Data Rant: Moyes vs Van Gaal

January 18, 2015 Tags: , , Data 13 comments
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Manchester United’s victory against Premier League strugglers QPR increased the Reds’ total to 40 points this season. It was United’s 22nd game of a mixed campaign. Much has been made of the total after 21 games – just 37 points – the same amount David Moyes’ side had amassed at the same time last season. So who has really done better – Moyes or Louis Van Gaal?

The comparison is simplistic of course, but United’s net spend of £122 million during the summer transfer window, together with Van Gaal’s reputation, raised the hopes of many fans. The voices of discontent are just starting to surface though even if it is United’s Premier League position that ultimately counts. On that front Van Gaal has bettered Moyes by three positions.

United’s points total does raise questions about the summer’s heavy spending though. Not least because the gap between United and leaders is 12 points – just two better than at this stage last season. There is also a sound argument that United owe Liverpool and Arsenal for performing noticeably worse. Perhaps it is others’ failure rather than United’s progress that is keeping Van Gaal’s side in the top four?

Van Gaal has failed to convincingly implement his philosophy this season, while the renaissance of some players, such as Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young, can very much be put down to factors other than the new manager.

Of course comparing one season to another always raises problems. It is important to compare relative performance of teams against the league as a whole. United’s points earned against ‘lesser’ teams and those snatched from those punching well over their weight cannot be compared in a simple numerical fashion.

Arsenal, for example, is 12 points worse off compared to 2013/14, although the Gunners strengthened across the board during the summer and boast arguably the league’s best forward in Alexis Sanchez. Southampton, by contrast, has improved despite losing players in the summer.

It can be argued that the rest of the league has improved to the point where the advantage offered by the Chilean to Arsenal is cancelled out. Perhaps United has managed the seemingly meagre 37 points, precisely, because the Reds spent so heavily during the summer?

In this analysis the average points won after 21 games is more or less the same across the past five seasons; football is a zero-sum game and wins are cancelled out by losses. Standard deviation measures the spread between teams and is, therefore, much more crucial in judging the league’s seasonal strength.


Of the five Premier League seasons analysed here 13/14 was the most ‘loose’ campaign. City, Liverpool and Chelsea may have been within two points of each other, but the performance of the bottom half was worst. Simply put, top teams could easily feed off the minnows.

This season is paradoxically the second tightest measured and the league is noticeably closer than last season. Chelsea and City are speeding ahead of the pack, but teams such as Swansea City have markedly improved from last season. In particular, West Ham United has won 15 more points than in the previous season. Simply, the minnows have flexed their muscles and Liverpool, and others, have failed to meet the challenge.

This is not necessarily the case at United. With the strength of other teams accounted for, Van Gaal is doing better than Moyes accordingly to this analysis – taking United to the 86th percentile in Premier League performance compared with Moyes on the 76th.

Each season follows a unique bell curve. The 2013/14 season may be thought of as a curve centered at 29.2 and the Reds sit 76 percent along the curve. Using this fact, Van Gaal’s United is placed on the 2013/14 curve and Moyes’ on the current curve for this simulation. Just like inflation eats away at money’s real value, points are affected by relative league strength. While this observation is firmly in the realm of fantasy, since the playing squad has undergone much change, evidence points to Van Gaal having done a marginally better job than Moyes.


It is also worth recalling that January 2014 marked the start of a period in which United unraveled – the Reds headed out of Europe and Moyes out of Old Trafford. There is no reason to suspect such a drastic turn of events under Van Gaal. After all, while United brought in Angel di Maria and Ramadel Falcao, thousands of games worth of experience in Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Ryan Giggs has not been carried over to the current regime – and the new manager been forced to weather a severe injury crisis.

With all that said, the Reds’ performance has not yet demonstrably justified the vast summer outlay. The mathematics suggest Van Gaal is doing better than Moyes, but the improvement is small. Besides, the Dutchman’s goal should never be to merely better the Real Sociedad manager.


I'm Louis van Gaal - January 18, 2015 Reply

I’m not a looser. I have better philosophy than this Dahahahahvid Moyes.

John Babbitt - January 18, 2015 Reply

The only thing that matters is table position.

Andy - January 19, 2015 Reply

you did forget to mention about the injuries & the numerous changes lvg as had to make to the side compare that with moyes relatively injury free team last season.

Ed - January 19, 2015 Reply

You mean the bit where Jay says: “the new manager been forced to weather a severe injury crisis”? I find that being a smartarse helps when you actually read what you’re being a smartarse about.

ken abbot - January 19, 2015 Reply

i am just getting a bit bored of the continual comparisons between D. MOYES & L.V.G and their respective records as i believe that when the season ends is the time for final comparisons, and hopefully MAN. UTD. will be heading into next years CHAMPIONS LEAGUE competition, so with that in mind and a fair degree of spare time available to me ( i’m an age pensioner ), i have done a bit of research as regards UTDS. current position to the same time last year as well as other clubs and it doesn’t make good reading for some
2013/14 2014/15

ARSENAL 22 51 24 CHELSEA 22 52 32
M.CITY 22 50 38 M. CITY 22 47 23
CHELSEA 22 49 23 STHAMTON 22 42 21
LIVER’LL 22 43 25 M. UTD. 22 40 15
SPURS 22 43 3 ARSENAL 22 39 14
EVERTON 21 41 15 SPURS 22 37 2
M. UTD. 22 37 9 LIVER’LL 22 35 4

from these figures it is obvious that MAN. UTD. are actually performing better than 4 of the other clubs from last season, and before anybody starts screaming about the money outlayed in transfers. where would CHELSEA & MAN CITY be had they not been bought by their BILLIONAIRE owners??. it is only my biased opinion, but i reckon the both of them would still be RUN-OF-THE-MILL, MID TABLE , PLODDERS. As i said at the start. ” wait ’til seasons end ” A final comment re EVERTON . They are like mushrooms. Come up overnight the disappear just as quick!!

Ekeson Bross - January 19, 2015 Reply

I dont tink this is the right time to jorge them, becouse we have seing the end of Moyise seasin but Van Gear seasin is not yet complet. My only advice to Van Gear as a corent coach is Please let us go bak to our 4 4 2 line up, this 3 5 2 is not helping us at alll and allso am missing our 1st and 2nd formal captin VIDIC and EVRA how i wish we can get strong peple like them in that bak wit our 4 4 2 line up wit all this good midlefiders we have now, i belive we can do beter. EKENE

Subterranean Steve - January 19, 2015 Reply

Lots of ‘ifs and buts’ with data comparison.

There were signs that Moyes was out of his depth from the start and so it was proved to be; too long in the comfort zone at Goodison to be able to rise to the Old Trafford challenge.Van Gaal was a different proposition, he had a reputation as a top line coach with an impressive (if a touch outdated) CV.

Consequently, Van Gaal started with more respect than Moyes and has had a much easier ride from fans during comparably awkward times. Even so, at this stage of the season, Van Gaal has created far more questions than answers than did dithering Dave.

Fusilli Jerry - January 19, 2015 Reply

Steve makes THE salient point: Van Gaal has had an incredibly easy ride from the media and supporters, partly because his tortured use of the English language has conveniently complicated proper analysis of his thinking.

Absolutely we should be comparing his record to Moyes, but making a full and fair comparison: people forget, the Scot also steered United to the quarter finals of the CL and the semi finals of the League Cup.

One other difference: I wanted Moyes out before he was officially in. With van Gaal, I will always be able to trace the moment I first knew I wanted him to go: when I saw the starting XI and subs selection, and the formation, for away to QPR.

Mickey Pearce from only fools and horses - January 19, 2015 Reply

I have been increasingly puzzled by Van Gaal’s selection choices, particularly his ignoring of Herrera, his playing of players out of position and his persistence with wing backs. However, a chap called Josh McCardle left the following defence of Van Gall in the comments section of the Guardian after the QPR game, which I found eye opening:

” Van Gaal said that the reason for playing 3 at the back is that while United don’t create many chances they defend reasonably well. Switching to a 4 at the back virtually opens the flood gates, and that was in evidence yesterday. Jones, Evans and Smalling are average defenders when fully fit, and none of them ever seem to be match fit (case in point, Evans is injured AGAIN and Smalling picked up a knock in the warmup yesterday).

Every game is a balancing act with players like Carrick and Blind employed to babysit the back 3. Rooney is playing in midfield because usually he retains possession pretty well and does a good job of winning it back. Di Maria is playing up front for exactly the opposite reasons. The whole team is being blunted in order to babysit the defence, and Van Gaal is relying on the individual qualities of players like Di Maria, Mata and Rooney to just somehow force a goal, knowing as he said that United don’t create many “natural” chances in this system. This is why Van Persie is in the starting XI when fit. Look at the goals he scored at St. Mary’s. The only two chances he had all game – one from a defensive error and the other from a set piece – and he finds the net both times. Rooney needs a few chances in a game to get a goal. Falcao so far does not look anything like clinical.

The notion that Van Gaal is obsessed with 3-5-2 and won’t change to a more conventional system through pride or stubbornness is ridiculous. This season is all about getting back into the Champions League. At the moment United are in the top four. If Van Gaal allows his players to go charging around leaving the defence exposed we will be back in 7th by the end of the season. Next season with a few choice acquisitions we’ll start to see Van Gaal’s vision for the team. Fans need to get with the program and resign themselves to just enjoying the occasional moments of good football we’re seeing. “

julian - January 19, 2015 Reply

Comparisons at this stage are of little value. If LvG was any other manager without a track record of success at the highest level, the criticism would be almost overwhelming. He’d certainly be fearing for his job should the club drop out of the top four. Not so LvG.

This proves the point that succeeding SAF was always going to be an enormous challenge and not one to be given to anyone who did not have the personality, the confidence and above all the track record to take it on. Moyes had none of those and was almost certainly doomed to fail. LvG is totally different and has an aura about him built around the pre-requisite qualities needed for this football jobs of all football jobs.

Whether or not he’ll succeed in the end – only time will tell. Based on history though there’s every chance that he will.

mancmanme - January 20, 2015 Reply

It’s tempting to try and find progress, or the lack of it, through the analysis of data but it cannot take into account the emotional factors such as ‘not having David Moyes as manager’. Not having David Moyes as manager must be worth at least a Carling Cup success or a semi-final in Europe. The sheer utter misery of knowing that we would be played off the park, at home, by a good number of sides and bored rigid for the majority of others was just too much to take.
Lord Louis Van God may not be presenting an overwhelmingly coherent approach with regard to his ‘philosophy’, that I admit, but short of taking a piss on the United Trinity Statue, he will get the time and resources to get it right.

Ed - January 20, 2015 Reply

This is a good point. Whatever Van Gaal’s success or failures he is the ‘not Moyes’ strategy.

The Moyes Experiment - January 20, 2015 Reply

@datarant Jay dissects the league akin to the hardiest Elliot Wave acolytes.More importantly presently LVG has the dressingroom

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