AVB: 4-3-3 is better! RDM: No, 4-2-3-1 is better! AVB: SHAMPOO IS BETTER!
At the beginning of the summer, I had grand plans of posting statistical summaries of Chelsea's historic 2011/12 season. Then as life, death, work, and fun continually (and in varying order) intervened, things fell by the wayside. Suddenly we find ourselves just a few days before the first match of the 2012/13 season! Hopefully that's enough time to talk about a few pluses and minuses at least.
The prevailing theme had been to apply some hockey-style mechanics to the football stats and that's where we will continue with the good ol' Plus/Minus. The only difference in its application is that there are no power plays to account for and penalty shots do count.
Since there are only five non-goalie players on the ice at most times, the Plus/Minus may carry a bit more meaning in hockey* (i.e. at most, only 5 outfield players would factor into a goal), but it's not entirely meaningless in football either - especially when we cast it in the context of formations (this post - i.e. "goal difference"), individual players (next post), and player partnerships (next next post).
* even more so when you combine it with stuff like Corsi Numbers (Shots +/-) and the like...
Complicating matters and data tables slightly is the managerial change, although the two of them divide quite clearly along the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 battle lines. Both men stuck almost exclusively to their formation of choice, with just a tiny-tiny sprinkling of the occasional 4-4-2 thrown in. I did not try to assign a formation for when Chelsea played with one or two men down.
In a few instances, I also simplified matters by lumping a few wacky line combinations into more recognized structures. The unorthodox 4-1-3-2 of the early season matchup with Norwich City springs to mind (shifted to a 4-3-3), or that one time when for 7 minutes we had the following out there: Cech - Cahill, Luiz, Cole - Meireles, Lampard - Malouda, Mata, Ramires - Drogba, Torres. I don't even know what to call that (3-2-3-2?), so I lumped it into a 4-4-2 with Ramires as the nominal right back.
Let's look at the Premier League first: 38 games, 3420 minutes. If you're a fan of AVB, cherish this, because this is the only one where his 4-3-3 shows the better results. If you're still bitter over how Di Matteo de-prioritized the league and exposed our lack of any true squad depth, look away (thank the maker for that 6:1 beatdown of QPR!).
Champions League: 13 games, 1230 minutes. The contrast between the struggles of AVB's 4-2-3-1 (Leverkusen, Napoli) and the defensive magnificence of Di Matteo's version is quite clear. Robbie cheated just once on his 4-2-3-1: during the last 26 minutes of the First Miracle of Stamford Bridge, v. Napoli.
FA/League Cup: 10 games, 960 minutes. The right-hand side of this chart looks quite handy. On the other hand, AVB sure had his hands full with red cards: Chelsea were down a man (that's TWO hands) almost a quarter of the
Overall: 61 games, 5610 minutes. Without dwelling too much on opposition quality and the like, Chelsea were slightly more efficient in a 4-3-3: +25 over 2963 minutes (a +1 every 118 minutes), as opposed to the 4-2-3-1 (a +1 every 126 minutes). Comparing just each manager's "strength" however, Di Matteo comes out well on top (101 minutes for each RDM-4231 +1 v. 121 minutes for each AVB-433).
In fact, he's almost as good as when Chelsea play a man or two short (also 101 minutes for each +1). We clearly need to get more red cards (or play Swansea City and/or Barcelona at all times; certainly NOT Manchester City)!