When Losing a Defender Hurts Your Attack: What Will Happen to Hearts Without Callum Paterson?

It would be fair to say that noted laptop enthusiast Ian Cathro has had a rocky start to his managing career. Cathro has seen losses to Rangers, Dundee, and Aberdeen, as well as a draw with Partick Thistle and being taken to extra time in a Scottish Cup tie with patersonstruggling Championship Club Raith Rovers in his short tenure as Hearts manager. Even his surely enjoyable 4-0 win over laptop doubter Kris Boyd and Kilmarnock saw him lose Callum Paterson for the rest of the season to injury and perhaps beyond that.

Paterson had been having a great season before that, among the leaders for Hearts in goals and had the highest expected goals at the club, which for a defender is some feat. Paterson’s contract is up at Hearts at the end of the season. His injury could mean he will stick around at Tynecastle rather than head to pastures new, but regardless Cathro now faces the pressure of bad results piling up without one of his leading scorers to this point. Is the young manager doomed without Paterson or can others pick up the attacking slack in Callum Paterson’s absence?

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Paterson’s goals and expected goals were pretty close, meaning he was not overachieving in an unsustainable fashion. Before his injury, Hearts had the best expected goals for numbers in the league for a club not named Celtic, with an xG total of 41.47 and 1.97 xG per game in the league (for comparison, the league average xG per game is 1.58). While your small sample siren should be going off in your head, in the 3 games (in the league versus Aberdeen and the two ties in the Scottish Cup versus Raith Rovers) Hearts had an expected goals of 0.68, 0.95, and 1.82 (this was in 90 minutes in the 2nd Raith fixture). Before the injury, Hearts had averaged 13.65 shots per game. In these three matches they had 7,8, and 15 shots. You shouldn’t press the panic button yet if you’re a Hearts supporter due to the aforementioned sample size, but you could say their attack has slowed down in those three matches after looking at those numbers. But is it all doom and gloom for Hearts supporters?

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Before we go on, can we first have a moment of silence for Tony Watt. Scoring 1 goal while averaging 0.51 xG per game is really some feat in being unlucky. Like a shining star, Tony wattburned quickly, hot and bright before burning out.

Anyways, when we look at Expected Goals per 90 minutes over Goals per 90 minutes for Hearts, Callum Paterson is among the best at Hearts for both. But look, some hope! Bjorn Johnsen split time while previously mentioned burning star Tony Watt and Conor Sammon struggled finding their asses with a map. However, Johnsen is now settled in Hearts’ first XI and has knocked in 6 SPFL goals with an xG total of 6.11. Johnsen’s xG per 90 minutes and Goals per 90 minutes both better than Paterson’s, logical given that he’s an actual striker. Hearts fans can be hopeful that Johnsen can help carry the goal scoring load lost with Paterson (Oh, hi US Soccer, lets go ahead and give him a US cap the next possible chance you have).

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I have referred to Callum Paterson as a defender a few times so far, but the defending part of his job might be the weak part of his game. It might be fair to compare him to some attacking midfielders Hearts have instead. Jamie Walker has scored 9 goals, though 4 of those are from the penalty spot, and has a rather respectable xG total of 4.66 and a xG per 90 of 0.27. You can’t see it, but I am nodding my head at these numbers. Furthermore, Walker had already averaged more shots per game than Paterson. There may be even more opportunity for Walker to be the focal point of Hearts’ attack with Paterson out that could see the creative attacking midfielder get more goals, shot quality, and shots improve.

If Jerry Seinfeld has taught me anything, it is that things usually even out. Paterson may be gone due to injury for the season, but Hearts have just got back Sam Nicholson from a long injury layoff. Before getting hurt, Nicholson had a very impressive goal haul at 4 goals in about 600 minutes from an xG total of 1.6 and an xG per 90 of 0.23. I have a word of warning though. Nicholson averaged 1.88 shots per game in his limited time thus far this season. It isn’t feasible to think Nicholson will be able to continue a goal pace of 0.58 goals per 90 minutes with those xG and shot numbers. However, like Walker, Nicholson will get more opportunities in the Hearts attack with Paterson out.

Johnsen, Walker, and Nicholson all missed time due to injury or not being picked. Now that each seem to have a spot in the Jambo’s first XI, there are some numbLee Wallace of Rangers & Bjorn Johnsen of Heart of Midlothian during the SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership match between Heart of Midlothian & Rangers at Tynecastle on 30th Novemberers to suggest together they can replicate the missing goals that Callum Paterson’s absence brings. However, pressure is starting to mount on Ian Cathro to get some results. Things will not get easier for the young manager, as his first match in the league after the winter break is at Celtic Park against a Celtic squad running at full tilt trying to break records that the Lisbon Lions set. They also competing for second place with Aberdeen and Rangers squads that are starting to find their form and have spotted each a 6 and 8 point head starts respectively for the race for second. Cathro will need these three performing at maximum capacity if they have any hope in reaching that second spot.

 

Mailbag: Set Pieces, Transfers, xG, and Who in the SPFL Would Make the Best Bachelor?

Welcome to the first in a possible reoccurring series of posts where I take queScreen Shot 2017-01-13 at 8.17.26 PM.pngstions from you, the reader interested in some combination of Scottish football and stats in football. I was unsure if I would actually get any questions when I asked for them on twitter, so to get too many to questions to feature in one post was quite the surprise and very humbling. People disparage both Scottish football and analytics in football, so to see so many people interested in either/or (OR POSSIBLY BOTH?! You people get the gold star) is great. Now, onto your questions!

 

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Daisy here is not the first Jags supporter to ask about how Thistle do at set pieces. I am not sure what has caused Partick Thistle fans to be so concerned about set pieces, but questions about how they do might be one of the things I get asked most. Set pieces are what many in the football analytics community seem to believe is the biggest opportunity to gain an advantage over opponents.

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To see how Thistle compare to the rest of the league, I counted every set piece each club has had so far in the attacking half of the field. Now, I have discussed the limited public data available for Scottish football, so I used the same BBC live tracker data I use for my expected goals. Since that is what I am limited to, I decided to count any goals resulting around a set piece. It may not have gone in directly from the either the free kick or corner kick, but the resulting play led to a goal, so there is a bit of subjectivity to it but it should give us an idea how the Jags compare to the rest of the league.

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I have got some good news for the Firhill faithful. Your club is above average in the league at set pieces! The league average is around 3.86% conversion rate on corners and free kicks combined. Partick Thistle come in at a whopping 5.53% and they compare favorably to the top 4 clubs in the Premiership. So rest easy Jags supporters, your club is doing ok when it comes to set pieces.

“Are there any players Celtic should sign from the rest of the SPFL?”- Julio Lèon via email

Are there players good enough to play for Celtic on other clubs in the SPFL and be successful? Yes. Are these players better than what they have? I’m not so sure.

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Who are these players that I think would be successful at Celtic? Well, have I ever mentioned this striker at Ross County? Liam’s his name…I can’t quite recall his last name. Boyle? Boyd? Bourne? Oh, Liam Boyce, that’s right. Boyce has 11 goals from 6.35 xG this season, outperforming his xG. Could he see a regression? Possibly, but he also outperformed his expected goals last year. Typically, great players will outperform their xG.  Looking at his shooting stats, Boyce averages 1.94 shots per 90 minutes this season. Compared to Leigh Griffiths, who is averaging around double the number of shots per 90 minutes. However, Boyce averages an expected goal of 0.19 per shot, which is higher than Griffiths’ 0.13 xG per shot. Given that you would expect a striker playing for Celtic to naturally have more chances on average than a striker for Ross County, as well as his superior xG totals per shot, one would expect Boyce to not only replicate Griffiths’ success with Celtic, but perhaps exceed it as well. Is Boyce better than Moussa Dembele? No, but I do not expect Dembele to be at Celtic past this summer.

I would also point Julio to Callum Patterson, once healthy, as “good enough for Celtic, but not better than what they have”. There is no denying Patterson’s attacking prowess would fit in with Celtic’s high octane attack. Patterson’s 8 goals before he was injured is about what we would expect from his xG of 7.23. For a fullback, Patterson’s weakness is definitely the defensive side of his responsibilities. However, much like one would expect Liam Boyce to get more opportunities lining up for Celtic, you could also hypothesize that Patterson would have less opportunities to be exposed defensively playing for Celtic.

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So when I previously mentioned the lack of public data for Scotland? Yeah, something like this is sadly not available. Though as interest in stats in Scottish football has grown, so have those interested in producing content on it. Here relatively new guy on the block “The SPFL Radar” twitter account has created a stats radar for McKay.

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I would also really quickly like to discuss the “community” surrounding Scottish football stats. One could accuse some of those involved in EPL stats twitter to be over saturated and unwilling to help those just learning about the basics of analytics in football. I have found the absolute opposite of those interested in stats in Scottish football. The most well known accounts are always willing to lend a hand and share info for those looking for it. I would suggest tapping these resources if you have any interest in Scottish football or stats (OR BOTH!)

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I asked Michael what he wanted to use to compare Garner to the rest of the league with and requested expected goals. Garner currently is 12th in the SPFL Premiership in xG total at 5.58, 0.41 xG per 90, and 0.16 xG per shot. With GarnerOuchie.jpgonly 3 goals this season in league play, Garner is underperforming his expected goals. This would suggest he has either been unlucky, not great at finishing, or some combination of both. One would expect his goal total to improve, you know, once he comes back from…

We’ll close out our first mailbag with two questions from emailer Michael M., concluding with perhaps the most important question facing Scottish football today.

How do the SPFL teams rank in terms of expected goals per shot?

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Motherwell’s prolific duo of strikers have had another great season for the Steelmen so far. Louis Moult and Scott McDonald have contributed 15 of Motherwell’s league goals this season and are the biggest reason why they have the highest xG per shot in the league at 0.16 xG per shot.

Which SPFL player would make the best Bachelor?

I was unsure if the readers of this blog would know what “The Bachelor” is. After consulting with my “sources”, I was told that The American edition of “The Bachelor was on Channel 5. That is the channel of shit programs.” If you are unfamiliar with it, one male dates 25 females, eliminating a few of them weekly, until he finds his “winner” who he proposes to. The whole idea is, of course, ludicrous.

However, sometimes in a relationship you have to compromise. My spouse puts up with my sports viewing and “sports spreadsheets” (her term for the excel sheet where I house my stats), so I can watch 2 hours of a reality dating show.

Now, most know I support Celtic but I would like to believe I am impartial when it comes to discussing stats in the SPFL. However, in choosing the first star of “The SPFL Premiership Bachelor”, I could only think of one midfielder from Celtic.

 

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Now, while I have stats for every SPFL Premiership player, I must admit my knowledge of the marital status of each player and if they would do well on a silly reality dating show is lacking. Do you have a better suggestion for the first star of “The SPFL Bachelor”?