Head to head – versus Millwall (a)

This is a new feature for the 2013/4 season.  I’m not promising I’ll produce one for every game, but I’ll do them for important fixtures, or whenever I consider it relevant / have the time.

Via the website whoscored.com, it’s now possible to access detailed statistics for the Championship, something which has previous only generally been possible for Premier League clubs, as far as I’m aware.  

The stats – for teams and individual players – let us compare clubs’ relative performances, allowing for more educated guesses at how games between them are likely to pan out.  Obviously the intangibles that cannot be broken down into stats are countless, but at least it gives us a few decent clues as to how things might turn out.

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The game at Millwall feels very important to me – although I generally think that about every game, if I’m honest – hence this blog. 

But the trip to the New Den is a chance to lay the ghost of the Burnley disaster directly to rest and to get three quarters of the way to last season’s entire total of away wins after the first three fixtures.

Millwall’s start to the season has been poor.  A 1-0 opening day home defeat against Yeovil was followed by a 3-0 loss at Ipswich and then another 1-0 home loss to Huddersfield.  They have rallied slightly since, drawing 2-2 at Sheffield Wednesday and 1-1 at Brighton, but are yet to win, despite having had what looked, on paper at least, like a fairly comfortable start to the season.

Let’s have a look at a few stats for Derby and Millwall, to see how they match up so far this term: –

AVERAGE POSSESSION PER GAME (%)

DERBY   55.3 (6th in Championship)
Millwall   46.5  (19th in Championship)

PASS SUCCESS %

DERBY   79.9 (5th)
Millwall    66.9 (24th)

Millwall have so far been the worst passers in the division, connecting with only two in every three.  Derby’s relative success in keeping hold of the ball will hopefully help them to frustrate a home faithful who have already endured two losses and will presumably be impatient to see their team get onto the front foot.

TACKLES PER GAME

MILLWALL 17.8 (13th)
Derby               16.8  (15th)

INTERCEPTIONS PER GAME

MILLWALL  7  (20th)
Derby              6.8 (21st)

Millwall have not been notably successful in making up for their inability to keep the ball by winning it back in the tackle, or via interceptions.  By contrast, Blackpool, who have been the worst team in the league in terms of possession, have put in the most tackles per game, which has helped them to tough their way to four wins from their first five matches.

Although I always think of Craig Bryson as an interception machine, we’re actually not picking off the opponents passes that often.  However, this could be because we usually have the ball more than our opponents.

SHOTS PER GAME

DERBY 14.8 (5th)
Millwall  11.4  (20th)

SHOTS ON TARGET PER GAME

DERBY 5.2 (3rd=)
Millwall 2.8 (22nd)

Possession for possession’s sake is no good, which is why it’s encouraging to note that we’ve been getting more shots off than most so far – ranked fifth in the division – and have hit the target more often than anyone except for Watford and Burnley.

By comparison, Millwall have been shot-shy and have usually not hit the target even when they have managed an attempt on goal.  So on balance, it seems unlikely, unless Millwall suddenly improve out of sight, that Derby will be ‘peppered’, or that the home side will prevent the Rams from controlling the tempo of the game and playing their football.

Overall, it seems fair to suggest that Derby will dominate possession on Saturday and that Millwall will struggle to stop the Rams’ creative players from carving out a few chances.  It’s then up to the strikers to take them.

Home advantage can be quickly nullified if the crowd become anxious.  If Derby can get on the ball early on and establish their superiority, as they did at Yeovil, there is no reason to think they can’t win this game – as long as they don’t shoot themselves in the foot as badly as they did against Burnley, of course….

KEY MAN – John Eustace – It might seem odd to nominate a player who hasn’t made a league start yet as our key man, but I’m convinced that Eustace will come into the team. Maybe his experience and leadership could have helped us to avert the debacle that was Burnley.  Playing him at the base of the diamond against Millwall would allow Bryson and Prince William to go forward with more confidence.

STATISTICAL ODDITY OF THE WEEK – Blackpool.  The Seasiders are currently top of the league with four wins out of five, despite having had less shots on goal per match than anyone else (9 per game), the joint second-worst amount of shots on target per match (2.8) and being worst in the division for possession as well (42.7% per game).

This irks me.  All I can suggest is that their current run of form is highly unlikely to continue and there’s no way that they will be anywhere near the top six by next May.

Elsewhere, Nottingham Forest are the dirtiest team in the Championship so far, averaging 15 fouls per game – two more than the second worst offenders, Blackburn and Doncaster.

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