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On Everton’s attacking speed and Opta stats

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I have a few problems with that statistical graphic you may have seen floating around today...

Manchester City v Everton - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

If you’ve spent your morning scrolling through Twitter and you follow anyone who supports the Premier League or Everton, you’ve probably seen this tweet:

Sky Sports, using Opta data, attempted to create a visual representation of the ways in which Premier League clubs create their attacks. The y-axis represents the speed with which teams move the ball forward, while the x-axis represents the average number of passes in a team’s attacking sequence.

According to the corresponding post: “Sequences are defined as passages of play which belong to one team and are ended by defensive actions, stoppages in play, or a shot.”

Everton, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, has the slowest attacking speed and is among the more direct attacking clubs in the league. This has caused consternation among some Toffees supporters, but I have a few issues with this graphic — which should make you feel a little better about its ramifications.

First and foremost, this is a painfully small sample size to be trying to draw a conclusion from — a three-match period just isn’t representative of much of anything.

Throw in the fact that the Toffees had two very difficult matches in that span, at Manchester City and at Chelsea, and the numbers mean even less. Ronald Koeman had his team play in ways during two of those matches that are in no way representative of how his team normally plays.

Even if you put that to the side, I’m not entirely sure these particular metrics mean much of anything, even with a representative sample size.

Do you feel like you’ve never seen ‘speed of attack in metres per second’ and ‘passes per sequence’ in statistical analyses before? There’s a good reason for that — these are stats that Opta has only just started tracking.

There is no historical basis upon which we can contextualize what these numbers mean. Does measuring attack speed as a simple distance covered over time really mean anything? Does passes per sequence, with sequence defined as noted above, tell us anything about the ways in which teams create their chances?

Maybe! But we literally have only three matches worth of those stats to try to contextualize what they mean in the bigger picture — putting any conclusions from those numbers in doubt.

Finally, even if we assume that the statistics in question mean what Sky suggests they do, and that three matches are enough to draw conclusions from, we need to be clear about what Everton’s personnel in those matches says about the numbers.

Everton’s big signing, Gylfi Sigurdsson, only played in one of those matches — the one in which the club struggled most, and therefore the one in which he could have the least impact. It will be Sigurdsson’s job to turn Everton’s possession into attacking chances, and he simply hasn’t gotten a chance to do that in the matches reflected in that graphic.

Koeman is also under the impression that Yannick Bolasie will be back in October, which explains his willingness to move forward without adding another wide player. Assuming that the Dutchman plans to use Bolasie as the starter on the right side (a pretty safe assumption), it’ll be tough to draw too many wide-reaching conclusions about Everton’s attack until the Congolese winger is in the lineup.

Ultimately, the takeaway is this — worst case, this graphic doesn’t tell anyone much of anything; best case, it is a fair statistical representation, but for multiple reasons cannot tell us much about Everton at this stage.

In all, then? Pay no attention to it.