The Data Day No 13: 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.
Top of the Pile
Ángel Di María won’t agree, but Manchester > Paris. City exacted sweet revenge on Paris Saint-Germain following their 2-0 defeat in the French capital earlier this season, with this comeback victory. PSG hadn’t lost a competitive match after scoring first since April 28, that coming against Man City in this competition – history repeated itself tonight.
Kylian Mbappé became the third-youngest player in Champions League history to reach 50 appearances, and it was the French 22-year-old that opened the scoring against the run of play. This strike took him to 29 overall in the competition, with only seven players – including current teammates Neymar and Lionel Messi – scoring more when hitting the half century of games in the UCL.
Losing would have been tough on City, who controlled large spells of the match – and thanks to goals from Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, it wasn’t something they had to worry about.
Sterling’s equaliser took him to 23 goals in the Champions League, which is only bettered by two English players – Wayne Rooney (30) and Paul Scholes (24). There’s every chance that Sterling will go on to surpass the pair, with years left in his legs.
With this victory, City ensured top spot in Group A and will be seeded for the Round of 16. They are the second-favourites in our tournament projections to win the 2021-22 trophy at 17.8%, behind only Bayern Munich at 18.4%.
For PSG, they also qualified for the knockout stages tonight, but have RB Leipzig to thank for that, following their emphatic win in Brugge. They’ll have to make do with second place in the group, however, meaning they’ll be unseeded and must play away from home in the second leg of their Last 16 tie – not ideal when you’ve only won four of your last 12 knockout matches away (D1 L7), although at least the away goal rule is no more.
Sporting’s Second Act
Pedro Gonçalves’ second goal may have come in just the 39th minute, but the one-time strike from distance will go down as the emblematic moment of Sporting’s loud progression into the Champions League knockout stage for just the second time in the club’s history.
Sporting’s Champions League campaign started dreadfully with a 5-1 defeat to Ajax followed by a loss to Borussia Dortmund. Turn the page. Since their 1-0 defeat at Dortmund on Sept. 28, Rúben Amorim’s side has won 10 straight matches in all competitions by an aggregate of 25-5. That includes three straight Champions League wins by a 11-2 score, sending Sporting through to the knockout stage for just the second time after 2008-09.
Sporting entered the day with a 34.8% chance of reaching the last 16, according to our Champions League predictor, which made plenty of sense given the Portuguese side needed something out of tonight’s match before finishing Group C play against Ajax in Amsterdam in two weeks while Dortmund host Beşiktaş. That trip to Amsterdam is now an exercise in preparation more than necessity for Sporting.
Pote missed his chance of getting a hat-trick with a 81st-minute penalty, but teammate Pedro Porro finished the rebound to extend Sporting’s lead to 3-0. Nevertheless, the 23-year-old pegged as Sporting’s next great export has been extremely efficient in the competition with four goals from 2.2 xG, and that’s remained perfectly consistent when adding in his Primeira Liga matches:
Second Place, Anyone?
Aside from Liverpool, no team in Group B seems to be all that urgently seeking progression to the last 16, and that means entering Matchday 6 Porto hold the advantage on points with an underwhelming five to the four of Milan and Atlético Madrid.
The predictor has something to say about that. Porto, who lost 2-0 to Liverpool Wednesday, host Atlético on Dec. 7 while Milan host Liverpool. Atléti entered tonight with a 57.7% chance of finishing second in the group, while Porto were at 41.5. Now, after a two-goal loss, Porto are in the driver’s seat:
Most notably, after entering tonight on one point with a 0.8% chance of progressing, Milan have new life at 11.2%.
Should that work out for Porto and Benfica manage to progress over Barcelona in Group E, we’d have the rare scenario of three Portuguese sides in the last 16.
Haller: Is It Me You’re Looking For?
Ajax decided not to start their top scorer for tonight’s match against Beşiktaş, but having found themselves 1-0 down at half-time, Sébastien Haller would have been waving in Erik ten Hag’s direction to remind him of the talent at his disposal on the bench. As expected, ten Hag’s introduction of the in-form striker turned the game around in their favour.
Haller’s debut Champions League campaign has gone ridiculously well. He could have played in Europe for the club last season, but a failure to correctly register him for the Europa League delayed his European career until 2021-22 – he’s certainly made up for lost time.
Now 27 years old, he isn’t going to threaten any of the leading scorers in the competition history – that’s clear. However, this brace in the win over Beşiktaş saw the Ivory Coast international take his Champions League goal tally to nine in just five appearances. This broke the all-time competition record for the most goals by a player in their first five games, moving one ahead of Erling Haaland’s eight while a Salzburg player. More impressive is that these nine goals have come via a perfect split between right foot, left foot and headers – a man for any occasion.
Haller’s feats tonight took his competitive goal tally to 18 in 19 games across the season, 11 ahead of the next most by an Ajax player: Steven Berghuis’ seven goals.
Earlier this week, we looked at this current Ajax side and questioned if they could go all the way. They’ve won all five of their matches so far in the 2021-22 Champions League, becoming only the second Dutch side to win their opening five games of a European Cup/Champions League campaign, after Feyenoord in 1971-72.
Keep Haller fit and they’ve got a chance.
Baby Blue is the Colour
Reigning European champions Chelsea went and did a Fulham 2010 and gave Juventus a right old thrashing in west London. First place in Group H was up for grabs at Stamford Bridge and Thomas Tuchel’s team produced a vintage display as they battered the Italian side who have won 30 more domestic league titles than Chelsea but the same number of European Cups/Champions Leagues.
Here’s the thing: Juventus hadn’t lost a football match in any competitions by 4+ goals since 2004, when many of Chelsea’s key performers tonight were still running excitedly around playgrounds.
Chelsea’s first three goals came from Trevoh Chalobah, Reece James and then Callum Hudson-Odoi, all three of whom graduated from the club’s academy in Cobham. It is only the third time in Champions League history that three different English players have scored in for a club a single game and the first time that all three had come through the same youth system. This is some crop.
Arguably the best of tonight’s goals was yet another rasping finish from Reece James who has made the right hand side of the penalty area an absolute harvest festival this season. Tonight was his fifth goal of the season and as the map below shows, you could throw a large picnic blanket over the lot of them. Teams know not to give him that time and space at the back post but Chelsea’s system inevitably means he gets it. We are a week away from December and James is Chelsea’s top scoring player this season.
Tonight was Tuchel’s 50th game in charge of Chelsea and has any manager ever started better? By many metrics: no. His side have conceded only 24 goals in those games, keeping 31 clean sheets, numbers no team in Europe can match. The European champions are top of their group and top of their league. The continent is shaking.
Without a win, there would be work to do on Matchday 6 away to Bayern Munich – the same Bayern Munich team that won 3-0 at Barcelona on Matchday 1, the same Bayern Munich that’s built a +16 goal difference in five commanding wins.
Barcelona went without that win Tuesday, but it could have been worse if Haris Seferović had finished perhaps the match’s biggest chance in the closing moments for Benfica. It was a 0-0 finish at the Camp Nou, leaving Barcelona two points clear of Benfica with a match to play. Barca’s is at Bayern, albeit a Bayern side with little to play for. Benfica’s is at home to one-point Dynamo Kyiv.
Entering the match, our Champions League predictor gave Barcelona an 80.6% chance to finish second in the group with Benfica at 19.2, and this of course brought things tighter. Advantage, according to our Champions League predictor, to …
Ten minutes before Seferović’s essentially uncontested missing of the target in stoppage time, it had seemed Xavi’s side had finally found their lead in the 83rd minute when Jordi Alba swung a ball into the box for a one-touch finish from Ronald Araújo, but it was brought back for offside. The first 20 minutes of the second half didn’t bring much for Barcelona, but that changed with Ousmane Dembele’s introduction. His 68th-minute cross resulted in a Frenkie de Jong header that required Odysseas Vlachodimos to tip it over the bar.
Youth, for better or worse, has been perhaps the theme of the competition for Barcelona, and that was again the case in the first half. Yusef Demir had the two best chances of those 45 minutes while attacking down the right side, hitting the crossbar in the 43rd on a bending shot from just inside the box after putting an earlier chance wide. So there was threat, and 1.02 expected goals, but no actual goals for the fourth time in their five first halves of Champions League action this season. Only group-mates Dynamo Kyiv have gone all five matches without a first-half goal.
Conversely for Benfica, they held the opposition from scoring a first-half goal for the fourth time in five games with only Chelsea going five for five. Their best first-half stretch came just after a half hour. Top corner finishes chalked off are painful for anyone, particularly so for a defender, but especially so for a defender playing for a team seeking a lead to change their knockout stage fortunes. That was the case for Nicolás Otamendi in the first half after an outswinging corner was deemed to have bent out of play in the 34th minute. A minute before, Barcelona needed a leg save from a well-positioned Marc-André ter Stegen to keep a Roman Yaremchuk header out of the back of the net.
In addition to youth, a lack of scoring chances has been the other theme through five matches for Barcelona. Ronald Koeman, and now Xavi’s side, have managed just 10 shots on target through five matches.
That’s no thanks to Memphis Depay, who found himself in on goal in the 57th minute from the left side without getting a shot off. The summer signing doesn’t have a shot on target in five Champions League matches with the club, totaling just 0.28 xG in 435 minutes.
Atalanta started the day with a 39.3% chance of progressing, and after some help from Manchester United’s win over Villarreal in the early fixtures, it seemed that would increase. A 2-1 lead over Young Boys helped that case, and that 39.3% mark spiked, then dipped at 2-2, then dipped again at 3-2 down, then came back around to about where we started at 3-3 full-time. It’s the Atalanta we’ve come to expect in this competition, having led in each of their last three matches yet ended up with a total of two points. They’re the only side to have scored and conceded at least 10 goals in the competition, and the consequence is that the Italian side are a point behind Villarreal with about a one in three chance of advancing to the knockout stage with their final group game coming home to Villarreal on Dec. 8.
The French champions Lille may be 12th in Ligue 1, but they’re now first in Group G where things remain tight. No team in the group has a 60% chance of progressing, while last-place Wolfsburg still have a 34.3% likelihood:
Ligue 1 top scorer Jonathan David’s 31st-minute goal was all Lille needed, and it was the payoff in the midst of a particularly strong stretch of play against Salzburg:
Lille finish the group stage at Wolfsburg in two weeks, while Salzburg host Sevilla with all four sides still with a chance to finish in any position.
Fred The Red
If only football was as simple as sacking your manager and winning a crucial Champions League group game to qualify for the knockout stage and guarantee that your season will matter until at least March. Well, sometimes it is, and after 70 worrying minutes for Manchester United at Villarreal they got out of jail in the most classically Champions League manner possible, via a Cristiano Ronaldo goal and then a second, Jadon Sancho’s first for the club, as security.
United’s best chance of the first half was theoretically from a direct free-kick but they let Ronaldo take it and, unlike his finishing from open play which remains remarkable, his ability from long-range dead balls has dwindled significantly. United reached the break having mustered just 0.15 xG and the gloom that had hung over the Solskjaer era was very much still in evidence. Villarreal strolled off for their 15-minute break in fine fettle.
Michael Carrick’s first half-time team talk as United interim-to-the-interim probably wasn’t as effective as Antonio Conte’s for Tottenham against Leeds on Sunday as Villarreal continued to dominate for the third quarter, with David De Gea having to make a series of superb stops, during a game in which he took the lead for saves in the Champions League this season. But slowly United got hold of the game, through the unfashionable Fred and the underused Jadon Sancho. Both United goals came from excellent midfield combativity from Fred, while the sheer power Sancho put into the shot for his goal spoke of frustration at his stop/start season so far. He was pointedly sought out and congratulated by Carrick at full-time. He knows.
Meanwhile Ronaldo’s absurd numbers continue to rack up. His beautifully taken goal was the third time he has scored the match-winning goal in the final 15 minutes of a Champions League match this season – the most a single player has ever done so in a single season in the competition, while he is the first-ever player to score in each of an English club’s first five matches of a single European Cup/Champions League season. Oh, and his six goals for United in this season’s Champions League means only his former team-mate Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2004-05 (8) has ever scored more for an English club in a single group phase of the competition. Imagine if he could score free-kicks.
Before the game, we revealed that our win predictor model rated United as a 92.3% chance of reaching the Last 16 and so it has proved. Sometimes the machines know what they are doing. Sometimes the machines are in human form and are called Fred.
Champions League Predictions
It’s MD5 of the Champions League. Who does our model think is most likely to progress from each group and who has the best chance to win it all? More on how our model works, below.
Group A contains our overall favourite, Manchester City. Not only do Pep Guardiola’s side have an excellent chance of topping group A (70.3%) but our model has them as favourites to win the whole competition at 17.9%, as they seek to bounce back from the heartache of 2020-21. This is not without reason: City have been scintillating in attack in the Champions League so far. Only Bayern (17) have scored more goals than City’s 15 and the Citizens are averaging 3.4 expected goals (xG) per game in the competition this term. Since the start of 2013-14, that’s the highest per game average by any team in the group stage in a single Champions League campaign. Beat Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday and they’ll lock up top spot.
PSG currently occupy second place, and our model is predicting that’s where they’ll likely stay. To dethrone City, they’ll likely need to beat them in Manchester, and away wins have been at a premium for Mauricio Pochettino’s side. PSG are winless in their last three away games and could go without an away victory in the group stage of the competition in a single season for the first time since 2004-05. Nevertheless, our model predicts the Parisian side will go close again (23.3% chance of reaching the semi-finals but fail to get over the line (just a 4.3% of winning). Sound familiar?
Club Brugge and RB Leipzig will battle it out for a Europa League spot. Despite Brugge sitting three points clear of the German side, our predictor is slightly favouring Jesse Marsch’s team to finish in third. To have any chance of doing that, they’ll need to win in Belgium this week, something they haven’t done in their last six games (D1 L5).
Jumping down into group B and we meet the first of our 4/4 teams, in Liverpool. The Reds have already locked up first spot in a group that looked extremely tricky when the initial draw was made. Top spot means they’ll meet a runner-up in the round of 16. From there, our model expects them to kick on with a one-in-three chance of reaching the semi-finals and a 9.1% chance of winning the whole thing. Draw permitting, there’s a very real chance we witness another all-English final.
Atletico Madrid will be hoping Liverpool’s imperious record against Porto – (unbeaten in their nine meetings with Porto in European competition, with five of those games coming during Jürgen Klopp’s reign (W4 D1) – continues. Our predictor suggests it will, giving Atletico a 61.1% of finishing second in the group, while Porto have almost the exact same chance of finishing third. Diego Simeone’s side will face a top seed in the Last 16 and are given just a third of a chance to progress into the quarter-finals. Milan are basically out of it, with just a 6% chance they’ll continue to play European football this campaign. That’s not a lot, but it’s not zero either.
Neutral darlings, Ajax, have already qualified for the Last 16 and it’s almost certain they’ll finish top of group C. They sit top with a perfect record so far, including back-to-back thrashings of Borussia Dortmund. In doing so, Ajax have become the first Dutch side to win their first four matches in a single Champions League campaign. Only Bayern and Manchester City have scored more goals than Ajax’s 14, while only Chelsea (one) have conceded fewer. They look poised to go deep in the competition again, just two seasons after their squad was raided in 2018-19. Our model doesn’t fancy them to go all the way though (1.8% of winning), but a return to the semi-finals (16.8%) would classify as a huge success for Erik ten Hag’s side.
Borussia Dortmund against Sporting on Wednesday will go a long way to deciding who follows Ajax into the knockout stages. The model likes Dortmund, even with Erling Haaland ruled out with injury. Crucially, BVB beat Sporting 1-0 so lead in the head-to-hand. Avoid defeat in Portugal, and second place is very much in their hands.
Sporting have a 35% chance of pipping Dortmund to second, but history is against them. They’ve lost each of their previous three European encounters with Borussia Dortmund – all of which have come in the UEFA Champions League group stages since 2016-17.
Real Madrid are our model’s third favourites to win the Champions League this season, with a 11.4% chance of lifting the trophy. MD5 sees the return fixture against Sheriff Tiraspol, who famously upset them in Santiago Bernabéu Stadium on MD2. Despite that hiccup, Carlo Ancelotti’s side are well positioned to qualify top of Group D (77.6%) and as a result, have an excellent chance of going very deep in the competition. A 20% chance of reaching a final is quite something.
After registering two wins in their first two games, Sheriff have gone off the boil. It doesn’t help that they’ve have faced more shots than any other team in the Champions League so far this season (102). The model gives them just a 7.1% chance of getting out of the group. But thanks to those two early wins, they have a strong chance (86%) of dropping down into the Europa League, where their European dream will continue.
The beneficiaries from Sherriff’s slump and Shakhtar’s poor form are Internazionale with the Italians having a 70% chance of coming second in group D.
Bayern Munich are already through to the Last 16 courtesy of winning the maximum 12 points so far in Group E, while there looks more chance of an alien invasion on Earth in the next month than the Germans failing to win the group. At 14.8%, our projections make them the second-most likely side to win the 2021-22 Champions League as things stand – just behind Manchester City (17.9%).
Barcelona have a two-point advantage over Benfica going into their MD5 clash tonight, and as a result, are given an 80.6% chance of progressing to the knockout stages. However, a Benfica win in Spain tonight can change all that – they enjoyed a 3-0 victory at home against Barca earlier this season, so it can’t be ruled out.
You’d imagine that Dynamo Kyiv are just playing for fun, now. BUT…if Benfica do lose to Barcelona tonight, Kyiv travel to Lisbon on December 8 knowing that a win (with help from a three-goal swing in their favour across the two matchdays) will see them finish third and qualify for the Europa League.
Cristiano Ronaldo FC Manchester United are overwhelming favourites to make it through to the Last 16 from Group F (92.3%) while our projections see them as very much the likely winners of the group (69.8%) ahead of Villarreal. However, they meet in Spain on MD5 and should Atalanta defeat Young Boys then United will find themselves dropping to third in the table.
But with Man Utd hosting Young Boys on the final Matchday at Old Trafford and Villarreal and Atalanta not both being able to win their match in Italy, one win in their final two games should see the Red Devils sail through. Where would they be without those important late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo?
Michael Carrick will take charge of United tonight following the departure of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer – he could become just the eighth English manager to win a Champions League match. Former teammate Gary Neville is the only Englishman to manage a CL game without winning one (at Valencia in 2015-16) – a feat he’d probably hope to not replicate.
Qualification from Group G is still very much up for grabs for all four clubs – even bottom-placed side Sevilla have a 40.8% chance of qualifying for the Last 16 based on our projections.
Salzburg will qualify for the knockout stages with a victory over Lille tonight, becoming only the second Austrian side to progress from the opening group stage of a Champions League campaign after Sturm Graz in 2000-01 (they entered a second group stage, back then).
This is the only group that doesn’t contain a single side with at least a 2% chance of winning the Champions League based on our projections. You feel like these four are just there to make up the numbers in reality.
Juventus have already qualified for the Last 16 and top Group H with four wins from four, although they come up against their stiffest test yet, tonight – facing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
If Chelsea beat Juventus tonight, then they’ll both be level on points (12) going into the final Matchday and will have a straight shootout to top the group.
Reigning Champions Chelsea are being given just a 5.9% chance of winning the tournament again, but a lot of that is down to our model currently thinking they’ll finish second in the group behind Juventus, therefore getting a tougher knockout draw. If they beat Juventus this week, then that percentage chance should rise alongside their ability to win the group.
But remember this – only one team have won back-to-back titles in the Champions League era (Real Madrid between 2015-16 and 2017-18), so Chelsea’s task is not an easy one.
Malmo are already out of the Champions League having lost all four matches without scoring a goal. They have their best chance of getting on the scoresheet tonight with a home game against Zenit St Petersburg.
Stats Perform’s Champions League Prediction model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) by using betting market odds and Stats Perform’s team rankings. The odds and rankings are based on historical and recent team performances.
The model considers the strength of opponents and the difficulty of the “path to the final” by using the match outcome probabilities with the composition of the groups and simulating the draws in the knockout stages.
We then simulate the remainder of the tournament thousands of times. By analysing the outcome of each of these simulations, the model returns the likelihood of progression for each team at each stage of the tournament to create our final predictions.
After an international break, the Premier League came back with a bang with a real red-letter day of top-flight football. 30 goals arrived across eight matches, with OptaJoe telling us that this was the most on a single day in the competition with a maximum of eight matches since September 26, 2015 (35).
About red letters, one man currently leading the Reds might just be getting a letter very soon. Ole Gunnar Solskjær was already under pressure as Manchester United manager ahead of a trip to a struggling Watford side, so losing 4-1 to the Hornets can probably be listed under the header of “NOT IDEAL.”
United were at their worst at Vicarage Road, outfought and outthought by Claudio Ranieri’s Hertfordshire side. Watford came into this game with the third-least productive attack in the Premier League, with an average of 0.94 expected goals per game, but they managed nearly three times this amount in this rout (2.51) and could even afford to miss the same Ismaïla Sarr penalty twice in the opening 10 minutes. Yes, David de Gea saved yet another penalty after going so long without one (40 for club and country combined) – but that pales into insignificance.
This was Man Utd’s biggest league defeat against a promoted side since September 1989, and a 5-1 loss away against rivals Manchester City. It was ugly and there will be consequences.
Elsewhere, Arsenal came into this weekend on the back of the longest unbeaten run in the Premier League (eight games – winning six). An away trip to Anfield is as tough as it comes, however – especially if you’re Arsenal. Liverpool had won their previous five home Premier League matches against the Gunners, netting at least three goals in every win, so naturally they ended Arsenal’s run with a 4-0 win.
Like London buses, Norwich secured back-to-back wins after going so long (20 matches) without a Premier League win and like London buses, the driver was different for both. Dean Smith led the Canaries to a 2-1 victory in his first match, a result that was enough to get Daniel Farke the sack just two weeks earlier at Brentford. It was a rarity to see Norwich come from behind to win a Premier League match, having lost the last 36 games in the competition that they’d fallen behind in. Not so rare was Southampton losing a lead, with Saints now having lost a league-high 67 points from winning positions since Ralph Hasenhüttl took over the club back in December 2018. If Norwich were going to win a game from behind, it was always probably going to be this one.
Eddie Howe took charge of his first game in charge of Newcastle….except he didn’t. The Magpies are still without a victory in the Premier League this season – in a 38-game Premier League season, three of the four sides who failed to win any of their first 12 games of a season have gone on to be relegated: Norwich in 2004-05, QPR in 2012-13 and Sheffield United last season. The one side who managed to survive from such a position was Derby in 2000-01, so Newcastle will be hoping to become just the second to do so from this position.
This wasn’t the only 3-3 draw of the day, with Burnley and Crystal Palace also sharing the spoils in a six-goal thriller at Turf Moor. One fact you probably didn’t know was that this is the first day in the Premier League since December 12, 2009 that two games have ended 3-3, but then again you probably don’t care either.
Bring on Sunday.