The Data Day No 12: 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.
After two back and forth matches against RB Leipzig, Paris Saint-Germain have somehow only allowed five goals in four matches and find themselves with a realistic chance of winning Group A headed into their Nov. 24 clash with the blue side of Manchester. It might not sound like much of a defensive record, but it could be much worse with their xG against of 8.55 ranking seventh worst among the 32 clubs in the group stage.
The latest was Wednesday’s 2-2 draw after again falling behind to Leipzig, in which the last place side in Group A took their first chance and their last chance but missed plenty in between. PSG scored with their first two chances, both by Gini Wijnaldum, while Leipzig missed the mark all night. It’s arguable they could have had four in the opening 30 minutes, but don’t argue that they shouldn’t have had at least two in that time with plenty of chances falling at their feet.
It was truly awful PSG defending in the opening 30 minutes, but Leipzig let them stay in the game by missing a penalty and wasting two other strong chances. Christopher Nkunku can’t be asked to finish absolutely everything; he converted in the eighth minute for his 10th goal in 16 games all competitions this season and fifth in four Champions League matches.
RB Leipzig have failed to win four of their last six matches in which they’ve led, and the Jesse Marsch era at the apex club of the Red Bull football empire is coming to be known for stylistic threat more than points.
Marsch’s Champions League record of consecutive matches without a clean sheet at the start of a managerial career is now extended to 16 (12 for RB Salzburg and four with Leipzig). That would be more excusable if they were clinical in front of your opponent’s goal, but that hasn’t been the case.
The end result is four points to PSG and one to RBL across their two games, which makes up two of the top seven matches in combined xG in the group stage:
Elsewhere in Group A, new leaders Manchester City bounced back from weekend disappointment by doing so much damage against Club Brugge that Pep Guardiola’s side went ahead and scored all five goals in a 4-1 win. Their 4.62 xG marks the third highest by an individual team thus far in the 2021-22 competition behind Bayern’s 4.97 vs. Benfica yesterday and Manchester City’s 4.78 against Club Brugge two weeks ago.
xG is one thing, but measurable momentum in a match like this builds mountains:
João Cancelo assisted the first two that counted in favour of City, scored by Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez, and the last by Gabriel Jesus. The left back now has the highest expected assists mark of the group stage (3.01).
12 points/10 men
It’s not even Bonfire Night and Liverpool have won their Champions League group. Before this season began Stats Perform’s Power Rankings rated the Reds’ group as the toughest in the competition but four wins out of four for Jurgen Klopp’s team is a superb return and tonight’s game, a 2-0 home win against Atletico Madrid, was the easiest so far. It’s the first time Liverpool have ever opened up a Champions League campaign with four successive wins and means that they have got out of the group stage in all five of their seasons in it under Jurgen Klopp.
Both Liverpool goals came in the opening quarter of the game, and while Atletico threatened occasionally, the surprising-yet-slightly-understandable red card shown to Felipe in the 36th minute effectively ended the game as a contest. Both sides had goals ruled out by VAR in the second half but both sides were also happy with a 2-0 win for Liverpool. Atleti got to protect their goal difference, and Liverpool were able to bring Thiago on for some second half minutes and let Divock Origi have some wild efforts from range.
Both Liverpool goals were assisted by Trent Alexander-Arnold, his eighth and ninth assists in the Champions League, a total that puts him level with players such as Philippe Coutinho. He’s not really a defender anymore, is he? He just operates surgically down the right-hand flank. Alexander-Arnold completed 103 passes in the game, more than any other player on the pitch and a good handful of them were pinged nonchalantly to the left-hand flank, where Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was invariably stationed, and who quietly had a very decent match.
But the star is Alexander-Arnold. Since the start of the 2018-19 season, only Kevin De Bruyne (51) has more assists among Premier League players in all competitions than the Liverpool man (44), and on current form he could hunt down and overtake the Belgian in the next few months.
Robert Lewandowski and Bayern Munich merged Champions League history yesterday with another convincing three points. Karim Benzema and Real Madrid checked the first box in the 14th minute tonight, and the three points eventually followed in more underwhelming fashion for Carlo Ancelotti’s current club.
A day after Lewandowski finished his 100th UCL appearance with a record 81 goals, Benzema scored his club’s 1,000th and 1,001st in Champions League/European Cup matches. Madrid were first to the mark by some distance, but if the club chasing them continues to score four each UCL matchday, we might have to revisit this graphic come – say – 2045.
The 2-1 win over Shakhtar Donetsk puts Los Blancos, at least for the next few hours, atop Group D with the Nov. 24 Sheriff-Madrid Derby looming.
For Benzema, it was his 17th multi-goal Champions League appearance, running his career tally in the competition to 75 in 135 matches. No Lew numbers there, but with it Benzema joined a lengthy list of recognisable names scoring milestone goals for the iconic club:
Yes, David Beckham is 400 goals in Real Madrid’s Champions League past, so maybe 2045 shouldn’t feel so far away.
1,001 may be as far as you can get from another milestone, but it was far prettier on the pitch than the one that entered the record books. Vinícius Júnior assisted both, the second coming on a lovely one-touch sequence on the right side of the box that did its part in erasing what wasn’t Madrid’s finest work over the course of the full 90 minutes:
The Brazilian had two goals and three assists in the two matches against Shakhtar in the past two weeks, but it’s typically the Ukrainian getting goal involvement from Brazilians.
For Shakhtar, the loss has them about on their way out of the competition, a small consolation being Fernando’s goal was the club’s 85th in the Champions League by a Brazilian. That’s one back of Barcelona for the competition lead, so there are records – if not progression – to be had in the final two matchdays.
81 in 100
Robert Lewandowski made his 100th appearance in the Champions League tonight, celebrating as we all expected – with goals.
Lewandowski became the sixth player to score on his 100th appearance in the competition, after Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andrea Pirlo and Toni Kroos. But none of those, or in fact anybody, has scored as many as the Pole has after 100 appearances.
With his hat-trick tonight, the Bayern Munich striker took his UCL tally to 81 since debuting in September 2011, while it also meant that he scored for an eighth consecutive Champions League appearance.
Benfica will be sick of the sight of Lewandowski, with his goals tonight being his fifth, sixth and seventh in the Champions League against them – more than against any other opponent.
His eight goals have helped Bayern reach 17 overall in their four games so far in 2021-22, equalling Paris Saint-Germain’s record after four group stages games from 2017-18, and he’s outscored 25 of the 32 teams in the group stage.
The Late, Late Show
It looked like yet another torrid match experience for Ole Gunnar Solskjær, but Cristiano Ronaldo, yet again, saved both his manager and Manchester United from suffering a sixth defeat in 2021-22.
United were just minutes away from suffering half a dozen defeats this early into a season for the first time since 1986-87 under ‘Big’ Ron Atkinson, but a third successive Champions League fixture in which the Portuguese has scored a late game-changing goal ended up earning an incredibly valuable point at Atalanta. Without Ronaldo’s late goals in games against Villarreal on MD2 and Atalanta both on MD3 and MD4, United would be five points worse off in the group and staring a bleak exit in the face. As it is, the Red Devils sit top of Group F and with Champions League knockout football likely. A win on matchday five will see them qualify.
Ronaldo’s two goals in this match take him to nine in 2021-22 at United overall, which is more than twice as many as any other player at the club this season. Question marks remain about his overall impact on United’s style of play, but there’s absolutely no doubt that his goals are going to make a difference to the narrative of their rollercoaster season.
He overtook Solskjær’s Manchester United goal tally (126) with tonight’s brace – taking him to 127 – and by doing so he has surely extended his former team-mate’s spell at Red Devils manager. Football; it’s a funny old game.
3 in 14
Youth should be no excuse for a club of Barcelona’s stature, particularly when president Joan Laporta insists there’s no such thing as a transition period for his club. With Ansu Fati back in the starting XI, perhaps youth can begin to be a solution. Tuesday, it nearly wasn’t enough again in a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv that could have ended differently.
After a draw with Alavés at the weekend, interim manager Sergi Barjuán didn’t hesitate to deploy plenty of youth in his first, and perhaps only, Champions League match in charge.
The youngest scorer in Champions League history and Barcelona’s new No. 10 bailed his club out with a fine 70th-minute strike for his third in the competition and third in all competitions since returning from injury. It was his third goal in 14 Champions League matches, so there’s a ways to go to catch Lewandowski.
Before Tuesday, the last Champions League goal scored by a Barcelona attacker not named Lionel Messi was exactly 11 months ago when Ousmane Dembélé scored the third in a 3-0 win over Ferencváros. It seemed at times tonight like that would drag on with Barcelona again failing to create much of note. Barca didn’t play with much of a midfield in the first half, and that was evident in the involvement of Frenkie De Jong and Sergio Busquets. De Jong attempted just 21 first-half passes, his fourth-lowest tally of the season. Meanwhile Busquets attempted 27 in the first 45 minutes, just one more than his season low. Barcelona had two-thirds of the ball, but that possession came in the form of centre backs Eric García (63 passes) and Clément Lenglet (63).
Things didn’t change drastically in the second half, and Barcelona have now scored twice in four matches with games home against Benfica and away to Bayern Munich coming.
And yet… the table is at least looking manageable. Six points and control of their own fate? That’s much more than most would have expected after two matchdays.
Look away if you don’t know today’s results and want to keep it that way [brief pause]. For everyone else here’s what went down in today’s 3pm Premier League games.
◼︎ Burnley went from seven Premier League goals for the season to the glamour lands of double figures in the space of just 36 minutes. The opener was scored by Chris Wood who took his tally to 49 in the English top-flight, which means he has precisely seven times as many goals in the Premier League as Stephen Glass, in what experts are calling the window frame clasico. Meanwhile Maxwel Cornet scored his fourth in five league games for the Clarets, twice as many as he scored for Lyon last season.
◼︎ 2-0 is not a dangerous lead but it certainly proved slightly problematic for Liverpool today. Jurgen Klopp’s team raced into a traditional early lead but were lucky to escape with a draw in the end. It was the 250th time the Reds had led by two goals in a Premier League home game but only the sixth time they haven’t won from that position. Mohamed Salah didn’t score but he set up Jordan Henderson’s opener and has now provided an assist in each of his last four Premier League games, becoming just the fourth African player to do so in the competition’s history after Gervinho, Yaya Touré and Wilfried Zaha.
◼︎ The Etihad hasn’t become an easy place to go for visiting sides but it is less daunting than it used to be. After crashing 2-0 to Crystal Palace today, Manchester City have lost four of their last 10 Premier League home games as many defeats as in their previous 55 on home soil. The fact it came in a Saturday 3pm game made it even more surprising… or did it? City have lost only two of their last 51 home games in this time slot but both reversals have come against Crystal Palace. Wilfried Zaha not only scored his 50th Premier League goal but also provoked a red card from Aymeric Laporte at the end of the first half. Since his first Premier League season with Crystal Palace in 2014-15, Zaha has tempted nine opposition red cards from opponents, more than any other player.
◼︎ Reece James Superstar. The wing-back scored a velocity-based double for the European champions up at St James’ Park and was cruelly overlooked for the penalty that made it 3-0 at full-time. No defender (although debate: is a wing-back away to Newcastle truly a defender?) has scored a hat-trick in the English top-flight since Gary Gillespie for Liverpool back in the mid-1980s so it is painful to see chances like today’s drift past. It’s not like Newcastle had much chance of coming back had James failed his hypothetical penalty; the Magpies are now winless 10 league games into the season for only the third time in the club’s history. Despite everything, it looks like being a long winter for Newcastle; that transfer window can’t open soon enough.
◼︎ Southampton look like a team who will need to make the most of the chances they create this season, and the 1-0 win at Watford was a perfect example of that. Che Adams scored the goal, his sixth goal involvement in his last 10 starts for Saints in all competitions, and that was the club’s only shot on target of the entire match. After the unrealistic highs of winning 5-2 at Everton last weekend, Watford need to face up to the need for clean sheets. Only Newcastle, Lincoln and the Hornets are without one in English league football this season.
Last Sunday the Premier League’s crisis club was Manchester United. Six days later they ensured that the baton was passed seamlessly to Tottenham Hotspur, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s formerly beleaguered side winning 3-0 in London without conceding a single shot on target. Only once before in recorded Premier League history have Spurs failed to hit a shot on target in a home match, back in 2013 against Liverpool.
Just when Tottenham would have hoped for a head of steam to build in the second half, all that grew was the volume of booing from the Tottenham supporters. Two years ago this club was in a Champions League final, something Manchester United haven’t experienced for a decade. Yet the lack of penetration from the home side spoke of a squad which has not really been updated from the Mauricio Pochettino era, itself a team in need of a refresh at the time. Instead things have drifted and the result is that Spurs have lost five league games before the clocks have gone back, more than they did in the entire 2016-17 season, while nine goals in 10 games is fewer than Mo Salah and Burnley.
Harry Kane did not escape the anger of the home fans. One goal in nine league games this season is not the sort of ratio he is used to, and although he had four touches in United’s penalty area, he had six more than that in his own half. Kane can at least point to the fact that he is responsible for Tottenham’s most recent shot on target in the Premier League. The issue is it came in the first half against West Ham a week ago.
But it wasn’t all Tottenham being bad. Manchester United, playing a 5-2-1-2 that went against the club’s DNA but very much for the current situation that they face, contained Spurs easily, and the pairing of veterans Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani up front worked better than perhaps even Solskjaer expected. Both scored, with Ronaldo assisting his Uruguayan team-mate too. Ronaldo duly became the oldest player to both score and assist a goal in a Premier League game since Didier Drogba back in December 2014, who was also 36y 267d and also did so against Spurs. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
A lot of planning goes into player recruitment these days. Imagine how much you think goes into it and then multiply it by 50, and you might get close. What this means that clubs can do deals that maybe at first don’t seem like they’ll be value for money, but become pure genius in retrospect. Think Mohamed Salah at Liverpool, for instance, and now add Aaron Ramsdale at Arsenal to that list.
Arsenal started well at Leicester today, going 2-0 up inside 18 minutes, but that left more than three-quarters of the game to go, against a home side well capable of forging a comeback. In recent times you’d have backed them to as well, but Arsenal had Ramsdale as their last line of defence, and here, in late 2021, that makes all the difference. Leicester had eight shots on target in this game, their second highest total of the season (after the Manchester United game, of course), and all eight came after Arsenal had gone two up.
Eight shots on target, but Ramsdale repelled every single one of them, most dramatically in the 43rd minute when he made an incredible reaching save from James Maddison’s direct-free kick and then got a vital touch on the follow up from Jonny Evans.
This is a man playing with the confidence that comes from performing well, but also the confidence that comes from slotting into a new club and improving everyone around you. Arsenal’s defenders clear the ball with much more purpose, purpose that surely comes from the fear of Ramsdale bawling them out, defenders searching instead for the over-energetic thump on the back that the ‘keeper rewards his colleagues with once they have carried out their job to his satisfaction.
Overall this season Ramsdale has let in just four of the 28 shots on target he has faced in the Premier League, preventing an additional 2.6 goals based on expected goals. Expect that figure to rise steadily as the season progresses. Maddison did his homework because top-right hand corner has been the only real way to get past the Arsenal goalkeeper this season but today Ramsdale even shut off that avenue.
Every goalkeeper can offer saves; only a select few can also provide vibes.
Predicting the Premier League: MD10
We know that supercomputers respect other supercomputers, so there’s a definite sense of harmony this weekend as our Win Predictor machine nods lovingly at a fixture computer which has delivered up all of the top three in Saturday 3 p.m. games, like in the olden days. After last weekend’s matches saw Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester CIty score 16 goals between them, the newly styled Big Three are pulling away at the top, five points clear of every team other than West Ham. But how does our perceptively judgemental machine see this weekend’s match-ups going?
Our match predictor makes all three title contenders big favourites to win their games on Saturday afternoon. City are given a 76.1% chance to topple Crystal Palace, Liverpool are 66.4% to beat Brighton and Chelsea 50.5% to win away at Newcastle. All three clubs have faced difficulties in these fixtures before, though. Palace are the only team to win away at the Etihad in City’s last 50 3 p.m. Saturday games there, Brighton won at Anfield last season in the midst of Liverpool’s “difficult spell” and St James’ Park used to be a genuine bogey ground for Chelsea. But these memories stand out because they are rarities, and the match predictor has no time for rarities, only ice-cold likelihoods.
Elsewhere in the division, we make Burnley vs. Brentford the fixture most likely to end level. The two most direct teams in the Premier League this season cancelling each other out? Doesn’t sound wildly outlandish, even allowing for Brentford’s excellent start to life in the competition.
The home team we think has the least chance of winning this weekend, is, of course, poor old Norwich City. Thumped 7-0 at Stamford Bridge last weekend, the Canaries’ goal difference of minus 21 is the joint-worst ever seen at this stage of a Premier League season. Leeds duly have a chunky 57.8% chance of claiming a valuable three points in Norfolk on Sunday – positive news, given they are suffering their worst start to a league campaign since 1988-89.
The late game between Aston Villa and West Ham on Sunday and the Monday night fixture between Wolves and Everton are both extremely close to call, according to the perspicacious supercomputer, with the home team narrow favourites in each instance. And if West Ham do drop points in the West Midlands on Sunday, and the top three all win as expected on Saturday then the gap will grow, and the chances of one of Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester City winning the title in May will only increase. And you don’t even need advanced AI and gleaming microchips to work that out.