Much has been said about Stephen Gleeson and his role in the Blues team. Some Blues fans don't rate him, some will defend him to the hilt, some take a moderate view. I think all of them have a point, and even as a fan of his, he is underwhelming at times. That said, he's been a big part of a midfield that has helped revive a broken Birmingham side and his passing range is, at times, astounding; though maybe not as often as we would like.
In the summer, Rowett added Robert Tesche to the ranks after a successful loan spell at the back end of the 2014/15 season. In the three games he has started this season, Blues have put in three superb performances and I wanted to look at how much Tesche affects the teams he's in.
According to expected goal data, which attempts to subjectively measure how good chances a team creates are, the three games against Norwich, Fulham and Reading (in which Tesche started) were three of Blues' best. A 3-0 win against Norwich was backed up by a healthy 2.24 'expected goals' to Norwich's 1.52. This at the time was one of Norwich's poorest attacking performances. I covered the Norwich game and the tactical side to it in my last post if you would like to read about how we stopped them playing.
This was followed by a dominant performance that led to a 1-0 win away at Fulham, where Blues missed a penalty and a series of good chances to make it more comfortable. Blues pressed incredibly well and the second penalty was won by Che Adams stealing the ball on the edge of the Fulham penalty area. Expected goal data had it as a 3.54 - 0.97 Blues win.
The third was a 0-0 draw against Reading. Blues were once again dominant, this time with Jutkiewicz up top who doesn't press as well as Donaldson necessarily does. Jutkiewicz had five shots, four of those inside the box and didn't manage to convert any of them, but expected goal data was once again impressed with Blues.
Since then, Blues haven't created over two expected goals in 90 minutes, and Tesche hasn't started a game - obviously this is a small sample, but it's hard to deny Tesche's influence. To prove it, I took a larger sample.
In his first spell, Birmingham bagged six wins, three draws with only three losses in twelve games, but it's hard to compare that with anything given the shambles that came before it. So I had a look at Nottingham Forest and found an interesting pattern.
Last season, Tesche started and played over 45 minutes in 16 games for Nottingham Forest. In those games, they averaged a goal per game, conceding just 0.69 goals per game on average, and took 1.56 points per game. They lost just three of those 16 games.
In the games Tesche missed, they averaged 0.88 goals per game - not much of a drop, around six goals in an entire season. However, they conceded 1.42 on average, a huge increase; worth 33 goals over an entire season. That suggests had Tesche played for a full season they would have been 39 goals better off than had they not had him all season - obviously this is a massive stretch, but it's hard to completely disregard his impact. They were also 0.6 points a game worse off without him.
Okay, so you could argue that they didn't have a good replacement for him. This year they let him go, which would suggest they thought they did have a good replacement. They are scoring more, at 1.56 goals per game, 0.56 more than with Tesche in the side the year before; but it's a double-edged sword. They're conceding 1.88 goals per game, a huge downgrade on 0.69 goals per game. They're averaging a point so far this season, too.
So, over 46 games with Tesche on those averages, against 46 games this season without on those averages, you get:
46 goals - 32 conceded
72 goals - 86 conceded
That's a 26 point difference.
Clearly this is very rudimentary - form swings, averages stretched over a season on a small sample can bring wild, wild differences from reality and Forest's squad is much different to what it was - but that is such a huge difference that it's quite tough to suggest Tesche has no effect.
It's hard to compare Blues with/without Tesche as he's only started three games, but those three were three of Blues' best performances of the season. He allowed Blues to press more aggressively as he is more mobile than Gleeson and intercepts the ball extremely well in advanced positions. He appears to get forward more often and his movement into the box has been great in limited minutes this year.
I'm loathe to draw sweeping conclusions from this, but I thought that Forest's dip in performance without Tesche was interesting enough to share with you all.
As usual, @BCFC_RYB and @ElliottBCFC on Twitter for all your complaints!
EDIT: Robert Tesche achieves a 121 GoalImpact rating, which is a measure of how much better a team is when a player is on the field.
This is about the level of a top Championship player, and importantly is much higher than the average Birmingham player, at around 112. I recommend checking out goalimpact.com for more on what that means, but it's another statistical indicator that Robert Tesche is a huge upgrade on the average Blues player.
The highest average GoalImpact rating in the league is Newcastle's, at 124.7, which makes Tesche likely a top end Championship player.