The Data Day No 14: 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.
Unwreck it Ralf
So the pre-Ralf Rangnick era ended on Thursday evening with Manchester United and Arsenal playing out an entertaining but flawed game that ended 3-2 to the 13-time Premier League champions. That meant that the Rangnick era started today, with Crystal Palace visiting Old Trafford and once again United emerged with three points, but this time with a much more controlled display and with the sort of 1-0 scoreline that delights technicians and thinkers throughout the game.
Incoming football managers invariably try and make their teams harder to beat, and against a Crystal Palace side who have caused issues for a number of teams this season – and who won away at Manchester City at the end of October – Rangnick’s side gave up only 0.43 expected goals, the first time they’ve restricted a Premier League opponent to under 0.50 in a game this season. It was also their first clean sheet at Old Trafford since April, ending a run of 15 games without one there. Is this the start of the Theatre of Memes returning to its former Dreams-based identity?
It was noticeable and quantifiable that more than 50% of United’s attacking play came down the left flank, with Alex Telles making the most touches followed closely by Fred. The latter man, often a criticised figure under previous managers, was pushed a bit further forward in Michael Carrick’s brief spell in charge of the team and his energy will make him a key figure in the new regime. The fact he scored the only goal of the game only underlines his fresh opportunity under Rangnick. We’re now less than three weeks from Christmas and Fred has as many league goals as Lionel Messi and Harry Kane combined. I know, right.
Manchester United’s own xG figure was only 0.90, despite having 16 shots. Half of them were from outside the box, and their final effort from inside the area came at the end of the first half. But it’s always harder to make an instant transformation from an attacking point of view. Restricting Palace to so few opportunities was the aim, and that aim was more than achieved. Fred scoring – and not one of United’s plethora of big-name attackers – just felt right in this context.
And Rangnick has done something that none of the previous five German managers in the Premier League did in their first match: gone and won the game. Victory is what a club like Manchester United expect; maybe they’ve finally located a man who can build the foundations that success thrives on.
Moura That, Please
The lows have been particularly low for Tottenham this season, but the highs have been high enough to move them two points back of the top four with a game in hand entering mid-December after Sunday’s 3-0 win over Norwich City.
Lucas Moura looked fantastic on the ball much of the afternoon, and that was evident early on with his 10th-minute goal. It was his second of 18 in the Premier League to come from outside the penalty area and will be an early contender for Premier League goal of the month.
Sometimes that’s what it takes to break a 25-match scoring drought with this being his first Premier League goal since February. Heung-Min Son, however, seems drought-resistant. He provided the assist, then sealed the win with a 76th-minute finish for his eighth involvement among Tottenham’s 15 Premier League goals (excludes an own goal).
Spurs weren’t as dominant as the 3-0 score may imply with expected goals (Tottenham 1.43-1.33 Norwich) and momentum telling a far more balanced story:
It was not a strong finishing day for Norwich’s Teemu Pukki. The best early opportunity was undoubtedly his, and the game may have taken a different trajectory had Pukki been able to take the chance on a clear first-touch strike he put straight at Hugo Lloris. Pukki had another in the 58th minute from the other side, but he miss-hit that and directed it to Adam Idah, whose quick reaction of a touch went wide.
As for the other side’s leading striker, Harry Kane missed a manageable 39th-minute chip after being played through with Canaries goalkeeper Tim Krul off his line. Kane did force a strong save from Krul in the second half, but striker has now gone six straight matches without scoring for the second time this season and is underperforming his season expected goals mark by 2.51 after exceeding it the previous seven seasons by at least 2.23.
It’s yet to cost his new manager much in the way of points. Antonio Conte is now unbeaten in four Premier League matches to begin his managerial career in north London, to match his earliest success at Chelsea five years ago. But an opposition list of Everton, Leeds, Brentford and Norwich isn’t exactly the division’s elite, and this is still essentially table stakes for the Italian manager when he takes over a top-flight club:
For Norwich, it ends a four-match unbeaten run that seemed to be dragging them from what was beginning to feel like certain relegation after a 7-0 defeat to Chelsea in late October. But finishing is a major concern. In addition to Pukki’s misses, the Finnish forward supplied Josh Sargent with a late sitter from six yards, but the American badly missed the chance and wasn’t able to put a shot on target. Their eight goals are worst in the league and well under their Premier League-low 13.9 xG.
Perhaps they’ll find inspiration knowing Tottenham sit fifth now, still with a negative goal difference, after not being so numerically different from that a month ago.
There might not be as much riding on matches between Manchester United and Arsenal these days, but clearly no-one informed the current players about that. The 10th and final game of this midweek set of fixtures served up a Premier League classic, with goals and incidents that will be replayed upon a range of media platforms for years to come.
First up: Arsenal’s opening goal goes straight into the top five craziest goals Our League has seen. The beach ball up at Sunderland, Papiss Cisse’s strike at Stamford Bridge. There are contenders elsewhere, but Emile Smith Rowe striking sweetly into the United goal as David De Gea is curled up like he has just lost Red Light, Green Light is right up there. The goalkeeper had been stood on by team-mate Fred at a corner but broke every code ‘keepers should adhere to by going down in a ball and waiting for the referee to stop play. Martin Atkinson whistled but only once the ball was in the net and not even some presumably fevered VAR action down in Middlesex could alter De Gea’s fate.
United equalised with a now-rare goal from Bruno Fernandes, before the second-half became the Cristiano Ronaldo show. The will-he-press-oh-yes-a-bit-actually forward side-footed the home side in front, and then, after Martin Ødegaard had equalised, struck home a penalty conceded by the previously cock-a-hoop Norwegian.
Ronaldo’s first was a landmark 800th career goal, which is an incredibly round number, and also finally took him clear of Kevin Davies in the Premier League. If you scored 20 goals a season for 40 years you’d have 800 goals. Ronaldo is getting on, true, but he’s still only 36. His second – maths fans will be ahead of me here – was his 801st, and given that it keeps United incoming manager Ralf Rangnick in touch with the top four, is arguably more important than his 800th. Incidentally, Rangnick will start this weekend without Michael Carrick, the caretaker boss throwing a minor bombshell at full-time by quitting the club entirely.
Arsenal can feel frustrated at leaving Old Trafford with zero points. They controlled a lot of the second half, with 69% possession for instance, but without making their occasional forays into the box count. They have now lost more Premier League games against Manchester United (25) than any other side and missed a chance of climbing into fourth place. Even so, whatever happens in the future, they’ll always have that Smith Rowe goal. That was bigger than any result.
Three’s a Streak
Antonio Conte’s first London derby might not be the most acclaimed of the various 53 combinations of London derbies to be played in English top-flight history, but it was a win. That’s more than Tottenham could say for their previous four this season.
Spurs’ four capital clashes prior to Thursday’s 2-0 win ended in losses by a 10-1 aggregate, but this came much easier with little threat from a Brentford side who are losing shine as winter kicks in:
Conte’s technically off to another top-flight unbeaten run to start his latest managerial spell at a club. He’s never lost in his first three matches managing a first-tier club, though there’s a bit of work to be done to reach his master work of a decade ago in Turin as the man in charge of Juventus’ unbeaten 2011-12 and beyond:
Spurs’ goals came in varying fashion: First, from a Sergi Canós own goal following a ball played into the box by Heung-Min Son after a short corner – the fourth Spurs’ corner in the first 12 minutes of the match after managing four or fewer in total in seven of their first 12 matches – and the second from a counter past Spurs managers would have been proud of with Sergio Reguilón breaking up the left and finding Son across the goal for a sitter. For Son, it was his 75th Premier League goal with Tottenham. For Spurs, it marked the second straight match in which they’d gone above two expected goals after going their first 11 without reaching that mark.
They’ve also conceded just once in Conte’s three Premier League matches after shipping 16 in their previous seven.
As for their star man, Harry Kane went without a goal for the fifth straight game after starting the season goalless in his first six. His best chance came five minutes into the second half after being played through by Oliver Skipp, but he couldn’t finish as Brentford keeper
Álvaro Fernández put himself in a good spot and stayed big to make the save.
For Brentford, back-to-back top-flight wins for the first time will have to wait at least eight days – they go to Leeds Sunday and host Watford a week on Friday – but there wasn’t much evidence of the brave early-season efforts tonight. Their 0.41 xG mark against Tottenham is their lowest of the season, while their 10 goals conceded (8.65 xG) in the last five matchdays is tied for worst in the Premier League.
The Big Three Go Clear
We are 14 games into the Premier League season and the leading three teams, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool, have scored 105 goals between them and have a combined goal difference of +79. Fourth placed West Ham have now slipped seven points behind, and are the only other side in the entire division to have scored more goals than they have let in. We have a three-way title race on our hands, and, in their subtly different ways, Chelsea, City and Liverpool are all the best team in the division; it now just seems a case of finding out which one has fewer off days than the other two between now and May.
Tonight City and Chelsea came closest to dropping points. City swept into a customary 2-0 lead at Villa Park, with Raheem Sterling creating five goalscoring chances and Bernardo Silva scoring a goal so good that it sent nearly everyone watching into a joyous frenzy.
But Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa™️ hit back early in the second half with a wonderful Ollie Watkins goal from a corner. There were further chances, but nothing gilt-edged, and both sides’ xG was low. It’s the sort of game people forget Manchester City experience, scuttling to a 2-1 win with an xG of barely 1.0, but it’s these sort of results that win titles, and it was Pep Guardiola’s 150th victory in the Premier League. They can’t all be 5-0.
Down at Vicarage Road, in a game that lasted much longer than scheduled due to a medical emergency in the stands, Chelsea did a City and fought out a 2-1 win against a dangerous opponent. Pre-game Thomas Tuchel luxuriated in his deep, deep squad once again and he’s now up to 50 starting XI changes for the season -considerably more than any other side- but Watford were ahead on xG at half-time and ahead on xG at full-time. If you predicted that before the match then you are either lying, Elton John or Emmanuel Dennis. Chelsea’s pass completion of 71% was their lowest in a Premier League game since 2018, but you don’t get bonus points for completing more than 90% of your passes. Not yet anyway.
But if City and Chelsea spluttered at times this evening, Liverpool enjoyed one of their most famous derby wins of all-time. In a season when they’ve gone to Old Trafford and won 5-0, this was only the third time that the Reds had scored 4+ goals in a league game at Goodison, and the scoreline means that they set a brand new record for English top-flight clubs of 18 games in a row where they’ve scored two or more goals, while they now have 25 on the road in the Premier League this season. The last team to manage more than that in their opening seven away games were Manchester United back in 1907-08 when, let’s be honest, it was almost a completely different sport.
In a week where major footballing awards were handed to players who only these days run when necessary, the intensity in Liverpool’s performance was as startling as it was typical. The outcome was that Mohamed Salah took his season’s numbers to 19 goals in 19 games, while Jordan Henderson did the sort of Liverpool captain thing that Liverpool captains can occasionally do at Goodison Park.
The midweek Premier League fixtures are completed tomorrow when Arsenal travel to Manchester United. Once those two sides put on season-long title races of their own that thrilled their fans and excited the neutrals. Neither side can match the consistency and élan of the Big Three right now, though. They, like the rest of us, will instead have to watch and wait to see which of the trio slips up in this most absorbing 30th Premier League season.
Howe Doom Is Now?
The match clock read 60:11 when Callum Wilson’s scruffy penalty found its way past Tim Krul into the Norwich net. Newcastle, having been reduced to 10 men after only nine minutes when Ciaran Clark was rightly sent off for a professional foul, looked like they might be on course for the sort of backs-to-the-wall gritty win you need when you are battling relegation.
But then Norwich woke up, remembered they had a man advantage and equalised via Teemu Pukki’s thumping volley before wasting some excellent chances late on. A point apiece, then, and one that perhaps neither side will be delighted about, when reminiscing about leads that slipped and numerical advantages that weren’t capitalised on.
More importantly it means that Newcastle have become only the fourth team in Premier League history not to win any of their opening 14 games. The previous three, as you can see in the image below, all went down, which means that Eddie Howe needs to take inspiration from Sheffield United’s baffling 1990-91 season. Newly-promoted under former Wimbledon boss Dave ‘Harry’ Bassett, the Blades won none of their opening 16 games that season, reaching Christmas with only four points but still turned it around in the New Year to finish a comfortable 13th.
Or maybe Howe will point urgently to Leicester 1975-76 who had a highly unusual record of W0 D9 L5 after 14 games. Again, they improved considerably as the season went on and ended up finishing in 7th place. Either way, the fact we are having to delve into the history books to find these rare examples says only one thing: Newcastle United are in big trouble.
Ahead of the midweek Premier League action, we look at some key stats from across the 10 fixtures.
Howe About Winning a Game?
Newcastle United host Norwich City tonight, hoping to pick up their first Premier League win of the season at the 14th attempt.
This game against 19th place opposition is followed by another home match with 18th-placed Burnley at the weekend – if they fail to win any of those games, then you fear the Magpies may go past Sheffield United’s 2020-21 record of no wins in their opening 17, with matches against Leicester City, Liverpool and Manchester City to follow.
Despite their lowly position, the Canaries have been in good form of late with two wins and a draw in their last three matches – these seven points being more than they had collected in their previous 25 games in the competition (W1 D3 L21).
Each of the last three league campaigns in which Newcastle and Norwich have met, there has been a hat-trick scored – Georginio Wijnaldum and Dwight Gayle for Newcastle (2015-16 and 2016-17 respectively), and Teemu Pukki for Norwich in 2019-20. Will there be another hero tonight?
Jamie Vardy enjoyed himself on Sunday, with two goals in Leicester City’s 4-2 Premier League victory over Watford. That brace took him to 127 goals overall in the competition and level 14th in Premier League history alongside Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink – not bad for a striker who’s only scored once in the English top-flight by his 28th birthday.
He’s now scored 93 Premier League goals after turning 30 years old, drawing level with Ian Wright’s record in the competition. There’s very little doubt he’ll surpass Wright some time soon, but should he reach 100 (again, doubtful he’ll stop there), will anybody ever be able to catch him?
He faces Southampton at St Mary’s this midweek, where he scored a hat-trick in a 9-0 victory for the Foxes in October 2019 after previously scoring two in a 2-2 draw back in October 2015. You wouldn’t rule out him adding to his five Premier League goals at this stadium, tomorrow.
Mention a Tuesday night match in the Premier League and Christian Benteke’s eyes light up. The Belgium loves playing on Tuesday, with his average of 121 minutes per goal the best of any day of the week.
His tally of 12 goals in 19 Premier League appearances on a Tuesday are bettered by only Alan Shearer (15) and Wayne Rooney (13) in the history of the competition.
Benteke’s Palace side visit an out-of-sorts Leeds United at Elland Road tonight – can the striker continue his recent good form with more goals?
The Late, Late Show
An out-of-sorts Everton host a Liverpool side who are on a joint English top-flight record run of scoring at least twice in each of their last 17 competitive matches – not an ideal time to face your rivals.
Although Everton won 2-0 in their last Premier League game against Liverpool, ending a 20-game winless run against them in the competition, they’ve not won back-to-back league Merseyside derbies since the 1984-85 campaign.
This fixture has not only seen the most draws (24) and most red cards (22) in Premier League history – although the last 19 encounters have only seen two dismissals – but it’s also seen the most 90th minute winners in the history of the competition (5).
All five of those winners have come for Liverpool, with the last being via Divock Origi at Anfield in a 1-0 win in December 2018.