Dead Cat Bounce

It feels like, this season more than most, the conversation surrounding the Premier League has centred on the employment and performance of managers. Pep Guardiola has rightly been lauded for the manner in which his Manchester City team has swiped aside the rest of the league in their quest for a third Premier League title, while Jose Mourinho has never been far from the backpage headlines. The future of Antonio Conte has been cause for much discussion in recent weeks, while Arsene Wenger’s systematic destruction of his legacy in North London is a soap opera played out across the world on a weekly basis. Much of the conversation earlier in the season swung from British managers not being given a chance in the Premier League to four British managers being appointed in quick succession despite recent failings. Regardless of the somewhat controversial circumstances surrounding their appointments, the four managers in question – Messrs Hodgson, Moyes, Allardyce and Pardew – all secured positive results for their new teams early on in their tenures, which of course gave the commentariat to trot out their favourite cliché: The New Manager Bounce™.

The rules of The New Manager Bounce™ are simple: if a newly appointed manager improves a team’s results during their first five games in charge, comparative to the five games prior to appointment, his new club is experiencing The New Manager Bounce™. There are multiple factors The New Manager Bounce™ fails to consider – for example the fixture list, the return of key players from injury, or a the kind of regular slump in form that every team faces from time to time. Though it’s often attributed to teams towards the bottom of the Premier League in the midst of a Relegation Dogfight™, The New Manager Bounce™ has also been known to cast its mystical spell on underachieving teams towards the top end of the table, namely Chelsea. With Roman Abramovich displaying the kind of patience found almost exclusively in the average London commuter, its unsurprising that his tenure has seen five mid-season managerial reshuffles. The most recent came during Chelsea’s attempt to achieve the worst title defence in history in 2015. After a remarkable nine defeats in their first sixteen games, Jose Mourinho was shown the door marked Exit at Stamford Bridge for the second time in his career, and cuddly Dutch Uncle Guus Hiddink stepped in to steady the champions ship for the remainder of the season. The Blues lost only three more games all season, and finished a barely respectable 10th. Hiddink, of course, had been here before, when Big Phil Scolari’s audacity saw his Chelsea side drop to fourth in the league midway through the 08/09 season, Abramovich politely asked him to clear his desk, and Hiddink oversaw a run in during which Chelsea dropped just five points from 13 games, securing a Champions League place. Roberto Di Matteo and Rafael Benitez both stepped in halfway through successive seasons to win European trophies, and The New Manager Bounce™ legend continues to live on in West London.

Pardew

This season the focus on new managers has been directed towards the bottom of the league, with six sides in the bottom half changing the man in charge at some point this season. Each of those appointments has witnessed an upturn in form, albeit only slightly in some instances. Tony Pulis was sacked by West Bromwich Albion having suffered four defeats and a draw in his final five games, so Alan Pardew faced a fairly straightforward task when we was appointed in the be-capped Welshman’s stead. Having secured two draws from his first five games, Pardew technically oversaw a bounce, even if it was imperceptible to the naked eye. Paul Lambert’s tenure at Stoke is barely two months old, so any judgement on his performance so far comes with a ‘wait-and-see’ caveat, but after winning his first game in charge at home to Huddersfield Town, the former Aston Villa manager had almost matched the total from Mark Hughes’ last five games at his first attempt. Subsequent draws with Watford, Brighton and Leicester saw him outstrip his predecessor’s efforts. Roy Hodgson’s task of improving Crystal Palace was made far easier by the nightmare start suffered by Frank De Boer at the beginning of the season. Four games, four defeats and no goals left Hodgson with a blank canvas, and a win at home to Chelsea in his fourth game helped kick-start the Eagles season. Similarly, Sam Allardyce at Everton, Carlos Carvalhal at Swansea, and David Moyes at West Ham, have all provided short term upturns in form. But does The New Manager Bounce™ really exist?

Err, no, actually. In his book Soccernomics, football writer and sometime statistician Simon Kuper explains that the upswing in a team’s results after the change of manager is not the result of some intangible myth, but rather that a team’s form is cyclical.

“The new manager doesn’t usually cause the swing. He’s just its beneficiary. Perhaps some players do briefly work harder to impress him, though on that logic clubs should sack managers even more often.”
Simon Kuper, Soccernomics

Kuper argues that, sooner or later, regardless of who the manager is, a team will eventually regress to the mean. This seems particularly applicable to Leicester City who, after their extraordinary title win in 2016, spent much of the following season battling relegation under Claudio Ranieri. Once Craig Shakespeare was appointed following Ranieri’s sacking, the team’s results picked up – of course they did, they were, for the most part, the best team in the country less than a year earlier. The same could be said of the upswing at Chelsea after Mourinho’s sacking. The reigning champions were down in 15th place, but with the abundance of talent at their disposal it was unlikely they wouldn’t hit a purple patch of form at some point throughout the season. In both those examples it can be noted that strain had been placed on the previous manager’s relationship with the players. At Leicester, Ranieri gave his players the hump by banning trips to Nandos, while Mourinho’s very public flaying of physiotherapist Eva Carneiro had a negative impact on his dressing room. Perhaps Shakespeare and Hiddink profited, not from being better managers than their predecessors, but just being different people. Further studies have been carried out in an attempt to support or debunk the idea of a new manager bounce, and research by London based sports consultants 21 Club has concluded that an upturn in form for a new manager is down to chance. After studying results across Europe’s top five leagues, 21 Club discovered that, while clubs who change manager generally pick up on average 0.8 points per game before the change and 1.2 points afterwards, the statistics within that spread of matches are virtually identical – it just so happens that the chances created across those sixteen matches tend to go in more often with a new man in charge. Omar Chaudhuri, Head of Football Intelligence at 21 Club, used Jurgen Klopp’s final season at Dortmund as a case in point. The club were bottom of the league by February, but the owners didn’t panic, stuck with the manager, and the team’s luck changed, ending the season in championship winning form to stay in the Bundesliga.

Carvalhal

So The New Manager Bounce™ is a thing of fiction, but what about the Dead Cat Bounce? For the uninitiated, Dead Cat Bounce is a term used in finance, whereby a declining stock experiences a brief recovery before continuing on its downward trend. Given the renewed criticism that many of those managers who have found themselves new jobs this season are now facing, is it a case that, in certain circumstances, most managerial appointments provide the Dead Cat Bounce? Having analysed the win percentage and points per game (PPG) records of each new appointment this season then splitting them into two halves, we can garner some idea of whether each manager’s impact on their new team is sustainable, or whether they, like their predecessors, are manning a sinking ship.

Alan Pardew’s reign at West Brom seems the most pertinent place to start, given the ailing nature of his tenure at the Hawthorns. Having just about scraped into the bounce category in his first five games, the first half of Pardew’s reign reaped a meagre 0.5 PPG, while the second half has seen an upturn, with the Baggies now registering 1.75 PPG, thanks in no small part to their solitary win under Pardew against Huddersfield Town. That still leaves the Dad-dancer with an overall total of 0.53 PPG which, unsurprisingly, is bottom of the league form. Paul Lambert’s six games in charge of Stoke have garned 1.16 PPG, though his win percentage has dropped from 33.3% to 0% – with such a small sample this can be attributed to a tough run of fixtures, but it was widely agreed that at the time of Lambert’s appointment Stoke were heading into a kind run – five of the six sides Stoke have faced under Lambert were in the bottom half when the fixtures took place. Roy Hodgson faced Manchester United and Manchester City in his second and third games in charge at Crystal Palace, but a win percentage of 23% in the first half of his spell helped lift Palace out of the relegation zone. The split in Hodgson’s statistics arrives slap bang in the middle of Palace’s best spell of form this season, as they went eight games unbeaten through November and December, so unsurprisingly the PPG stats turn out to be very similar – 1.07 in the first half of the season and 1.08 in the second half. David Moyes is another who, after derision upon his appointment was replaced with quiet respect, has found himself under renewed scrutiny, though the statistics suggest this is misplaced. Despite losing consecutive games 4-1 in recent weeks, Moyes’ record in the second half of the season actually gazumps his first, with his win percentage shooting up from 22% to 33% and his PPG ratio raising from 1 to 1.33. On the flipside of all this is Carlos Carvalhal, this season’s poster boy for The New Manager Bounce™. Having not long been given the heave ho by Sheffield Wednesday, many thought Carvalhal’s appointment was a sign of Swansea preparing themselves for life in the Championship. Instead, the Portuguese manager boasts the fifth highest PPG ratio in the Premier League, and the sixth height win percentage having lost just two of his nine games so far. The elephant in the room is, of course, Sam Allardyce. Stripping away the context of the quality of the squad he inherited, or the £50m he’s since spent on improving it, Allardyce enjoyed a solid start to life in the Goodison Park hot-seat. A win percentage of 37.5 and a total of 1.5 PPG in his first eight games represents a considerable upturn for a side on a downwards slope. Since then, results have deteriorated (incidentally the downturn began after the closure of the transfer window). With limp performances away from home seeing Everton lose five of their last eight, Allardyce’s PPG ratio has dropped to 1, giving him a total of 1.26, while his win percentage has plummeted to 28.5.

Admittedly these statistics are based on limited data, but they do provide a decent benchmark when it comes to assessing how each of these managers are currently performing. To install a little more context into the figures, we can throw back to Simon Kuper and Soccernomics: ‘Typically, the average club earns 1.3 points a match. Typically, Bridgewater found, a club sacks its manager when it averages only 1 point a match—that is, at a low point in the cycle.’ Based on the final standings of the last ten Premier League seasons, averaging 1.3 points a game would earn a team a final position anywhere between 8th and 11th, while 1 point per game would usually take the battle for relegation down to the final day – survival depending on the fecklessness of those below. Of those managers in the bottom half appointed this season, only Carlos Carvalhal currently possesses a PPG ratio over 1.3, while Alan Pardew is the only one to sink below a point per game. If we flood the stats with wider context, we can analyse each managers perfomance using educated assumptions. Newly promoted teams, for example, will rarely record more than a point per game across a season, and so Rafa Benitez, David Wagner and Chris Hughton are all performing at least on par with expectations. Similarly, teams that struggled last year under previous managers are unlikely to see a sudden upswing in results, meaning that Lambert and Hodgson are also in line with the mean performance of their sides – Stoke recorded 1.15 PPG last season, just shy of Lambert’s 1.16 PPG total so far, and Crystal Palace’s total of 1.07 from 2016/17 is exactly the same as Hodgson’s current ratio. Swansea also struggled last season, recording 1.07 PPG, making Carvalhal’s total all the more remarkable (though the chance of this being a Dead Cat Bounce is always possible). David Moyes’ total currently falls just shy of the 1.18 recorded by West Ham last season, though it is likely to be enough to see the Hammers finish lower-midtable. Once again, the biggest outlier is Allardyce and Everton. The Toffees finished 7th with 1.6 PPG last season and, while they’ve been stripped of their top scorer, a net transfer spent of £50m should have been more than enough to propel them above their current position. The fact that Allardyce has made the Toffees difficult to watch as well as ineffective is an indictment on his ability to manage at a bigger club. Ironically his current PPG ratio would’ve been enough to see Everton finish in 8th last season.

So what conclusions can we draw from these figures? Well, in all likelihood Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew will be looking for new jobs in the summer should they fail to produce another upswing in results in the remainder of the season, and depending on what kind of mood the Dildo Brothers find themselves in, David Moyes might be following suit. But it also provides further fuel to the argument that, based on these figures, all of the old faces brought in to steady ships earlier in the season have proved themselves to be below average and ineffectual when it comes to turning results around. Carlos Carvalhal and Claude Puel, meanwhile, have been doing excellent jobs – but what do they know about the Premier League?

 

Figures correct for Premier League fixtures up to 09/03/18

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