Why the Eye-Test?
For those of you who have read my comments regarding the Eliteserien and Allsvenskan before, it will come as no surprise that I am taking a more visual approach to my first article, as opposed to the rigorous statistics of Reindeer Hotdog. Although there is plenty of legitimate argument to be made regarding the subjective nature of the eye-test, I have now spent 2 seasons watching the Eliteserien and reducing my notes to what I believe are predominantly objective descriptors (and consequent conclusions).
This strategy has helped me to some all-time best ranks, and I hope that this run can continue as the 2021 Eliteserien season unfolds: 21st in Eliteserien Fantasy (2020 – peaked at 4th), 2nd in Allsvenskan Fantasy (current – peaked at 1st), top 25k in FPL (2020/21), top 10k in Euro Fantasy (current).
For the most part, I reduce my eye-tests to the following variables:
- Frequency with which a team attempts (and fails) to pass the ball out of their own half.
- Number of players behind the ball out of possession.
- Proportion of long-shots conceded.
- Height and structure of defensive line.
- System changes relative to score and, therefore, how likely a side is to concede more than 1.
- Relative player positioning in possession – advanced, central, under-/over-lapping, etc.
- Centre-points of attacking play i.e., playmaker and target-man.
- Frequency and “ambition” with which a player shoots – selfishness & confidence.
- Off-the-ball positioning and ‘Out of Position’ players.
As this is my first article regarding my beloved eye-test, I will look to introduce some of these variables by using contextual examples from an Eliteserien match in either Runde 8 or Runde 9, therefore demonstrating not only what I look for in these games but how I apply this to adapt my squad. In future weeks, I will look to introduce each of the remaining variables as I see particularly relevant to my thoughts and plans.
Frequency with which a team attempts (and fails) to pass the ball out of their own half
Beginning with one of my favourites, I use this variable to qualitatively record, and thus provide more insight into, mistake-contingent statistics. Key components include mistake frequency, risk caused by build-up play, risk caused by poor player distribution, and the consequent likelihood of mistakes leading to goals.
It may not come much of a surprise that Trømso are the side with the greatest issues of late, specifically in their losses to Lillestrom and Odd in Runde 8 and 9, respectively.
Versus Lillestrom, the issues began in the 38th minute as a poor pass out the back ended up at the feet of Ifeanyi Mathew. The defence then entered a state of complete disarray as Mathew found Gjermund Åsen on the left, leaving Thomas Lehne Olsen in acres of space to get a shot off from 10 yards. This pattern continued throughout the match, Lehne Olsen capitalising on this in the 52nd minute to add his second of the match after Jacob Karlstrøm blasted a pass off the shins of his own defender. Back-to-back miskicks from Isak Amundsen gave Lehne Olsen an opening to complete his hattrick in the 58th minute, but fortunately the Lillestrom talisman failed to take advantage and spared Amundsen’s blushes.
Despite facing a high-pressing Odd side in Runde 9, it was quite clear from the off that Trømso would not learn from their mistakes. A simple interception by Joshua Kitolano in the 13th minute presented Markus Kaasa with a chance to make it 1-0; Sander Svendsen probably would have done so had Kaasa looked for the pass. Two pathetic missed interceptions leading to Mushaga Bakenga’s second of the night warrant discussion as ‘losses of possession’, the Trømso defenders seemingly dumbfounded by the prospect of intercepting Odin Björtuft’s weak pass from inside his own half.
This consistent insistence on playing the ball out the back, regardless of opposing pressure and ability to do so, makes Trømso a clear target in weeks to come. It is because of this that I currently have the armband on Bendik Bye for Runde 10 – a player I later mention with regards to ambitious shooting. In this instance, it is quite clear irrespective of these highlights that this defence is one of the weaker in the division, however it is the instances in which errors like this are identifiable without a clear correlation to goals conceded that make this analysis beneficial.
A brief example of this is with Molde’s latest shot-stopper Oliver Petersen. On two occasions in Runde 9 (in the 45th and 60th minutes), hesitant distribution from the youngster nearly cost Molde the three points, on the earlier occasion presenting a great chance for the usually clinical Erik Botheim to break to deadlock. It is for this reason I am confident in starting Fred Friday vs. Molde in Runde 10, hoping that this trend continues.
Number of players behind the ball out of possession
Although this tends to fluctuate game-by-game, a side’s defensive structure relative to the strength of opposition is often beneficial to transfer planning when attempting to target weaker defences. A prime example of this can be found in Mjøndalen’s performances vs. Strømsgodset and Kristiansund, two games versus fantastic attacking sides across which they only conceded twice.
Versus Strømsgodset, there was only one occasion (1/7) where there were fewer than 7 Mjøndalen players in their own box at the time a shot was taken; on four occasions (4/7) there were 8 or 9 defenders present. The opposition, however, had 7 or more men in their own box for just three (3/9) of Mjøndalen’s attempts. This defensive onslaught not only means that a greater proportion of shots are inevitably blocked but it means that the opposition are forced to take a greater proportion of their shots from distance (or not at all), with little space to play into further forwards. This directly links to the proportion of long-shots conceded – a variable I assess separately, hopefully to be discussed in future articles.
Something I had not realised until writing this article is the consistency with which Mjøndalen have been able to hold off onslaughts from big sides this season, conceding only once to Valerenga, twice away at Viking, twice away at Bodø/Glimt, and keeping a clean sheet versus Molde. It is quite clear that Mjøndalen are, as last season also showed, no whipping boys. It is, therefore, unlikely that I will captain an opposing player again this season (despite Sondre Sørli’s Runde 7 haul being one time in which I have done so prior).
Height and structure of defensive line
The positioning and structural integrity of a team’s defensive line is often only represented by statistics that regard shots and chances conceded. However, the use of the eye-test allows for the identification of the specific limitations of a system. This is the primary reason for my Runde 10 move: Carlo Holse to Ola Brynhildsen. The system in question: Strømsgodset, specifically versus Mjøndalen’s Martin Ovenstad.
From the off, it was clear that Ovenstad was going to be allowed space to flourish, following up on Lars Olden Larsen’s 5th minute shot without contest, acres of space left both inside and outside of Lars-Christopher Vilsvik for the Mjøndalen winger. This continued throughout the first half, another prime example being in the 31st minute where Ovenstad was left isolated to set up an Ole Sveen shot whilst only Vilsvik was present on the entire right-hand side of the Strømsgodset half (when Ovenstad received the ball). Even as Nikolas Walstad looked to overlap, no defender came across to help contain the threat.
Ovenstad went on to have 5 shots, scoring in the 58th minute with (no prizes for guessing) a shot curled through this gap left between Vilsvik and the rest of the defence. Having flourished in recent weeks, I have no reason to doubt that Molde’s attack will take advantage of this space. Ola Brynhildsen loves a shot from the area identified, so I’m backing him to grab a goal on his next outing.
Relative player positioning in possession – advanced, central, under-/over-lapping, etc
This is probably the variable I most often take note of because a player’s positioning relative to that of their teammates is usually a top-tier predictor of goal involvement, to an extent more so than player ability, thus making it pivotal in selecting a fantasy football squad. Although relatively self-explanatory, using the eye-test to assess player positioning in different situations provides a much better idea of attacking involvement than a simple heat map. This is because, for example, relative player positioning during counterattacks is much more important than their average position over ninety minutes.
Two teams where this evaluation is essential to selecting the best attacking options are Valerenga and Bodø/Glimt, this because of the large quantity of attacking options requiring comparison. This makes the Runde 8 tie an ideal opportunity to see how the sides’ systems may benefit, or hinder, some options.
In the absence of Aron Dønnum, and the consequent introduction of Tobias Christensen, it was apparent from the off that Valerenga would have to adapt their system to accommodate their primarily central selection of attacking assets: Henrik Bjørdal, Osame Sahraoui (‘central’ given that Amor Layouni has occupied the left wing since arriving), Henrik Udahl, and the aforementioned Tobias Christensen. Since my comment regarding Christian Borchgrevink last week, my thoughts have not changed (with the exception that, versus Stabaek, Christensen occupied a wider position at times, with Borchgrevink underlapping): “VIF looked like a different side against Glimt, Sahraoui & Christensen both occupying central positions in a somewhat changed system. This left space for Borchgrevink to advance from right-back, taking 3 shots from open play vs. a strong Glimt side”. It was because of this that I opted to start Borchgrevink versus Stabaek, a decision I have not yet been made to regret at the time of article submission.
Unlike Valerenga, Bodø/Glimt have had little reason to adjust their system this season. Visual assessment of their players’ positioning, however, has been crucial to identifying the greatest value options early on. The three key comparisons, for me, have been Alfons Sampsted versus Fredrik Bjørkan, Brunstad Fet versus Ulrik Saltnes, and Sondre Sørli versus Ola Solbakken. I will be going into these over the coming weeks as I look to shift Glimt assets out ahead of two blank Gameweeks either side of a tough away tie to Sarpsborg 08.
Frequency and “ambition” with which a player shoots – selfishness & confidence
Last, but certainly not least, comes a variable for which I use far too many words to simply state: “he shoots lots and I like that”. Although shot frequency and xG can be reflected statistically, there is a certain beauty in the interaction between ambition and confidence/selfishness which can only really be identified by watching a player. The best examples of this, for me, are: Amahl Pellegrino (formerly of Kristiansund), Aron Dønnum, Kristoffer Velde, Bendik Bye, and Kristoffer Normann Hansen. This is something I will look to discuss in more detail in upcoming weeks. This alone has contributed hugely to my game-plan in recent years and will do so in weeks to come – Velde’s arrival is imminent.
Conclusion: And Your Thoughts?
The more I think, the more I realise how much depth can be put behind visual analysis, and I truly believe that watching more games is the number one route to improvement in any fantasy manager. Despite a great acknowledgement of the importance of statistics, I feel that an overemphasis on the numbers is often a hindrance rather than a gift when it comes to fantasy football. That said, I am very interested to hear alternative opinions, whether they regard how you use the eye-test or the emphasis which you place on it relative to statistics. I will look to discuss some of these opposing opinions in future articles.
Best of luck for Runde 10! Cue Bye and Brynhildsen blanks.