New season resolutions

A new season is upon us, and in the Barclays’ Premier League it is all change throughout the division. Managerial switches, big money transfers, new goal line technology, a new player in terms of television coverage all mean that this season could be one of the most exciting in recent memory.

And so, I’ve been thinking about what this means for me as a fan, and whether there are things that I can change about the way I watch and understand football. After much thought, I’ve come up with five “New Season Resolutions” that I plan to adopt for the year ahead, and that you should too.

1. I will stop cheering when my side gets a corner

“What a waste – just put it in there”. In virtually every game I have seen televised in England, at least one of the commentators will utter words to that effect when a player elects to play a corner short, than hoist it in to the penalty box.

And it’s hard not to instinctively agree. As a fan, there is something about the award of a corner which generates a buzz of excitement – ‘this is it’, you think, ‘a goal must be close now!’

And yet little could be further from the truth. Chris Andersen and David Sally’s excellent book, “The Numbers Game”, sets out in its introductory pages why this is just one of a series of myths that continue to pervade the beautiful game.

Their analysis demonstrates that on average in the Premier League, only 1 in 5 corners even results in a shot on goal of any kind – or put it another way, 80% do not.

And it gets worse. On average, only 1 in 9 of those shots actually leads to a goal. This means that in the round, a Premier League team can expect to score from a corner once in every ten games.

Hardly the guaranteed route to goal it often feels like standing in the crowd on a Saturday afternoon…

2. I will stop criticising strikers for being offside all of the time

“He’s useless – doesn’t he know the offside rule?!” Another favourite of fans and pundits alike is to criticise strikers for being caught offside.

Again, as a fan, you do feel a sense of genuine frustration when chances go to waste as a linesman’s flag is raised and play is pulled back. But a quick glance at the strikers most regularly caught offside in the Premier League last season shows how silly it is to obsess about this.

The player caught offside most times last season? Christian Benteke – Aston Villa’s Belgian revelation and fourth top scorer in the league in his debut season. Next in line? Robin van Persie – the Dutchman finished top scorer, and essentially is credited with making the difference for Manchester United in the title race.

Other top marksmen, such as Luis Suarez, Papiss Cisse, Rickie Lambert, and Romelu Lukaku all also feature in the top ten list for players caught offside last season. There are some exceptions – Nikica Jelavic features, yet had a stinker of a season for Everton – but by and large the message from this data is clear: strikers that are on top of their game, hungry for goals and playing on the shoulder of defenders, get caught offside the most, but also tend to score more.

3. I will stop insisting that my club needs to spend big on transfer fees to achieve success

“With that fee, I’m sure he’ll make the difference for us this season”. Every transfer window features one or more big money moves in the Premier League. This summer, the new TV deal means we have seen many clubs moving early in the window and investing to improve their squads.

For those players who have transferred with big price tags, such as Paulinho, Wilfried Bony or Andre Schurrle, the pressure will be on immediately to start providing a return on that investment for their new clubs.

But basing such expectations on fees alone does not make sense. The negotiations surrounding Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez this summer shows that estimated fees have very little to do with the objective value of a player.

The fees being mooted for these players – Rooney for £20m+, Suarez for £50m+ and Bale for £85m+ – bear little relation to on the pitch performances or historical records, but rather depend far more on players’ individual circumstances, and those of the clubs selling and buying them.

And let’s not forget the litany of expensive Premier League flops – Juan Antonio Reyes to Fernando Torres – and that arguably the best signing of last season cost just £2m: step forward Swansea City’s Michu.

4. I will focus just as much of my adulation on defenders, than strikers

“Goals win games” is perhaps the most powerful truism in football. Intuitively it feels correct, and when you look at the table at the end of any given Premier League season, those teams who have scored the most goals tend to be at the top of the league.

The vast majority of big money transfers feature attacking or creative players – those deemed potential “match winners”. But while there are some notable exceptions, in general far less money is spent, and attention given to, top class defenders. This summer has been no different – just think of the money spent on Cavani, Falcao and Higuain.

It isn’t difficult to guess why this is the case: the contribution of forwards is far more tangible and easy to identify – if a defender is doing his job well, his contributions will likely be invisible to the casual observer.

Most clubs tend to believe that they are just one “20 goal a season striker” away from success. We have highlighted the folly of this earlier in the summer. Perhaps instead fans should hope for a top class defensive signing instead.

If goals do truly win games, then stopping them must be just as important as scoring them.

5. I will remember to change my fantasy football team weekly!

One realm where forwards definitely do take on more importance is fantasy football. Hit Row Z are hosting our very own league for the first time this season – you can join here – http://fantasy.premierleague.com/ access code: 176262-49046

We’ll be posting regular updates on the website about how the Championship is developing, and how gameweeks are being won and lost – so come and join league and don’t forget to review your team regularly!

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