Tottenham are in the middle of a slump. They’ve won just 1 of their last 6, and even that was only a 1-0 victory over then-bottom-of-the-table Crystal Palace. They’ve fallen to 6th in the table, behind fierce rivals Arsenal (whom they were thoroughly dominated by during this poor run), and sit 18 points adrift of leaders Manchester City. Yet despite all of that, manager Mauricio Pochettino remains largely immune from any criticism.
One media source who has called into question the Tottenham manager’s genius though, is TalkSPORT’s Georgie Bingham and Tony Cascarino. The day after the defeat in the North London derby, the radio presenters suggested that Pochettino rarely turns his team’s fortunes around with an effective tactical change or substitution. The truly great managers are able to do this, so does this mean that Pochettino isn’t all he’s cracked up to be? Within two weeks of this, we have seen Manchester City turn defeats into victories in back-to-back games, so does this cement Guardiola’s already iconic managerial status? And what about the other big dogs? Where do Monsieurs Wenger, Klopp, Mourinho, and Conte fit in all of this? Time to look at some data…
All 38 Premier League matches from last season (2016/17) and the first 15 Premier League matches from this season were included in the analysis. Within this, the half-time and full-time results were compared for Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur. Half-time allows the managers to have their biggest impact during a game, therefore the better managers should be able to turn draws into victories, salvage points from losing positions, and ensure winning scores remain as they are. As the comparative values (i.e. number of losing/drawing/winning positions at half-time) varies between the 6 clubs, percentages and averages were used.
The first analysis, shown in the graph above, indicates what happens when the teams are drawing at half-time. And in this case, Conte is king, turning a draw into victory an impressive 77.8% of the time. Guardiola is second with 64.3%, though interestingly Manchester City are drawing at half-time much less than their rivals (just 14 times out of a possible 53). By contrast, Wenger’s Arsenal are drawing at half-time the most (23 occasions), which makes it a good thing that 60.9% of the time they manage to convert these into wins. Pochettino sits in 4th with a 52.4% conversion rate, lending some support to Bingham and Cascarino’s criticism, though it could be worse; Klopp and Mourinho have surprisingly low conversion rates that are far behind their 4 rivals. Interestingly, Arsenal ended up losing 5 of the games in which they were drawing, perhaps indicative of a more attacking approach by Wenger, whilst Guardiola’s City were the only team not to lose when drawing at half-time.
The second analysis, shown in the above graph, indicates what happens when the teams are losing at half-time. Given that in this instance there are two positive changes (draw and win), as opposed to just one, it makes sense to calculate an “average points per game” value, rather than simply a win percentage. Now we see Guardiola in first, with Manchester City averaging 1.1 points per game when losing at half-time. Klopp and Pochettino are second, with 0.9, whilst Wenger (0.5), Conte (0.4), and Mourinho (0.4) tend to struggle to change a game around. Indeed, Mourinho has yet to win a game as Manchester United manager when losing at half-time, whilst Guardiola has done so on three occasions. It’s important to note though, that this data is based on small numbers (unsurprisingly, given the dominant status of these teams). Manchester United and Chelsea have only been trailing at half-time on 8 occasions over the past season and a half, whilst that number is 10 for Arsenal and Liverpool, and 11 for Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
The final analysis, shown in the above graph, indicates what happens when the teams are winning at half-time. Whilst this occurs most frequently, and therefore is based on the most data, it doesn’t really answer the original question of this article: which manager is most effective at turning his team’s fortunes around. Nevertheless, it still makes for interesting reading. Here we find Pochettino to be number one, with an impressive 95.2% of winning margins at half-time remaining as such at full-time. Conte and Mourinho are neck-and-neck in second and third, with Guardiola fourth, Klopp fifth, and Wenger last. Interestingly, Wenger’s Arsenal have only failed to win on 3 occasions when leading at half-time; the same as rivals Guardiola and Klopp. However, because they have only been in such instances 20 times this makes up a much greater percentage (15%) compared to the Manchester City and Liverpool bosses.
Last year I analysed the managers of the big 6 clubs by comparing their impact on arrival and impact on departure (the Togga version can be found here, whilst the updated and expanded version can be found in the book ‘The Inner Geek of Football’). Spoiler alert: Conte came top, Pochettino bottom, and the rest were pretty much the same.
This analysis – focused on the extent to which the managers bring about positive changes from half-time to full-time – has a similar feel to it, with one manager clearly superior, one manager clearly inferior, and four managers with not much between them. This time though, the superior manager is Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola, and the inferior manager is Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho. When looking only at the data from the first two analyses (ones where the teams are likely performing below par, and therefore require a turnaround in fortune), we see Guardiola perform admirably both times. The Spaniard turns 64.3% of draws into wins (second best) and earns 1.1 points per game from losing positions (best). Mourinho, on the other hand, fares less well. The Portuguese converts only 30% of draws into wins (worst) and earns just 0.4 points per game from losing positions (tied for worst).
The idea that the manager is solely responsible for any changes in result from half-time to full-time is, admittedly, flawed. Clearly numerous other factors play a massive role; however, it would be wrong to suggest that this method doesn’t have some merit to it. In addition, it could be argued that the best managers shouldn’t need to be good at changing their team’s fortunes, because they should have prepared them in such a way that they are winning at half-time, not drawing or losing. This is a valid point, but the original argument made against Pochettino by Bingham and Cascarino was that he may lack the ability to change a game, not see out a victory. Whilst he’s no Pep Guardiola, the data suggests that this probably isn’t a fair assessment. That accusation would be better aimed at a certain Special One.
Follow Luke Wilkins on Twitter using @the_innergeek