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Queens Park Rangers 1 v 3 Barnsley
SkyBet Championship
Wednesday, 3rd March 2021 Kick-off 19:00
Science schmience – Preview
Tuesday, 2nd Mar 2021 18:22 by Donnnald Bethl’hem

It’s all data analytics and xG on the menu this midweek as Warbs Warburton attempts to explain the rationale behind recent team selections ahead of a visit of a red hot Barnsley side, breathing fire over the Championship wheatfields with one of its smallest budgets.

QPR (10-10-11, WWWWDL, 17th) v Barnsley (15-6-11, LWWWWW, 7th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Wednesday February 3, 2021 >>> Kick Off 19.00 >>> Weather – Sunshine and showers >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12

Tension on the frontline of football’s data war is very high. The stretched twig of peace is at melting point. People are literally bursting with war.

On the one side, sciencey types. Doctors, physios, video analysts, statisticians, people who spent six months posting xG performance scatter graphs to their @DulwichHamletAnalytics Twitter account and suddenly found themselves employed by some data evangelist chairman of a club in the Swedish Second Division. On the other, old school types lamenting how far the game has gone from what it used to be, preferring to use Aston Villa’s 14-man title-winning team of 1981 as their example over the modern day, analytics-led over-achievements of Brighton or Brentford, backed enthusiastically by the less objectional of football’s Jim Whites in today’s Telegraph.

You can probably tell from the amount of Moneyball references crow-barred into the LFW match reports which side of the argument we tend to side with. We will, of course, take the piss, because that’s pretty much our reason for being here. The sheer amount of people starting an @Analytics Twitter account, and some of the base-level rot that passes for content on those feeds, is proper eye-rolling, ‘the game’s gone’, stuff. But then when you see so many kids getting jobs in professional football off the back of it wouldn’t you be doing exactly the same as a 21-year-old economics graduate and football fan right now? If only I’d thought of that 16 years ago, instead of writing cock jokes for you lot.

It’ll never not be funny when the xG says Brighton v Palace should finish 4-0 and Palace win it in the last minute, and then the xG says West Brom v Brighton should be 0-3 but Lee Mason’s fat head explodes. And we will continue to mock the ongoing Justice League obsession of dear old Brentford. Particularly when the fancy Spanish goalkeeper their – rightly - lorded analytics team picks out for them for lots of clever modern reasons other than saving shots ends up costing them the play-off final because said analytics team and fancy Spanish goalkeeper worked out they had a 0.37% better chance of winning the game if he went and stood 20 yards away from his goal whenever the opposition had an attacking free kick wide on the left side. This stuff is funny, it just is. We don’t make the rules.

We can also have fun tossing around whether football has gone too hot and heavy into the xG metric, as a way of getting football down to one number in the way pioneered in baseball by Bill James and subsequently Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s. Sport in this country has been following the statistically driven US market for years, trying to work out its on-base-percentage equivalent to help it scout and recruit smarter. Those few of us of a rugby league persuasion will remember the painful summer spent at the mercy of Phil Clarke’s “swingometer” in the Sky Sports coverage, which crunched all sorts of data to come up with the likelihood of a team winning at any particular moment within the game. Problem was, as the sample size was so small (e.g the first 20 minutes of the game) it basically boiled down to who’d had the ball the most. So if Saints had knocked on a couple of times in their first few sets, and Salford had completed theirs to a kick, Phil would hone into view and proudly proclaim that the “swingometer” was projecting a Salford victory by the thick end of 70 points. It may have been the most sense Phil Clarke has ever spoken on Sky Sports, but it was still absolute bollocks.

But you’re better off being on this side of the argument than the other. If you could still get football results by shouting at 20-year-old boys and throwing crockery at them, Peter Reidy Reid would still be employed. In an age of haves and have nots the likes of which we’ve never seen, exacerbated by FFP restrictions and, at our level, parachute payments, if clubs on the budgets of QPR, Preston and Barnsley simply adapted the Harry Redknapp mantra of “it’s about good players” and tried to shop in the same store as bigger, richer clubs, they’d stand no chance. Observe how far progressive, forward-thinking clubs that were miles behind Neil Warnock’s 2010/11 QPR team went with their strategy, while we floundered paying £12m and £100k a week to Chris Samba and Redknapp described our away matches as “bonus games”. One of them we took six points off that second tier season went so far as to win the whole Premier League. Even Sam Allardyce, portrayed as king of the dinosaurs, has, since his days at Bolton, utilised every innovation going to stay current and give the teams he manages, frequently at the lower end of the gene pool in whatever division that may be, an edge over more illustrious rivals. It’s why he, despite his style of football, is still employed, while ‘Arry is fronting every bit of drek in ITV primetime bar the fucking news.

This has all reared its head at QPR this week post Saturday’s late defeat at Birmingham, where Ilias Chair was left out entirely, Charlie Austin was removed after an hour, and three points absolutely gagging to be taken from a dire home team in awful form were allowed to squirm away in the final eight minutes. It’s not the first time Warbs Warburton’s substitutions, in particular, have come under the microscope this season, and we were particularly miffed to see Ilias Chair and Little Tom Carroll removed at Millwall when that change had previously brought about rapid decline in the team and did again that night – again, surrendering points dying to be taken from a poor team late in the day. I think there have been times this season, Millwall being one, Wycombe another, when we’d have been better on leaving the players out there, pushing through to the end, and then resting them the game after if necessary.

Austin and Stefan Johansen have been transformative signings for our team, but it was clear when they joined, given the lack of football either of them had played in the six months prior, that they would, initially at least, struggle to play every minute of every game in this busy Championship schedule. Warbs used his pre-match Warbleton this week to get the finger puppets out and try and explain the rationale behind the subs, and team changes.

“It’s important to get the message across because supporters will naturally say ‘Keep him on. Why aren’t you playing him? Why isn’t he on for 90 minutes’? It’s because he can’t. We’ll lose them.I was delighted to get even a half out of Charlie on Saturday. It was touch-and-go whether he could even play. Likewise Stefan Johansen. Likewise Geoff Cameron. Ilias Chair for example; his high-speed runs were down significantly in the previous game. Here’s a young guy who loves his football and wants to be on the pitch every minute. But when the data’s telling you that the legs are heavy and the tank’s empty, you’ve got to look after them. If you don’t then you lose them to injury. And if you get a two-week injury now, you’re missing five games because of the schedule.”

The Austin thing is a bit of a red herring on Saturday – we were shit when he was on, shit when he was off. His removal didn’t have a lot to do with the defeat, though you could make the argument he might have fashioned a second goal out of nothing in the final half hour as he did in the first half. There’s also a question why, at 31, and now two months deep into this return to regular football, he isn’t capable of more minutes. But, as I keep saying, our injury record this year speaks for itself – only Carroll and Amos lost long term, Kakay and Wallace medium, and one Covid incident so far with Lyndon Dykes. When you look at injury lists elsewhere, teams having games called off for virus outbreaks, even wonderful, precious Brentford losing a key player like Rico Henry to a pure and simple fatigue hamstring injury at Coventry last week, there does come a point where you have to concede the data guys probably know what they’re doing. You want to risk doing the rest of the season without Austin and/or Johansen?

Ironic really that it all comes before a home game with Barnsley, operating on one of the lowest Championship budgets and yet in red hot form of five straight wins and potentially about to gatecrash the play-offs in just a second season after a League One promotion and just a year on from their remarkable relegation escape on the last night of last season. Theirs is a model built on clever recruitment, almost exclusively of younger players, and managers most of the rest of this division have never heard of never mind considered employing. This lot even have Billy Beane as part of their ownership consortium, so they know more than most that if they try to play like the Yankees in here, they will lose to the Yankees out there.

More immediately, and famous last words, this could be that rare good Championship game to watch. Two young sides, in good form, with a lot of confidence, playing attractive football, going to win the game, glad to be free of the relegation worries that have dominated their thoughts for so long. Ugly girlfriends? Sure. But when this match walks into a room, its dick has already been there for two minutes.

Links >>> The view from the Pu – February >>> Flying Tykes – Interview >>> Greatest goal of all time – History >>> Chuckles Woolmer – Referee >>> Barnsley Official Website >>> Yorkshire Post – Local Press >>> Sheffield Star – Local Press >>> BBS Fan Forum – Message Board >>> Reds Report – Podcast

Everybody involved with LFW was obviously deeply saddened to learn of Glenn Roeder’s death earlier in the week, at the age of 65. Roeder was a player ahead of his time in a pioneering QPR team, captaining the R’s to the FA Cup final as a Second Division side and then promotion a year later. Club historian Chris Guy has written a terrific tribute to the player and the man which you can read here and wonderful memories of his time at the club, on and off the pitch, have been pouring into our message board. Rest in peace Glenn.

Below the fold

Team News: All eyes, then, on whether Ilias Chair, Lyndon Dykes and Lee Wallace come back into the team after the weekend defeat, who else might take a turn for a sit down, and who’s going to be subbed when. None as mysterious and interesting as whether Jordy De Wijs is actually a thing or not – one more week of this and we’re going to roll out the Sean Goss sightings prizes again.

Clean bill of health for Barnsley

Elsewhere: It’s another split midweek round with six tonight and six tomorrow, though good luck finding anything from a grim Tuesday list that takes your fancy.

Cardiff’s draw at Middlesbrough at the weekend ended a six match winning streak, but they’re still unbeaten in nine under new manager Mick McCarthy with Wayne Rooney’s Derby County in town tonight. The televised game sees promotion chasing Reading host a Blackburn side heading the other direction, with Tony Mowbray now freely admitting he won’t be around two or three games now from now if the present run of five defeats and a draw is extended. Huddersfield v Birmingham is a useful chance for one of the sides Rotherham have probably got their eye on most to drop points, and the Millers will have a keen eye on Coventry’s date on the Thirteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell tour as well. Millwall v Preston Knob End and Florist’s cast of a thousand footballers at home to Lutown really are only taking place for want of something better to do with everybody’s time.

The big one is tomorrow, with Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow travelling to actual league leaders Borussia Norwich in the early Sky game. Daniel Farke’s side now seven points clear at the top after five wins in a row but unlikely to have faced a side as good as this, possibly ever. Watford and Swanselona await slips in third and fourth with very winnable matches at home to Wycombe and away to Stoke respectively. Nigel Pearson’s gone straight in with consecutive 3-1 away wins at Boro and Swansea with Bristol City, and will surely fancy their chances at home to Bournemouth who are struggling to keep the wolf from the door in six.

Sheff Wed v Rotherham, time for one of them to piss or get off the pot.

Referee: For the third time this season already we’re at the mercy of Chuckles Woolmer’s reign of comedy terror, although Barnsley will be just as pissed off as we are about this after he botched their home game with Cardiff earlier this season and later apologised for his role in the Welsh side’s equaliser. Details.

Form

QPR: The defeat at Birmingham at the weekend was QPR’s first in six, and plunged them all the way back down to seventeenth with the midtable area now tightly congested after some recent prominent runs and dips in form from teams involved. QPR are one of those, going from ten without a win to six wins in seven matches. At home they hadn’t won in six, or scored in five, prior to the victory Blackburn but they’re now three for three on their own patch after similar single goal successes against Bournemouth and Brentford. Barnsley kickstarted their late run to Championship survival last season with a 1-0 win at Loftus Road in the first game back after lockdown. That snapped a run of 11 consecutive defeats in W12 in which they conceded 26 goals and scored just four. It was the first time they’d won on that ground since a 5-0 win in January 1950 – a run of 25 games of which QPR won 22 and drew three.

Barnsley: The Tykes come into this game on a five match winning streak. The last time they won five league games in a row was their 2015/16 League One promotion campaign when they won seven between the last week of December and first week in February, though that run was broken up by a couple of draws in the EFL Trophy. They won six in a row through February and March in League One the previous year but the last time they won five in a row in the second tier was the first five games of the 1996/97 season, which ended with them being promoted to the Premier League. They beat West Brom, Huddersfield, Reading, Man City and Stoke before the run was broken with a 3-1 loss at Oakwell against QPR – Barker, Perry and Dichio with the goals. Those five victories (Brentford A 2-0, Blackburn H 2-1, Bristol City A 1-0, Stoke H 2-0, Millwall H 2-1) have been achieved without scoring more than two goals in a game. In fact, Barnsley have scored three times in a single match just once this season – in the 3-0 victory against ten-man QPR in the first meeting. Ismael’s team are 6-3-7 away from Oakwell, with the wins coming at Derby, Birmingham, Sheff Wed, Rotherham, Brentford and Bristol City. Their last three losses away from home have been at Swansea, Norwich and Watford – currently three of the top four sides in the league. Conor Chaplin has four goals in his last three appearances against QPR – more than the three he’s managed in 28 starts and three sub appearances overall this season.

Prediction: We’re indebted to The Art of Football for once again agreeing to sponsor our Prediction League and provide prizes. You can get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Last season’s champion Mase offers us this…

“On paper this should be the trickiest of our three successive home matches, with Barnsley in form as red as their kit with the playoffs in sight. They're a good footballing side and it should be an attractive match, our patchy pitch notwithstanding. We will hopefully have recovered a bit after two tough away games and the disappointing defeat at St Andrew's.”

Mase’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Barnsley. Scorer – Charlie Austin

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-2 Barnsley. Scorer – Charlie Austin

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Myke added 20:17 - Mar 2
Cheers Clive, I suppose I am being very inconsistent about Sports Science when I was advocating that Chair needed a break after the Preston game, but lamented Austin being taken off 'early' against Brum. I f we had held on to win the game there wouldn't be a word against Austin's substitution. The real question (similar to playing a scratch cup team) is will we see a genuinely refreshed team on Wednesday.
The other question I have is, if 31 year old Austin can manage only an hour or so, how can 90 year old Cameron play every minute of every game? Tell what I think. I think they completely underestimated how long De Wijs would be out for and wouldn't have allowed Masterson out on loan, if they did know. Cameron actually played less games last season than this. Not sure why they can't put Kakay on the right and Dickie in the centre of the three. As well as giving Cameron a break, it would reduce the impact of a speedy winger getting in behind Kane and out-pacing Dickie.
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timcocking added 02:30 - Mar 3
Ha, perfect title Clive! It's a very interesting subject, obviously two valid sides of the argument.

One thing worth remembering, it's only really the midfielders even do that much running. Wingbacks and full backs too i suppose. Not so much the strikers or centre backs, though. I never got tired playing in defence or striker particularly, you're literally stood around waiting lots of the game. When they are playing twice a week, with travelling as well, there's hardly time for any training either, so it's not like they're doing any more than usual really. It's obviously spurious as to whether it would have helped to keep Charlie on a little longer, but when one also includes the vast psychological effect it has on the other 21 players (swapping Charlie for Dykes) if we then ask the question simply 'were we more or less likely to have taken something from that game if he'd stayed on a little longer', there's really one obvious answer. Will we lose him to an injury if he stays on? I remain unconvinced. And let's not forget, we're talking about the best player we have being replaced by the worst.

I'd be fascinated to be able to see these analytics and talk in detail with them about this, maybe they could convince me, but for now, i still consider it a textbook case of over-thinking things. Get your best 11 on in their best positions whenever possible. Recovery would be better served during the week if they have to. Train less during the week if they need to reduce the load. To take the best players off at half-time; bloody daft.
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cornwallmike added 08:44 - Mar 3
"Two young sides " - I don't know about Barnsley but the average age of QPR is 28. Hardly the Busby Babes.
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francisbowles added 14:26 - Mar 3
I would have to disagree with timcocking. Teams defend from the front these days and therefore the strikers do put a lot of running in. I would also suggest that two of the centre backs get through their share of moving up and down and from side to side of the pitch. Cameron in the central role, rather less so. Hence why he has been available for every minute recently. I do agree with Myke though the De Wijs situation hasn't gone to plan. I can only assume he has overdone it a bit and picked up a strain or something.

I would also disagree with Tim on less training being a substitute for more minutes on the pitch. Fitness training is increased over a period of time and I believe, from my limited knowledge from a few years back, that it takes a couple of weeks to get the benefit of a hard session, hence the importance of pre season. Their is little chance to do these sessions when you are constantly playing matches, as you need a minimum rest period of 72 hours before your event. Their is also the metal aspect. Playing games requires far more concentration, therefore is more fatiguing on the mind and subsequently the body. In conclusion, you can build up match fitness but you must be in condition before hand and you need to mentally fresh and physically rested to get peak performance.
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TacticalR added 17:27 - Mar 3
Thanks for your preview.

I don't see statistics and the traditional side of the game as opposites. Statistics are another tool in a club's arsenal. They are what enabled Brentford to use 'randomness exclusion' to choose Benrahma. But is up to human beings to choose how to interpret the meaning of those statistics. In Vietnam Robert McNamara's notorious 'kill ratio' was supposed to prove that America was winning the war, and hence led to the US being psychologically unprepared for Vietnamese offensives.
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