Friday, 18 October 2013

Stat Attack: The international break effect

With Forest stringing together 6 unbeaten games in the league, there have been questions of whether the international break has come at the wrong time. I began this article with a perception that international breaks tend to hinder The Reds, and that we have to almost start again afterwards. Is this the case?

It has long been an opinion of mine that our opposition see Forest as one of the teams to beat, and so scout us closely and adjust their tactics to nullify ours - therefore we 'get found out' more than most teams, because we are seen as dangerous opponents and face a high level of scrutiny. This ties into my thoughts on the international break because our subsequent opponents have all had an extra two weeks to study and plot against us. Our approaching opponents, Bournemouth, Yeovil & Blackpool will all have spent many hours watching videos of The Garibaldi searching for ways to stop us.

This is exactly what happened to Forest towards the end of last season; Billy's diamond system was mercilessly picked apart during the March international break - beforehand Forest were on the rampage, but the weaknesses were there, and with the extra time to do their homework, teams not only found ways to smother our attack, but they found our Achilles heel in defence.

Unfancied Teams like Barnsley and Blackpool came to The City Ground knowing to defend against Forest by denying space in front of the penalty area, and away from home teams were also well prepared, with Burnley and Middlesbrough in particular knowing how to deny us the initiative. However, it was the way Cardiff knew our real vulnerability that proves the point best; The Bluebirds deliberately looked for space in front of our full-backs and swung in cross after cross - they had been watching and knew it was our weakness.

We won all of our five games before the March international break scoring 15 points; in the equivalent period afterwards we won none, managing only 3 points. It is difficult to believe this drop from averaging 3 PPG (points per game) to averaging 0.6 PPG is coincidental; the international break proved disastrous for Forest's promotion push on that occasion, but was it typical? How have international breaks effected Forest's form generally?
Since the 2007/2008 season, Forest have been involved in 18 international breaks. Analysing Forest's form going into the break, and immediately afterwards, does tend to indicate that the break is a disruptive factor in The Red's form - it is just a question of how disruptive, and then deciding whether this is coincidental.
Of the 18 international breaks, Forest's form was affected, by more than an average of 0.5 PPG, on 12 occasions. Over a short period, 0.5 PPG is quite significant, for example, we went into the break in September 2010 having drawn three and lost two - after the break we went unbeaten for the five game period, winning two - the turnaround was obvious, but only brought a 0.6 PPG difference on average.
Bigger disruptions in form are less prevalent, but they are still quite regular. Of the 18 international breaks, Forest's form was disrupted by more than 0.9 PPG (a drastic turnaround) on 7 of the 18 occasions.

So in general, those 18 international breaks did disrupt form, at least to a certain extent - but was it coincidental? That is impossible to say, however I ran a test, twice, inventing my own 18 international breaks at random points during the same period (from the start of the 2007 season until today). Neither test reproduced the same level of disruption in Forest's form. Although two tests is hardly conclusive, I feel it's indicative enough to be reasonably certain that the international break's effect on form is no coincidence.

If we accept there to be an influence on form, we naturally ask, has it tended to be a positive or negative influence? Contrary to my initial thoughts, it appears to be neither a positive nor negative effect - it is merely a disruption in form. As a matter of fact, during the 18 occasions, Forest's form has been effected positively more than negatively, on 9 out of the 18 occasions (with one instance of he exact same form).
With Saturday's game against Bournemouth in mind, I looked at the games immediately after the breaks - this is more worrisome, with Forest averaging 1.33 points in those games. During the same period, Forest have averaged (in theory) 1.43 points per game, so they have slightly underperformed in the games just after the 18 international breaks.

So was my theory that Forest are generally hindered by the international break correct? Well, no. As it happens I got that wrong - the past has shown that it is likely that our form will be effected, however it also shows that it could go either way, and since Forest aren't really in a red hot streak, only winning two of their past five games, chance indicates that the break could easily prove beneficial.

Forest have not really got going yet, especially since the departure of Adlene Guedioura. This break could be just what Billy Davies and his team needed. We have seen tactical issues in midfield - with The Garibaldi looking comparatively weak defensively in front of the back four. There are also players working on their fitness - the extra two weeks can only have helped these two issues.
For these reasons, I predict that Forest's form will take a turn for the better over the next few games - I'll even have a ridiculous effort at predicting Forest's points tally. Based on our current form, and what's occurred after the past international breaks, I predict Forest will pick up 11 points from the next five games, based on a) the likelihood of the effect being positive, and b) the probability that this effect will be at least 0.6 PPG, and  c) our current form being 1.6 points per game (PPG). If these wildly unscientific assumptions come off, Forest will pick up an average of 2.2PPG against Bournemouth, Yeovil, Blackpool, Leicester and Burnley and will have 33 points. Here's hoping my "calculations" come true!

Thanks for reading. I hope the stat-crunching hasn't been too boring (please say so if an article has bored you, preferably with reasons why - negative, constructive, feedback is just as welcome as praise) and if you can spot the (not) deliberate mistake first I'll send you a signed Mars Bar. You can leave feedback on here, or preferably on citygroundfaithful forum. It's a nice calm place to discuss Forest, feel free to come and discuss. COYR!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that international breaks don't, overall, disrupt Forest as I wondered about that given the drop off late last year. Really useful. Thought that you lost your way slightly in the second half of the article - but normally they are a great read. Keep it up!!!