Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Bradford City vs Swansea City - Match Analysis

Bradford City 0 Swansea City 5 - Carling Cup Final

Swansea: Dyer (16, 47), Michu (40), De Guzman (59 pen, 90)

Headline Stats
Bradford City - Swansea City
Goals 0 - 5
Attempts 3 - 15
Attempts On Target 3 - 10
Corners 1 - 8

Possession 40% - 60%
Stats taken from BBC Sport Website
Line Ups

Bradford City                                     Swansea City
12 – Duke (sent off)                         25 - Tremmel
02 – Darby                                        06 - Williams
16 – McHugh                                    22 - Rangel
23 – McArdle                                    33 - Davies (Tiendalli '84)
27 – Good (Davies ’46)                  07 - Britton
11 – Thompson (Hines ’73)            09 - Michu
14 – Atkinson                                   11 - Pablo
18 – Jones                                       12 - Dyer (Lamah '77)
24 – Doyle                                        15 - Routledge
09 – Hanson                                     20 - De Guzman
21 – Wells (McLaughlin ’57)           24 - Ki Sung-Yeung (Monk '62)

Subs                                                        Subs
01 – McLaughlin                                      01 - Vorm
05 – Davies                                             16 - Monk
04 – Ravenhill                                          21 - Tiendalli
07 – Reid                                                 26 - Agustien
26 – Turgott                                             14 - Lamah
17 – Connell                                            17 - Shechter
20 – Hines                                               19 - Moore

Why did I choose to analyse this game?

Despite the wealth of sites giving their opinions on various games, I don’t think there are many sites which offer true performance analysis of games (Zonal Marking is one, well worth checking out). I have decided to start doing small match reports on games every couple of weeks, time permitting and thought an interesting game to start with would the League Cup final. Both teams had a fairytale of sorts, League 2 Bradford the first team from the 4th tier to reach the final since 1961/62 and Swansea now in the Premier League and in site of the first major trophy in their 100 year history.


Difference Between the Teams

Having seen the previous rounds, and particularly the hype after beating Arsenal and Aston Villa, Swansea will have known that Bradford’s key tactic was the use of Hanson as a target man and to hassle them into giving up possession while playing forward quickly in a direct style. Swansea, renowned for their passing game, were quite a contrast to this and by overloading the midfield were able to comfortably pass the ball around Bradford. The gulf in quality was evident from the start and Swansea were perhaps better prepared by heeding the warnings of what had happened to Arsenal, Aston Villa, Wigan & Watford in earlier rounds.


Key tactics from each side

While it might seem obvious that Swansea won so comfortably by being better than Bradford, football is usually not so simple, especially in a one off cup game. The first key to Swansea’s victory was to stop Bradford’s aerial advantage of Hanson. Bradford’s tactic of dropping deep to try and put bodies in between Swansea’s midfield and the goal played into the Welsh teams hands, as the Bradford midfield dropped to a line around 20 yards inside their own half. Given this situation most defences would step up to create a unit around 15 yards behind this (around the half way line) but Swansea’s defence stayed in a position around 10-15 yards deeper than this, inviting Hanson & Wells to play further forward. This succeed in isolating the Bradford front men and any loose knock downs from them were generally picked up by De Guzman or Britton.



The Extra men in midfield for Swansea also encouraged Rangel and Davies to get further forward as Atkinson and Thompson the Bradford wingers were having to come infield to pick up Routledge, Hernandez and Dyer and with Michu drifting into the hole and making an auxiliary midfielder this gave Swansea what seemed like an overwhelming advantage of numbers. This method allowed Rangel and Dyer to get in round the back of Curtis Good, the Bradford left back several times and create chances by pulling the ball back to the onrushing attacking midfielders.


The passing & movement of Swansea allowed them to create triangles and Hernandez coming inside onto his right foot always allowed for an option whilst creating the space for Ben Davies to get wide and cross the ball. Whilst Bradford dealt with most earlier crosses into the box they struggled with the quick interplay of the Swansea midfielders, especially around the edge of their own penalty area.


Bradford’s main issue was around being too deep to affect the play and while they had men back in abundance they didn’t press the ball or stay tight enough to their men which made it difficult for them to win the ball back and prevent Swansea attacking. The possession count above taken from the BBC Sport website seems generous in comparison to some sources which put Swansea possession at anywhere between 75% - 93%


Focus players

Michu (Swansea City)

Michu’s goal scoring exploits this season have been well noted and he deserves every bit of acclaim that comes his way. While he played just behind a traditional forward in Spain and for most of the season behind Danny Graham, he was given the lone front man role for the final. In contrast to Adel Tarrabt, who was picked up on Saturdays Match of the Day for spending the majority of his time on the halfway line and not affecting the play in the right way, Michu generally stayed around the edge of the area, although always looked to come short to link up with the 3 attacking midfielders.

He noticeably drifted to the left and got a couple of great shots off from this area, prime examples being the shot which led to Dyer’s first goal and his goal, where he created the space and placed the ball excellently into the far corner, striking the ball between the legs of McHugh and using this to unsight the goalkeeper (or if you prefer sky’s version, he was “lucky”)

Michu has been invaluable for Swansea’s style of play, the quick 1-2’s he played with Hernandez, Routledge and Dyer around the edge of the area made it hard for Bradford to stop the tide of attacks for fear of a mistimed tackle but his strength in the air also gave Swansea the option to play crosses into the box as well.



Nathan Doyle (Bradford City)

Nathan Doyle is both an integral part of Bradford’s midfield unit but also the set pieces taker, throw in taker and seemingly focal point in finding the forward players. From the way Bradford set up on Sunday it seemed that his primary job was to aid the defence and, along with Gary Jones, provide a shield in front of the centre backs which would prevent Swansea’s 5 man midfield getting too much room.

This cautious approach seemed unnatural as I don’t suppose Bradford play this way against too many League 2 teams and this was evident in the first goal. The ball had been played forward but cleared from the edge of their area by Swansea, one ball took out both Bradford midfielders and allowed the ball to move quickly down the pitch with little resistance, ultimately leading to Dyer’s first goal.

By being so deep Doyle was forced to aim hopeful long balls up to Hanson rather than being able to find him effectively and was vastly outnumbered in midfield and must have felt like he was chasing shadows with Swansea swift passing game.



Was the result fair?

Unfortunately you’d have to say yes. Even the 5-0 scoreline could have been much more. Once Bradford had been reduced to 10 men on the hour for what was, for neutrals at least, a harsh red card for Matt Duke the Bradford goalkeeper Swansea were very comfortable. Bradford possibly showed too much respect for Swansea and would maybe have been better focusing on an “up and at them” style instead of trying to contain a team which many Premier League sides have failed to do. Despite all this Swansea’s tactics were absolutely spot on, testament to Michael Laudrup and his staff



Swansea had clearly done their homework on Bradford. They ensured the game was played to their strengths and nullified Bradford’s main threat to run out comfortable winners. Take nothing away from the run Bradford have had but Swansea’s excellent pass and move football, often used as a defensive tactic under Brendan Rodgers has been taken by Laudrup and evolved it into a free flowing attacking style which Bradford couldn’t deal with.


Saturday, 2 February 2013

MLS Salary Analysis

Football is often a game of speculation. Whether it’s who’s signing for who, who’s getting sacked in the morning or what tactics a manager will use in the next game. One thing constantly rumoured in the papers is ‘player X to sign contract for X thousand pounds a week’ but one thing football clubs are very good at is keeping all official wages, and more recently transfer fees, undisclosed. One country that doesn’t however is the Major League Soccer in the USA. Twice a year they publish a detailed list of all the Base Salaries and the Compensation Costs required for every player in the MLS, giving full access for people like me to delve into this!

Using an idea on a post I’d seen by Sporting Intelligence which theorised that the best teams in the world won their leagues by paying the most in wages and not by spending the most on transfers (although these are often interlinked), I decided to look at an example using the info provided by the MLS. Would the team that paid the most ultimately win the championship?

The MLS is a slightly more complicated league than most traditional European leagues in that the governing body sets strict rules around designated players, wage caps and the ability to veto proposed transfers (as seen recently in the case of Brek Shea of FC Dallas). However clubs are free to pay the ‘designated players’ whatever they can afford (this is obviously down to several factors including having a rich chairman, global fanbase or the location of the club in question – for example it’s probably easier to attract a world renowned superstar to LA or New York than it is to Kansas or Portland!). Also the figures given are Base Salaries so will not take account factors like bonuses.

Note: Click on all graphs to show an enlarged version

Total Salaries of MLS clubs from the 2012 season

The graph shows the clear discrepancies between the New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy compared to almost every other team in the league. By paying the salaries of players like David Beckham and Thierry Henry, these two teams dwarfed every other team in the league in terms of the total cost of salaries paid to the squad. In fact the $5,000,000 per year base salary paid to Henry is greater than 16 of the 19 clubs in the entire league!

The Median for all the clubs is just over $3.4million meaning DC United would be the prime example of a mid-range club. It would be easy to say Galaxy & Red Bulls pay the most therefore they should win but we’ll look a little more in depth.

Average Salary per player of MLS Clubs 2012 Season

Due to most clubs having a similar size squad (between 26 & 32 players) there was not a lot of difference between the average salary per player graph and the total salary per club graph. The average salary of the Red Bulls players of over $565,000 and LA Galaxy with $349,000 although again these are massively skewed with the designated players. I'll investigate this further on. 

Average Cost per Point

Ultimately all clubs want to accrue the most points over the season. The MLS works in a different method to most traditional European league systems in that they adopt the American format of having a league structure which then feeds into a playoff system. This takes precedence so although San Jose Earthquakes won the MLS Shield by racking up 66 points over the season, LA Galaxy’s MLS Cup win (by winning the play offs despite finishing with the 6th most points) is seen as the greater achievement. The club that stands out is Toronto FC as despite spending a considerable amount compared to some other teams they finished with a paltry 23 points, which resulted in Aaron Winter getting the sack part way through the season.

So, even though NYRB and LA Galaxy qualified for the play offs as the ultimate aim they spent $277,000 and $253,000 per point respectively to get there, compare this to San Jose ($43,000) and Sporting Kansas City ($46,000) and it’s clear to see who is getting better value for money.

Players paid over $1,000,000 per year

To take out some of the outliers in terms of overall wages I wanted to look at the average salaries when taking out the players who were highly paid. I chose to take out the players paid over $1,000,000 (there were 12 players across the 19 clubs paid $1,000,000 with the next highest paid after this being $790,000 – quite a big gap) and this reveals some quite significant findings. I initially thought I must have made a miscalculation with Portland Timbers but their average is actually $79,552 per player when Kris Boyd is removed (he is paid 33.6% of the clubs total Salary) but it’s also quite revealing that New York Red Bulls drop to 7th and LA Galaxy drop to 17th the third lowest average salary paid per player.
This indicates that some clubs are excessively paying 1 or 2 players a massive amount compared to the rest of the team. While this might be necessary to get the better players, does it create an imbalance in the dressing room? If somebody was getting paid a minimum amount to play and another player is getting millions the lower paid player would be within their rights to ask for a raise if they feel they do as much or more for the team.

There are of course pros and cons for both sides of the argument, whilst a team of evenly paid players might have the team spirit and ability which carries them to a major championship, it can be counter argued that David Beckham has done more for the game in the states than anybody else. By raising the profile he has encouraged others to play in the MLS, increased crowd attendances and profile (resulting in a much better TV deal) and garnered interest from across the globe. He has also been very successful in his time at LA Galaxy, winning 2 MLS cups, Runner up once and reaching the Conference final once.

Difference in wages between Highest & Lowest paid players in each MLS Clubs 2012 most regular 11

I have used Soccerway's statistics for 2012 to work out the 11 players in each team who played the most (based on minutes in the regular season). Although not fool proof this usually gives an idea of a likely starting 11 which I have then used to work out the average salary costs.

The graph shows the difference between the highest paid and the lowest paid player from each teams regular starting 11, now if I played for the Red Bulls and somebody was getting paid $4.9million a season more than me to play in the same team I don’t know how happy I’d be! Many teams actually play at least 1 player in the starting 11 who is amongst the lowest paid in the entire league with 13 of the 19 clubs having a regular starter earning less than $50,000 a year which is probably less than what most League Two players get (again, speculation!!!).

The main problem behind this is the scenario of putting all your eggs in one basket. For example if you look at Portland Timbers who are gambling heavily on Kris Boyd being the focal point of the team, if he gets injured/suspended or does not hit his top form (he actually scored 7 in 22 starts + 4 sub appearances – not a bad strike rate but not worth spending 1/3 of the teams wages on). Portland finished 8thin the Western Conference, perhaps if they had signed 2 players on $500,000 each they may have got better value for money.

There were several players who were paid a lot of money who were not regulars. Of these many were Summer signings such as Tim Cahill, who is the 3rd highest paid player in the MLS but only joined from Everton in July and has been a regular since then.

Several others have been at their clubs for the full season and haven’t been regulars. Rafa Marquez is amongst the high profile players who did not feature in the 11 most regular players. Danny Koevermans suffered an ACL injury for Toronto in July ruling him out for the season. Freddy Adu fell out of favour with Philadelphia who are now looking to trade him. All these are examples of when higher paid players are not necessarily the best way forward.

Average Salary for each MLS Clubs 2012 most regular 11

The average salaries for each regular starting 11 is still weighted heavily in favour of LA Galaxy & New York Red Bulls, despite Red Bulls missing both Marquez & Cahill. However 3 of the next 4 teams in the list did not make the end of season play offs, with only Real Salt Lake having a good season.

Cost per Point for each MLS Clubs 2012 most regular 11

Again, while not fool proof the graph looking at the cost per point based on the regular 11’s starting salary also shows some surprising trends, with 5 of the 6 lowest paid regular 11’s making at least the final series play off to enter the MLS cup. Does this mean that the Sporting Intelligence theory is wrong?

Not necessarily. As I mentioned LA Galaxy eventually won the MLS Cup. Given that this is the more prestigious tournament it speaks volumes that the team with higher profile players came through what is essentially a 4 game cup competition. The higher profile the player you would expect them to be used to playing under the pressure of a high stakes game, many of them having played in World Cups and the later stages of the Champions League.

Does a team like LA Galaxy just do enough over the course of the season to make sure it can make the Play Offs and then “go for it” in the MLS Cup? Once LA knew they had secured a playoff place they had little to play for until the MLS Cup started as they were way too far behind to challenge for the Shield, so they were able to rest players. On the other hand San Jose & Sporting Kansas City for example were challenging for the MLS Shield right until the end of the season thereby being at a disadvantage when they entered the Play Offs. While this is not a factor on its own it probably had some level of influence.


Hopefully this blog has provided some insight into the different levels of spend of MLS clubs, and the different factors that come into play. Due to the style of the cup competition it’s difficult to completely agree with the Social Intelligence theory as San Jose were one of the lowest spenders and got the most points over the season, but it is ultimately LA Galaxy that will be remembered as the winners overall and they did spend excessively more than most other teams.

For further info about the MLS salary data Howard Hamilton has provided some more in depth analysis on his Soccermetrics website.