South Shields – Moneyball Blueprint Series – Ep1

Welcome to the South Shields Moneyball blog series update. The series has been made unique by bringing a Bielsa style of play to the lower leagues with a team based in the north of England. If you missed the intro of the save, then you can view this (HERE). In short, I decided to switch this from a twitch save into a series blog, so I can delve into data & stats and share my approach for the save with Moneyball in mind.

(Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images)

Today, we will be going over the following:

  • Tactic
  • Training Schedules
  • Pre-Season
  • Transfer Business
  • League Structure/Teams involved
  • Season Results/Table Thus Far
  • In-depth review of the data presented by the Performance Analyst and find strengths/weaknesses of the current team
  • How the club is finding new potential signings using only data

Tactics (The Bielsa Way):

. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

So, when we hear about the Bielsa tactic, we start to think about people running around a pitch at 100 MPH, man-marking all over the field and exciting football which gets fans out of their seats. My approach for South Shields needed to be carefully thought out as it cannot be as simple as just applying the actual tactic that can be used for Leeds for instance in the Premier League to this team. There are several things to take into account, such as the player’s technical skills, fitness levels at a tier 7 side and so much more.

Here is the tactic which has been embedded to suit a team at this level, in future this can be defined more as the team climbs up the footballing ladder:

As we can see, fewer team instructions have been set and no individual player instructions were updated. However, I did go with a brave approach of having the centre-backs as ball-playing defenders and having a CM on the attack which could leave gaps. Despite these brave moves, this was fully considered as the side are full time therefore, can have extra training sessions to practice off the field which is a huge advantage also it cant be a Bielsa style without being risky right!?

Training Schedules:

You cannot simply just apply a tactic without any work taking place behind the scenes. Therefore, depending on the system you want to play, you need to build a training schedule behind this. For example, Bielsa’s tactic requires a lot of work on the technical side of the game as well as tactical and of course fitness.

Here is a sample of the training schedules made for the team, of course, this changes depending on how many games there are in a week or what type of opposition I have but generally this is the pattern:

As we can see, over the 2 weeks we cover the technical and tactical side of things in training. The main sessions which will help the players develop and learn the Bielsa way here are (Tactical/Transition-press/possession/endurance). Also, the recovery sessions are crucial for getting the players in good shape before the next game, something which Marcelo did at Leeds often.

Pre-Season:

Overall, the pre-season went very well. The 2 losses game to clubs who are much higher up the pyramid and reviewing the match starts, the game was not one-sided at all. Here is an example of the match stats VS Lincoln City, where the Shields were actually on top and unlucky to lose the game overall:

There was not much else to draw out from the results but finding that the players appeared to have adapted quicker than expected to the tactical approach was pleasing.

Transfer Business:

In terms of transfer business, after reviewing the squad there appeared to be sufficient cover which could get us through the season. However, we needed a backup keeper, as we only had 2 keepers in the team overall.

With the Moneyball approach, signing a player early on in the save is difficult as there is no data to go by and review to figure out if the player is worth signing. Hence why I was lucky to keep my team as it was and promote a few players from the youth team.

I held some trial sessions and also tried out some young keepers in our pre-season games. Despite not having no data, the aim was to find a young keeper ideally under the age of 19 who could develop and also be happy to be standby to the first choice. After some scouting, watching trial games and projecting the potential, we made our first official signing, Ben Charlton. Ben was released from Rochdale’s youth last season and has the potential to become a good keeper in the future.

League Structure/Teams involved:

So, here is how the league is set up:

As we can see, only one team makes it for the automatic promotion places in tier 7 and goes into the Vanarama North. The remaining places 2nd – 5th then battle it out via the play-offs. South Shields was predicted to finish 2nd in the league however, the expectation for me is to get promoted regardless.

Here are the teams involved in the league for the season:

There are some very competitive teams in the league such as Buxton, who were predicted to finish 1st along with the likes of FC United Of Manchester and Nantwich. In the lower leagues, it is difficult to call anyone better or worse as on the day any team can turn up who also play different styles of football.

Season Results/Table Thus Far:

Here are the results so far as we enter the mid-way point of the season:

Here is the League Table Thus Far:

Overall, a pleasing start so far into the season. There have been so many games back to back but the players have done well to play a role in the team and with system that has been implemented.

We had a decent run in the FA Cup and lost out to Exeter. I know that at the end of the day results in the matter but check out the stats from the game, where we had so many chances and more possession overall!

The Shields now have 2 games in hand to catch up the first spot. Now that the team have been knocked out of all competitions, full concentration can now go into the league. This is set up to be a very interesting path through the 2nd half of the season, as I want to ideally go up as champions.

Data Hub Analysis:

In this section, we will start to learn more about the team’s strengths and weaknesses based on the data presented by our performance analyst.

Firstly, here are some attacking graphics on how South Shields is performing vs all the other teams in the league:

As we can see, the team are having the most shots on goal, and has the most attacking output in terms of dribbles however, most of the shooting is aggressive/wasteful. Here is a view of the league stats so far in terms of shots on goal vs goals scored:

As we can see, we are having way more shots on goal however, the conversion rate on these are lower than the team in 1st place. We will come onto shortly what this means recruitment-wise, but for now, we can already see that we are lacking the finishing touch.

Defensive-wise, the aerial stats are not in a bad place however room for improvement. The tackling is something that we do need to improve on, with us being a team that wants to win the ball back fast, this is important.

Finally, we have some stats on other areas such as passing, crossing, and possession.

Firstly, we can see that our passing is average but can be improved. However, our crossing stats are impressive, this would be mainly from our fullbacks. Possession-wise, there is nothing to note for concern and we seem to win the ball back frequently.

Recruitment Based On Data:

In this final section, we will be finding out how we can use data such as the above to identify what we need recruitment-wise.  

Announcement:

South Shields can happily confirm that FM Beth has taken the role as the Recruitment Analyst & will oversee the operation going forward. Beth has got a great deal of experience and a great assets to the Moneyball project. This addition will add quality to the backroom staff and the club will be able to find higher profile players!

Before I go into what I will look for in January, I wanted to give some context on how I will be basing my signings.

For example, our crossing is the best in the league therefore if I was to bring in full-backs, I would look into their crossing outputs such as success rate and how many crosses they make per game.

Another example is, the tackling department. So for our midfielders and defenders mainly, I would look for players who have a good tackling ratio, interception rate etc. Here is a graphic which shows us where our midfielders are in the tackling dept vs the rest of the league midfielders:

This doesn’t mean that Stopforth is someone I would just scout, I would then look at how he is doing in other metrics such as passing, distance covered etc. But this does show me areas that i can improve the team on going forward.

So, after working out what i need right now vs end of season, I decided that a centre forward is someone we need to focus our attention on. Our top scorer in the league (Kempster) is a winger and as per below, this is the current view stats-wise of our 3 CFs:

As we can see, the main concern for me is the shots taken per 90 vs the shots on target. In the lower leagues, you would expect this, but with the perfectionist I am, I always strive for better. The positive here is that Hodgson has scored more goals than his XG rating which is a pleasing sign.

How I Will Find The Ideal Striker:

Here is an example of the searches I will do, to find myself an ideal striker who can hopefully convert more of those shots into goals:

As we seen previously, our strikers lack shots on target, so adding in this condition for the search will help but the search does not end there.

Now, I want to see how many goals the players converted and check the shots vs shots on target ratio of these players.

We could scout most of these but the player that stands out to me overall is Connor Heath. Not just because he scored 10 goals already and has a decent shot-on-target ratio but also because he has won the most headers out of this list, which combines well with our crossing stats which are the best in the league. We can make a case for some of the other players here too but this is an example of how I would go about finding the ideal striker to see me through to the end of the season.

For each signing, i will be detailing how I went about signing the player and on what conditions with moneyball in mind.

Conclusion:

That rounds up things very nicely as we head into the 2nd half of the season. The next update will be an end-of-season (hopefully promotion party).

We will find out who was signed to convert more of our chances into goals and see if we have any outgoings too!

Thanks for reading through this write-up today, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it for you. I will be doing a more detailed data review at the end of season series as depending on what happens, signings will happen regardless!

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