The more prolonged and league based the contest, the more likely it becomes that the best teams will make it through to the very latter stages of the competition and the hybrid league/knockout format of the UCL goes part way to assisting the progress of the better sides in Europe's premier competition. However, it is the initial group seeding process that most helps the giants of European club football and as Simon Gleave brilliantly demonstrates in his latest tweets from the Scoreboard Journalism blog, City have been handed an extremely tough task as fledgling European campaigners.
The UK betting industry may have been immune to the "Mitt" factor, calling Barack as a 80%+ favourite before the polls closed, but they have undoubtedly included a small patriotic premium in their view of City's chances in a far from straightforward Group D. Leading to an inflated overall expectation for the 2011/12 English champions.
Entwining the relative merits of different leagues from different countries has become easier as the scope of European club competition has rapidly expanded. Interlocking formlines between the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona can be readily extended to the lesser lights of the Premiership, who can only dream of entertaining the Catalan giants on a wet Wednesday night somewhere in the Midlands, but regularly compete against Chelsea. It is therefore a small step to equate the talent levels of Ajax with those of Everton or at a push an under performing Arsenal.
11', de Jong, 0-1
17', de Jong, 0-2
22', Ya Ya Toure, 1-2
74', Aguero, 2-2.
Notwithstanding the high, if unrealistic hopes for City in the competition, they were quite rightly favoured to beat Ajax on Tuesday night at the Etihad. However, they suffered a dramatic reversal of roles as two close range de Jong strikes, one with his foot and one with his head gave the visitors similar expected points levels to those enjoyed by their hosts at kick off. A Toure goal bought the teams to within touching distance almost immediately and then the clock ticked in Ajax's favour as each team enjoyed bouts of possession dominance.
Aguero levelled the match with around 20 minutes of playing time remaining, but a stalemate was now much more likely than it had been at the start and despite the understandable exposure given to Baloteli's dramatic fall in the box after 93+ minutes, it's possible that the game was even over when the "foul" was committed. Certainly a team which relies on a last kick penalty for a win hasn't made full use of the previous 94 minutes.
The Likelihood of Shots from the Manchester City/Ajax UCL Game Resulting in A Goal.
|Ya Ya Toure.||22||0.15||GOAL.|
|de Jong.||33||0.01||Off Target.|
|Ya Ya Toure.||39||0.13||On Target.|
|Ya Ya Toure.||53||0.03||Blocked.|
|de Jong.||56||0.02||On Target.|
|de Jong.||71||0.04||On Target.|
|de Jong.||84||0.06||Off Target.|
|Manchester City||Cumulative Expected Goals.||1.1|
|Ajax.||Cumulative Expected Goals.||0.8|
Looked at through shot statistics, a draw may have been a fair outcome. Each side managed about a dozen attempts, but many were from distance and as such were likely to be successful around one time in 20.
De Jong was the star performer for Ajax, scoring twice and also topping the number of attempts for either side. He got on the end of the two clearest chances of the night and converted both of them, although he also benefited from a reluctance from the City defence to mark him at set pieces or close him down from distance. The projected success rates for shots accounts for pitch position, but at the moment averages the likely defensive pressure. So, and as visual evidence confirms, de Jong's chances were slightly easier than the generic probabilities imply.
De Jong's first goal came courtesy of a deflected attempt from Moisander. The defender's header was itself a solid chance from a corner and can be recorded as either an assist or an opportunity, but it does highlight the particular problems City had when defending corners early in Tuesday's game. Although to draw permanent defensive traits from such little evidence is perhaps premature.
His second strike also demonstrates the difficulty of defending headers from inside the six yard box as discussed here. City certainly erred by losing de Jong in the box, but it's unlikely that a defender on the post would have had any more joy at preventing the goal than Joe Hart had armed with the advantages of being the keeper. As a further aside, corner takers who "fail to beat the first man" are actually trying to hit the area of maximum reward, an area so ruthlessly exploited by de Jong. So criticism of their failure should be tempered by knowledge of their intentions.
Ya Ya Toure pulled a goal back with the game's third most likely opportunity, so a night of fluctuating fortunes came about because chances that were most likely to produce a goal actually did produce goals.
Aguero's equaliser again demonstrates the need to begin to assess the impact of defenders on shot probability. He had all of Ajax's defenders behind him when he took his shot from just inside the box, compared to the more likely scenario where such attempts have to navigate their way through a crowded penalty box. He also profited from Vermeer adopting the occasional Jan Jongbloed approach to shot stopping. In short Aguero's chance almost certainly had a higher likelihood of success than the average effort from that distance.
Cumulatively the reasonably large number of chances created by each side is diluted by the large number of attempts being from distance. City, as you would expect given that they were both at home and trailing for large portions of the match accumulated a higher goals expectation, but Ajax almost matched them through higher chance quality and an effective counter attacking tactic, especially later on in the game.
If this game was mindlessly played out time and time again on a spreadsheet, with no regard for current score and using the shooting data as the basis for your model, City would win 42% of the reenactments, Ajax 26% and 32 % of the matches would end in the same outcome as Tuesday night's actual reality.