Welcome to The Data Day, our rolling football stats blog for 2021-22, where we try and make sense of what just happened.
Full Fat English Premier League
The Premier League reflects the state of the country at the moment. Slightly confused, not entirely sure of what’s coming around the corner but determined to enjoy itself while it’s possible. The much-impacted matchweek 18 ‘concluded’ with an all-time classic between Tottenham and Liverpool in north London.
It featured some predictable elements but also some achingly cool rarities, such as
- a Harry Kane goal, his second in the Premier League this season, drawing him level with the likes of Ben Mee and Fred.
- a Liverpool Premier League game without a Mohamed Salah goal or assist, only the second time that has happened this season, leaving him as only the joint-record holder of a 15 game run with a goal involvement, alongside Jamie Vardy. Which is still decent, to be fair
- 8 yellow cards and one red, making it the most card-laden game in the Premier League so far this season
- Andy Robertson scoring, assisting and getting sent off, only the seventh time that has happened in Premier League history
- Spurs ending the game with 2.46 xG, only 0.24 less than they managed in August and September combined
Tottenham looked like a team who had enjoyed an enforced postponement-fuelled break, running 4km more than Liverpool in the first half and frequently breaking in behind Liverpool’s defence, only to waste some incredibly good opportunities. Tanguy Ndombele proved the concept of quality over quantity by only making seven passes in the first half but deliciously creating that rarest of treats, a Harry Kane goal. Liverpool looked hampered by an extremely non-canon midfield of James Milner, Naby Keita and the young Tyler Morton, due to positive Covid tests from the likes of Thiago. How young is Morton? This young:
Despite Spurs’ attacking dominance, it was level at half-time thanks to a typically astute header from Diogo Jota. He has now scored six headers for Liverpool in the Premier League – since the start of last season, only Dominic Calvert-Lewin (8) and Christian Benteke (7) have more headed goals in the competition.
After the statutory 15 minute interval, the second half just served up more madcap Premier League action. Liverpool went ahead thanks to a goalmouth scramble that may have seen a Salah handball but ended with Trent Alexander-Arnold assisting Robertson to make it 2-1 with a stooped header. It means Alexander-Arnold now has as many Premier League assists as Robert Pires but in 53 games fewer. That’s the paradigm we’re experiencing, drink it in.
But the drama wasn’t over. First Spurs equalised via Heung-Min Son after a misjudgement from Allison and then Robertson was sent off, making him the seventh player to experience a niche Premier League treble.
The best football games leave fans of both sides both breathless with excitement at their team’s performance and aggrieved at injustice. Both teams could have had better decisions, both teams got away with some things. Neutrals watching this game were instead left grinning from ear to ear at the sheer joy that the sport can offer us. We’ll all be back whenever the next games take place, ready for more.
Young Guns Aim High
Arsenal’s win over West Ham United tonight took them into the top four of the Premier League. This might not sound unusual, but it’s been over a year since the Gunners have ended a day in the Champions League qualification places. Oct. 16, 2020 – that was the last day Mikel Arteta’s side ended in the top four before tonight, a total of 425 days outside.
This victory also saw Arsenal move above the Hammers in the Premier League table for the first time since Nov. 21, 2020. With West Ham feeling the effects of a smaller squad with European football, this exciting, young Arsenal side shouldn’t look back now.
21-year-old Emile Smith Rowe added to 20-year-old Gabriel Martinelli’s opening goal to secure the 2-0 victory for Arsenal – they could even afford to miss a third consecutive Premier League penalty via Alexandre Lacazette in the second half. This was the first time since 1992 that they have missed three in succession in the competition. With the two goals tonight, Arsenal have finally found themselves with a positive goal difference in the Premier League for the first time this season. It was a solid attacking display yet again, with their expected goals total of 2.7 the highest by a side against a notoriously organised West Ham side in a league game since January 2020.
With this victory, Arsenal won their 22nd point of the season at home in the Premier League – no side in the competition has won more in home matches across 2021-22.
If Arteta can make the Emirates a fortress for the Gunners, who knows how far they could go with this youthful squad.
Since Mikel Arteta’s first game in charge on Boxing Day in 2019, Arsenal have scored 28 Premier League goals via players aged 21 or younger – more than any other team. pic.twitter.com/hROrmd1PRF— Jack Supple (@JTSupple) December 15, 2021
It’s hardly a secret that James Ward-Prowse is deadly from direct free-kicks. His Premier League goal tally from these situations increased to 11 with his goal against Crystal Palace tonight, taking him level with former expert Cristiano Ronaldo. Turns out, this is the real race for Ronaldo, not that Champions League goal contest against Lionel Messi.
Now only David Beckham (who could’ve guessed), Gianfranco Zola and Thierry Henry have scored more direct free-kick goals than Ward-Prowse in the Premier League, with the Southampton star surely set to surpass the latter two soon.
His goal at Selhurst Park tonight was his first from a direct free-kick in 2021-22 but follows a season where he had his best goal return via this method (4), converting a ridiculous 20% of his attempts from direct free-kick shots. Overall, in Premier League history the Southampton midfielder has attempted 88 shots from direct free-kicks and scored with 12.5% of them.
By scoring against Crystal Palace tonight, Ward-Prowse now scored as many direct free-kicks in 284 Premier League appearances as the Eagles have as an entire club across their 481 matches (11). Madness.
When Manchester City click, they really click. Seven consecutive wins arrived via a seven goal rout.
2021 has been some year for City – this rout of Leeds United highlighted that. True, seasons aren’t played on a calendar year basis – however, they provide some insight into how a side have performed over a long spell of matches. It turns out, this Manchester City side have performed…well…phenomenally.
Tonight’s victory was their 33rd in 41 Premier League games across 2021 so far, with three more matches (fingers crossed) to play. This equals Liverpool’s all-time English top-flight record of 33 wins in 1982 and surpasses Chelsea’s previous Premier League record of 32 from 2005 under Jose Mourinho.
Pep Guardiola also reached another landmark across his Premier League managerial career, with Phil Foden’s opener being the 500th scored under his reign in the competition.
He reached the tally in his 207th game as a Premier League manager, smashing the previous record by 27 matches – Jürgen Klopp’s tally of 234 games to 500 goals.
Leeds United enjoyed a shock 2-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium last season, completely against the run of play. Tonight’s meeting saw the same statistical dominance by the home side, but a much different result. In their April 2021 trip to Manchester City, Leeds scored with their only two shots and Manchester City only managed to convert one of their 29. In tonight’s game, Leeds actually had more shots, with six while City only had two more than last season – their conversion rate, though, was just slightly better on this occasion (22.6% v 3.4%).
For an injury-ravaged Leeds side, this was salt rubbed into already sore wounds.
7 – In the 568th game of his club managerial career, Marcelo Bielsa has seen his side concede seven goals for the very first time. Loco. #MCILEE— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 14, 2021
This was Marcelo Bielsa’s heaviest ever defeat as a club manager, while for Leeds 7-0 was their heaviest defeat in league competition since an 8-1 loss away at Stoke City in August 1934. Their last competitive loss by seven goals came in September 1979 in a 7-0 defeat away to Arsenal in the League Cup.
One small consolation is that they avoid our dreaded list of the heaviest-ever Premier League defeats…just.
That’s the 2nd highest single-game xG overperformance for a team in the big 5 European leagues this season:— Kevin Chroust (@kevinchroust) December 14, 2021
1. Leverkusen v Greuther Fürth: 4.91
2. Man City v Leeds: 4.78 (7 goals minus 2.22 xG)
3. Chelsea v Norwich: 4.04
4. Verona v Spezia: 3.57
5. Freiburg v Gladbach: 3.55