It’s not often I seek solace in the raspy tones of Sheryl Crow, but after one point from the opening two league games I am left hoping a change really does do you good.
Notts’ evolution from the niggly and direct 442, with a narrow midfield and overlapping fullbacks, into a formation including natural wide players has been well-publicised in pre-season. There’s been promising flashes too. Boldewijn unleashed an unstoppable effort vs Cambridge and Thomas’ audacious lob nearly caught the Colchester keeper out in an otherwise uneventful opening game, giving hope that Notts’ new shape is beginning to take its first tentative steps. But as we head into a Friday night match with Yeovil, it’s still very much in its infancy – with about the same level of coordination but less dribbling.
— Notts County FC (@Official_NCFC) August 17, 2018
Some pessimistic Notts fans are already sharpening their pitchforks and effigies of Brisley and even Nolan (!!) are being woven as they sense a sacrifice may be necessary to change our fortunes.
But, with the help of Ben Mayhew’s excellent ‘squad churn’ data analysis, I’m hoping to convince them to not light the wicker man just yet…
Notts’ summer transfer activity has equated to a squad churn of 58.4% meaning that we have retained more than half of players responsible for last season’s total minutes on the pitch. As an interesting (and perhaps significant) contrast, Cambridge boast the division’s highest retention at 76.7% while Colchester have retained 62.6% meaning Notts have faced two sides far more settled than their own. So perhaps a greater reflection of Nolan’s new Notts will come against a Yeovil side with only 48% of squad retention.
So that’s the short-term issue potentially cleared up, that Notts are simply trying to bed-in a new system against sides more settled than their own. But what of our long-term ambitions? Will this overhaul of the squad hamper our objective of promotion this season? The data, thankfully, suggests Sheryl was on to something…
The last three title winners of League 2 had an average squad churn of just over 53% (Northampton 54.2, Portsmouth 53.8 and Accrington 51.4) whilst promotion winners can range from 75.6% (Bristol Rovers 15/16) to as little as 33.1% retention (Coventry 17/18) and have an average churn of 59.5% – Notts being just 1% under this golden figure.
But data can only tell us so much. What gives me confidence that Notts’ transformation is in good hands is the fact that Nolan himself has experienced this type of transition as a player. Under Allardyce, Nolan’s role from unconvincing centre-half to a dominant and deadly midfielder shows a willingness to adapt to new expectations and roles. As a player, he not only won three promotions to the Premier League but was part of sides who then had to adapt to life in the Premier League and survive. And they all did.
Allardyce’s influence on Nolan cannot be underestimated either. At the launch of Paul Smith’s excellent book Record Breakers, physio Roger Cleary testified that, for all Big Sam’s faults, he would willingly adapt and change things where necessary – be that on the field or off it – to achieve success.
And if all that doesn’t convince you, just remember this final statistic: 0% of those squad-churning, promotion-winning League 2 sides from the last three seasons sacked their manager.