The Week So Far: The Departing
Welcome to The Analysis, our rolling football blog where we try and make sense of everything that just happened.
So Long, Farewell
We’ll see three different managers take charge of their final Premier League game at respective clubs this weekend, with Nuno Espírito Santo now joining Roy Hodgson and Sam Allardyce in confirming futures away from their current sides.
Wolves have enjoyed a great three-year spell in the Premier League since Nuno guided them back to the top flight with Championship promotion in 2017-18. The Portuguese manager has used players from his home nation (12) within the competition more often than any other team, but it worked wonders.
The opening two seasons saw excellent seventh-place finishes in the Premier League, with last season’s 59 points two more than their first season back (57). That in itself was impressive, as it marked the best points return by a newly-promoted club in the Premier League since Ipswich Town’s 66 points in 2000-01.
This season has been a struggle, with the departure of key players Diogo Jota to Liverpool and Raúl Jiménez to a terrible head injury in late November. Up until that point, Wolves had secured 1.55 points per game and were on course for another 59-point tally. It was always going to be difficult to replace two players that contributed 47% of their 98 goals in the previous two Premier League seasons.
Over Nuno’s three seasons as a Premier League manager, Wolves won 161 points – the ninth most in the competition and in touching distance of the most established clubs in the competition. A grand job.
Another Midlands’ club losing their manager this weekend will be West Bromwich Albion, but they’ll be unlikely to be as sad about this departure.
Sam Allardyce was brought in to save the club from relegation back in mid-December, following the sacking of Slaven Bilić. ‘Big Sam’ had never suffered a relegation in any season as a Premier League boss, but that run came to an end in 2020-21 with West Brom falling back into the Championship after only one campaign in the top flight.
Since his arrival, WBA have won 19 points in 24 games – the joint-worst record with bottom club Sheffield United – with just four victories, which is the fewest of any team.
Lastly, we bid farewell to Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace. Like Allardyce, a former England manager, but lasting more than one game before being fired.
Hodgson will be 73 years and 288 days old when he enters the dugout for the final time in the Premier League during a trip to another former side, Liverpool. Already the oldest manager in the history of the competition, having broken Bobby Robson’s record in February 2019, he will set the final marker to be beaten on Sunday.
Whoever takes his place at the Eagles will have a rebuilding job on their hands. Over 2020-21, Palace have had the oldest starting XI on average in the Premier League at 29 years, 209 days old – nearly a year older than any other team. One of their brightest youngsters is 22-year-old Eberechi Eze, but following news this week that he suffered an Achilles injury that’s likely to rule him out for the majority of next season, the new boss won’t have his talents to call upon.
All White on the Night
What a season it’s been for Leeds. After an absence of 16 years from the Premier League, Marcelo Bielsa’s team have certainly made up for lost time, with a top-half finish already confirmed following a third win in a row last night, this time against Southampton.
Should they win on Sunday at home to an already-relegated West Bromwich Albion, it’ll see Leeds secure four successive Premier League wins within a single season for the first time since April 2001. More importantly, it could lead to European football in 2021-22.
Okay, this probably won’t happen, but the Whites are now in eighth place and three points off West Ham United in seventh. Should results go their way tonight in matches featuring the Hammers (away at West Brom) and Everton (at home to Wolves) then Leeds would have the chance to sneak into seventh and the Europa Conference League qualification spot with a final-day win at Elland Road.
Admittedly, there’s an extremely small chance of this happening – 0.9% to be precise, according to our prediction model, but it would be the cherry on top of an already very well iced cake for Leeds.
Their 56-point tally is already the fourth best by a newly-promoted team in a 38-game Premier League season, but a win on Sunday in their final game would elevate this to 59 points and behind only Ipswich Town’s 66-point record in 2000-01. Their 59 goals scored is already the most by a newly promoted team in a 38-game season and they could become just the eighth team to win promotion and then finish in the top eight of the Premier League the following season, with only Wolves in 2018-19 doing so in the last 14 campaigns.
Patrick Bamford scored his 16th Premier League goal of the season in last night’s win at Southampton – the most for a newly-promoted side in the competition since Charlie Austin’s 18 in 2014-15 at QPR. Bamford can consider himself unlucky to not be on the radar for an England squad place at Euro 2020, thanks mainly to the depth of talent at Gareth Southgate’s disposal in forward positions. Of English players, only Harry Kane (22) has scored more top-flight league goals than the Leeds’ forward in 2020-21 (16), but with Bamford only two months younger than Kane it seems unlikely he’ll ever be viewed as an option now.
Potentially a more realistic option for England post-European Championships could be midfielder Jack Harrison, who’s had a phenomenal debut top-flight season. On loan from Manchester City for a third-successive season, it’s likely he’ll finally make that move to Elland Road permanent this summer. He’s both scored and assisted eight Premier League goals this season, while creating 12 more open-play chances (52) than any other Leeds player in the competition.
Harrison has averaged 0.15 expected assists/90 in league football from open play this season, higher than Mason Mount (0.14) and only below Jack Grealish (0.25) and Raheem Sterling (0.18) of English midfielders and forwards to have played at least 2,000 minutes in the Premier League across 2020-21.
It seems unlikely that a side led by a manager as impressive as Bielsa would suffer the dreaded ‘second-season syndrome’ like Sheffield United did this term, but the near impossible scenario of European football could have been an unwelcome distraction for them. European competition or not, it’s been a wonderful 2020-21 for Leeds United.
Is Kane Able To Beat Alan Shearer?
In news that surprised no one, last night Sky Sports reported that Harry Kane has again told Tottenham Hotspur he wants to leave the club.
The Spurs striker has made no secret in recent interviews that he wants to compete for trophies, something that he’s failed to do at both White Hart Lane and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Kane’s preference is to remain in the Premier League. And with the striker now sitting seventh in the all-time scoring charts, we can see why.
Shearer’s tally of 260 Premier League goals remains the record to beat. Kane is the only active player you’d give a reasonable shot of eclipsing that record.
What Rate Does Kane Need to Score at to Beat Shearer?
While Sergio Agüero is the closest active Premier League player to Shearer’s record (182 goals), the Argentine has called it quits on his Manchester City future. It comes down to Kane (165) to beat his fellow Englishman’s record. Kane, together with partner-in-crime Heung-Min Son, has been the only positive note in a wretched season so far for Tottenham. Despite playing on a Spurs side that often favoured a defence-first approach under José Mourinho, Kane has still got his goals. He’s currently joint-top of the Premier League scoring charts with 22 goals, along with Mohamed Salah.
Let’s assess the challenge ahead of him. Here’s what we know:
- Kane has scored 165 Premier League goals in 243 games. That’s 0.68 goals per game which is tied with Henry’s for the best goalscoring rate ever. He actually beats Henry (175 in 258 games) if you go down to three decimal places, but that seems a bit dramatic.
- Kane needs 96 goals to beat Shearer’s record.
- He turns 28 this summer.
- While his future at Spurs is in doubt, the most likely suitors at this stage appear to be Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea. Moving to any of those sides almost certainly helps his bid to break the record.
The above plot focuses on the goals scored by the Premier League’s top 50 all-time scorers and the number of games it took them to get there.
As mentioned, Kane’s scoring at a rate of 0.68 goals per game. For Kane to take Shearer’s crown at that current trajectory, he would have to play about 141 more league games. That’s about five more seasons averaging 30 games, taking Kane up to 260 goals by the 2024-25 season. He’d be 32.
Easy, right? Sure, if you take fitness and form out of the equation.
That projection is under the unrealistic assumption that Kane will continue to score at this pace for the next five years. But we should expect Kane’s rate to slow down. Particularly if he drops back into a deeper role for Spurs, as he has done on occasion to great effect this season already.
The important factor here is time. And time is very much on Kane’s side.
The above plot looks at his current trajectory, and that of his Premier League rivals, by the age at which they scored their goals. After forcing his way into the Spurs team in 2014-15, Kane’s not looked back. His line is just as steep as Shearer but, crucially, it starts a lot earlier. The fact that Shearer’s early career straddled the First Division and the Premier League means that all his goals for Southampton (23 in total) essentially don’t count in this debate. That could be the difference maker. It seems a little unfair, but Kane won’t care a jot. The point stands that at his current age, Kane has scored more Premier League than anyone else.
Say maybe Kane does drop back into a slightly deeper role like Wayne Rooney and his scoring rate falls as a result. Rooney’s goals per game rate was 0.42. Taking that rate going forwards, it would take Kane 228 games to eclipse Shearer, in anywhere between seven or eight seasons. By which point an ailing, but triumphant, Kane would be 35. It’s doable, but suddenly it’s sounds a lot tougher.
Longevity is the name of the game now for Kane. He will hope that his history of ankle issues don’t curtail his career. And if reports are true that Kane’s frustrated by a lack of trophies in north London, then a move to Manchester, particularly the blue half, would certainly help his chase.
Whether or not Daniel Levy lets him go to a Premier League rival is another matter.
The Battle for the Big Time
The Championship season is dramatic enough, but it ramps up even further when the playoffs come to town. The first leg matches of the semi-final ties are played tonight, and with the exception of Brentford, the remaining three have each tasted Premier League football.
The Bees travel to Bournemouth in the earlier kick-off of the day, on the best run of the four playoff contenders. They won their final four games of the regular Championship season, starting with a 1-0 victory at Bournemouth thanks to a goal from Bryan Mbeumo, who has scored in three of these four victories. While Mbeumo’s recent form has given Brentford a boost – and also seen him featured in our five Championship players to watch in our On the Radar series – this season has been all about the quality of Ivan Toney.
Toney’s 31 goals are the most scored by a player in the second tier of English league football since Lee Hughes’ 31 for West Bromwich Albion in 1998-99 and it comes a season after he topped the goal charts in League One for Peterborough United (24 goals).
Of the 20 Championship players to have scored 10+ goals this season, Toney has the joint-fourth highest non penalty xG per 90 (0.46) and the joint-fourth highest xG per non penalty shot (0.16). 22 of his 31 goals have come from open play, which is seven more than Bournemouth striker Dominic Solanke, despite the former Liverpool player having slightly better quality of chances per 90 minutes in 2020-21 (0.48).
Bournemouth didn’t end the regular season well, losing their last three matches without scoring a single goal, but a playoff place was already secured and eyes were already on this fixture. Should the Cherries manage to win promotion from the playoffs, they’d join Watford and Norwich City in the top-flight in 2021-22 and it would be the first time ever that all three relegated sides came straight back up to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Whilst Brentford, Bournemouth and Swansea were expected to make a promotion charge, the same can’t really be said for Barnsley. The pre-season odds placed them in the quarter of teams least likely to win promotion and, although they only stayed up by the skin of their teeth last season with a final day win at Brentford, the underlying numbers suggested that they were a better side than their points tally told us.
They recovered from the departure of the excellent Gerhard Struber to New York Red Bulls in October, with the clever appointment of Valérien Ismaël. Since his appointment on Oct. 23, Barnsley have won 75 points from 40 matches – just three off promoted Watford (78).
The Tykes have been labelled the ugliest on the eye of the four playoff candidates, but it’s been a tactic that has worked wonders and will surely unsettle a Swansea City side that play a more intricate game. Of the three most fast and direct teams in the Championship, they are the only one that avoided relegation.
Their opponents in the semi-final of the playoffs are Swansea City, who were in automatic playoff contention before falling away in the final few months.
Since losing 4-1 to Huddersfield on Feb. 20, Swansea conceded 24 goals in 18 Championship matches. Only five clubs conceded more than this tally over this period. They averaged just 1.33 points per game from this point on, compared to exactly two points per game up to then.
Before this relatively poor run of form, Steve Cooper’s side had by far the meanest defence in the Championship, conceding a league-low 15 goals in 28 matches. This was the joint-lowest tally ever by a team in the second tier of English league football after 28 games of a season.
All four clubs have had time to recuperate and prepare for these playoff matches following a relentless league campaign, having last played nine days ago. Let battle commence.
You wait years for an unbeaten season and then loads come along at once. This season Rangers followed up Celtic’s unbeaten 2016-17 in the Scottish Premiership (W34 D4 L0) with their own version (W32 D6 L0) to end their supreme rival’s run of nine successive league titles in a row. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Scottish football knows that nine-in-a-row carries serious significance. In 1975 Celtic were going for 10 in a row only to be stopped by Rangers. In 1998 Rangers were going for 10 in a row but were stopped by Celtic. At the start of this season Steven Gerrard had one main task: prevent the first 10 in a row. And if you can do it in style then that’s a bonus. He delivered on both fronts. No Scottish team can do 10 in a row now until 2030 at the earliest.
When Celtic went unbeaten in 2016-17 Rangers were back in the top-flight for the first time since 2011-12 and the unfortunate business with the liquidation. The idea of doing their own unbeaten campaign must have seemed less realistic than losing a league game to Annan Athletic (something that had very much happened in recent memory of course). But now they have and the Scottish top-flight can lay claim as the only major league to have not one but two unbeaten seasons in the 21st century.
The others to see it, of course, are the Premier League and Serie A, with Arsenal and Juventus in 2003-04 and 2011-12 respectively. Arsenal got a special gold trophy but are yet to be champions again, while Juve managed to go avoid defeat while scoring only 68 goals. If you draw five games 0-0 are you truly, morally, unbeaten? And what do unbeaten seasons really say about a competition? As a rare treat they are to be welcomed but two in the space of four years in Scotland is stretching the concept a bit thin.
Still, at least all of Rangers, Celtic, Juventus and Arsenal played 38 games in their unbeaten campaigns, which feels like a bare minimum. Preston’s original unbeaten season in 1888-89 saw them play only 22 games, which is at least more than, say, The 2nd Batallion Middlesex Regiment in the 1922 Singapore season. Yes, they were unbeaten but a record of W7 D1 L0 is just a decent December in most leagues, not an entire season. And that begs a question: other than the big four we’ve identified above, are there any other unbeaten seasons worth shouting about? The answer is yes, a couple. Firstly, Nõmme Kalju winning the Estonian top-flight in 2018 with a record of W25 D11 L0, and secondly AFC Leopards winning the Kenyan championship in 1986 in a full 38-game campaign: W33 D5 L0. Rangers may be the Teddy Bears but would any kind of bear remain unbeaten against a leopard. You’d have to think not.
Two Seconds to Change a Season
On the uxG scale (unexpected goals), Alisson’s came in at 0.999. The 0.001 possibility exists because of the five other goalkeepers to score in the Premier League, but also because this fell on the anniversary weekend of Stuart Pearce deciding David James was a better option as a striker than actual striker Jon Macken in 2005. And this was before Beanie the Horse turned up.
Alisson’s goal was huge. Without it, Liverpool looked like waving goodbye to any hopes of Champions League football in 2021-22, but now they can eagerly await the result from Stamford Bridge tomorrow evening knowing that anything but a Chelsea victory gives Liverpool the chance to leapfrog Thomas Tuchel’s side 24 hours later with a win at Burnley.
Matches change in seconds. As Trent Alexander-Arnold stepped up to take the corner on 94:17, the Stats Perform Live Win Probability gave Liverpool just a 1.1% chance of victory in this match, just two seconds later as Alisson’s header nestled in the net, that chance was 99.3%.
Just before Alisson’s goal, our league predictor had Liverpool at a 44% chance of finishing within the top four. Our model now gives Liverpool a 71.5% chance, up from 58.9% before this weekend. Leicester City’s brilliant victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday means they both took a weekend away from league action, which had a detrimental effect on their Champions League qualification chances in the model, both dropping by 5% in four days.
Lest we forget that Chelsea still have their ‘get out of jail’ card in the form of a Champions League final against Manchester City, should they fall outside the top four in the Premier League.
94:12: Allison arrives in the West Brom penalty area.
94:17: Trent Alexander-Arnold takes the corner.
94:18: Allison thumps a header into the West Brom goal.
6,095 seconds of football took place at the Hawthorns this afternoon, but only six of those will live long in the memory.
Allison had never attempted a single shot or touched the ball in the opposition box for Liverpool in his previous 127 matches at the club. With a top-four finish slipping away from their grasp, it took a goal from their most unlikely source to keep those aspirations alive.
The Brazilian becomes just the sixth goalkeeper to score a goal in the Premier League, but the first of those to with a header and the only one to turn a draw in to a victory.
Peter Schmeichel – Everton vs ASTON VILLA (Oct. 20, 2001)
Brad Friedel – Charlton Athletic vs BLACKBURN ROVERS (Feb. 21, 2004)
Paul Robinson – TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR vs Watford – (March 17, 2007)
Tim Howard – EVERTON vs Bolton Wanderers (Jan. 4, 2012)
Asmir Begovic – STOKE CITY vs Southampton (Nov. 2, 2013)
Alisson Becker – West Bromwich Albion vs LIVERPOOL (May 16, 2021)
As revealed on OptaJoe by our resident Liverpool expert Michael Reid, this goal was the first ever scored by a goalkeeper in a competitive game for the Reds since their foundation in 1892. It was also Liverpool’s 38th match-winning goal scored in the 90th minute or later, a tally that’s 13 more than any other club in the history of the competition. Fergie time? No. Mersey time? Yes.
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