## Goalkeeper Mishmash

So one of the comments on my previous post about goalkeepers talked about how the relegated teams (Wolves, Bolton and Blackburn) had the worst keepers. So I wondered how they would have done had they had better goalies. I’ve still not figured out how to correlate a goalie’s distribution success to goals scored and so I’ll simply stick to shot stopping criteria.

I use the ratio of big chances to goals in each game to figure out how a different goalkeeper would have reacted. So if I have a goalie with a 90% shot-stopping ability and the opposing team has 10 big chances in the game, then I concede 1 goal. However, if my goalie has a 50% stopping ability I let in 5.

Based on the shot-stopping success ratio of each goalkeeper and the number of big chances faced by each team in each game, I have estimated the number of goals the team would have let in in each game. Comparing this against goals scored, I have come up with a hypothetical points tally for the season.

I know I abuse excel graphics a lot but I couldn’t think of any non-excel method to present the data here. I paired each goalie who played at least 1000 minutes during the season with each team and estimated how many points the team would have raked up.

Some pertinent observations.

1. The teams on whom the quality of goalie had the most impact are Arsenal, Blackburn, Wigan and Wolves. This goes to show how much Arsenal have to credit Sczsesny for their ability to reach the Champions’ League.

2. Everton is the team where the maximum and minimum possible points due to change in goalie is minimum (4, opposed to 14 for Arsenal). Shows that they have a pretty compact and tight defence, and what stops them from a top four slot is the quality of attack.

3. Due to the low number of big chances that occur in each game and due to rounding of goals conceded, you see some kind of a discontinuity in scores as you go down the list, as well as lots of ties. There is no mistake in the data or the calculations.

4. Manchester United has a much lower “goalkeeper impact” than Manchester City. With a lesser goalie than Joe Hart, it is unlikely City would have won the title.

5. Since we use overall averages of a goalie’s shot stopping ability, these simulations show different numbers for “real” goalie-team pairs than what the teams actually achieved.

6. The difference in maximum and minimum possible points as a function of a goalkeeper is a good indication of the overall quality of a team’s defense. The table below ranks the teams as per quality of defense.

7. While Blackburn and Wolves both had poor defence, part of Bolton’s relegation blame can be attributed to the quality (or otherwise) of their goalkeepers (Adam Bogdan and Juusi Jaaskaleinen). Which makes it even more surprising that West Ham (upon re-entry to the Premier League) sold Robert Green (to QPR, where he warms the bench) and recruited Jaaskaleinen in his place.

8. Last season, Liverpool had a pretty good defence (especially their first-choice back four of Johnson-Skrtel-Agger-Enrique). Their attacking ability (and especially their finishing – same story this season) let them down badly.

## Non competitive hobbies

During my riding trip two months back, I was wondering why I enjoyed riding so much more than any of the other “hobbies” that I have indulged in over the last twenty years or so. It was tough for me to think about any other hobby that had given me as much pleasure in the early days as riding did, and no other hobby seems or seemed as sustainable as this one. As I rode, and daydreamed while I rode, I thought about what it was about riding that gave me the kind of unbridled joy that any of my other hobbies had failed to provide. The reason, I figured, was that it was not competitive (no I don’t intend to be a motorcycle racer, ever).

Looking back at the hobbies that I’ve had since childhood – be it playing chess or playing the violin or even writing, they have all been competitive hobbies. As soon as I got reasonably good at chess, I started playing competitively, and soon the pressures of tournament play got to me, I lost my love for the game and stopped playing. Violin was a little better off in the sense that for a reasonably long time I only played for myself (apart from the occasions when I had to entertain random visiting relatives). But then, I was asked to take up an examination, and then enter inter-school music contests, and I find it no surprise that I quit my lessons six months after my examinations. I must mention that I’m on the road to committing the same mistake again, in my second stint at violin learning. As things stand now, I’m scheduled to appear for the ABRSM Grade Three examination this October, but I have my reasons for that and don’t think the process of appearing for the exam will kill my love for music.

Writing remained a passion, and a hobby which I think I was rather good at, until the time I started thinking about monetization. The minute I started thinking about wanting to write for money, I lost the love for it, which might explain the deceleration in activity on this site over the last three years or so. I had lost yet another hobby to the competitive forces.

The thing with competition is that it puts pressure on you. You have to being to hold yourself to a standard other than your own, and that means you will have to do certain things irrespective of whether you think it makes sense to do that. Soon, your hobby ends up as a slave to your competition, and it is unlikely you’ll be able to sustain interest after that. You can say that the moment a hobby becomes competitive, it ceases to be a hobby and becomes “work”.

The reason I’m bullish about motorcycling at this moment is that I don’t see a means for it to become competitive. Since I don’t intend to race, and don’t care about whether others have ridden more than me or whatever, I’ll be mostly riding for myself. Yes, when I planned my Rajasthan tour, I did think of monetizing it by writing about it for the media, but that I think was more a function of wanting to monetize my writing than my riding. In the event, i didn’t get a mandate to write, and that in no way affected my enthusiasm for the ride. Rather I felt freer that I could enjoy the ride rather than thinking about what I would write about it.

As I go along, I hope to pick up one or two more such non-competitive hobbies. Of course I intend to make motorcycling a “major” hobby. As it is, I love traveling, doing it my own way and going off the beaten path. And I love the feeling as i accelerate, with the wind penetrating the air vents of my riding jacket and my thighs grabbing the petrol tank. Now if only I can convince Pinky to also take this up as a hobby..

## Analyzing #LFC

It’s been yet another frustrating season as a Liverpool FC fan. You might say that this can be said but just about every season, but unlike in the last two seasons when we played shit and there was no hope, we have actually been playing well this season, and just haven’t been able to convert that into goals. I didn’t watch the loss to Fulham and I agree we  were absolute shit against Spurs, but King Kenny’s statement that we “deserved” to have won every game apart from that Spurs game does have some merit.

I don’t remember the exact stats right now, but two things stand out. LFC has the maximum number of shots that have hit the post or crossbar this season (eighteen, if I’m not wrong). And we also have the lowest ratio in terms of goals to shots on goal. So basically it seems like we’ve been doing pretty well getting the ball into the D, but have been quite wasteful from there. The other notable stat that comes to mind is that we have conceded the least goals this season among all teams (13, I think), and that includes the time when Johnson and Agger were injured, when we had become somewhat porous. Now, with a settled back five, we seem to be doing quite well defensively despite the season-long loss of Lucas Leiva.

Despite the attacking opportunities and number of shots on goal that we’ve got, I’ve felt throughout this season that there has been something missing about this team. There’s something disjointed about the attacking moves. There’s a lack of cohesion. Back when we had Xabi, we had a natural route to switch flanks on the attack – simply pass the ball back to Xabi who will control the game. Unfortunately, good though he is, Adam is not in the same class, and so this route doesn’t seem to be that fluid.

For the first month, I thought the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle was Gerrard, and though he was good (against Man U, etc.) after seeing him play I realized he was not the answer I was looking for. To be absolutely frank, I don’t think his absence from the team (from a purely sporting perspective, without taking into account leadership and morale) has had that much of an impact.

The win against Aston Villa came quite easy (after the couple of early goals, the game was won on autopilot), but I think the big gain from the game was the performance of Jonjo Shelvey. Of course, he wasn’t involved too much, but the little I saw of him (including that back-heel that set up the first goal) showed immense promise, and hopefully he can be developed into a fine advanced midfielder. Speaking of which…

So, I think, the missing piece in the jigsaw is a clever advanced playmaker. A classic number ten, as they would call him in South America. Someone like Juan Roman Riquelme, or Mesut Ozil, or even Iniesta. Someone who plays high up the pitch, and can distribute intelligently and pass accurately. It seems now that Adam has taken on this role, but he seems a bit too slow at times, and not accurate enough. I think he is suited for a more withdrawn playmaking role, and a good number ten in front of him can do a great job of tying the team together.

It is for this reason that I was sad to see Raul Meireles go, for I thought he was someone who was quite capable of being developed for that role (I quite enjoyed how the Arsenal game transformed after he came on). Gerrard has the drive and ambition and pace and all that, but I don’t think he’s smart enough for that. Shelvey might be developed there but for now he’s too young. I’ve seen Henderson play there but again he seems to play much more like Gerrard and much less like an advanced playmaker.

That leaves two players in the squad who are capable of playing that role, but both are away on loan, and both displayed horrible form when they played for LFC. Hopefully the loan spell will help either or both of Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani to get back to form, and hope that King Kenny and co realize that the advanced playmaker role is the one that they’ve been sorely missing, and are able to keep either or both of these two when it comes to next season.

For now, though, there are other worries, with Suarez having been banned for eight games. I guess the season will continue to frustrate.

## Handling Jesus

A few months back, perhaps during the football world cup, I had talked about the role of Jesus Navas in the Spanish attack. He would mostly be brought on as a “plan B”, mostly when the Spanish tiki-taka failed to break down the opposition defence.

And by hogging the right touchline, he would single-handedly offer a new line of attack, without taking too much away from the existing tiki-taka attack down the middle. Though quite under-rated, I think he had valuable contributions in the Spanish victory.

So I was thinking about the conditions that are essential for the success of Jesus Navas. And the primary condition, I thought, was the support of his team-mates. For example, when Xavi passed the ball right to Navas, he recognized fully well that there was little chance Navas would give it back to him. Xavi would recognize that Navas would play his own game, and all he had to do would be to perhaps send Sergio Ramos to support and get players in the box waiting for the cross.

It is to the credit of Xavi and the other members of Spanish “Plan A attack” that they recognized this and allowed Navas to play his own game whenever he came on. If they hadn’t, Navas would surely have never been as effective. In fact, he would have been a complete misfit and failure.

You might want to draw your own analogies from this but what I want to say is that when you have a guy in your team who does things differently, who is there to “provide a different angle to the attack”, you need to create conditions to facilitate his work. At the very least, you need to ensure that all members of the team recognize that this guy is different, and what they need to do to enable his success.

Talking about diversity and diversity policies is all fine, but to get the best out of the diversity policy, you need to create conditions to extract the best out of the “diversity hire”, in whatever context you choose to view this.

## Antakshari

So while we were walking back from dinner tonight my wife and I decided to play Antakshari. And each time she started singing, I would instinctively stop listening and fast-forward the song in my head, trying to double guess where she would stop, and what letter that would imply, and search my mental database for songs starting with that letter.

Back when I was in 8th standard, I had challenged four of my female cousins at Antakshari, and had beaten them fairly soundly. Back then, Antakshari was considered to be a women’s game, so I was quite proud of my achievement (of course, I should admit that these cousins were younger to me) .

When I was in college, I would get into inter-hostel Antakshari teams even though my knowledge of Hindi film songs was quite limited compared to what some of the other guys knew. That was because the first written round of most intra-college and inter-college competitions was effectively a Bollywood quiz, and so I’d get taken for my relative expertise in that.

And then I remember this train journey in rural England (someplace in Kent to London Waterloo). Us three hardcore South Indian boys (Sathya, Gandhi and I; Gandhi despite being Gujju qualifies as South Indian having grown up in Bangalore) had thulped hollow hardcore North Indian girls (for the record – Bansal, Sikka and Shuchi). Playing Hindi film Antakshari! Must say I felt quite proud that day.

Thinking back, I wonder how much of an impact playing antakshari had on my Hindi vocabulary, though I would guess that hte answer is not much considering I never really got any of the lyrics. The problem persists. I still don’t “get” any lyrics, irrespective of language of the song.

## Wasting Youth

Nowadays everyone seems to be preparing for JEE. It is almost as if it is a logical progression to join some JEE coaching factory once you are done with 10th standard. Yeah, the numbers were quite large in my time (~10 yrs back) itself. But they are humongous now, and it is not funny.

Yeah, awareness about IIT and people feeling good about themselves and wanting to go study at India’s best undergraduate institutions is great. It is brilliant. Fantastic. What is not so great, brilliant and fantastic is that tens of thousands of youth are wasting two years of their prime youth trying to mug for an entrance exam in which they stand little chance of doing well.

I just hope I’m not sounding condescending here, but it intrigues me that so many people who have very little chances of making it through the JEE slog so much for it. I think it is due toe the unhealthy equilibrium that has been reached with respect to the exam, which makes everyone waste so much time. Let me explain.

So over the years the JEE has got the reputation of being a “tough” exam. And over the years, maybe due to the way papers are structured or the way factories train people, people have figured out that hard work and extra hours of preparation helps. I could get into studsandfighters mode here but in line with my promise let me try and explain without invoking the framework. And you need to remember that the JEE uses “relative grading” – how well you have done is dependent on how badly others have done.

So if everyone has put in that much extra hard work, you are likely to lose out by not putting in that extra work. And so you increase your effort. And so does everyone else. Yeah this is a single iteration game but still looking at the competition and peer pressure eveyone is forced to raise their effort. Everyone is forced to, to quote the Director of my JEE factory, “work up to human limit”.

Yeah, a few hundred people every year manage to “crack” the system and get through without putting in that much effort. But then their numbers are small compared to the number of people who get admitted, so people who get through based on sheer hard work do tend to get noticed more, and spur other aspirants to work even harder. And so forth.

Yes, there is a problem with a system. Something is not right when a large proportion of youth in the country is wasting away two years of prime youth in preparing for some entrance exam. It is easy to see the fundamental problem – shortage of “really good quality” engineering colleges (I argue that this mad fight for IIT seats shows the gap between IITs and the next level of engineering colleges – at least in terms of public perception). But considering that as given I wonder what we could change. I wonder what we could do in order to save our youth.

As an aside, one thing I’ve noticed about several JEE aspirants is that they don’t give up. I don’t know if this is necessarily a good thing – to carry on with the mad fight even if you know that your chances of making it are remote. Yeah I’m sure there is peer pressure and status issues with respect to giving up. But then I suppose I would have a lot more respect for someone who would give up and enjoy life rather than continue the mad fight knowing fully well that his chances are remote.

Looking back, I do regret wasting those two years in mad JEE mugging. Ok I must admit I did have my share of fun back then but still looking back I would have definitely preferred to have not worked so hard back then. And of course I count myself lucky that I got through the JEE and my hard work in those two years wasn’t in vain.

## The Switch

Cafe Coffee Day is among the most unromantic places to go on a first date, or so they say. But then you need to understand that the venue can do only so much when it comes to creating the right “atmosphere” for the date. So if you think you are yourselves capable enough of doing a good job of creating a good “atmosphere”, you don’t need to bother about trivialties such as how “romantic” a place is or how good it is in creating “atmosphere” and just pick a place that makes practical sense.

There has been so much of One Day International cricket of late that it is difficult to keep track of various series and tournaments. One tournament that similarly got lost, mostly because the ultimate result was unremarkable (Australia won yet again) was the Champions Trophy, which happened (I think) in South Africa. I don’t remember much of the tournament; I don’t think I watched much of it. All I remember was that there was a game where India played Australia, and that Australia batted first.

Seating arrangement plays an important factor on a first date. Optimal seating arrangement ensures the optimal arrangement of eye contact. Sitting beside each other means you need to put too much effort to establish eye contact, and that is way too much energy. Sitting opposite each other can lead to overexposure – if things aren’t going that well, it’s tough to keep looking into each other’s eyes and that can lead ot awkward moments. It might be interesting to do some academic research in this matter but my hunch is that for a first date a ninety-degree seating arrangement is optimal.

For a few months now I have been on a diet. It has not been without results – my weight has come down by almost a fourth in the last six months. I haven’t done anything drastic, just a set of simple principles. And one of them is “no sugar in coffee”. I’ve given up on tea altogether since I can’t have it without sugar. When you are on a date, however, it is not nice to show off that you are on a diet, especially if you are a guy. it doesn’t give a good picture. So a good strategy is to order something like espresso, which you can claim tastes best without sugar!

I think it was an appeal for LBW that triggered it, but I’m not sure. I do remember, however, that it was a strong appeal that was turned down, but I don’t remember the nature of dismissal. Ashish Nehra was bowling if I’m not wrong. I have no clue who was batting. Maybe it was Haddin, or was it Paine who was opening in that tournament? Not that it matters.

Onlookers might have thought that the move was choreographed given how well we executed it. I don’t even remember their being too much eye contact as it happened. I don’t remember there being any conversation about it as it happened. All I remember is that one moment I was being distracted by Ashish Nehra’s appeal, and the next I was sitting with my back to the TV, comfortably settled where she had been settled a moment earlier, with her having taken my original place.

And I remember that our coffees had also exchanged places along with us!

## The Film Game

So today I was introduced to this “hangout game” called Film Aata (the Film Game). The rules of this game are fairly simple. Through a slightly complicated process, you pick a random letter in the alphabet. Everyone is given a certain amount of time (we played with five minutes), and in that time you need to write down as many films as possible whose names start with that letter.

It’s a fairly simple and fun (though can’t be played for too long or too often given that the number of letters in the alphabet) but what makes it interesting is the scoring system. You get points for each UNIQUE movie whose name that you have written. So basically if you’ve written down the name of a movie which at least one other person has written down, you get no points for it. So apart from knowing the names of lots of movies you need to know movies that others don’t know (and it’s useful to have a resource such as IMDB handy).

So basically correlation matters! If there is one other player in the group who has similar tastes as yours, you are bound to get screwed. For example, the two people with whom I was playing this game today are sisters, so there was a major overlap in the names of the movies that they knew, which meant that on a relative scale I performed better than I would have considering the length of my total list.

I found the game extremely interesting! Now, here is a modification that would make the game more interesting. Put a cap on the total number of movie names that a player can write, all other rules staying the same. Currently, with no limits, you will end up writing names of all movies that you can think of. There is no strategy per se involved in the game. It’s more a test of memory.

However, once we put a cap, that brings in an element of strategy to the game. Now you will need to pick and choose the movies whose names you want to put down – to choose the movies that you know other people won’t know. And in case the cap is really low, then to pick and choose the movies whose names you know others won’t write. Insane game theory scope are there!

This also makes the game more repeatable – you can play it more often with different sets of people, and each time you’ll be trying to read the minds of different people and that will make things fun. With the same set of people, you can play with different caps, giving a new strategy each time.

It’s a simple game. A kids’ game. Something that might appear to be all too simplistic on the face of it, but this simplicity allows easy innovation, and that can make the game extremely fun!

## IPL Fixing

If Chennai  beat Punjab today, then both RCB and DC will go through to the semis. Right now all three teams (Punjab, Bangalore, Hyd) are on 14 points and Punjab has a significantly lower NRR than the other two. So irrespective of who wins tomorrow’s game, it is likely that both are going to go through.

If Punjab lose tonight, then Kumble and Gilly can sit down and “cut the IPL melon” and decide among themselves who wants to face Chennai and who wants to face Delhi. And fix tomorrow’s match accordingly. As long as either RCB wins or if DC doesn’t win by a big margin, both go through. Splendid stuff.

Which is why, in football, in all leagues all last round games are played simultaneously. This happened after in the 1982 world cup, Germany and Austria figured out that as long as Germany would win 1-0, both would go through to the quarters ahead of Algeria. So Germany scored quickly, and then both they and Austria just passed the ball around for the rest of the game and chucked out Austria Algeria.

however, the iPL is more about money and about TRPs than about real competition so we are unlikely to see the last four games being played simultaneously.

Update

Ok so through some expert analysis I’ve come to the following conclusion after yesterday’s games.

1. Deccan Chargers are through irrespective of today’s result

2. Royal Challengers Bangalore can also be through even if they lose. All they need to make sure is that if Deccan bats first, then the margin of victory is not more than 75 runs. If Bangalore bats first, they need to make sure that Deccan takes at least 10 overs to reach the target.

Note that these numbers are approximate and will vary with the exact score that is made. But these two numbers can be taken as a ballpark.

Bottomline is that unless RCB mess up royally, Punjab are on their way home.