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Aston Villa 2013/14 Season Review

There has been a lot of talk recently about the future of Paul Lambert as the manager of Aston Villa. There is a feeling among the fans that the performances this season, and particularly in the later part of this season, have failed to show any signs of progress and once again the club finds itself in the midst of a relegation battle.

So, in looking to establish whether Paul Lambert is showing any progress, there are a number of different aspects that we can look at. The most basic, but inherently most important, is the total number of points gained. Last season, Aston Villa acquired 41 points from their 38 matches, giving a return of 1.08 points per match. This season, Villa have picked up 35 points from their 34 matches so far, giving a return of 1.03 points per match. A very slight decline here, which works out at just under two points over the course of the season.

However, this is a very basic measure, which fails to really get into the details of how the season has progressed. The second measure that we shall look at is ‘Total Shots Ratio’ or TSR. This is simply a ratio of the number of shots that a team has had during their matches to the number of shots conceded in their matches. It simply represents the proportion of shots in a match that the team has had.
Here, we can see that there does seem to be a significant improvement between last season and this season. Last season, the TSR dropped below 40% after the tenth match of the season and it was not until the late season run that it came back up above this point, eventually finishing off at 41.8%. This season, we can see that it does not drop below 45% after the sixth match of the season, rising to above 50% for a moment, before settling at around 47.5%.

Does this change in TSR represent an improvement defensively in limiting the number of shots conceded, an improvement in the number of shots offensively or a combination of the two? Looking at the data, after 34 games this season, Aston Villa have taken 296 shots compared to 328 conceded. Comparing that to the 2012/13 season, after 34 matches, Villa had taken 285 shots and conceded 410. So, while there is a very slight increase in the number of shots taken, the vast majority of the change comes from a big improvement in the shots conceded.

One caveat is that all shots are treated equally in this analysis. Clearly, the position that the shot is taken from is hugely important – a shot from five yards out is far more likely to lead to a goal than a hopeful effort from 35 yards. However, the point still stands that taking more shots and conceding fewer shots is likely to correlate with an improved performance overall.

It is all very well taking shots, but shots on target are far more important than shots off target for obvious reasons. We can perform exactly the same analysis as before, but this time, we exclude those shots off target.
There is less of a difference in this metric. Up until around game 17, the two seasons are pretty much similar. Here, we can see the awful Christmas period in 2012/13, starting with the 8-0 capitulation to Chelsea and followed by the poor home defeats against Tottenham and Wigan. However, as the season progressed, the good finish to the season saw this work its way back up from a trough of 37.0%, finishing at a more respectable 43.1%. This season, we can see that, after the initial expected volatility, this has levelled out at just over 45%.

Again, slightly better, but not quite such a big difference as the TSR showed. Comparing the actual numbers, we find that last season saw 132 shots on target for Villa compared with 171 against at the corresponding point of the year. This season, there have been 122 shots on target compared with 147 against.

As with the TSR, we can see that there have been significant improvements in defence. The shots on target conceded have fallen by just over 14%, but there are concerns offensively. Previously, we saw the total number of shots have risen fractionally, but here we see that Villa have actually had fewer shots on target this season than they did last year. Clearly, the defensive stability has come at the expense of attacking promise.

While shots on target are more important than shots off target, it is goals that win football matches, not shots. A team could have 20 shots to their opponent’s 1, but that means nothing if they lose the match 1-0. So, as we have done with shots and shots on target, we can look at the ratio of goals scored for Aston Villa
Again, we can see the recurring theme that this season is fractionally above last season. Since game 15, it has hovered at just above 40% this season, while we can again see the poor winter spell last season. The improvement from around game 24 onward last season is quite clear in this chart, as the line has a steady upward trajectory from the trough of 27.8%, finishing the season at 40.5%.

Last season saw 47 goals scored and 69 conceded in the 38 games, giving an average of 1.24 goals scored and 1.82 conceded per game. In comparison, after 34 games of this season, there have been 35 goals scored and 49 conceded, working out at 1.03 goals scored per game and 1.44 goals conceded. So, not only have the number of shots on target fallen, the goals scored per game has also dropped quite alarmingly.

On the face of this, with the exception of the number of points actually gained, this season would appear to have been an improvement as a whole over last season. The statistics seem to show that improving the defensive stability has been a key feature of this season, seemingly at the expense of some of the attacking threat.

However, is that true? Christian Benteke is obviously the key player in terms of Aston Villa’s attacking threat. His 19 league goals in 2012/13 made up 40.4% of all the goals scored – a higher proportion for one player than any other club saw. Three of those goals were penalties, leaving him with 16 non-penalty goals.

A number of people have done very good work on expected goals, giving shots different chances of resulting in a goal, depending on where on the pitch they were taken. Based on this, the expected number of non-penalty goals that Benteke should have scored last season, based on analysis of his shots, was just under 10, significantly fewer than the 16 that he actually scored1. This season, he has scored 8 goals compared to an expected return of just over 7 goals.
So, those six extra goals that Benteke scored last season compared to the number that he should have scored result in a significantly proportion of those extra goals that Villa scored in 2012/13. If he had scored the 10 goals that he would have been expected to score, Villa would have averaged 1.08 goals per game – remarkably similar to the 1.03 goals per game scored this season.

Based on that, we could conclude that the defensive stability has not come at the expense of attacking options – rather Villa overachieved offensively last season.

So, what is the problem for Villa fans? On the face of it, the team has improved from last season. The issue comes from a comparison between the end of last season and this season. The last 10 games of the 2012/13 season saw Villa pick up 17 points, scoring 21 goals. The team was playing a more appealing style of football, there were impressive returns and, most importantly, there were clear signs of improvement and progression.

That excellent run boosted the metrics for last season to a point where they finished just below those for this season. However, the fact that there does not seem to have been any improvement since that run has grated with fans. While last season was pretty disastrous by most measures, fans were actually relatively optimistic over the summer due to the progression that the team had made.

This season has seen virtually no sign of progress. As the charts earlier show, once the values had established themselves, the line is virtually flat. If anything, there is a very slight downward slant, suggesting that the team is actually declining as the season progresses. It is that lack of progression and symptoms of decline that is causing the Villa fans to question the future under Paul Lambert.

The second part of this article will look in more detail at individual players to try and establish where things have improved, where things have declined and which areas of the team need to be strengthened in the summer.

1. 'On Shooting Statistics'

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