Using analytics to assess Rangers trio of managers last season

written by – Rangers Report

As images from Mark Warburton’s first few days of training have emerged this week it has become easier to completely wipe the failures of last season from the memory bank.  However, as we introduce  the use of analytics to enhance our assessment of Rangers performances – I figured it would be a good exercise to apply advanced statistics to the tenures of Ally McCoist, Kenny McDowall, & Stuart McCall last season.

Before we look at some of the enhanced stats, let’s begin with the bottom line – match results.  Looking only at league matches, Ally McCoist’s record was 10 wins, two draws, & four losses.  Kenny McDowall compiled three wins, three draws & two losses.  Stuart McCall’s record (which includes play-offs) was seven wins, six draws & four losses.

In a playful exercise, let’s see how each manager’s points per match stacked up with the rest of the Scottish Championship.  McCall’s play-off matches were factored in to gain the most complete picture of his tenure.

Team Pts per match
Hearts 2.53
Ally McCoist’s Rangers 2.00
Hibs 1.94
Queen of the South 1.67
Stuart McCall’s Rangers 1.59
Kenny McDowall’s Rangers 1.50
Falkirk 1.47
Raith Rovers 1.19

The backlash against McCoist had reached an apex when he finally stepped away from the club & the criticism  was more then justified.  However, the consequences were a dip in results that ultimately led to Rangers falling behind Hibs in the standings.

I don’t think anyone in their right mind would claim that McCoist would have led Rangers to promotion but their chances would have increased if they were able to secure the second seed & subsequently play less matches.

Also, the assumption that Rangers improved under Stuart McCall was a mirage.  Even if you subtract the two losses to Motherwell, Rangers earned 1.80 points per match under McCall – still worse then Hibs’ rate.


The following stats are on a per game ratio – goals, goals against, shots, & shots on target.  Additionally, shooting percentages & save percentages are included.  These are calculated by looking at shots on target.

Stats from the other Scottish Championship clubs are courtesy of Fitba Fancy Statsan analytics site run by Celtalytics – an American based blogger who covers Celtic & the rest of Scottish football.

G GA SH SOT Sh% Sv%
McCoist 2.38 0.94 15.06 6.00 0.40 0.73
McDowall 1.00 1.25 14.63 5.13 0.20 0.55
McCall 1.71 1.35 11.59 5.59 0.31 0.59
Hearts 2.67 0.72 14.35 6.24 0.43 0.77
Hibs 1.94 0.89 13.20 5.60 0.34 0.64
Queen of the South 1.61 1.14 10.31 3.97 0.42 0.73
Falkirk 1.33 1.33 11.71 5.06 0.27 0.69

Again, Rangers results under Ally McCoist were the most comparable to Hearts, whose shooting & save percentages were only slightly better then Rangers.  The team’s finishing was anemic under Kenny McDowall, which would lend you to believe that the players were truly shaken by the departure of McCoist & the state of limbo the team was in.  Remember, McDowall did not want to be manager.  The players’ had to know this & the dip in play is tangible.

Then there’s Stuart McCall – there was a belief among supporters that Rangers play improved under McCall, which it did in comparison to McDowall but even then the improvement was slight.  When you compare the team’s production under McCall to the competition, Rangers play was more comparable to Falkirk & Queen of the South then Hearts.

Stuart McCall, courtesy of RFC

Now let’s enhance those results to the most commonly applied advanced stats in the soccer analytics world.  Total Shots Ratio (TSR) & Shots on Target Ratio (SoTR) can give you a sense of what teams are actually doing with their possession.  As Mike Goodman of Grantland, explains, “As with lots of analytics concepts, TSR is just a fancy set of letters for an incredibly simple idea: Let’s count shots.  Specifically, TSR is the ratio of how many shots a team takes versus the number of total shots (actual equation: shots for/(shots for + shots against).”

TSR can give you a sense if teams are using possession to create offense.  However, looking at SoTR can give you a much better sense of which teams are creating scoring chances & are more effective with their possession.

Additionally, Benjamin Pugsley of Bitter & Blueconducted a study of nearly 1,000 matches that concluded that teams that win the Shots on Target ratio battle won 72% of the matches & only lost 19% of the time.  Basically, when a team can get more shots on target in the match they have a much better chance of winning.  Teams that simply outshot their opponents (regardless of accuracy) won 63% of the time, but managed to lose 34% of the time.  Pugsley did not include draws in his results.

As a season goes on, looking at a team’s SoTR can give you a sense of who is likely to win the most matches.

On that note, the top five Scottish Championship teams in Shots on Target Ratio last season were Hearts, Hibs, Rangers, Falkirk & Queen of the South.  Those were also the top five in points, with Queen of the South & Falkirk swapping spots.

Danny Pugsleyalso from Bitter & Bluecontends that Shots on Target Ratio can really show you which teams have the best talent & are utilizing those players in systems that work.  In 2013, he wrote “Teams with more talented players tend to produce more Shots on Target.  For example, take all of the players from Barcelona, and transport them to Stoke. Make them work with Tony Pulis for the summer and then set them loose on the Premiership, playing ‘The Stoke Way.'”

Tony Pulis, courtesy of Getty Images

“I guarantee you they will end up producing more shots and SoT than the current Stoke lineup. They might also fall into a deep, dark depression and want to quit football entirely, but that’s neither here nor there.”

“As for systems, at this point most analysts take it for granted that certain systems are better at producing shots than others. Systems that use intricate passing and movement to create chances inside the 18-yard box are more likely generate more Shots on Target than those that regularly have players taking pot shots from 25 yards out.”

“Take the above thought experiment and flip it on its head. Regardless of who he signs for, kidnap Pep Guardiola in June and give him the summer to implement the Barcelona system with all of the current Stoke players. This system would almost certainly produce far more shots and SOT than what Pulis has implemented at Stoke. They probably won’t win the league, but there’s a very strong chance they will score more goals than they currently do.”

Given that all three Rangers managers basically had the same talent last year, you’ll see that there was not much variance in the quality of possession all season long.

image

Throughout the season, Rangers TSR showed that the majority of the shots taken in a match were by Rangers.  Their Shots on Target Ratio was also remarkably consistent.  Under McCoist & McCall, the team was getting 63% of all of the shots on target in a match.  In the eight matches under McDowall the ratio actually increased.  However, as we saw earlier the finishing was atrocious during McDowall’s tenure.  Rangers had a 0.20 shooting percentage with McDowall – which if that was for the whole season would have been the worst in the league.

The consistency in Shots on Target Ratio should not be a surprise since each manager basically had the same players at their disposal.  Even though Ally McCoist had the benefits of Lewis Macleod, McCall had Haris Vuckic.  The similarities in results under McCoist & McDowall make even more sense given that there was likely very little change to how Rangers played given that McDowall likely did not tinker with the system much at all.

McCall’s tactics led to increased possession (55%) but also saw Rangers TSR decrease to 0.59. Rangers saw a drastic decline in total shots on goal during McCall’s reign but the shots on target was consistent with the production all season long.  Were Rangers more patient on the ball & more selective with their shots?  The data seemingly supports that.  The next step would be to evaluate what kinds of shots the players were taking, something that I plan to do during this upcoming season.

Ally McCoist, courtesy of SNS

What can we conclude from all this data?

Ultimately, this was Ally McCoist’s team.  It was poorly constructedbut ultimately it was his team & Rangers had the best results under his leadership.  The team scored more goals, were better defensively, & were equally effective in their possession than they were the rest of the season.

Rangers would likely have finished in second place if McCoist was at the helm all season long.  Obviously that is not good enough & more importantly McCoist’s efforts to build a winning squad was embarrassingly short sighted & stalled any efforts to build a winning culture going forward.

Kenny McDowall’s brief tenure was marred by a squad of players clearly disengaged from the process.  The drastic decline in shooting percentage & save percentage shows a team whose heart & desire was simply not there.  Clearly, McDowall was not cut out to be the leader of this team & honestly, he had no ambition to be in that role.

Stuart McCall tried to change the culture of the team, but how much could he really improve a poorly constructed team in a short amount of time.  If anything the statistics support the board’s decision to not re-sign McCall as the manager next season.

You can follow Rangers Report on Twitter @TheGersReport

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6 thoughts on “Using analytics to assess Rangers trio of managers last season

  1. Whilst this is a clearly a comprehensive study in statistical analysis. Football is a simple game and whilst I am sure your statistics will interest many having watched Rangers for many seasons you don’t need a spreadsheet to tell you the shortcomings of what was a disasterous season last year. I will be interested to see if fans perception in watching games matches your analysis going forward.

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  2. Another thing to consider was that the majority of McCalls games were against the top 3 or 4 teams rather than spread throughout the league as MCCoists were. It’s an interesting tool, but I think the sample was skewed where McCalls stats were concerned.

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  3. Don`t care what your stats say , the team did improve under McCall ,a win and a draw v Hearts , 2 wins out of 3 v Hibs , results that the same players could not even get close to under the other 2 .Won at QOS in the play offs after two doings down there , admittedly one under him.He showed though that ,unlike the other two, he could learn from his mistakes.His first two draws were as he tried to drag the team out of the deep depression it was in under McDowell after McCoist had chucked it mid season .Although the games with Motherwell were very poor ,we would not have beat either QOS or Hibs over two matches under the other two.The famous phrase is “lies , damn lies and statistics ” and this article shows that you can prove anything with stats .I am quite happy that we have appointed Warburton but we should still be thanking Stuart McCall for taking a bunch of chancers (Yes, Messrs Foster and Boyd including you !!!!) and at least giving us a bit of hope of a miracle at the end of the season.

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