It is perhaps credit to both Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte that almost as many eyes will be on their duel of the minds than there will be on the players executing the two managers’ instructions on the pitch. Tactics in the Premier League had grown stale in recent seasons, but the introduction of fresh, young blood has really livened up the landscape.
Guardiola v Conte— Premier League (@premierleague) December 2, 2016
v @ManCity v @ChelseaFC #MCICHE pic.twitter.com/bpYbucReJS
Both Guardiola and Conte have had their bad moments already and both have had tremendous winning streaks as well. Guardiola, with a busier schedule, started the season with 10 wins in a row in all competitions, but has won just 6 of the next 12. Conte is currently on a 7-match winning streak in the league, but before then had won just 3 of 6. Leading up to Saturday’s big clash, let’s see how those performances translate into the ratings system introduced yesterday.
Conte’s team post-Arsenal debacle has turned into a ruthless machine, scoring goals for fun while maintaining clean sheets at nearly the same pace.
Take the month of October, for example, when Chelsea beat Hull City, Leicester City, Manchester United and Southampton without breaking a sweat. For these efforts, Conte was awarded Manager of the month. But using the scoring system, he was actually only second most impressive that month after Stoke City’s Mark Hughes.
Wait, Whaaaatttt?? Stoke!?
Let’s take a closer look.
While Chelsea won four of four and Stoke only won three, the ratings are based on expectations. The best example to illustrate this is the Hull City away game, which both teams had on their October schedule.
Stoke and Chelsea both beat Hull by a 2-0 scoreline, but that win was “worth” only 2.021 ratings points to Conte while it tipped the scale at 3.480 for Hughes. Basically, the 2-0 result was much more expected of Chelsea than it was of Stoke. That makes sense empirically, and when translated into ratings, helps Hughes to a higher total score for the month than Conte. Sparky did drop points in one match but that was away to Manchester United and it was a fixture Stoke were expected to lose. The draw there actually gave them more ratings points than three of Chelsea’s four victories that month.
So why did Conte win the award?
Simply put, Chelsea were the only team to win all 12 points out of the 12 available. While my efficiency model gives higher weighting to transfer fees, salaries, and all the other parameters outlined earlier, the jury for the award probably did not take all those factors into account the same way.
Conte’s case was also helped by the drastic and obvious change in formation and the sudden positive reversal of fortune that it brought along. Chelsea were in a very bad moment entering the month with losses against Liverpool and Arsenal and a draw against Swansea; suddenly they were the most impressive team in the league. The narrative swing was almost as spectacular as the improvements on the pitch, but such factors are not considered in my efficiency model.
Note: Even Hughes entered the month on back of horrible results. Stoke only managed 2 points in 6 matches before October, but Hughes didn’t make drastic or notable changes like Conte and thus his accomplishments were given a bit of a short shrift by the media at large.
Chelsea have carried on this stellar form into November with three more victories out of three games, once again the only team to win all of their games for the month. Will that be enough for Conte to win the Manager of the Month Award for November? Not according to the model, but more on that next time...
Pep started his Premier League stint in the most emphatic fashion, winning his first six matches including nicking one over cross-town rivals Manchester United who are managed by his old nemesis, Jose Mourinho. City did have a blip in October when they only managed 5 points out of possible 12, but they maintained their position at the top of the table. Even now, they are only one point from first. So why is Pep Guardiola only 9th in the manager rating so far this season?
There are two factors for this, high expectations and easy fixtures. (The model is only concerned with the Premier league to create a level playing field, so Pep’s European exploits are not considered.)
Manchester United may have made all the headlines with Pogba and Zlatan and Mkhitaryan, but Manchester City actually spent more than United and presumably had at least similar outlays in terms of salaries given. While both halves of Manchester would’ve expected the title at the start of the season, according to the model, City were just ahead. United have failed to perform to expectations since (thus Mourinho’s relegation zone form as far as manager ratings are concerned), but City remain title favorites.
In a sense, Guardiola has basically performed to expectations. That’s not say he’s done a bad job, far from it, but in terms of what was expected and what he has produced, the model puts him firmly midtable.
Let’s compare the results of Guardiola and Conte so far this season.
The one common fixture between the two teams was at home to West Ham. While Conte received 2.432 points for his win, Pep Guardiola only received 1.880. This indicates a higher expectation for Manchester City to win, especially since this was all before we realized that West Ham are suddenly terrible (do note Bilić being second from the bottom in the overall rankings, just ahead of Moyesy).
What also hasn’t helped Guardiola in terms of ratings points is that he’s only faced two of the supposed title contenders through the first third of the season. In those two matches they beat Manchester United and lost to Spurs. The victory over United is their highest rated win at 3.940, but only one of their eight other victories has given Guardiola more than 2 rating points. In contrast Conte, has already crossed the 2+ ratings threshold on seven occasions.
Guardiola will get a chance to more than make up for this deficiency this month. City will host Chelsea and Arsenal before they end the calendar year with a trip to Anfield — that’s the current top four. In addition to these title rivals, City will also host mid-table standouts Watford and travel to underachieving Leicester. City (and Guardiola) could be looking at a make-or-break month as we approach the halfway point of the season.
Guardiola vs. Conte
Tallying it all up, we have Conte firmly ahead of Guardiola in terms of actual vs. expected performance. Jürgen Klopp may be head and shoulders above the rest of the league at this point, but Conte is just about next best.
Lack of tough fixtures for Manchester City has hindered Guardiola’s chances of earning big points and December could be the month that gives him that opportunity. In contrast, Conte will have easier fixtures after Saturday’s showdown at the Etihad.
This could be a pivotal month for both Chelsea and Guardiola. While Pep will have to try to make the most out of his title-fight six-pointers against the rest of the top four, Conte will have to ensure that he doesn’t let the good work done in the last two months go to waste when Chelsea face eminently winnable matches after this weekend.