Welcome to The Data Day, our rolling football stats blog for 2021-22, where we try and make sense of what just happened.

September 29

Sunk at the Last

1-0 is the most dangerous lead. Villarreal dominated huge swathes of their match with Manchester United at Old Trafford but it was the home team who won, somehow. The Spanish side won the xG battle comfortably but a goal from a semi-ludicrous angle from United’s latest signing on 94:13 changed the narrative, for both this game and possibly Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job prospects too. Villarreal had gone 17 European games without defeat before this match. It was so very nearly 18.

Manchester United Villarreal

Cristiano Ronaldo made his 178th Champions League appearance in this game, a new record for the competition but longevity can come in different forms. Within a single match it can mean staying on the pitch even when you’re not playing very well, and that was undoubtedly the case here, with Ronaldo’s static play as a central striker not serving his side well. One shot on target in the first half from the entire side had left the crowd morose, but things would eventually improve, although not before Paco Alcácer had scored with his studs to give Villarreal the lead.

After United had equalised with a comic-book style free-kick routine (seriously, 37% of goals by Melchester Rovers came in a similar fashion to Alex Telles’ first effort for the club) it could have gone either way. It should have probably gone to Villarreal who fashioned a hat-trick of chances in the 86th minute but given that every previous Champions League meeting between these sides had ended 0-0, I guess everyone was just happy to see some goals.

So the team nicknamed the Yellow Submarine after a song by the band from down the M62 in Liverpool, left having been sunk in the Manchester rain. A hard day’s night for Unai Emery but just another day in the life of Cristiano Ronaldo.

– DA

41 in ’21

There are surprises in football. And there are not. Moldovan club Sheriff Tiraspol beating perhaps the most decorated sports franchise on Planet Earth yesterday is at one end of that spectrum, and Robert Lewandowski scoring goals is at the predictable extreme. After 27 minutes in Wednesday’s 5-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv, the only uncertainty was whether the hat-trick would come.

A goal is not enough from this man on Sept. 29 Champions League at home to a side outside the big five European leagues. Two will do, and it’s his second brace in as many games to open the competition.

Lewandowski has now been directly involved in 29 goals in his last 18 Champions League appearances (24 goals, five assists) with nine goals on a six-match scoring streak in the competition. He’s been on the winning side in all 18 games to establish a new record run of wins by a player in UCL history. He entered Wednesday equal with his teammate Manuel Neuer, who managed 17 straight wins between September 2019 and February 2021.

He’s scored 32 goals in his last 21 games for the club, having failed to score in one game in his last 21 dating back to Feb. 15. His only game in that span without scoring was Friday against Fürth – a match in which Bayern played with 10 men from the 48th minute on.

That ended an impressive scoring streak in all competitions, but it’ll be excused given he’s now got 41 goals in 2021. That’s six more than next closest Erling Haaland in that time – and perhaps you recall Lewandowski missed time last season, so it’s happened in fewer matches.

Lewandowski 41 goals 2021

It came a day after Manchester City had the better end of play against Paris Saint-Germain yet lost 2-0 and have since been criticized for their alleged lack of a striker. Bayern top our club power rankings (scroll down), just ahead of City. It’s early times in the Champions League, but could a healthy Lewandowski make for Bayern’s redemption after bowing out in the quarter-finals a season ago?


10 Second Lesson from Old Lady

Chelsea’s season is not exactly in crisis but after losing 1-0 to Manchester City at the weekend, a 1-0 defeat to Juventus has given Thomas Tuchel plenty to think about on the flight back to London. Mason Mount missed both of those games; it’s fair to say Chelsea missed Mason Mount more.

A game high on energy if not goalmouth action, both sides managed just one shot on target in the match, although Juventus’s came just 10 seconds into the second half and flew into Edouard Mendy’s net via Federico Chiesa’s left boot. No faster second-half goal has ever been recorded in the Champions League.

At least it gave Chelsea pretty much an entire half to try and come back, but despite hitting 12 shots in that second period, they never got up a proper head of steam, not even after Tuchel became the first manager in Champions League history to bring on five English substitutes (Chilwell, Hudson-Odoi, Chalobah, Loftus-Cheek and Barkley).

One player who stayed on the pitch for the whole game was Romelu Lukaku but the best chance fell to Kai Havertz in injury time, the German heading over when he really should have scored. Lukaku scored in matchweek one but eight shots with a total value of 0.8 xG so far this season is not really the sort of service he thrives on. As the man who fired Inter to the title last year, the Juventus fans were naturally delighted with his lack of impact.

Lukaku xG CL 21-22

Chelsea will play worse and win games this season but as it stands the European champions are playing catch-up in Group H.


Down and Going Out?

On came three Barcelona subs in the 67th minute, and nearly immediately after, out went any hope of righting what had already started as a miserable Champions League campaign. The changes came, according to our possession value-driven momentum metric, just after Barcelona’s most threatening moment.

Benfica Barcelona momentum

Benfica’s second goal came two minutes later as the Portuguese club took control of the match as they hadn’t until that point.

For Barcelona, this is the club that won the competition four times in 10 seasons and now find themselves with a massive undertaking to get out of Group E. Ronald Koeman’s side find themselves goalless with one shot on goal in 180 minutes and the second-worst goal difference (minus-6) among all 32 teams.

And so, Barca have lost their first two matches in a UEFA European campaign for only the second time in their entire history after also doing so in 1972-73. The last time Barcelona failed to advance from the Champions League group stage was the 2000-01 season, and that streak is very much in jeopardy. Next up Dynamo Kyiv, which at this point is far from a certain three points, but there’s perhaps never been a more necessary three points for the Blaugrana.


Rate Your Sheriff

It’s the morning after the night before for Real Madrid and Sheriff Tiraspol. Yes, that happened, and yes, everyone is still talking about it. There are plots, sub-plots, and sub-plots to the sub-plots to explore, but one thing everyone can agree on is that this was one hell of a shock.

But how much of a shock?

Well here at The Analyst we are lucky enough to have access to Stats Perform’s Power Rankings, which rate a frankly enormous number of teams (19,008 across 391 domestic leagues) across the globe based on a system that scores the current strongest side 100 and the weakest zero. The ratings evolve each day based on the results of both an individual club and those of other teams within its own domestic league.

That’s the science. Here’s the narrative: despite losing at home to, and you might not believe this, Sheriff Tiraspol, Real Madrid are still third in the Power Rankings, tucked in between Manchester City and Liverpool. For context, they are unbeaten and top of La Liga this season and had won their opening Champions League game away at Italian champions Inter before the events of Tuesday night. And also: they are Real Madrid.

Power Rankings top 10

But what about Sheriff? Where do they rank in the list of 19,000+ teams?

The answer is a respectable, in the grand scheme of things, 234th, just ahead of Wycombe Wanderers. And just like Sheriff, Wycombe enjoyed a 2-1 away win on Tuesday evening, albeit at Shrewsbury Town rather than Real Madrid. Would Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe winning at a refurbished Santiago Bernabéu Stadium be seen as more surprising than Sheriff doing so? That’s not for us to say but the Power Rankings say it’s about the same, and that puts it into perspective. And for more perspective, just one week earlier Wycombe travelled to third-in-the-rankings Manchester City in the EFL Cup and lost 6-1. With Madrid ending last night’s game with 31 shots to Sheriff’s four, it feels like you could replay this game 99 times and Real would win each one of them.

But it won’t and it didn’t. And that’s why we love football.


pull up a chair, boy

September 28

A Night to Remember in the Champions League

Thill Thrill

How many players from Luxembourg have scored a goal in the Champions League? Well, none…until tonight.

Sébastien Thill’s rocket in the 89th minute silenced the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, with the Luxembourg international the first player from his country to net a goal in the competition. And with it being a late, late winner against the record winners both of the Champions League (7) and the European Cup/Champions League combined (13), it couldn’t have been any sweeter.

This means that players from 105 different nations have scored in the UEFA Champions League now, with Luxembourg joining the following countries with one goal in the competition:

Comoros Islands
Dominican Republic
Equatorial Guinea
Sierra Leone

Nobody expected anything other than a comfortable Real Madrid win in this game. There was no chance Sheriff would get anything, surely.

Real Madrid 1-2 Sheriff Tiraspol xG

Ignore the score line for a moment, and look at the quality of chances for both sides…no way did Real lose this match…

Madrid had 31 shots, with 3.2 xG, nearly 10 times the quality of chances of Sheriff (0.37 xG from four shots). But that’s the beauty of this game – anything is possible.

For Sheriff, they’ve now got to compose themselves for a top-of-the-table clash away at Milsami Orhei in Moldova on Saturday. We’ll all be watching, won’t we?

Real Madrid 1-2 Sheriff Tiraspol Momentum

Things Get Messi for the English

Lionel Messi enjoys playing against pretty much anyone, let’s face it. But there’s a special place in his heart for scoring against English opponents in the Champions League.

His first-ever club goal for a side other than Barcelona arrived in tonight’s PSG win over Manchester City and based on the data, it should have been expected.

Lionel Messi vs English clubs in the Champions League

Messi’s now scored 27 goals in 35 UCL appearances against clubs from England, with seven in seven matches against Manchester City alone. That’s 10 more goals than he’s scored against clubs from any other nation… but yes, there is an Arsenal tax at play here. He scored nine goals in six Champions League games against the Gunners, but on current form it doesn’t look like he’ll ever get the chance to extend that tally.

Messi’s tally of 27 goals against English clubs is still not enough to lead the infamous “goals scored against clubs from a single country” ranking in the competition, with arch-rival and goalscoring foe Cristiano Ronaldo’s 28 goals against German clubs still one ahead.

Seven Heaven

Ajax enjoyed their second win in as many games to open their 2021-22 Champions League campaign. This is the fourth time that they’ve managed that, and on two of the previous occasions they’ve done so they have gone on to reach the final (1994-95 and 1995-96).

The Dutch champions have now scored seven goals in the competition this season, equalling their tally for the entire 2020-21 group stage. Much of that improvement is down to Ivorian striker Sébastien Haller. The former West Ham striker is the first player in UEFA Champions League history to score as many as five goals in his first two appearances in the competition, with tonight’s goal adding to four scored on MD1 away at Sporting CP. Turns out registering him for European competition pays dividends.

Haller in the 2021-22 UCL

The Main Mané

Sadio Mané loves playing in Porto. The Liverpool forward added another goal to his Champions League tally at Estádio do Dragão tonight, meaning he’s now scored five goals and assisted one in three appearances there.

No player has scored as many goals away at Porto in the Champions League than the Senegalese forward, but teammate Mohamed Salah is running him close with the next most (4). No doubt Porto are sick of the sight of the Liverpool pair.

The only player to have scored more goals away at an opponent in UEFA Champions League history is Ronaldo, with six goals at the Johan Cruijff Arena versus Ajax.

Sadio Mane in Porto

– MF

What Did You Learn From Matchday Six?

We’re six matchdays down in the 2021-22 Premier League season, and for the first time since 1964-65 we have as many as five different English top-flight teams without a victory after six matches. You can pick up a victory of your own right now, however – try and get 10 out of 10 in our latest Opta quiz on the Premier League action.

– MF

September 27

Brighton Teased with Top of the Table Chance

Brighton travel to Crystal Palace in the Premier League tonight, knowing a victory against their rivals will send them top of the table. Now this would be a special night for Seagulls fans, as they’ve never witnessed a Brighton & Hove Albion side as the best in the country…based on the table, at least.

Teams such as Small Heath, Woolwich Arsenal, Oldham Athletic, The Wednesday and even Luton Town have spent nights top of the English top-flight league table, but not Brighton. In fact, of all 20 current Premier League clubs, Brighton & Hove Albion are the only one yet to manage this feat.

55 different clubs have sat atop the English top-flight league since 1888, with 30 of those doing so in the Premier League era. Of course, we saw Brentford achieve it for the first time ever back in August with their opening day 2-0 win over Arsenal, but it felt like a cheats way of doing so with them playing before everyone else. Arguably the last time we witnessed as impressive a rise to the top of the table, it was done so by Southampton, eight games in to the 2020-21 season following a 2-0 home win over Newcastle United.

When talking about teams to spend the night at the summit of the Premier League table, we have to mention Norwich City in April 1993. Their night in first place on April 3, 1993 is the last time they were there, but it did come 36 games into the 1992-93 inaugural Premier League campaign – just six games away from being crowned Champions, before Manchester United eventually went on to lift the trophy a month later. It was Aston Villa who took first place off Norwich back then, but Sir Alex Ferguson’s United side took back top spot on April 10, 1993 and never let go of that spot from then on.

How different English top-flight football could have been, had Norwich or Villa hung on to top spot, denying Ferguson his first league title at the Red Devils.

– MF (research assistance from Alan Duffy)

September 26

16 Days Later

Emile Smith Rowe picked a fine time for his first Premier League match in which he’s managed both a goal and an assist as Sunday’s North London Derby stamped a stark reversal of standing for Arsenal and Tottenham in what for both sides has already proven to be an erratic season. It’s Arsenal on the rise on that rollercoaster, and it’s Spurs looping somewhere upside-down, uncertain of whether they’re still attached to the track six Premier League matches into Nuno Espírito Santo’s time with the club.

Sixteen days ago, he was a celebrated man:

Arsenal lost their first three matches without scoring, and Spurs won their first three without conceding, but it took just 34 minutes for Arsenal to surpass their two-goal output from the Premier League season’s first five matchdays. And after a 3-1 win at the Emirates, it’s Arsenal with nine points from their last three matches with Spurs stuck on the nine they’d won through three. Now, Spurs in 11th are looking up at the Gunners in 10th.

Mikel Arteta did it with the youngest winning lineup in a North London Derby in Premier League history and third youngest regardless of result.

Arsenal Youngest NLD Starting XI

Arsenal have conceded once in their last three matches after allowing nine goals in their disastrous opening spell, on which the lowlight was a 5-0 defeat to Manchester City.

Arsenal last three

At present, Spurs are not a team that creates threat if Heung-Min Son is not involved. His 79th-minute goal was his third of the season with only Dele Alli’s strike against Wolves adding to the season scoresheet. Harry Kane remains glaringly absent from it now having failed to score in five straight Premier League appearances for the first time since August 2016.

That worked out through three matches for Spurs, but the reality was the defensive setup was always going to become an issue. Through three matches, Tottenham had conceded 52 shots yet managed 1-0 wins over Manchester City, Wolves and Watford.

Spurs Opponents First 3

Since, they’ve conceded nine goals and given space in areas space can’t be permitted. That was evident on Arsenal’s first goal as Bukayo Saka found Smith Rowe and again on their second as Smith Rowe found Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Spurs opponents last 3

Those defensive lapses now add up to Tottenham becoming just the second team in Premier League history to win their first three games of a season and then lose the next three. Everton did it in 1993-94 and went on to finish 17th.

Saka’s 34th minute goal made it 3-0 as the youth Arteta deployed really began to shine.

It was Saka’s fifth match in all competitions with at least a goal and an assist and in doing so became the youngest player in Premier League history to score and assist in a North London derby (20 years, 21 days old).

Dramatic shifts in each clubs’ fortunes aside, it all amounts to a relatively familiar North London Derby result at the Emirates: It’s now 18 wins, 11 draws and a single loss for Arsenal in their last 29 home league matches against their rivals.

– KC

September 25

Away We Go

Two Saturday 12:30 kick-offs for only the fourth time in Premier League history and two 1-0 away wins. No-one tunes into early games for goals, but a double dose of drama was much appreciated by the lunchtime enthusiasts (other timezones are available).

Firstly, at Stamford Bridge, Manchester City confounded those who thought that Chelsea were already cruising to their first league title since 2017 with an utterly controlled display, a stark contrast to what happened in the Champions League final earlier this season. Fielding Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne as well as Jack Grealish, City had 67% of the ball in the first half, completing 91% of their passes. Neither side fashioned much in the way of a decent opportunity though, with a stilted Chelsea 5-3-2 frequently leaving Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner isolated. As the teams went in for their 15 minute chat and soft drink combo, neither had managed a shot on target.

Grealish carries
New Jack City

But by opening up in the second half, Chelsea just allowed City to do the same back to them, with interest. The visitors’ goal was a scrappy one from Gabriel Jesus but it was deserved all the same. Chelsea’s possession rose to 48% in the second period but they still ended the game with no shots on target, the first time that has happened at Stamford Bridge since 2003. Both these sides have invested heavily in their squads once again, but it was City’s £100m man Grealish who impressed here, repeatedly taking the ball on the left flank and drawing opponents towards him, which created space for his colleagues. He won’t get the traditional honour of a goal or an assist from this game but he contributed significantly, as the carries map above shows.

And if City went for the Goldilocks approach at Stamford Bridge, not too attacking, not too defensive but just right, then Manchester United were like the famished wolf trying to blow down the third pig’s brick house at home to Villa. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team had 28 shots, but had they not won a late penalty they would have ended with a lower xG than Aston Villa managed from seven attempts. To win the Premier League you need a team with solid foundations; at the moment it feels like United’s midfield and defence is too frequently built from sticks or hay instead.


Predicting the Premier League: MD6

Matchday 6 is upon us in the Premier League, with this one quite possibly the biggest so far.

We’re treated to a rare Saturday lunchtime double this week, with the huge Chelsea vs. Manchester City clash being played alongside Aston Villa’s trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. Meanwhile on Sunday we have the big north London derby between Arsenal and Spurs, followed by the M23 derby between Crystal Palace and Brighton on Monday night.

We all have our own opinions on how these games will go, but what does the AI-powered match predictor say will happen across the weekend in the English top-flight?

We’ll start with the prediction that will undoubtedly raise a few eyebrows, with Manchester City being given a 46.4% chance of beating Chelsea on their own turf.

Firstly, City did enjoy a dominant victory at Stamford Bridge last season, winning 3-1 after bursting into a 3-0 lead after 34 minutes, with Chelsea scoring a consolation goal in injury time. Despite an unexpected defeat to Spurs on MD1 and a poor 0-0 home draw with Southampton last weekend, we must also remember that City are the reigning Premier League champions with a manager at the helm who’s won nine top-flight league titles.

But yes, this is a different Chelsea side to the one easily rolled over in that January defeat in London. The Blues have won their last three encounters with Man City, all under Thomas Tuchel, which includes the 2021 Champions League final.

Will the match predictor correctly guess each game, every week? Absolutely not. But by using historic data rather than opinion, it’ll be able to predict the possibility of each outcome without bias. We’ll wait and see how this game plays out, but with none of the last 12 league meetings between the two sides ending in a draw, it’s likely we’ll see a winner.

In Premier League history, no side has won more games against an opponent than Manchester United’s 37 victories against Aston Villa…and the predictor thinks it’ll move to 38 tomorrow. The Red Devils are given a 55.1% probability of picking up all three points, with the current league top scorers (13) looking for more goals at Old Trafford.

The two Merseyside rivals are being given the highest probability of picking up a victory on Matchday 6, with Everton expected to make it 16 successive Premier League defeats for opponents Norwich on Saturday afternoon (58.7%). Daniel Farke is the first manager in the history of the competition to lose 15 in a row, while Everton have won their last three league games at Goodison Park.

Liverpool’s probability of winning away at Brentford is 57.6%, as they look to continue the longest current unbeaten run in English league football (15 games). The Reds have lost just one of their last 27 Premier League games against promoted sides (W22 D4), going down 1-0 at home to Fulham last season.

The Matchday ends with two derby matches, with Arsenal hosting Spurs on Sunday and Brighton traveling to south London to face Crystal Palace on Monday night.

Arsenal vs. Spurs is proving to be one of the hardest matches to call this weekend, with there being just a 0.6% swing in favour of a home win (36%) over a win on the road for Spurs (35.4%). Tottenham have won just one of their last 28 away league games against Arsenal (D11 L16) – coming from behind to win 3-2 in November 2010, while Arsenal have scored in each of the last 22 of these league matches on home turf.

We talked about Patrick Vieira’s tactical revolution starting to take shape at Palace after a shaky start, and our match predictor thinks the Eagles will pick up the victory in the derby match with Brighton on Monday (38.7%). They are unbeaten in their last four derbies with the Seagulls (W2 D2), though both victories in this run have come away from home. MF

Premier League Predictions