Ireland’s First Two Games Under Stephen Kenny: What The Analytics Tell Us
The Stephen Kenny era got off to a difficult start last week with a draw away to Bulgaria and defeat at the Aviva to Finland. It was obvious to anyone watching that Stephen Kenny has completely overhauled the Irish way of playing, but what does the data say about Ireland’s performances and our chances of qualifying for Euro 2020? Dominic Corrigan, who does data visualisation for Arseblog among others, has crunched the numbers around Ireland’s two Nations League fixtures for Balls.ie and emerged with a pretty interesting statistical portrait of the early days of the Kenny regime.
BULGARIA V IRELAND GAMEFLOW
IRELAND v FINLAND GAMEFLOW
The above graph shows the Possession Value added difference between the two teams from both of Ireland’s matches from the last international break as well as the cumulative running total of
Possession Value Added by the teams in both games. Possession Value Added or PVA measures the increase or decrease in the likelihood of a possession ending in a goal based on the successful passes a team makes. Essentially it shows how threatening you are when you have the ball and whether or not your passing is effective in increasing your chances of scoring.
The above shows the average touch map of the starting XI’s and Possession Value Added of the players used from both games. Robbie Brady excelled in the second game with his passing increasing the likelihood that Ireland would score from possessions he was involved in by 92%, with Conor Hourihane leading the way in the first game with a PVA of 77% (note that both of these players take set pieces which may boost their numbers but are essential to the way Ireland play). Despite this we can see that more players (7) had a negative PVA in the game against Finland than the game against Bulgaria (5). In layman’s terms this means that 7 of the Irish player’s passing resulted in the chance Ireland scored in those possessions decreased. From the average touch maps we can see that, against Bulgaria, Ireland had a strong right-sided bias in attack, with Jeff Hendrick and Matt Doherty pushing up the pitch to support Callum O’Dowda. In the game against Finland however Doherty did not get as far forward and Hendrick was replaced by debutant Jayson Molumby who played much deeper, allowing Robbie Brady to push forward on the left-hand side.
Now let’s compare the midfield selections from the two games, with two completely different midfields being picked by Stephen Kenny.
From the above we can see a PVA Pass Map for both midfields from the two games. Blue passes show passes that reduced Ireland’s chances of scoring in that possession, orange passes show passes that slightly increased the chances of scoring in that possession and red passes show passes that massively increased (20–25%) the chances of scoring in that possession. From this we can clearly see that the midfield 3 selected in the first game did a better job of getting the ball into threatening areas than the 3 selected against Finland. For example, look at the passes to the right wing from the first game and compare it to the second game where there is a clear lack of any threat down that flank from the midfield. We can also see that Harry Arter had a negative impact on Ireland’s passing against the Finnish whereas James McCarthy, who played the same role against the Bulgarians, increased Ireland’s chances of scoring by 20%.
Another area of interest is the full-backs, Matt Doherty and Enda Stevens. Let’s first look at the new Tottenham man Doherty.
From the PVA Pass Maps we can see that Doherty did a good job of progressing the ball up the right flank in both games, but produced much more threatening passes in the game against Finland with the former Bohemians man increasing Ireland’s chances of scoring by 45% in the Finland game and 16% in the Bulgaria game. In terms of Defensive Actions (Headers, Tackles, Interceptions etc.) Doherty had a quiet game against Bulgaria, with the Tottenham man only attempting 3 Defensive Actions, completing 2. Against Finland Doherty had a busier game defensively, attempting 7 Defensive Actions, completing 4 and failing in 3, with 2 of those unsuccessful Defensive Actions coming inside his own penalty area.
Now let’s look at Enda Stevens.
From the PVA Pass Map we can see that Stevens was far more involved in the game against Finland, which could be as a result of the introduction of Robbie Brady and the left-sided bias in possession. Stevens’ passing resulted in a 25.58% increase in their chances of scoring against Bulgaria and a 26.6% increase against Finland.
Stevens also had a quiet defensive game against Bulgaria, with the Sheffield United man completing 3 out of his 3 attempted Defensive Actions. Against Finland, Stevens attempted 5 Defensive Actions, completing 4 and being unsuccessful in 1 attempt.
All in all, this was the not the start Stephen Kenny would have wanted, but it’s 180+ minutes under the belt and Kenny has had the opportunity to try out a lot of different players in preparation for next month’s game against Slovakia.
Originally published at https://www.balls.ie on September 9, 2020.