What’s up with Jelavic?

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By  @Footballfactman

The Croatian striker has gone 12 Premier League games without scoring now and even his greatest admirers must be worrying about his form. I’ve heard numerous theories – he’s been found out, he’s being grocked out of games, he’s working the channels too much or his confidence has gone. Instead of mere speculation let’s have a look at his Premier League numbers.

Last season he scored 9 times from 18 shots on target. In the top European leagues, that’s the kind of level only the likes of Van Persie, Messi and Falcao can keep up. Forwards worth fortunes, playing alongside team mates worth fortunes.

So apart from the fact the odds were stacked against him from the off this season, what has changed? Well, right from the start against Man Utd this season, Fellaini became the focus of Everton’s attack and it’s stayed that way. Fellaini’s huge influence on play last season was more often from an orthodox midfield role. He continues to touch the ball around 70 times a game but from what is now a regular advanced position. In sharp contrast, Jelavic’s involvement in games has gone from around 42 touches per game to around 28.

Fellaini’s back to goal style doesn’t particularly suit Jelavic’s need for having the ball played in front of him. Fellaini doesn’t particularly like to flick on to no one in particular like Duncan used to – we’ve all seen his preference for chest control and lay-offs. Fellaini’s one assist to Jelavic this season was the cheeky back heel flick through a Sunderland player’s legs when the Belgian’s eyes were still firmly back towards his own goal. Fellaini to Jelavic and vice versa isn’t a big passing feature in Everton’s game. Everton complete about 350 passes per game and less than 10 ever go between these two.

On top of this Everton’s crossing has increased. It was always a feature of our game – we were ranked 6th biggest crossers last year. This year we’re joint 2nd. An increase in crosses is liable to suit Fellaini’s game rather than Jelavic’s – especially the big crosses from way out wide that Everton deliver a lot. Pull-backs from inside the box to the Croatian have all but disappeared due to lack of accuracy or composure – he’s still pulling a yard off defenders and finding space. His team mates just aren’t finding him.

Despite Jelavic lack of involvement he’s still managing to get roughly the same amount of shots off per game as he was last season. What he’s not doing is getting them on target at the same rate. He’s down from around half on target to about a third.

We can rate the quality of his shots by position. The graphic below shows the average number of shots it takes from the various zones to score. These no’s are consistent year on year and cover thousands of shots:

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Jelavic has stayed consistent in taking the bulk of his shots from the “good” zone coloured in green in the graphic. Here it takes an average of 6 shots to score a goal in the Premier League. Both this year and last he’s taking around two thirds of his shots from there. He takes 80% of his shots inside the box. This is high compared to a lot of strikers who wastefully shoot from all angles and distances.

Mapping each of his 104 shots for Everton in the EPL to these zones we can see how his conversion rate compares to the hypothetical average over his 40 games to date:

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Despite not netting since his 28th game, Jelavic remains above the league average. This season he’s taking exactly the same number of shots from the same kind of positions. He’s simply not getting as many on target.

It’s how the ball is arrives to him that’s different. Put the ball on the deck in front of him and he’ll slot. Pinging a long ball over his shoulder, or slinging hopeful crosses in isn’t utilising him in the best way.

As long as Fellaini remains the focus, Jelavic will have to feed off the scraps left over. As I’ve stated before in this column, I think Everton would benefit all round from dropping Fellaini back into midfield. I think Jelavic would too.

Follow me @footballfactman on Twitter and visit my site here (especially if you want to know how good or bad Tim Howard is at saving shots from long range).

Better the Neville you know?

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With Tony Hibbert injured, Leon Osman in the form of his life and Everton sitting fairly pretty in 5th, there’s a distinct lack of negativity about the place and little seemingly blue to talk about.

Step forward Philip Neville.

We’ve all come to appreciate Darron Gibson and what he brings to the side, so when Cap’n Pip trundles into the midfield breach the boo boys like to target him. Usually by making comments about poor passing, pointing a good game and ridiculous rallying cries.

He’s better at right back, surely? Why doesn’t Thomas Hitzlsperger get more games? A lot of people are so desperate to get Neville out they’ve already signed Vadis Odjidja Ofoe in their minds and installed him in the team. Not that they’ve ever seen him play of course but he can’t be any worse can he? Francisco Junior v Leeds anyone?

Hitting the topic with a stats hammer is probably not going to change any Neville boo-boys minds, but I’ll have a go anyway….and obviously only using data from games when he’s played in midfield.

First up, there’s the assertion that all he does is pass it backwards and sideways. This can’t be denied. According to the excellent Stats Zone app Neville passes to Jagielka more than any other team mate. His next favourite ball is a shuffle across to Coleman at right back. He makes few combinations with fellow midfielders, let alone Fellaini or Jelavic.

The difference between Neville’s passing and Hitzlsperger’s couldn’t be more different. The German rarely goes backwards; he even plays the ball to the front two. He looks like he wants to get involved. It looks better on the eye but is it effective?

Hitzlsperger has started 4 games in the middle and Everton have lost 2 of them (Reading and Chelsea). We’ve looked to be playing well in both those games but ultimately have been caught on the hop.

Neville’s midfield game might be simple but the indicators are that it’s more effective for Everton. Per game, Everton take more shots when he plays in midfield, score more goals when he plays in midfield and concede less goals when he plays there too. Neville has started 12 games in midfield this term and we remain unbeaten when he’s in this role.

Possible reasons? Bong has talked a lot recently about Baines, Pienaar and Osman linking up together causing “pint-sized mayhem”. Very simply, not only is Hitzlsperger left footed, he wants the ball more than Neville. This means Osman having to take up positions on the right side of the pitch and having a gradually decreasing influence. The graphic below shows this:

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In the Chelsea game, it looks like Moyes sought to rectify the situation by stationing the German on his unnatural right side. Osman came into his own again, and Everton played well while Hitzlsperger had his quietest game yet. Osman was MoM by some distance, making more passes, interceptions and take-ons than anyone else in the game.

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Osman has been key to Everton’s good form this season. He makes more tackles and interceptions than his midfield colleagues and has taken more shots too. He also makes more passes than anyone else in the side. Hitzlsperger reduces Osman’s influence plain and simple. Neville allows Osman to play his game.

Hitzlsperger is actually the least accurate midfielder we have passing-wise. He may look vastly superior to Neville on the ball but the fact is he’s giving the ball back to the opposition with nearly 25% of his passes.

Even if a safety first Neville lay-back to Jagielka ends up with a lump towards the opposition box, the ball is not lost in a dangerous area and team mates aren’t committed. They’re much more likely to be committed if Hitzlsperger gives it away a lot in the middle of the park.

Everton press and push defensively as a unit. The onus is on restricting space and keeping the ball out of danger areas and in the opposition half as much as possible. Our chums across the Park use possession stats as some kind of measure to how well you’re playing and how you should have won the game. Possession better correlates as a defensive tool rather than an attacking one. It denies your opponents the opportunity to hurt you. Not only does Neville keep the ball with his really simple passing range, but as captain and Moyes’s right hand man, he also keeps the shape better.

It may not look pretty but the only stats that matter in football are goals – and these come from shots on target. Create these for yourself while denying them to your opponents and you pick up the points. When Neville plays this is what happens.

I’ve studied thousands of shots in the Premier League and for the vast majority of teams you can predict pretty accurately how many goals they will score over a season based on the no of shots they’ve taken from certain areas. Applying this model to the team we can see that when Neville plays, Everton should and do concede less than when Hitzlsperger plays. We can also see that the team’s numbers hold up as well with Neville in midfield as they do when Gibson’s available, albeit against inferior opponents:

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This all may be unfair on Hitzlsperger due to his lack of games, but with Neville, Moyes knows what he’s getting. The manager doesn’t do chance and Everton fans should thank their lucky stars he doesn’t because when you have finances like ours, and a small squad like ours, the odds are always stacked against you.

You can follow or send your objections to me on Twitter here.

The FFM Column: Why do Everton score so few goals from corners?

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I’m going to sign off for 2012 by taking a look at 5 things to watch out for over the busy Christmas period:

Corners

I’ve become increasingly enraged at watching Everton’s corner taking recently and in particular Baines’s efforts. For the past 6 games the left-back’s corners into the box have been exclusively outswinging. Having conducted a study of the most successful side at corners (Man Utd) here and monitored this season’s goals from corners by all Premier League sides, I can categorically state that the most successful corners are inswinging into the near post. They require less touches (and therefore less luck) to end up in the back of the net.

Everton have only scored from corners twice this season – the first when Fellaini headed in Gibson’s outswinger (ahem) v Man Utd first game of the season and the second when Jones bizarrely punched Baines’s inswinger back across goal for Osman to smash home in the derby. Only two teams are worse at corners – Norwich who’ve scored one, and Newcastle who still haven’t scored any. Room for improvement.

Team Finishing

Having now studied 1000s of shots in recent Premier League history, the average team would have scored 31 goals from the shots Everton have taken this season. Everton have currently scored 26. You can take this whichever way you want. Either we are team of Stuart Barlows, we don’t create good chances, or at some point Everton are due some luck in front of goal and we’ll be scoring more or less as many as we should. The reality being it’s probably a mix of all three.

Jelavic ‘loss of form’

It’s been interesting to note people talking of Jelavic’s loss of form over the last month or so – remarking on an apparent lack of fitness, or his on-field arguments with team mates. The Croatian has had 5 shots in his last 4 games. 2 of those were free kicks. He really is feeding off scraps at the moment and there can be no real criticism of his work rate. The shots study says the average Premier League player would have 5 goals from the shots Jelavic has taken this season. Jelavic has 6. He’s shown time and again that given the right service, he’ll slot.

Case for the defence

Everton haven’t kept a Premier League clean sheet for 11 games now, despite chopping and changing things at right-back and centre half. However, only 4 teams have conceded less this season.  The shots study says we’re conceding the amount of goals we should for the shots we’ve faced. Everton are pretty good at restricting the amount of shots from the danger area  – central in front of goal  – where over 70% of all goals are scored from. We continue to take the game to the oppo spending more time in their half than any other team over the last 2 years.

Steven Naismith

The Scot has scored 3 goals from 12 shots this season which is a phenomenal strike rate. In that 12 shots he’s also missed a couple of absolute sitters that Gervinho would be proud of. Whatever you may think about this lad’s ability, by hook or by crook he seems to turn up in the right place at the right time. Given a bit of game time and leniency from the doubters, Naismith, may well turn out to be an absolute gem. Goals win games, and this lad gets them.

Follow me @footballfactman on Twitter here.

Tactical Analysis: Deconstructing Everton’s Shooting Accuracy

Much has been made of Everton leading the “chances created” table across the top 5 leagues in Europe. They fell behind Bayern Munich recently, but after the shot-fest against Fulham, Everton regained top spot in this regard. For the non-stats freaks out there this simply means we’ve had more shots at goal than any other team.

While it’s a nice looking statistic, it needs context before it means anything. Everton have scored 19 goals so far while plenty of other teams across Europe have gone way beyond 20 and Bayern have now scored 30.

The stats geeks working on an Opta data release for every kick of the ball last season have confirmed the fairly obvious: what counts towards wins is ‘shots on target’. They’ve gone even further to proving common sense by extending this to what counts most is ‘shots on target from inside the box’. So next time someone blathers on about passing stats, point them here.

So, if Everton create so many chances, why don’t they score more goals? Can they not hit the target? Are shots getting blocked because they’re not really on and the decision making is poor? Here’s the numbers:

Now don’t feint, but Anichebe is a player that hits the target AND makes good decisions by not trying to hit the ball through a sea of legs. Admittedly these numbers are just for this season so we looked at last season too. Big Vic’s traits were exactly the same.

Jelavic’s numbers looked similarly efficient until his recent mini-slump where he’s not scored for 3 games. In that time his shooting has become wayward by his own very high standards. His ability to get clean shots off remains unwavering, though. If a shot’s not really on, he simply doesn’t like to take it.

This is in contrast to the shoot-on-sight philosophy seemingly adopted by Fellaini, Mirallas and Osman. While it lacks composure, it’s serving Everton well so far simply because of the number of shots they’re taking. Even based on this small sample size, Mirallas’s goals column looks light and the sheer number of shots he takes combined with his ability to get them on target suggests goals will come.

Going back to the stats geeks findings where shots on target from inside the box are key, Everton do well in this regard. 70% of their shots come from inside the box (10% inside the 6-yard box). However, here’s a graphic (courtesy of Squawka )of where Everton’s goals have come from so far this season:

Over a quarter of them (marked with an x) have come from areas wide of the goal (unsurprisingly, the left side). This is very unusual amongst the sides who score a lot of goals. Everton’s willingness to shoot from these wider areas in general is not good. None of the other high scoring teams do this. It suggests that Everton will only keep up the decent goal return if the volume of shots stay at present levels. If only the Premier League champions got anywhere near this volume in previous years, it’s unlikely Everton can maintain it for 38 games.

Everton, then, need to be a little “shot smarter”. It’s unlikely that the trigger happier players will suddenly change habits in order to improve, so Everton will need to work better positions to shoot from. Everton are alone amongst the top scorers in the way they play with Fellaini’s back-to-goal approach being a massive influence. Normally, a totem pole would be flicking on but the Belgian continues to display awesome chest control to get the ball on the deck. This necessarily means a spread of the play wider. Also, no matter how well Fellaini is doing when the ball comes back in at present, he’s essentially a midfielder and is unlikely to possess the ability to find the space in the box that a top striker would.

This is the conundrum Moyes faces. Stick with what’s working (most likely for now) or withdraw Fellaini back into a midfield role, with Mirallas off Jelavic and Naismith being brought in wide right. It would mean Mirallas getting shots off in the more important central areas and would most likely mean us being tighter in the middle of the park too. This could well be the way forward once Gibson returns to the fold. What would you do?

By FootballFactMan

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