Shithouse? What Shithouse?

I’d like to start with a moan. Could Frank Lampard’s Derby County politely piss off into oblivion. ‘Oooo don’t they play good football. Oooo they gave Chelsea (‘s reserves) a good game. I bet Stoke fans wish they didn’t have Rowett.’ Piss off. (If any Derby fans are reading this yes, I’m rattled).

Put bluntly, Lampard’s Derby are all show and no substance. Their thrilling football sees them only 5 points ahead of the occasionally turgid Stoke. ‘They must score more and see more of the ball though!’ I hear you shout, well about that. They’ve only got 3 more goals than Stoke and I’m really sorry to break this to you but they’re averaging marginally less passes than Stoke per game (and attempting 5 more long balls a match than Gary Rowett’s hoofballing circus). Right, that’s enough of that, onto what I actually wanted to talk about.

I’ll admit that the title is at best cheeky and at worst deliberately incendiary. It is undeniable that there has been more than a hint of the dark arts going in our past few games and haven’t fans of Norwich, Sheffield United and Bristol City let us know. We’ve been outpassed and outshot in all three of those games yet have come out of them with seven points.

The lack of possession but an excess of points might tempt Rowett to move away from the possession dominant masterplan that he has been trying to implement since July. Throw in our dominance against Birmingham (we attempted more passes in that game than any other this season) leading to no points and it almost seems that our shithousing is the sensible option.

But that isn’t quite the full picture. The full picture is, according to our old friend expected goals, Stoke’s performance and possession are positively correlated. The more Stoke try and pass the more xG we create. The more Stoke try and pass the less xG we concede.

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The correlation for expected goals against is relatively weak but you can see that when Stoke have attempted at least 400 passes they have only conceded above 1.5 xG in one game out of eight. Meanwhile all but one of the games in which Stoke have achieved an xG of more than one they have attempted over 350 passes. To be clear: the more Stoke pass the more good chances they create and the less good chances they give away.

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It becomes even more clear when passes are compared with expected goal difference. In all but two of the nine games where Stoke have had a positive xGD (i.e. created better chances than the opponent) they have completed more than 400 passes. And in all but one of the games where Stoke have had a negative xGD (i.e. the opposition has created better chances) Stoke have completed less than 400 passes.

That’s all well and good but it doesn’t account for the shithousing. Well when looking at normal goal difference there is no relationship with the number of passes attempted. If you’re an orthodox football fan who doesn’t give a crap about xG (well done for making it this far if so) then this is all the evidence you need to rubbish Stoke’s control of possession, passing more is pointless if it doesn’t translate into actual goal difference and therefore actual points won.

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Well yes okay I’m not really writing this to win you over, but what I would suggest is that the shithousery is unsustainable. If Stoke continue to stray away from the possession-based game we set out to play the more high-quality chances the opposition will have eventually translating into Stoke losing more football matches.

All in all, this has been a bit of a pointless blog (clever to admit that at the end, right?). All of the chatter from Rowett and members of the squad has suggested that the three shithousing examples are exceptions to, and not a shift in, our style. Rowett has talked about rediscovering a balance, accepting that the attack has suffered as we fixed defensive issues.

And we should be overjoyed with this because the more we keep the ball the more likely we are to outscore the opposition, Eureka!

Tom Thrower

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