Tube strikes, experimentation and Coquelin

In February 2014, London experienced strikes on their underground network. However, it has been suggested that this enabled around one in 20 commuters to find better routes and actually produced a net economic benefit. In the same way, I believe decision making in football can be too risk-averse and that more should be done to promote voluntary experimentation.

A paper published back in September titled “The Benefits of Forced Experimentation: Striking Evidence from the London Underground Network” analysed the effect that the London tube strikes had on commuter journeys. They suggested that “a significant fraction of commuters in London fails to find their optimal route” due in part to distortions in the tube map. As a result, having tried out new ways to get to and from work, some commuters discovered better routes than the ones they had been using before. However, it required the disruption of the tube strike for these people to experiment.

I think it’s fair to suggest that we can see similar reticence in football. For instance, Gabriel Marcotti suggested on the Analytics FC podcast that Herrera’s absence from Manchester United’s lineup for stretches last year was due to van Gaal’s reluctance to chop and change. The cliché “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind. But what this study hints at, is that even if it ain’t broke, there may be ways to make it better.

For instance, Coquelin is now considered to be an important part of Arsenal’s squad. Nonetheless, his emergence only came about when Arsene Wenger was forced to experiment during an injury crisis. It is not too uncommon to see young players get given a chance like this and go one to be important players (Bellerin, anyone?). This begs the question: why don’t we see this experimentation happen more?

For one thing, there is a cost associated with experimentation. You might not want your manager to be swapping out key players for under-21 debutants during a title-run in, for example. Nonetheless, I don’t think this fully justifies a lack of experimentation. You have friendlies, cup games and potentially dead-rubbers at the tail end of the season in which to rotate.

Another fact to consider is that managers are judged more on outcome than process. If a manager rotates and loses, they will more often than not be criticised for it, regardless of whether that was a decision that improved the chances of winning at the time. Therefore it is important for clubs, particularly at board level, to help alleviate this pressure where possible in order to reap the rewards of experimentation and creativity in the long run.

Part of this could be simply understanding the benefits of voluntary experimentation rather than waiting for circumstance to force your hand. In the same way, buying into analytics can be considered another beneficial experimentation. Relative to the cost of a transfer, investing in analytics is cheap. However, it can provide huge benefits, whether that means avoiding the Falcao signing, or making sure you’re looking at the right performance indicators when evaluating players.

Other goalscoring bits and pieces

How has no-one signed Jonathan Soriano, yet?

He’s been scoring consistently for years. At some point, it stops being an even remotely analytics-based decision and just becomes common sense: A
At 30, it may be too late for him to get a chance truly shine at the top level, which would be a great shame.

Is Ángelo Henríquez good, after all?

It seems fair to say his time at Manchester United didn’t quite go as planned, but he’s been solid at Dynamo Zagreb.

Last season he hit 0.96 Non-Penalty Goals per 90 in the league and he’s currently hitting 0.50 this season. These are not necessarilu world-beating numbers given the league he’s playing in, but they’re certainly enough to mark him out from the rest.

There is the question of how this skill transfers to other leagues (Duje Cop, for instance has not matched his impressive Zagreb output from last season at new club Malaga) but could he be worth another look?

Blasts(ish) from the past(ish)

  • Former future talent Valeri Bojinov is contributing 1.03 NPG+A p90 at Partizan Belgrade. I’m not sure whether this makes me happy or sad. Maybe both.
  • Samuel Eto’o continues to exist and is scoring 0.48 NP Goals p90 for Antalyaspor while assisting another 0.21 p90.
  • Robin van Persie is scoring 0.73 NPGp90 despite earlier posing as one of the most miserable people in existence. Knees are temporary; class is permanent.

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