Making sense of statistics?

David Cooper 08/10/2018 22comments  |  Jump to last

The never-ending roller-coaster ride that is supporting EFC continues despite changes in management and players! The last 8 days have seemed like a snapshot of what we have endured since the late 1980s. A terrible first half vs Fulham followed by a much better 2nd half and 3-0 win.

All change for Tuesday and a disappointing loss with questions asked about Silva’s team selection. On Saturday, I watched one of the best performances I have seen by the Blues for a long time. But even saying that, the game was ebbing away before Morgan got red carded.

Okay, so this is a very small sample size if we talk in the vocabulary of mathematicians and statistical gurus. But does it tell us anything we don’t already know? Indeed, what can the wealth of team and individual stats tell us about the performances we watch?


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So I went looking for information trying to explain why Silva left out Sigurdsson on Tuesday after scoring 2 goals on Saturday. I hoped to find a website that would tell me how far individual players run in a game. I know there a few out there – Opta, Premier League and even Sky. But I couldn’t find what I was looking for – only lots of other stats which I think influence the modern manager, of which Silva definitely is (and, sad to say, didn’t Big Sam use them as well?).

By general consensus, it is thought that Sigurdsson runs up to 12 km in each match. The average distance covered by certain players depending on their position and duties is between 10 and 12 km. Apparently, Jack Cork of Burnley regularly runs the furthest, up to 13 km. Here are a few things to consider about players who run >10 km in every match.

1. In the Olympics there are no heats for 10k. So Sir Mo Fara only has to win the race once to get the gold. All races of lower distances have heats, including the 5 km. The reason being that the physiological analysis of the body’s energy expenditure shows that it takes 3+ days to recover. I know Mo runs this at a much faster rate then Sigurdsson and other midfielders do.

Sigurdsson lasts between 80-90 minutes most games but he runs at a pace that includes sprints, stops and starts rather than the continuous pace that Sir Mo runs at to run at sub 28 minutes and therefore different energy systems are depleted. So, looking for a reason why Sigurdsson and others were left out of Tuesday’s game but returned on Saturday is purely down to the lack of recovery time that there was between the Fulham game and Southampton.

I am sure that fitness analysts at Everton and everywhere else provide the manager with a breakdown of this individual information after each match. Coming back to the stats that I did find about the 2017-18 season — there was not one Everton player who was in the top ten for either distances covered or the number of sprints per match. A pretty damning stat about Everton last season. Reports have emerged this season of Silva demanding more from the players and harder fitness sessions.

So, as we criticize Silva’s disappointing team selection on Tuesday, from a fitness statistical position, he got it dead right. The proof being in the improved performance against Leicester. Remember how many teams – Everton last season and Burnley this season — are struggling because of the regular diet of midweek Europa League games. It maybe fair to say that demands placed on the modern player are too much for them to regularly play 2 matches each week?

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Reader Comments (22)

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Michael Kenrick
1 Posted 08/10/2018 at 16:53:14
I'm no long-distance runner, in fact it was the incredible amount of running in footie that killed me, but there may be something to what you say.

The awful exhibit for so-called Premier League football that we were served up yesterday from our former home, where the two runaway favourites were set to give us a fest of fabulous attacking football, apparently followed strenuous efforts by both sides in the much more important Champions League during the week. That seemed to be the only excuse offered by pundits that I noted for the poor showing.

Of course, it could also be the fundamental unpredictability of football, and that pre-match anticipation should never be over-cooked? Or is that my pesso-realism coming to the fore?

Derek Taylor
2 Posted 08/10/2018 at 16:56:27
Some people will find an excuse for anything. Now Silva has won two Premier League games on the trot, he walks on water.
Dick Fearon
3 Posted 08/10/2018 at 18:32:27
What I have never accepted are designated throw-in and dead-ball takers.

Your average pro would have had at least 10 years of specialised coaching before gaining a first-team place. They should be capable of finding a team mate with a well-placed kick or throw-in. Any advantage to be had from the award of such things is too often lost while the designated star lumbers half the length of the field to perform the easiest of all techniques.

John Raftery
4 Posted 08/10/2018 at 19:06:15
An interesting post. Most fans have little comprehension of the fitness levels required in the modern game. There is no question that players need a minimum of 3 days recovery time in order to play at an optimal level in the next game.

I read a while ago that players were running 20% further than five years previously and at a greater intensity. Naturally, the older a player is, the more recovery time is required. Sigurdsson and Gueye are in their late 20s. Both play in roles which require a high work rate throughout a match. It was unsurprising therefore that Silva rested them in the League Cup.

Older fans and former players often quote the days when teams played games on successive days at Christmas or with a break of only two days. The difference in those days, of course, was that both teams would play more or less the same eleven. There was no such thing as rotation, hence both teams were in the same condition: knackered.

Steve Ferns
5 Posted 08/10/2018 at 19:06:54
Derek, there's a long way to go. A very long way. There's a lot of hard work to be done. No one can rest on their laurels. The last two Premier League results serve merely to reassure us that Silva can win football matches. That's not enough though, he has to win a lot of football matches to get us where we want to be. The key thing was that we were seeing more glimpses of what he wants us to do. Whereas we were seeing brief glimpses, I believe we are now starting to see greater periods of this.

Surely, you can see how much better things are already? It's still just 8 Premier League games in. That's the blink of an eye for a new manager. It's a process that we have to undertake to get to where we want to be, come the end of the season.

So, ask yourself if you think we can take what we've done well and do it better, and eradicate what we've done badly. There's a fine balance between being good in attack, but leaky at the back to being good at the back, but toothless upfront. Finding the sweet spot where the side is both good in attack and decent at the back is very difficult.

No, Silva doesn't walk on water. But he comes here with a big reputation as a coach. I hoped he would be a coach first and foremost and fix the mess he inherited. Clearly, he couldn't and so he spent big on 6 players to fill some gaps. We now need things to settle and to work on moulding the side before we can fine-tune it. So much work to be done on the training ground.

But surely, we can all get excited and dare to dream? When's the last time we had a player like Bernard? Or Richarlison? I'm a relative youngster, and so the greatest side of my adult life is the Martinez side of 2013-14, and I think this side can be even better. There was a lot of criticism for Silva with the poor results in pre-season and then a couple of bad results, but people are effectively breathing a sigh of relief that he seems to know what he's doing. Let's enjoy it, eh?

Steve Ferns
6 Posted 08/10/2018 at 19:09:22
John, there's also the small factor that they ran less. From the 60s to 70s, the distance ran in matches doubled. From the 60s to the 00,s it trebled. And players are running further and further. This is why those "poor little lambs" can't play 3 games in a week. It's worth noting that most would if they could, but it's the management on the advice of the sports scientists who are advising them to rest the players.
Bill Watson
7 Posted 08/10/2018 at 19:16:49
Lies, damned lies, and statistics!
Mike Doyle
8 Posted 08/10/2018 at 19:18:47
I mentioned on another thread recently a comment on this topic from Graeme Souness – who was regarded as a fitness fanatic in his playing days. He reckoned that in teams regularly playing a high intensity pressing game (eg, Liverpool, Spurs – and now Everton) he'd last about 65 mins and would struggle to play 2 games a week.

He also suggested that clubs would need a deep squad to maintain this approach or the players would be knackered by Xmas.

Tony Abrahams
9 Posted 08/10/2018 at 20:06:57
Interesting thread this one, David, with a title that might come across as misleading? I'm not for for football statistics myself, but this is a bit different and really insightful mate.

The pitches are so much faster now as well, and if running in the mud was hard, then I'm sure sprinting on these modern pitches is even harder, and possibly even harder again on the body, because most games are just so intense nowadays, with the ball moving so fast on these very quick pitches.

John Raftery
11 Posted 08/10/2018 at 23:21:04
No coach on the planet could have delivered stylish, attacking football and win matches with the squad Silva inherited. Having seen the scale of the mess we were in during pre-season, he and Brands ensured deals were done late in the transfer window in order to provide some immediate remedies. Had they not done so, we would be as toothless in attack as we were during the whole of last season.

It is Richarlison and, in the last three games, Bernard who have transformed our forward play. Without those two, we would be every bit as bad as we were against Huddersfield and West Ham, matches for which Richarlison was suspended and Bernard played only 45 minutes in a team already losing 2-0.

It is a good job we have strengthened our attack, because our defensive play is highly suspect. Our inability to keep clean sheets means we need to score at least two goals in most games in order to win. Last season, we had a total of 10 clean sheets in the Premier League; one under Koeman, one under Unsworth, and eight under Allardyce. In eight games this season, we have had just one clean sheet with a more difficult schedule of fixtures ahead than any we have faced so far.

Silva's ability to instil greater defensive discipline is the biggest area of doubt concerning his management. Ultimately it will determine how successful he is.

Denis Richardson
12 Posted 08/10/2018 at 00:04:05
Interesting article, David, although I'm not sure why Pickford would have needed a rest.

By all means0, make 3, 4 or even 5 changes. But 7 was a recipe for disaster. Consistency is key in football and that's too many changes, especially bringing in players who've hardly played together in a competitive match.

Either way, it still baffles me why, year on year, every manager we have treats the League Cup with disdain. It's the easiest of the three trophies to win – by far – and only adds about 6 games to the calendar. Hardly a big ask if not in Europe.

Now all we have left is the FA Cup. We 100% guaranteed won't finish top six and talk of top 4 is a waste of time. Let's hope Mina and Gomes make a big difference and we sign a decent striker and right-back.

David Ellis
13 Posted 09/10/2018 at 02:10:54
Denis – we can finish top 6. Man Utd are vulnerable...

Although I noticed the Watford-supporting celeb on Lawro's BBC results guessing article thought they would beat Bournemouth 4-0 and finish top 4!!!! Fans of other teams are always so deluded.

Alan J Thompson
14 Posted 09/10/2018 at 06:31:25
As someone has said the title including the word "statistics" may be misleading but there is again the matter of how you read the "facts".

It has been said that older players, in their late 20s, need greater recovery time. Being at a greater physical maturity in their late 20s, would that mean that 20-year-olds, say like Davies who seems to cover most ground in Everton's side, need even more recovery time than their older teammates, is there a peak age or does it come down to each individual's genetics?

Indeed, can white men jump? Why are all great swimmers white and all great sprinters black or is it all rhetoric?

Phil (Kelsall) Roberts
15 Posted 09/10/2018 at 09:31:08
The team sent out by Silva at Arsenal and home to Fulham were the 10th and 11th youngest teams since the Championship winning side in 86-87.

So we have the players to recover early now.

The average age of the 84-85 team was 24 year 4 months and the 86-87 team just under 26 – the same as the team so far this year.

Thomas Lennon
16 Posted 09/10/2018 at 13:08:05
For further information:

Interesting to read this (1950s - 2002):

Sorry, Bobby - Becks and his mates would have run rings round your lot

Everton were the first to do a time-and-motion study on their players in the 1970s (so comments about the distances run 1960s are somewhat subjective) and concluded that they moved 8.5 - 9 km whereas now they average about 10 - 12 km so an increase overall of 10-40% rather than trebling... but still a significant increase. Given that I don't remember players standing still much in the 1970,s the only way distance covered can have risen is if speed and intensity has risen markedly.

I am a fat 56-year-old man and I could jog 10 km in 90 min so that is no feat of athletics in itself – it is the performance to high speed over and over that is the difference (ever tried interval training?).
Another startling stat is that, of all of the 10 km run, the average distance covered while in contact with the ball is 200 m per player.

David Graves
17 Posted 09/10/2018 at 14:47:13
Interesting post, David, but I'm not too sure that you are actually making sense of stats!

Personally (and from a statistical point of view!) I'd have to disagree with your statement that “As we criticize Silva's disappointing team selection on Tuesday, from a fitness statistical position, he got it dead right.”

I don't understand how you can conclude that he got it right by the simple fact that we won the following game? That's a completely subjective statement. I'd go as far as to say it is specious reasoning as how can you possibly infer a relationship between him being rested and then playing well and prove it? What evidence do you base that on?

The one statistic that you do talk about (distance traveled) is what can be called an “empty statistic” or a scalar quantity (from GCSE Maths!). It only becomes of value if, as Thomas says, you begin to consider speed, intensity, duration of sprints etc, and then make comparisons between a population of players.

For example if you could show that a significant number of the players that started against Southampton had a reduction in physical performance measures on Saturday – compared to those that were rested – then you may be able to support your statement that he got it “dead right”. But I doubt that there is any correlation at all.

The suggestion that the reason the players were rested against Southampton was because of recovery time is surely rejected by the fact that Kenny, Keane, Zouma, Davies and Bernard all started against Southampton then started against Leicester without detrimental effect.

I think Denis provides the best answer. It has nothing to do with statistics or recovery time and everything to do with the importance Silva placed on the competition.

David Ellis
18 Posted 09/10/2018 at 15:15:05
Alan #14 – the best sprinters are all from West African descent because they have greater propensity to greater muscle mass (other things being equal). The same reason why they don't provide many good swimmers – muscles are dense so they don't float quite as well as other ethnic types.

This isn't rhetoric – it's just about the genes. Of course, it would be possible to have a top white sprinter and a top West African swimmer – these things are not immutable. Alan Wells won the Olympics 100 m in 1980 with a time of 10.25 s. He wouldn't make the semi-finals with a time like that now (the Americans were missing that year because it was in Moscow).

Top African long-distance runners tend to come from East Africa – light and lean (like Mo Farah).

It's not true that all the best swimmers are white men. Plenty of good Asian swimmers (particularly women).

Not sure why I'm talking about this!

Alan J Thompson
19 Posted 09/10/2018 at 15:59:24
David (#18),

That was rather the point I was trying to make, that recovery rates might depend on a lot of things.

David Graves
20 Posted 09/10/2018 at 16:03:48

Those generalisations about muscle mass, bone density, genetics and sporting success amongst black athletes have long been found to be inaccurate. There have been a number of studies that have shown the "science" behind such theories to be highly questionable and, for the most part, unsubstantiated.
It has much more to do with sterotyping, social expectations and access to facilities.

Alan J Thompson
21 Posted 09/10/2018 at 16:36:13
David (#20); I was going to add that many years ago, in jest, it was suggested that it had something to do with holes in feet, but thought better of it. Again, the point trying to be made is that different people recover at different rates for a whole host of reasons that have nothing to do with race.
David Graves
22 Posted 09/10/2018 at 16:59:27
Sorry, Alan, my mistake – I was responding to David's statement regards “athletic genes”.
David Ellis
23 Posted 20/10/2018 at 01:44:00
David #22 - you're right I have zero research on what I said - its purely anecdotal, so may well be influenced by a social conditioning and stereotyping.

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