I was just looking back over the results from this (or is it now last?) season.
Yes I know, a masochist, but it seemed to me there was something that didn’t add up. Well lots actually, but it was the Europe stuff that had me interested. Did it really have such an impact on our season? Was tiredness or a lack of fluency within the team a cause for concern?
When I wrote the earlier article that highlighted the bad run mid-season there weren’t any European games causing the distraction. Also before Christmas we played a different side in Europe to the side we played in the Premier League so tiredness wasn’t a factor.
Now someone suggested that since Pardew is a thorough with his preparation for games the midweek games cut down on his preparation time hence the poor results. So I thought I’d compare results after the European games where after the Thursday we had played at the weekend with games where we had had the whole week to prepare. I also wanted to see if there was any difference between the early rounds of the Europa League before Christmas and the later rounds after Christmas where we tended to play a stronger team and so tiredness could have been more of a factor.
To start with I just looked at the games that followed European Thursday nights. But I noticed that when I looked at the games that happened after other midweek games or midweek games after the weekend the results were consistent. It wasn’t just Europe that was the problem. It appeared to apply to any game where we had limited preparation time. I tried looking at the first part of the season, and the end of the season after we restarted in Europe, but we had midweek games over the Christmas period as well. Eventually It turned out to be a lot simpler than I had thought. Another flash of the blindly obvious.
Surprisingly we actually played 19 Premier League games with five days or more preparation and 19 where we had only two, three or four days and it starts to make interesting reading when you examine them simply. Looking first at the games where we had time to prepare. We played eight at home and 11 away. At home we won three and lost five. Away we won two drew six and lost three. Although both gave us just over a point per game it is clear that at home we were looking for a result whereas away a draw would do. Still interestingly only 21 points from 19 games where we had time to prepare.
It was where we had less time to prepare that things become odd. We played 11 games at home where we won six drew one and lost four. That’s 1.73ppg with a win ratio of 54%. Where did that come from? However, on the flip side away from home we played eight with no wins, one draw and seven defeats. That is crystal clear. Playing away from home with limited time to prepare we were awful. Now I can understand that and it is clear that it must be addressed. But why the wins? I did not expect that.
Looking into the figures a little more deeply. Only two of those wins came early in the season when we beat Norwich and West Brom. But the rest of them came later on. Two factors seem to occur to me here. One was the midweek games were now featuring our full strength team so there was some more consistency to team selection and tactics, although this did not appear too helpful over the Christmas period. Secondly and more importantly the squad had now been strengthened following the January transfer window.
So is Alan Pardew a man that benefits from having time to prepare thoroughly? I suspect he is. There are other factors such as instability of players available that affect that and we only played a series of games with long preparation at the end of the season, after our exit from Europe. However, it is clear that our tactics are very different away from home than at home. It is also clear that having a run of games even twice a week where we are fielding our strongest available players also helps.
There is however clearly a problem with fielding teams away from home with limited preparation especially if we fielded a weakened team a few days before.
So does this leave me with any great confidence in our manager? Sorry to say not really. It appears to me that when things are normal or going well he can motivate the players and get good results and runs together, but I have yet to see any evidence that he can handle a crisis.
All I can hope for is a good pre-season and a settled start to the season.