Brien, but more than our #3, George McCartney.

However, Raţ excels in other areas of his game. His total of 44.13 passes per game (81% of which were accurate) dwarfs the figures posted by the two Irishmen. O'Brien attempted 28.36 passes per game (79% accuracy) and McCartney attempted just 24.75 (80% accurate).

The final area that I'm going to cover, is another in which Raţ stands out. Since the 2004/05 season, Raţ has averaged over 29 appearances per season for Shakhtar. Over the same period, Joey O'Brien has managed just 17.2 appearances per season, and McCartney 28.

Although O'Brien has been able to rack up over 30 appearances for the past two seasons, his injury record over the course of his career has severely impacted his ability to consistently appear for his sides on a regular basis. Whilst we remain hopeful that the worst of his injuries are behind him, there is always an element of risk when dealing with a player with such a fragile injury past.

By the same token, McCartney has also suffered a couple of injury hit seasons (2012/13 being of particular note). Combining this with a loss of form for Sunderland and a couple of seasons in the Championship, and you have a rather fragile fullback who hasn't played consistently at the top level for a few years now.

Raţ, on the other hand, has been far more consistent. He has only had one bad season for injuries (2011/12) and seemed to put that behind him in the past year, racking up 26 appearances for the Ukrainian side.

The chart below shows the appearances of the three men over the course of the past nine years. As you can see, the line representing Raţ (orange) sits at a far more consistent level, whilst the lines depicting O'Brien and McCartney tend to jump up and down on a regular basis.

On the whole, I believe this to be a great bit of business for West Ham. It seems to be assumed that Raţ will take McCartney's place in the squad, allowing for O'Brien to move back over the right back, and for young Dan Potts to step in as the second choice left fullback. If that is the case, then I, for one, will be very happy with this deal.

So, all that remains to say is: Welcome to West Ham, Rǎzvan Raţ, and let's hope the next three years are as successful for you as the last 15 have been!