It’s been 7 games (and just under 5 months) since Igor Stimac took over as Head Coach of the Blue Tigers and that’s probably just enough time to have an early peek under the hood of the Senior Men’s National Team.
Note: To keep this analysis relevant, we’re excluding the games played in the 2018 SAFF cup as that was effectively an U23 side and, the-behind-closed-doors draws against Oman prior to the AFC Championships, and NorthEast United earlier this week.
Since the start of 2018, India have posted the following results:
In almost every metric, Constantine’s India out-performed Stimac’s current side. However, it must be noted that the standard of the opposition has been significantly higher in Stimac’s reign. Further, all of Constantine’s numbers are padded by large wins against Chinese Taipei and 2 games against a second-string Kenyan side.
In fact, the average ELO rating of the the last 10 teams faced by Constantine is 1383, including the games played at the AFC Asian Cup 2019. Stimac’s India have faced teams with an average strength of 1443. The 60 point swing is essentially the difference between sides like Kenya or Azerbaijan and the likes of Syria or Jordan. It may not look like much, but it is a step-up.
Accordingly, when we look at the Goal Difference (GD) vs Expected Goal Difference (xGD), we can see that there is a massive drop-off towards the end of the Constantine era, when the Blue Tigers started playing higher quality sides in preparation for the Asian Championships. Stat-padding under lower quality sides also made the GD in the Constantine era significantly outperform expectations.
Under Stimac, that over-performance has regressed and our results largely match expectations… until the games against Oman and Qatar, where the results were much better than our performances suggest.
In fact, if you look at the number of goals India were expected to score or concede based on their underlying performances, there is a significant dip in India’s attacking play and a rise in the quality of chances conceded per game under the Croatian. We are playing against slightly better opponents and a dip in performance is to be expected, but our underlying numbers are shambolic.
So why does it look like India’s performances are suffering under Stimac? One reason could be the style of play – Stimac has tried to play a more open game than Constantine and the stats back that up. Despite playing against better sides, the number of passes and the accuracy have significantly improved under the Croat. Igor Stimac’s Blue Tigers are recording better numbers on the ball against the likes of Oman, Qatar etc than Constantine’s side did against weaker opposition.
In the last 7 games, India have made ~40 passes a game more (381 vs 344) and are completing more of them too (78% vs 71% pass accuracy). The difference is actually higher than it seems, because Stimac’s numbers are deflated by the game against Qatar and Constantine’s inflated by the Chinese Taipei encounter.
It must also be noted that the bulk of India’s passing comes in areas that do not threaten the opposition. In fact, by playing around in these areas, India have made themselves more open to counter-attacks. In the 10 games under Constantine, India conceded from 17% of the fast breaks that they faced. In the Stimac era, that number rises to 36%.
In conclusion, the dip in our defensive performances could easily be put down to the fact that we try to play a more open, attacking game. India can make themselves more competitive in games by improving their attacking efficiency but Stimac’s forward line are struggling on that front. Penalties and Chhetri magic are, as usual, papering over the cracks.
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