The GoatyGav Column

XG Still Doesn't Quite Cut It

Prompted by the stats in recent games I decided to look at, what exactly, constitutes an XG (expected goals) stat in a match. In particular the Newcastle game surprised me in that the XG for Newcastle was 1.08 and for West Ham 2.01. When subsequently factoring in Newcastle’s 17 attempts at goal and 2 on target against West Ham’s 10 & 4, respectively, the stats, for me, were skewed.

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Originally developed as a predictive tool for betting the way the XG figure is put together has to do with the number, and position, of shots at goal. Headed attempts, strikes from further distance and from wider areas score lower XG than shots, attempts from closer to the goal and more central efforts respectively. The pitch is split in to various zones. A shot from the zone directly in front of, and closest to, the goal will provide a high XG whereas an attempt from the zone covering the corner of the pitch yields a low XG.

Although expected goals are meant to be an indicator over a period of between five to ten games, and undoubtedly a relevant indicator of goals that can be expected by a team, many factors are not taken in to consideration. Some of the problem with the system is that it is now being used out of context by television and media organisations. XG is quoted for a single game as an analysis of what’s occurred over the ninety plus minutes of that match where, as detailed above, the system was designed to indicate goal expectation over much higher numbers of fixtures. Not the end of the world however that’s just part of the picture.

It would be understating it to say that association football is a dynamic sport. This is true to a greater degree, in general, in the moments before a shot at goal. With play building to such a crescendo before the ‘trigger is pulled’, and so many variables contributing to the final shot how can two goal attempts from the same zone be compared? For starters the striker’s body position will vary. Then you have the difference in the pace of the ball when it’s struck adding, or taking away, from the difficulty of the chance. Then there’s the consideration of whether the ball is hit off the ground or on the volley/half volley. The severity of a bounce and when the ball is hit during it’s arc in the air. Looking back at Romelu Lukaku’s second goal against Crystal Palace a couple of weeks ago was from a high XG scoring area however the finish was far from easy as the Belgian striker had to take the ball up high and close, with an acrobatic technique, to steer it home. The stats would suggest that was, what OPTA describe as, a ‘big chance’ however it was far from it. It should be noted that OPTA are not the only game in town and not all XG systems are the same with some more sophisticated than others but all, in my op

One of Pep Guardiola’s tenets is the creation of better scoring chances. Overall Manchester City’s XG reflects this despite, not always, living up to the expectation with finishing falling below the suggested level. Perhaps a more easy to follow stat, resulting from the former Barca and Bayern gaffer’s philosophy, is, now regular, season scoring tallies over 100 goals. Football from another planet? Maybe not but it’s pretty special and you wouldn’t complain if it was West Ham.

I’m not suggesting, for a moment, that expected goals is a useless statistic. Far from it however it’s a system that is open to vast improvement. I do feel that it’s being, slightly, misused when applied to isolated matches, as it is every Saturday night on Match Of The Day, but it certainly has it’s place. Frankly, with my history of regular weekend punts on the footie, perhaps I should pay more attention to it.

Back to the example that I gave in the opening paragraph of the recent home win over the team from Tyneside. Reflecting on the quality of the chances created, and the dominance which West Ham showed that day, perhaps the numbers were not so skewed. If anything I’d suggest that our boys were even better than the 1.08XG vs 2.01. More recently, in Saturday’s fixture in Cardiff, there was an XG of 4.10 vs 0.34. No prizes for guessing which one was which but, bearing in mind our dominance over Newcastle the previous weekend, was that an accurate description of the chances? Cardiff over twelve times more likely to score than our boys? I’ll leave that one with you.

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Moving along, as I believe that we should now, this coming Saturday’s game offers a great chance to put another three on the board and place some pressure on Wolves and Watford, who play in the F.A. Cup, above us. We need to see a statement of intent from the team. A decent run in could still see us finish seventh and qualify for next season’s Europa League. Some European nights under the floodlights anyone?

COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

There's No Place Like Home

If I could click my heels together three times and repeat Dorothea’s wish until I was returned to the Boleyn Ground I would. Sadly this isn’t ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ so home will remain in Stratford.

I’d say that Saturday went some way towards making the OS/LS feel, just a tiny, bit more like home. Many fans have been, or remain, critical of the owners but, of late, they seem to have got a lot more right than wrong. The decision to name the ‘Kop’ style East Stand the ‘Billy Bonds Stand’ was one of the best that they have made. To top that off the ceremony that they laid on was terrific. There was a great sense of occasion with many of his former team-mates and players he managed forming the guard of honour for him, and his family, to be greeted on to the pitch by. Like so many of you I was hugely made up for Bonzo. The day felt special to me. Only Billy can know how it felt for him but it was a highly charged emotional event which visibly affected him to the point of him becoming misty. Those tears of joy that welled up encapsulated our feelings too and I’m so pleased that Sir Trev’s ‘enforcer’ is once more alongside him at West Ham.

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Back to the Stadium itself there’s still a huge gamut of feeling amongst the supporters. At one end of the scale you have those who have gone to the extreme of giving up their Season Tickets – so disenfranchised have they felt. At the other end there are those who have welcomed the move and the benefits that it has brought including affordable tickets, especially for kids, and the increased capacity with it’s accompanying revenue increase for the club. Personally I’ve come to accept the move like I’ve come to accept Brexit as someone who voted to remain. If I could change anything about the situation I would but, like the fact that I’ll always be British, my club allegiance is set in stone and so it’s a question of just having to get on with it. Making the best of a situation is not necessarily the same as having to put up with one though. So my attitude is very much to enjoy life at Stratford as much as possible and Saturday will help form fond memories of our new ‘home’ to help that enjoyment.

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There are, however, still things that require some work. Chatting to the, now familiar, Hammers fans around me I learned that there were forty supporters ejected from their seats by security at the Fulham game. I shudder to think how many it was for Liverpool despite many of those being fans of the Merseyside team sitting in home seats. The word ‘snowflake’ seems to have gained momentum in recent months and, it would seem, that many coming to matches at the London Stadium are easily offended. Don’t get me wrong, if some fans are acting overly aggressive around small children then it’s wholly appropriate for the parents of the toddlers to request to move seats. When lifelong fans, however, are being ejected from their seats for small infractions then some common sense needs to be applied. Sadly sometimes ‘savvy’ stewarding, and common sense, are not being applied. I won’t tar all stewards with the same brush but, you have to say that, there’s a way to go until the overall standards come up to the same level as we were used to at Upton Park.

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Whether we eventually get to see the planned lower tier seats in the Sir Trev Stand bring fans closer to the action, or not, remains to be seen. There were many who quickly observed the potential exposure to the elements leaving supporters soaked to the skin. It’s great to be near to the pitch but would you really want to be in those seats if it were hammering it down cats and dogs on you for two hours? Not sure I would and definitely sure I wouldn’t subject my lad to being drenched whenever the heavens opened up. I suspect there’s some work to do to make sure those seats are protected.

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Overall I feel that the nightmare many predicted, including myself being very sceptical, hasn’t fully come to pass. I’ve mentioned a few times before, in the comments, that my Father, who was born and raised in Compton Avenue, Upton Park, was of the opinion that West Ham should have moved to a larger capacity stadium decades before they did. If someone with ties to the ground as strong as his understood the reasons for moving on then it’s my hope that many of those who are considering giving up their tickets, or have already done so, either stay or return. Yes, affordable football has brought many new fans in but the soul of the club IS the supporters and if too many leave then those chants of “You sold your soul for this $ – hole,” will have it completely right. In my mind’s eye I can see something pretty special with a great atmosphere as well as increased financial muscle to bring success to us, long suffering, fans.

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COYI! BILLY BONDS’ CLARET & BLUE ARMY!

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Talking Point

Are Players Now Calling The Shots?

Incredible to contemplate isn’t it. Is it possible ‘player power’ now extends to taking team management decisions in to player’s own hands? Where will this end? How is it that we’ve got to a situation where a player can take or leave a manager’s call during a match? The contributing factors to this are many and varied.

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The first, and probably biggest, of the reasons for the increase is the amount that players earn. When Jimmy Hill pushed to give players more security I wonder if he’d have imagined that things would progress to a point where there was such a role reversal. Clubs and managers have, almost, come to the point where they’re at the mercy of playing staff. During this transfer window a certain player, under contract at West Ham, indirectly, through a family member, unsettled the team by ‘demanding’ a move abroad. There have been other cases in our club’s history where this has occurred however, thankfully, not to the extent where a player has refused to leave the pitch when his number has been shown on the substitute’s board.

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In the moment that Kepa Arrizabalaga, the Chelsea keeper, told Maurizio Sarri that he was not coming off, when the Chelsea boss subbed him for Willy Cabalerro in the dying seconds of extra time on Sunday, he crossed a line. Sarri, whatever you think about his methods, is a man already under considerable pressure. The disrespect, for his gaffer, team-mates and the game in general was unforgiveable. However the situation is now being handled it’s another in a very long line of events that have eroded the status and authority of the position of football management.

Many fans will recall the bizarre match at Upton Park against Bradford City, in Feb 2000, when the opposite situation to Sunday’s final occurred. After having two nailed on, and one debatable, penalty decisions go against him Paulo Di Canio walked over to Harry Redknapp demanding to be substituted. On that occasion it was the manager who made the refusal which, ultimately, resulted in West Ham coming from 4-2 down to win the match 5-4. A very different situation which the manager gained credibility, not loss of authority, from.

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Like him or loathe him Jose Mourinho appears to be one of a dying breed. Looking back at some of the great managers of the past the likes of Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough would never have had to face such acts of defiance from their players. The likes of Paul Ince and David Beckham learned, to their detriment, there was only ever going to be one winner in the Manchester United team of the ‘90’s and naughties when it came down to player demands and that wasn’t the players.

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After showing solidarity with Dimitri Payet our own manager, Slaven Bilic, eventually lost in his battle to retain the player. Slaven’s style was nothing like the Fergusons of this world, a criticism that was oft levelled against him, and the situation with the France International from Reunion took it’s toll on our Croatian manager. When a player downs tools, nowadays, there’s usually only one winner.

Saido Berahino, following his attempt to force a move, refused to play for his team, West Brom, again. In that situation it wasn’t a case of there only being one winner. There were no winners in that lose/lose position at all. Player, club and fans all ended up at a disadvantage which didn’t end well. Personally I admired the club for digging their heels in. Not just because the chairman, Jeremy Peace, expected the player to stick to the contractual obligations of the player, but also because of his refusal to give in to a ‘bigger club’ trying to use it’s power to manoeuvre West Brom in to a weak negotiating position.

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And so what of the future? How is a team boss expected to organise players if they do whatever they please? Is this heading towards an anarchic state of affairs? If players continue to have less respect and discipline will manager’s positions become untenable?

How much of the petulance and immaturity displayed by players nowadays is indicative of modern society I wonder? I know this is getting in to different areas but there seems to be far less respect today compared with previous decades. Is the brattish behaviour of players just a reflection of what’s going on in the world generally? What other contributing factors are there? I’ve no doubt that greedy agents are certainly playing their part but what about how professional footballers are treated in their formative years? Should their education play a bigger part during their teens when they’re dedicating almost all of their time to training?

I’m sure that you all have your own ideas on this and that there are many other factors to consider. So how do you see this developing and what are the main issues to be addressed?

Back on the pitch I’m looking forward to our match against Man City tomorrow night. It’s what’s become known as a ‘free hit’ and I’m confident that Manuel Pellegrini will set the team up to go and give the Champions a proper go with an attack minded approach. Win or lose if the lads can do that then I’ll be a Happy Hammer.

COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

Who Can Question The Improving Quality Of The Squad?

In life, and in football, change is the only constant. As much as any fan tries to view their football team as a solid, tangible and stable thing, that they know like the back of their hands, there’s no getting away from the fact that, in reality, it’s a living, breathing entity that is constantly developing and evolving. At West Ham we’re probably more used to the fact than fans of the majority of other clubs. Nowadays West Ham wouldn’t be West Ham without some news story emerging. The media love our club, and put so much focus on it, for that very reason and us fans are constantly in a state of flux, wondering what revelation will come to light next, keeping us on constant tenterhooks.

Notwithstanding this continual shifting of West Ham’s tectonic plates there’s been an overall improvement in the team management and playing staff over the last few years. Focusing more on the playing staff than the various gaffers that we’ve had recently the the squad has gone from strength to strength. Not that it ever happens but if everyone was fit and firing the current playing roster looks extremely strong. There’s some talk of Lanzini returning to a matchday squad for Friday’s game against Fulham. If it means any risk to his cruciate ligament recovery then I’d sooner he didn’t however the prospect of Manu lining up alongside Anderson and Arnie is a mouthwatering one.

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So player recruitment has gone up a notch but the good news doesn’t stop there. From the ranks of the Academy we’re starting to see home grown talent come through again. Declan Rice has to be one of the most exciting products of the Academy for many a season. Game in game out he’s consistently running matches from midfield. I can’t remember the last time Declan had a bad game such is his consistency. Alongside Fabianski you’d have to say that, if the season ended today, he’d be nailed on for Hammer Of The Year. Grady Diangana has also impressed. Not as far along his development curve as Declan is Grady has still ‘cut it’ in the games he’s played in the Premier League. With many others like Nathan Holland, Marcus Browne, Jahmal Hector-Ingram, Dan Kemp, Connor Coventry, Xande Silva, Tunji Akinola and, recently signed, Mesaque Dju queuing up to knock on the first team door we may well see others break through from the youth sides in the near future.

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Last night the aforementioned Portugal U19 International signing from Benfica made his home league debut in the West Ham U23 team against Liverpool U23s after a half match taster away to Arsenal U23 (half a match due to the game being abandoned at half time because of adverse weather conditions & not through substitution). Although Dju didn’t see masses of the ball he looked extremely threatening when he did gain possession. Gifted with considerable pace Dju looks like he’s going to be a great asset to West Ham. as early as the 6th minute Dju opened up the oppositon, with three red shirts unable to take the ball off him, before squaring smartly inside the box. Although he was substituted in the second half the Portuguese pace-man showed enough to suggest he’s going to do well.

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The game itself was a decent one to watch in the middle of the park. Sadly the quick, crisp interplay in midfield was rarely matched in the final third of the pitch where the Liverpool youngsters defended without any degree of discomfort. The promising play, most notably from Dan Kemp, for West Ham just lacked that cutting edge with the final ball. Others including Hector-Ingram and Kristijan Belic threatened but chances were few and far between with the final ball often over-hit from both central and wide positions. A great shame as the progression of the moves made decent viewing.

Between the sticks I got my first look at Ghanaian born Joseph Anang who was assured when claiming the ball. There wasn’t much he could have done about the Liverpool, and only, goal and apart from that you couldn’t really fault his performance. I’ll be interested to see how his career progresses and the effect that has on Nathan Trott. In defence Aji Alese made some silly, unnecessary challenges and was lucky to stay on the pitch but recovered to make a superb block on the line in the 83rd minute before getting in the opposition half and hitting a stinging drive just over the bar. Ones to watch from the Reds were captain Paul (who the LFCTV commentator kept referring to as Powell) Glatzel and 66th minute sub Yasser Larouci who both impressed with Glatzel bagging the winner when he tapped in from a ball that was knocked on to him from a pass from out wide on the counter attack.

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With more competition for places being added to, by those returning from injury, the squad is set to get stronger even before the Summer transfer window. There’s a sense of expectation that this Summer will bring further improvements, with various comings and goings, and, despite our poor fortune with injuries, Manuel Pellegrini’s project will get further personnel to improve the playing style that he’s trying to achieve even further.

With all this in mind it’s hard not to be optimistic for the future – albeit cautiously optimistic.

COYI!


The GoatyGav Column

To What Extent Do Clubs Owe A Duty Of Care To Players?

He may not be flavour of the month at West Ham but, at the risk of flying in the face of popular opinion, I had some admiration for Jurgen Klopp last week. The reason I had for seeing the positive in the German manager was his handling of one of his young players – Nathaniel Clyne.

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There can be absolutely no doubt that the Liverpool manager has acted in the best interests of the young player and not himself and/or the club. Putting the welfare of others ahead of oneself is one of the most admirable human traits. I wouldn’t describe myself as a religious man, by any stretch, but there’s a great deal that can be learned from the teachings of the various religious texts – and selflessness is the one that stands above all for me. Treating others as you’d like to be treated yourself encapsulates so many virtues it’s not surprising that it was voted the most important of the 10 commandments a few years back. So when loaning Clyne out, to Premier League AFC Bournemouth, Klopp ran the risk of leaving his own back line short on numbers. And so it came to pass that injuries depleted Liverpool’s back line however, rather than disrupt Clyne, and Bournemouth, the loanee was allowed to stay at the club where he’s learning and flourishing. Fair play to the German manager I say.

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It’s not always the case that clubs operate in the way that Liverpool have in the case of Clyne’s loan. Casting my mind to one of our own club’s youth prospects I wonder if the same can be said. I don’t pretend to know what goes on behind the closed doors of West Ham, so I may be wrong, but it would appear that the club’s onwers have ‘hedged their bets’ in the case of Reece Oxford. When he burst on to the scene at 16, becoming the youngest player to play for the club in a league game following his debut against FC Luscitanos, he turned a great many heads in the press. The season ‘15-’16 opener, and first game in charge for Slaven Bilic, was one that West Ham were not expected to come away with anything from . After a terrific performance, and a creditable one nil win, at the Emirates Stadium many in the media were talking about how Oxford ran the midfield. Sadly Slaven Bilic withdrew Reece from the squad, after a couple more appearances, not giving the youngster a sustained crack at the whip. When compared with Declan Rice, who made similar errors to Oxford, it would seem that West Ham, perhaps, learned a lesson.

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Reece enjoyed his time on loan to German Club, Borussia Mönchengladbach, and seemed to want to remain there. Having worked hard to get in to the first team an initial bid, reportedly for £15M, from Borussia was turned down by the club and the player recalled before, eventually, being loaned back to the German club again. It was reported that another bid came in for Reece after he, once again, broke in to the first team at Mönchengladbach but, once again, he was recalled. It seemd that West Ham neither wanted Oxford to establish himself in Germany or sell him. Once again I don’t profess to know what goes on behind closed doors, and it could be that Reece Oxford wanted to return to West Ham to fight for a first team squad place, but, on the face of it, it does seem that he’s been made to feel extremely unsettled and, to a degree, left in limbo following a further loan to Augsburg FC. In Oxford’s two games for Augsburg, one in Midfield and one at Center Back, the fortunes of the team seem to have taken a turn for the better with two consecutive victories before a loss against an on form Werder Bremen.

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What now for the talented Oxford? At twenty years old he’s still developing and is, seemingly, in the best place to do so but will West Ham finally allow the player to move on?
Ultimately football is a business and players are assets. Anyone who thinks differently is, probably, being naïve. That said, and with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been sensible for West Ham to have taken the first offer that came in for Reece. As things now stand his contract runs out this June and, with that knowledge, it’s very unlikely that West Ham will receive any money for the twenty year old.

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Many other clubs, especially those with large budgets at the top end of the Premier League, seem very keen to retain the services of as many young players as possible when the majority of them stand little chance of breaking in to the first teams. Jordan Sancho, while at Manchester City, was given the option of signing for another Bundesliga club, Borussia Dortmund, who sit proudly atop the German top tier. Having made thirty three first team appearances for Dortmund, scoring eight goals, his development is coming along nicely. That was great for Manchester City and great for the player but, sometimes, the club will want to keep hold of their ‘asset’. Take Phil Foden, for example, who looks like he may have a bright future under Pep Guardiola. I’m not suggesting that Manchester City, or Liverpool, are perfect in their dealings with youth players however they do seem to have some guiding principles when it comes to their best interests.

It’s not just about youth players. A duty of care, of course, should extend to those at the start, the middle and end of player’s careers. There are countless examples of good and bad treatment of playing staff by clubs which I’m sure you’ll use to make your points on this subject.

In many cases, like the song by Sting goes, ‘Set Them Free’, rather than stifling players in the reserves until they become a free agent, is the best way to a win/win scenario. It’s incredibly hard to make it in Professional Football so why make it harder for all concerned?

COYI!


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