A few weeks ago I started a series of posts looking at whether, or not, QPR have improved under the reigns of JFH. In my first piece, I looked at the hard facts (points and goals) but given the volatility of these over short durations, I explored Jimmy’s effect on shots and the quality of the chances his teams created. If you missed the piece, or want to remind yourself, that post can be found here. However, the long and short of it is that, so far, the evidence doesn’t suggest improvements have been made. But, that is in terms of outputs with a team that has been very much inherited, and on which he has been trying to impose his style of play.
But what is that style, does it differ from the style of Jimmy’s predecessors, and is it productive?
To begin to answer this I’m going to focus on attacking productivity and the creation of chances.
Inspired by David Sumpter and his book Soccermatics, I have created risk maps which show the location of positive actions in the build-up to all shots taken. A positive action is one in which possession is maintained, won, or a shot. These maps are displayed as heat maps (and thanks to Martin from stats4footy blog for the tutorial).
So here’s how Jimmy’s QPR compared to his predecessors during the 15/16 Championship season.
This first point of note is that Jimmy’s QPR have generated shots from higher up the pitch, from more advanced positions. There has also been greater activity in the penalty area resulting in shots, which is encouraging and synonymous with efforts to get the ball into the front man, mostly the BFG.
However, you will see pre-Jimmy that shots were born dominantly from the wings and the right side central / half space. Under Jimmy, there is a clear left side bias. I watched the opening game of this season with interest, versus Leeds, keen to see if this trend would continue.
Here’s the heat map (Whoscored.com), playing left to right.
QPR’s main threat, again, came down the left, with Bidwell and Shodipo linking up well with Chery, more centrally. This clustering of activity raises the question; is this too predictable and easy reading for the on looking opposition scouts?
The only left sided edition Jimmy made to the squad last season was El Khayati, and bringing through Kpekawa, so has he simply got more out of the existing players and identified the creative strength being on the left side?
Looking at the average positions, El Khayati has brought more width on the left under Jimmy. And, judging by the more closely distributed positions of Hoilett and Chery, these players appear to have had more settled roles under his reign, which I’m sure will have contributed to their improvement in the second half of the season.
Drilling down further and considering the location of key passes, defined as those passes leading to a shot, Jimmy’s QPR continue this left side threat, although across the attacking territory, unlike before his arrival when chances were created from discrete zones centrally and deep on the wings. Also, notice how QPR appear more threatening from corners under Jimmy.
But we know all shots are not equal, some with a higher likelihood of being scored than others, such as those taken closer to goal. In my last post comparing QPR pre and since Jimmy, I looked at expected goals (xG) as a measure of the strength of shots taken, as determined by their likelihood on finding the net. Ben Mayhew kindly shared the results of his xG model which suggested QPR were worthy of an extra 0.02 goals per game under Jimmy, or a goal per season. Not a significant change at all, but considering Ben’s model considers only the type and location of shots, are we missing other signals that QPR may be better in attack than suggested by the xG totals?
A quick way to answer this is to look at shots on target, in which QPR were 0.54 per game better off under Jimmy; 7.5 additional goals over the course of a season based on league average conversion rates. Perhaps Ben’s xG model has undersold Jimmy’s QPR in attack relative to its view of QPR before he arrived.
The following images replicate the risk maps earlier, but only for those shots taken within the danger zone, in this instance 18 x 20 yards directly in front of the goal, the central area of the penalty box from where shots taken are generally more likely to result in a goal.
Again, the left side threat shines through and the contribution of central midfield and goalkeeper is more profound. Comparing with QPR pre-Jimmy, I would suggest that Jimmy’s QPR move the ball forward more quickly, and it is particularly pleasing to see danger zone shots being created from within the penalty area.
To provide another layer to our interpretation of the quality of chances created in the danger zone, the following describes the type and origin of key passes, and more evidence that QPR are moving the ball forward more quickly as indicated by deeper long passes.
Jimmy’s QPR have generated a lot of shots from crosses into the box and very few from throughballs. Michael Caley has probably the most advanced public study of xG (see here for more) and he has observed that through balls and danger zone passes are the best type of key pass, whereas crosses are, put simply, bad.
For me, the left side threat is too predictable, but hopefully the arrival of Yeni N’Ngbakoto provides options to vary the approach, and it will be interesting to see if this observation continues into 16/17. QPR look worthy of having the thirdworst xGF in the Championship last season and Jimmy’s arrival doesn’t seem to have brought any betterment in this regard. The preference of crosses is not encouraging, however, it’s very good to see shots being created from within the box. In 2015/16, Jimmy had to make the most of what he inherited which, unlike his predecessors, rarely included Charlie Austin. To his credit, Jimmy found a way of maintaining the team’s overall xGF, despite Seb Polter replacing Chaz at the spearhead of the attack. The closing images compare the two strikers and show just how big a hole Charlie left.