Things can only get better: Why Stoke should stick with Nathan Jones

The numbers don’t just say stick with Jones, they scream it.

Ask any professional stats person, which I am in no way one of, and they will tell you that the rule of thumb is that you can control 50% of what goes on in a football match. This means the other 50% is up there with the footballing gods who stoically hand out luck and always bare the narrative in mind.

You can use the wealth of a nation state to recruit arguably the best manager in history and certainly the most expensively assembled squad, but you can still lose to Fernando Llorente’s arm and a VAR denial of last gasp Sterling winner.

Or if you were in Lancashire on Wednesday night you see a keeper’s, whose most recent valuations were north of 25 million pounds (or 50 Bojans to you and me), hands turn to poor papier-mache imitations of the flesh and bone we were all sure was there at kick-off.

Sometimes these things happen. Managers, backroom staff, transfer teams, players and even fans can merely do all they can to make an offering to the football gods who appear to decide luck on a whim. This isn’t an excuse, it’s an acknowledgement that for the billions of pounds poured into this industry, it often comes down to 22 human beings chasing a ball around for an hour and a half.

Good performances don’t guarantee good results in the short term, but if you continue to play well for a sustained period of time the chances of fortunes changing and results coming into line with performance increase with each good performance.

And good performances are what Stoke City have offered plenty this season, or at least that’s what the underlying numbers suggest. Wyscout’s expected points model has Stoke as the 5th best side in the league, whilst Infogol’s model has Stoke in an expected 3rd place. Even the less advanced metrics show just how well Stoke are doing. 1st for crosses completed, 3rd for touches in the box, 2nd for shots in the penalty area, and 1st for least shots conceded.

Yet somehow, we sit in 24th position after 4 matches, being the first team to enter double figures for goals conceded (10, the worst total in the league). Stoke also lead the league in times woodwork hit (4) indicating just how little favour we have curried from the footballing gods.

The quality of Stoke’s underlying numbers indicates just how well Nathan Jones is delivering on his half of the bargain. Add in the average age of players dropping from 28.2 (4th oldest last season) to 26.4 (11th oldest in this season); alongside the dramatic reduction in transfer spend and it is clear that Jones is doing all he can to deliver on his vision.

After being left drifting the tactic-less managerial wasteland wandering from Hughes to Rowett via Lambert Stoke have finally got a young, intelligent, passionate, driven manager who has a vision he is attempting to implement. And he is just being let down by the 50% that is out of his control.

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IF Stoke were to deliver the results and individual performances the numbers suggest they should produce then we would currently be looking down at a significant majority of the other sides in the Championship. This is just if we performed to the level we should, no requirement for overperformance, which casts light on just how terrible Stoke’s current underperformance is.

Such underperformance is quite rightly grounds for concern but making such a judgement after a handful of games would be at best rash. After four games last season Bolton had claimed over 30% (10) of their total 32 points for the season. After five games Norwich had only claimed 5% (4) of their eventual behemoth total of 94 points.

Jones’ system is delivering the performance that we hoped it would. Stoke City work hard, press with organisation, deny the opposition heaps of shots on goal, have a clear plan in the build-up and create plenty (5.82 xG, 5th highest in the league).

The results do not reflect performances. There is no way Nathan Jones can legislate for his international goalkeeper conceding 10 for the 18 shots on target he has faced or that his former Euro team of the tournament midfielder would miss an open goal from two yards out.

Jones’ comments in the immediate aftermath suggest that the failures of individuals will cost them their place in the squad now. And if the board were to take the same approach to Jones then you can guarantee things would not get better for Stoke. The quality of our underlying numbers with Jones suggests that a new manager would struggle to improve on the 50% they have control over.

Underperformance over short periods tends to be absorbed as results balance out. xG and other advanced metrics are utilised by clubs and betting companies in an effort to see through the noise and gain a deeper insight into performance. Stoke’s quality in these numbers should be an indicator of good performance but results are yet to reflect this. Things, god willing, can only get better.

Tom Thrower

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