The Data Day No. 6: Our Rolling Football Blog
Welcome to The Data Day, our rolling football stats blog for 2021-22, where we try and make sense of what just happened.
Goals & Sebastien
Sebastien Haller left the Premier League as an apparent failure, even though he actually scored 10 goals in a season and a half, which, let’s be honest, isn’t terrible. Still, when Ajax came in for him at the start of 2021, not many West Ham fans were distraught. The farcical postscript was that Ajax then forgot to register him for their Europa League squad, so he had to sit that out.
We’ll never know how Haller would have done in European competition last season, but if this season is anything to go by, the answer is: pretty well. Haller scored not one, not two, not three but four goals as Ajax romped to a 5-1 win against Sporting, in Lisbon.
Haller becomes only the second player to score four goals within 63 minutes of a Champions League games, after Cristiano Ronaldo against Malmo in 2015, the second player to score four goals on his Champions League debut after the great Marco van Basten for Milan in November 1992 and by scoring four he has already surpassed Manchester United’s entire three-goal 2005-06 Champions League campaign. Moyes’ West Ham play Manchester United without the suspended Michail Antonio on Sunday. Imagine if they had legendary Champions League marksman Sebastien Haller to call on.
The Return of Those European Anfield Nights
Liverpool and AC Milan met tonight for only the third time in their long, storied histories, but the clubs with a combined 13 European Cup wins between them seem to pump more narrative into their occasional clashes than some other matchups serve up over decades. Technically tonight’s game at Anfield was Liverpool’s first win against Milan, having drawn the 2005 Champions League final (a match deciding mechanic was used, yes) and then losing the final of the same competition two years later.
After 15 minutes of this one it seemed like Liverpool were intent on reminding Milan just how much football’s elite competition had moved on in the Italian club’s absence. Jurgen Klopp’s side, if you include the own goal from Fikayo Tomori, produced 12 shots in the first 15 minutes, a spell that also included Mohamed Salah’s first missed penalty in 18 attempts, something that inspired a superb double save from ‘keeper Mike Maignan. It was breathless football and Milan were not coping well, particularly with the liquid combination of Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right hand flank.
But this was a Liverpool v Milan game so incredible spates of goals in a short period are par for the course. The visitors scored twice in the space of one minute and 50 seconds to go into half-time 2-1 up. Milan then had a goal disallowed for offside early in the second half, only to see Liverpool regain control, score two more goals of their own, including a Steven Gerrard tribute strike from current captain Jordan Henderson to take the three points and clock up another classic Champions League night at Anfield. 23 shots from Liverpool was a lot, but still pales against the 34 they managed in the epic defeat there against Atletico Madrid in March 2020. That had been the last Champions League game at Anfield in front of a full crowd before tonight’s match. 57 Liverpool shots across two games is a decent spread for the fans. The full European experience in other words. And even though they lost, Milan must be delighted to be back.
Perhaps you’ve been watching the Champions League group stage for some years and gotten to know the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. Those clubs make up seven of 20 UCL finalists over the past decade. Yesterday, Barcelona went without a shot on target in a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich. Tonight, Real Madrid went without a shot on target until the 57th minute before finding a way to three points in the 89th against Inter Milan. And Atlético played to a goalless draw against Porto. Had Rodrygo not scored for Real, it would have been the first time on record all three played on a single UCL matchday and didn’t score.
Sevilla and Villareal are also in the competition and played to draws yesterday, albeit at least with goals, but the Spanish sides that had often dominated continental football over much of the past decade managed six points from a possible 15. You could absolutely say Real were a bit lucky to win with a significant xG advantage for Inter:
And you could say the same for the Atlético-Porto match with Diego Simeone’s side flirting with that 0.2 xG Barça put up yesterday:
Villarreal accounted for seven of the group’s 13 shots on target, while Real, Barça and Atléti combined for 1.51 xG.
Speaking of Rodrygo, he’s about as close as it comes to our next subject for scoring efficiency in the Champions League in recent seasons…
21 at 21
Robert Lewandowski scored a brace yesterday against Barcelona to reach 75 goals in the Champions League. Erling Haaland has some work to do to get there. But with his first-half stoppage-time goal against Besiktas Wednesday, he’s on 21 Champions League goals since his debut in the competition at the start of 2019-20. That’s one behind Lewandowski for the competition lead in that time, but the 21-year-old’s efficiency in that time has been unmatched. His 21 goals have come on a 15.08 xG, and his overperformance of that mark is easily the best in the competition since his debut:
New 3-0 Scoreline, Same 8-2 Feeling
Bayern Munich have now won their opening game in each of their last 18 Champions League seasons, and Barcelona have lost their opening match in the competition for the first time since 1997. No unbiased party is surprised by one run continuing and the other ending via Julian Nagelsmann’s first Champions League match in charge of the eternal German champions.
That’s the current expectation of a Champions League match at the Camp Nou when a true European giant visits because Barcelona themselves don’t fit that classification in their present state.
Bayern’s opening match run in the competition goes back to 2003-04 with those 18 wins coming with a combined 45-2 scoreline, whereas Barça’s last 10 Champions League matches overall have seen them concede 21.
The Bavarians also happen to be unbeaten in their last 19 away UEFA Champions League matches (W15 D4), the longest undefeated away run in the history of the Champions League and European Cup.
Nagelsmann’s competition debut as the club’s manager also extends a run of them scoring in Champions League games to 23, and Thomas Müller started it off with his seventh in six UCL appearances against Barcelona after scoring twice in an 8-2 win the last time they met.
He may be the highest-scoring player against the Catalans in the competition, but perhaps the most impressive number of the day goes to a celebrated teammate. Robert Lewandowski scored his 74th and 75th Champions League goals in his 92nd match and even more outlandishly his 18th straight match in a row for Bayern in all competitions. The last time Lewandowski appeared for Bayern and didn’t score was Feb. 11 against Tigres in the Club World Cup. That… is a long time ago.
For Barcelona, there was a glaring lack of a No. 10. Perhaps you’ve heard Messi’s in Paris, while his heir Ansu Fati hasn’t played since suffering a knee injury in November, but they might as well have have settled for the predecessor in this one in 41-year-old Ronaldinho. Ronald Koeman’s side didn’t manage a shot on target, and prior to their dismal 0.2 xG tonight, their lowest xG total in the previous five Champions League seasons was 0.4 against Borussia Dortmund in 2019-20. It was only their eighth match in their last 50 in the competiton where they hadn’t reached 1.0 xG.
On a more basic level, Barcelona hadn’t lost their opening match in a Champions League campaign since falling at Newcastle in 1997, remaining unbeaten in their previous 22 opening matches. The objective expectations of this club are not that of years past, and that played out from the announcement of their starting XI – a back three – through full time.
It’s clear what this means for Bayern: another dominant Champions League group stage is upon us. For Barcelona, the level of uncertainty seems to be drawn back a month on the UCL calendar each season, and there’s no guarantee this one will stretch beyond Matchday 6 in December. This match was the first between the two traditional UCL powers in the group stage since 1998-99 when Bayern won both matches and Barça failed to advance to the knockout stages. They last failed to advance in 2000-01, and normally there would be comfort in knowing Benfica and Dynamo Kyiv await, but for Koeman’s side the word comfort may be only a distant echo of the past.
Young Boys Outwit Experience
The first match of Manchester United’s Champions League season started with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a goal, and it ended with his replacement giving one away.
Between Manchester United taking an early lead and conceding a late one on Jesse Lingard’s inexcusable back pass, Aaron Wan Bissaka’s 35th-minute red card changed the dynamic of the match. Still, it looked like they’d leave Switzerland with a point. Instead, United made former Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner the sixth manager to win both a Premier League game and a Champions League game against Manchester United as Young Boys snatched all three points nearly five minutes into stoppage time.
This 2-1 defeat was the first time Manchester United have lost a UCL group stage game to a team that came through qualifying since a 1-0 loss to CFR Cluj in December 2012.
A very small consolation for United was Cristiano Ronaldo scored again. 135 goals in the UEFA Champions League is mightily impressive. That’s the same tally of goals that Theo Walcott’s scored in his entire professional career across club and country. It’s a lot.
This was his 177th appearance in the competition, drawing level with Iker Casillas’s all-time record and he celebrated it with another goal – the 17th successive season that he’s scored in the Champions League.
With his opening goal of this match, Ronaldo broke another Champions League record. It was 12 years and 132 days since he scored his last UCL goal for Manchester United, with this breaking the previous record held by Javier Zanetti at Internazionale, set in October 2010 (11 years, 315 days).
Ronaldo also equalled the record tally of opponents scored against in the competition, with Young Boys being his 36th victim. This draws him level with Lionel Messi for now, although the PSG forward will come up against a new opponent in the form of Club Brugge tomorrow night with the odds on him making it 37 and getting one up on the Portuguese.
In 68 Champions League appearances since turning 30, Ronaldo has scored 63 goals. That tally is 35 more than any other player has scored aged 30 or older in the history of the competition and it feels like he’s got petrol in the tank to go much further.
United’s only two shots came from Ronaldo and neither came after the 25th minute. True, the Red Devils were hampered by Wan-Bissaka’s red card, but when you’ve got the Champions League most prolific scorer and shooter, it’s probably a weapon you should use a little wiser.
Premier League MD4 – Time for a Quiz!
How much attention did you pay to the Premier League action across matchday four of the 2021-22 season? It’s time to put your knowledge to the test with our latest English top-flight quiz.
This weekend saw the return of club football across the top five European leagues following the international break. With players now back in the groove following the summer, we saw some great individual displays between Friday and Sunday – we’ve pulled out for of the best of them.
Karim Benzema had a hand in four of Real Madrid’s goals in their 5-2 win over Celta de Vigo on Sunday, netting a hat-trick, as well as assisting Vinícius Júnior’s strike at the Bernabéu.
This was his third La Liga hat-trick, and the first since April 2019 against Athletic Club, but it was the first time he’s been involved in as many as four goals in a single Spanish top-flight match since October 2013.
As the highest-scoring active player in La Liga, his goal tally now stands at 197 across his 13 seasons at Real Madrid and the Frenchman looks set to soon become just the 10th player in the history of the competition to reach 200.
In total this season, Benzema’s been involved in nine league goals (five goals, four assists) – more than any other player across the top five European leagues in 2021-22, as he looks set to enjoy his fourth successive 20+ goal season in the Spanish top-flight.
Wilfried Zaha was a constant threat in Crystal Palace’s 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the opening game of the Premier League Matchday on Saturday.
Zaha attempted four shots, created three chances and scored the opening goal from the penalty spot. This opener was Crystal Palace’s 500th Premier League goal (now on 502), 57 of which have been penalties. At 11.4%, that’s the highest proportion of the 20 sides to score 500+ goals in the competition’s history.
He posted an expected assists figure of 1.0 in this match, this highest of any Premier League player across the weekend, and in addition to 0.89 xG he was the most threatening player in the English top-flight on Matchday 4.
Paul Pogba helped himself to two more assists in Manchester United’s emphatic 4-1 victory over Newcastle on Saturday.
His seasonal tally now stands at seven – a Premier League record after four games of a single season – and he already has more than he posted in 2019-20 and 2020-21 (three in each season) combined.
That said, based on the quality of passes that he’s made to teammates this season in the top-flight (measure by xA) we would have expected the average player to have assisted just a single goal. In fact, Pogba has made less threatening open-play passes than Trent Alexander-Arnold (1.81), Mason Mount (1.47), Jack Grealish (1.32), Riyad Mahrez (1.22) and Wilfried Zaha (1.2) in the Premier League this season but has one more open play assist than those five players combined (six). It’s clear that Pogba’s assist total has been inflated by exceptional finishing from his teammates and shows why assists alone can’t be used as a metric to determine creative quality.
The Frenchman certainly enjoyed himself on Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester, with 106 passes completed in the game. This was the first time that he’s completed over 100 in a single Premier League match.
Nice goalkeeper Walter Benítez is yet to concede a goal in Ligue 1 this season, with the Argentine keeping his fourth clean sheet in as many games for Nice in their 2-0 win over Nantes on Sunday.
No goalkeeper in the top five European leagues has played as many minutes as Benítez (360) without conceding a goal this season, despite him facing 12 shots on target.
Based on our expected goals on target model, he’s prevented 3.2 goals for his side with his saves in 2021-22 so far, behind only Rennes’ Alfred Gomis (3.4) across the top five European leagues.
In the 2-0 win at Nantes this weekend, Benítez made six saves without conceding a goal – his best record in a match when keeping a clean sheet since April 2019 (seven vs Rennes).
Welcome to the 100 Club, Mohamed
A year to the day since Mohamed Salah scored a Premier League hat-trick in a 4-3 win against Leeds United, the Egyptian superstar was at it again versus the Whites.
Salah’s goal saw him become the 30th player to score 100 goals in the Premier League, but the fifth fastest to reach the century (162 appearances).
Two of his 100 Premier League goals came in his earlier spell at Chelsea, but he’s been almost unplayable since he arrived at Anfield on the eve of 2017-18.
Since his debut in August 2017, Salah has 98 goals in 149 Premier League appearances – 10 more than the next best: Harry Kane (88). In addition to this, his 35 assists have only been trumped by Kevin De Bruyne’s 50. A quite ridiculous record of 133 goal involvements across those 149 games.
His goal today was assisted by Trent Alexander-Arnold – just the fifth time that he’s had a goal created by the Englishman in the competition. Even before today, Alexander-Arnold had the highest expected assists total (1.73) and tally of chances created (15) in the Premier League across 2021-22. He was in fine form again in this match at Elland Road, with a further 0.66 xA and five chances created. He reached 35 Premier League assists in this match, at 22 years and 340 days – only Cesc Fábregas, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs have reached this total at a younger age in the competition.
His expected assists average of 0.60 per 90 this season is his highest ever – more than double his previous best from 2019-20 (0.27). Of course, this is a small sample size in 2021-22 (360 minutes), but it’s a great start and to put how high this is into perspective, the highest per 90 average in the Premier League last season was 0.28 by both Bruno Fernandes and City’s De Bruyne.
Leeds are still waiting for their first win of the Premier League season with two draws and two defeats so far, but two of those games have come against the second- and third-placed teams in the top-flight last season. Yes, people will point to Marcelo Bielsa’s side allowing their opponents a league-high 28 shots on target and 8.8 expected goals (third highest). But this isn’t dissimilar to the exact same fixtures in 2020-21, where they allowed an xG of 8.03.
An ounce of comfort to Leeds fans will be that their next Premier League game comes up against Newcastle United, who have conceded better quality chances to opponents this season than any other team (10.53 xG) and are the only side to have conceded more goals (12) than Leeds (11). This will be a more accurate marker of where the 2021-22 version of Leeds United are at.
Some said Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United had echoes of the club’s decision to sign Alexis Sanchez in 2018. A big-name forward who had interested Manchester City before finding his way to Old Trafford instead, Sanchez’s time at the club was little short of a disaster, the Chilean scoring only three goals in 32 league appearances. Ninety minutes into Ronaldo’s second spell at United and he is only one goal short of Sanchez’s entire Premier League output. Ronaldo started the day 16 goals short of 100 in the Premier League and four behind Kevin Davies; both key targets have been closed down by two.
Before his goalscoring output went into the stratosphere at Real Madrid, Ronaldo’s Premier League specialty was scoring braces. Today’s double against Newcastle was his 22nd pair of goals in England’s top-flight, taking him ahead of Les Ferdinand into eighth place. Famously Ronaldo has only ever scored one hat-trick in the Premier League but based on this display, a second is surely inevitable in the coming weeks.
It was a typically disjointed performance by Manchester United in the first half, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team having plenty of the ball (70% possession) but still presenting Newcastle with a series of reasonable attacking opportunities. That hole in central midfield hasn’t been plugged by Ronaldo or Varane or Sancho, that’s for sure. Manchester United still went into the break in the lead, though, thanks to Ronaldo’s 119th goal for the club, scored from close range after goalkeeper Freddy Woodman spilled Mason Greenwood’s shot right at Ronaldo’s feet. Not advisable. It was the United No. 7’s fifth shot of the half, although as you can see on the expected goals map below, two of those earlier efforts came from tight angles, both following a flurry of stepovers, as Ronaldo turned the clock back 12 years. There were a few signs of frustration before the first goal came, with Jadon Sancho – who was three years old during Ronaldo’s first debut for the club in 2003 – getting some exasperated arm gestures at a few points.
Ronaldo’s only shot of the second half was his second goal, assisted by Luke Shaw, but while hugely popular with the home crowd, it served only as a warm-up act for the best goal of the game, Bruno Fernandes reminding everyone that other Portuguese players are available. It was his eighth goal from outside the box in his time at Manchester United, which is more than any other Premier League player in the same period. Presumably stripped of penalty duties, and with fewer direct free-kicks on the menu too, Fernandes will now relish open-play shots from distance, and he even had one from the halfway line in the first half, channelling David Beckham just as Ronaldo channeled Cristiano Ronaldo. One game into the season and Ronaldo has had 10% of United’s shots. Despite Bruno’s efforts, that ratio will increase.
But perhaps the most important number of the day was Paul Pogba adding assists for United’s third and fourth goals. Seven assists from four games is more than any other player in Premier League history has had at this stage of the season, and in this form Pogba surely has the competition record of 20 – held by Thierry Henry and Kevin De Bruyne – in his sights. United’s policy of adding big names to their squad brought Pogba back to Old Trafford five years ago. Sometimes coming back to a club can work out, and United’s fortunes this season may depend on two players trying to prove that is the case.
Premier League MD4 Predictions
Following a brief hiatus to appease the gods of international football, the Premier League is back. The opening three matchdays have produced an average of 2.83 goals per game, which is way lower than this stage last season (3.68) but higher than six of the previous eight seasons after three rounds of fixtures.
Spurs are top of the league without a single goal conceded, Arsenal are bottom without a single goal scored – will the gap between the north London rivals increase to 12 points on matchday four?
It’s Spurs that kick the new gameweek off, with a trip south of the Thames to Crystal Palace.
Tottenham have started a league campaign with three wins and three clean sheets for the first time in their history. Only four teams have ever begun a top-flight campaign with four wins and no goals conceded – Aston Villa in 1900-01, Ipswich Town in 1974-75, Chelsea in 2005-06 and Manchester City in 2015-16.
Our match predictor gives them a 50.3% chance of making it four wins from four – the third highest chance of an away win in the Premier League this weekend.
Manchester City (58.2%) are given the highest chance of picking up three points on the road in the Premier League across MD4. Pep Guardiola’s side travel to Leicester City with victories in their last two visits there in the league. In fact, of all Premier League fixtures to have been played at least 20 times, Leicester vs Man City is the only one to have been won by the away side over 50% of the time – 11 away wins in 20 games (55%).
The team with the highest chance of winning this weekend in the Premier League according to our win predictor are bottom side Arsenal (68.8%). Yes, we do think they can win a match.
Their relegation six-pointer against Norwich City will see at least one of the two pick up their first points of the season, with Arsenal playing in their first Saturday 3pm match in the Premier League since June 2020…which they lost 2-1 to Brighton and Hove Albion. Only once in their history have Arsenal lost each of their first four league games to a season, doing so in the 1923-24 top-flight campaign, while they have never failed to score in any of their opening four league games before.
Cristiano Ronaldo is likely to make his second debut in the Premier League, following his dramatic move back to Manchester United last month. If he plays this match, he’ll set a new Premier League record for the longest gap between appearances in the competition’s history (12 years and 118 days).
Manchester United have lost just one of their last 36 home league games against Newcastle (W26 D9), with that defeat coming in December 2013 under David Moyes (0-1). Our match predictor gives them a 59.8% chance of making it one in 37 this Saturday.
The only match on Sunday this week sees Leeds United meet Liverpool at Elland Road. This fixture has produced a few classic games over the years, with their November 2000 clash that ended 4-3 to the Whites one of the most memorable.
Leeds are winless in their last eight Premier League games against Liverpool (L5 D3) and our match predictor thinks it’ll most likely stretch to nine with Jürgen Klopp’s side being given a 52.1% chance of picking up all three points.