While I'm a bit of a stats geek, i'm always wary of delving too deep and reading too much into statistical numbers. That being said the numbers can often show us where we've gone astray and thanks to the excellent EPL Index run by Opta, we now have access to detailed breakdowns of every Reading game this year.
Yesterday's defeat was a sobering experience, shattering the honeymoon period and waking us up to just how tough this league is going to be. Beyond our own eyes and memories, can the stats give us any clues as to where we're going wrong and what we can be doing to get a more positive result at West Brom next weekend.
I'm not one to wax lyrical about Barcelona or Swansea just because they made 8 million passes a game but what's important to their succes is how often they retain the ball and complete a pass. Yesterday there were 793 passes in the game, with Spurs completing 85% of their 479. Reading meanwhile completed just 74% of their 314.
Even more telling was our passing completion in the final third. Both sides made roughly the same number of passes, with Spurs edging it at 139-123 but the key was that Reading's passing accuracy in the final third was just 61% compared to 81% from the visitors.
Individually we were also way short of the standard required. Of the 11 men to start the game, just TWO Reading players had a passing accuracy of over 80%,with over half the team registering under 75%. Compare that to Tottenham who had EIGHT players over the 80% mark.
For a man usually lauded for his passing, Ian Harte had a particularly bad day at the office with just 67% of his passes finding a Reading player. Likewise Alex McCarthy completed just 5 of 12 passes in 90 minutes, compared to 17/24 from Brad Friedel. While his shot stopping was certainly impressive, he'll need to up that passing level if Reading are to build more attacks from the back. In comparison, the man he replaced, Adam Federici completed 7/17 against Stoke and 7/12 against Chelsea, so there's not a massive gulf between the two 'keepers so far in that department.
Again an area of wasted opportunity for the Royals was their crossing, as we managed to complete just THREE of 28 crosses yesterday,around 11%. That's simply not good enough and while you can blame the fact we spent 45 minutes with just one striker, Garath McCleary failed to make an accurate cross in 10 attempts. Ian Harte had two accurate attempts from 10 while Guthrie and Gunter had one in nine between them.
Breaking it down further, our inability to make those crosses count from set pieces was the most disappointing aspect. Guthrie and Harte had 7 crosses from set pieces, with none finding a Reading target. Against the bigger teams you need to make those opportunities count and both men will be disappointed that they failed to produce the goods on Sunday.
Spurs weren't a million miles better with just 4 accurate crosses, but considering they made just 16 attempts it's a much better ratio at 25% and Bale in particular was effective, completing 2 out of his 5 attempts.
Unsurprisingly Tottenham also dominated this one, out shooting us 23-7 and hitting the target eight times to our two. Pogrebnyak was particularly stifled, with just one effort throughout the game compared to his opposite lone front man Defoe, who had eight chances on goal, scoring twice.
Under Brian McDermott we've never been a shot happy team but so far we've managed just 24 shots in three games. Seven each against Chelsea and Spurs and 10 against Stoke, with our opponents out shooting us in each of those contests. Four goals from three games isn't a terrible ratio but when one is a flukey free-kick, another a penalty and a third a late consolation, there are slight reasons to be concerned with our attacking performances.
This is a stats area that seems a lot harder to quantify and draw solid conclusions from. For example according to Opta, Alex Pearce didn't make a tackle in the game, but won two of two aerial duels whatever that constitutes....
Comparing the two teams across the available stats, both seemed fairly similar, with no team dominating any of the main categories listed. The only area you might give the nod too is Spurs in terms of aerial duels, with AVB's side winning 56%-44% perhaps not surprising given our aforementioned poor crossing.
The stats backup the general impression I got from watching the game, in that Reading certainly had the opportunities to hurt Spurs but failed to make them count. When you're only completing two thirds of your passes in the attacking third you can't expect to create too much on the ground and when you complete just three crosses you're not going to get much joy in the air either.
Tottenham retained possession far better than we did and that allowed them to create more chances, it's as simple as that. Spurs didn't have the greatest game in front of goal, but when you carve out that many chances you only need a couple to go in to win you the game. Reading's strategy of working hard and containing the opposition is fine but it relies on keeping the game as tight as possible because so far this season we haven't created enough chances to go and win games 3-2 or 4-3. Giving the ball away makes preventing those chances 10 times harder than it needs to be and repeating that failing throughout the season will only lead to more results like yesterday.
I don't think stats are the be all and end all, you can generally look at a set of stats from a 100 different viewpoints, but I hope you found the above interesting and if you'd like to ask any questions about stats from yesterday's game or throughout the season then leave a comment below and I'll do my best to get it answered.
Thanks again to the EPL Index, something I can't praise enough and you can subscribe to it now right here.