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

October 20

Last to First in 53 Minutes

If you had Manchester United bottom of Group F through three Champions League matchdays, you very nearly had to show your work. Instead, we’ll take your word for it that you definitely had them top.

It started last month with the loss to Young Boys, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s 35th-minute red card relieving Ole Gunnar Solskjær of at least some of the pressure of a 2-1 defeat, then the mirage-recovery of a 2-1 win against Villarreal. All was fine… until the 28th minute of Wednesday’s game. Solskjær and United found themselves down 2-0 with it looking very much like they all would have some serious climbing to do in their remaining three matches. But it wasn’t without precedent:

Fast-forward 53 minutes: Atalanta go and become Cristiano Ronaldo’s 38th different Champions League victim for his competition-record 137th goal, and Solskjær tops his group rather than sitting fourth. Simple game, football.

Manchester United Atalanta Champions League

Sure, it’s an odd way for those lines to weave, but it’s hard to call it undeserved. United managed 22 shots, their third-highest total in the competition this season, against a team from one of Europe’s big five leagues.

Ronaldo’s goal followed Marcus Rashford getting one back in the 53rd minute and then Harry Maguire on 75 to draw United even. Rashford’s came courtesy of Bruno Fernandes, who created eight chances in the match. That’s the most on record for a United player in a single Champions League match (dating to 2003-04), matching Shakhtar Donetsk’s Maycon vs. Sheriff on Matchday 1 for the most in a Champions League match this season. His 13 in three matches are three more than anyone else:

Bruno Fernandes chances created

It was the first meeting between Manchester United and Atalanta in any competition, and if today’s match was any indication, we should be more than happy that we have another in just two weeks.


Unbeaten Austrians

RB Salzburg haven’t lost this season. Sure, it’s October and yes this is a club that play in a league outside of Europe’s leading leagues, but this is also a Champions League side four points clear in their group three matches in. They’re 18 matches into their season in all competitions with a new manager, so let’s not call this insignificant, and Wednesday’s win over Wolfsburg was nothing if not deserved with the visitors failing to create anything of note after the opening 15 minutes:

RB Salzburg Wolfsburg

Salzburg lost to Monaco in a club friendly on July 3, but their last competitive defeat came on April 21 to WSG Tirol. They recovered and went on to win the league before then-manager Jesse Marsch departed for bigger brother RB Leipzig, who remain without a point over in Group A.

Enter Matthias Jaissle, 33-year-old Matthias Jaissle, that is. In his 18 matches in charge, Salzburg have dropped points twice – once this week in a 1-1 draw away to Rheindorf Altach, and once in their 1-1 draw at Sevilla last month to open their Champions League campaign. They’re yet to concede twice in a competitive match under Jaissle, while their former manager seems set on attacking PSG at the Parc des Princes (scroll down to yesterday’s posts). Prior to Wednesday, Salzburg’s three UCL goals had all come from the penalty spot, but they balanced that out with three against Wolfsburg that even the pessimists will count.

RB Salzburg Champions League Goals

It needs to be said that Group G is perhaps the competition’s most winnable group. But the Austrians are taking full advantage of the opportunity, and they aren’t sitting back waiting for opponents and results to come to them. Salzburg’s 57 pressed sequences are tied with Ajax for third in the competition through three matchdays, and their 8.3 opponent passes per defensive action (PPDA) is fourth lowest. The results from that press could improve as it hasn’t quite led to the number of chances Jaissle might be hoping for with 35 high turnovers yet to result in a goal resulted in a goal:

RB Salzburg Champions League Press

But one thing at a time. For now, a realistic future in the Champions League knockout stage will do just fine.


October 19

‘Watchable Modern Football’

At least one broadcaster of the global event that is the Champions League referred to what was taking place in the first half of Paris Saint-Germain and Red Bull Leipzig as “watchable football” between clubs that, given their aggressive trajectories in the past decade, may see plenty of each other for years to come.

Tuesday’s 3-2 PSG win was the fourth such meeting dating to the single-match semi-final played in August of 2020. In tonight’s version, Red Bull Leipzig were vulnerable to Kylian Mbappé, while Paris Saint-Germain were just plain vulnerable. Debatable which is more dangerous in the long run as the competition plays out, but tonight it was the former. PSG weren’t at full strength without Neymar and seem set on opening themselves up to criticism until they win the competition, but Leipzig manager Jesse Marsch – for better or worse – seems set on going without a point in the competition before allowing his team to win a match 1-0.

PSG RB Leipzig Champions League

Maurico Pochettino’s side was so open at times for the first 60 minutes that the Argentine manager switched to three centre backs, despite being behind 2-1.

Unconventional but effective.

The equaliser came soon after when Leipzig’s Tyler Adams stayed on the ball too long, Mbappé ended up with it, and he found Lionel Messi for his 122nd Champions League goal. 123 came seven minutes later from the spot, also courtesy of Mbappé, who was fouled in the box and rose pointing across the box to his teammate. Nineteen of those 123 UCL goals have come in 18 games against German clubs, and three have how come in two Champions League matches with his new club. That – yawn – matches a teammate’s minor club benchmark:

It earned three points but it didn’t drown out any negative commentary about PSG as a Champions League-contending club, which was certainly already there after their 2-0 win over Manchester City. Today, there was altogether too much activity from Leipzig on the right side of the PSG box in the opening 30 minutes. Luckily for Pochettino, it came with mixed results with three or four glaring opportunities resulting in far less than they perhaps should have with respites of Mbappé running at Leipzig from the left. That’s where the first goal came from in the ninth minute, giving Mbappé his 28th in the competition. It could have been 29 if he’d hit the target with a stoppage-time penalty.

Leipzig remain without a point through three matches having conceded 11 times, the most of any team in the group stage. For Marsch, far from the conservative type, it was his 15th match managing in the Champions League (12 for RB Salzburg and two with Leipzig), and he’s yet to keep a clean sheet. That might be a lot to ask in Paris against Mbappé and Messi, but it extended the American’s record run of matches conceding in the competition. No other manager has managed this many matches in the Champions League without keeping a clean sheet.


Red Mist 2-3 Red History

Liverpool can’t stop scoring. After setting a new English top-flight record of seven consecutive away games where they had scored three or more times, they went and made it eight in one of the difficult places to go in Europe, Atlético Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano.

Scoring three times in that location is not easy, both historically and specifically, with tonight’s game the first time Atlético had ever conceded more than twice in a Champions League home game under Diego Simeone, in a match in which they went 2-0 down earlier than ever before in the competition. It looked bleak for them 13 minutes in, but they were never going to give up.

Atletico 2-3 Liverpool

Mohamed Salah was credited with the first goal, and he definitely rolled home the winner from the penalty spot so we can be confident in saying that he is the first Liverpool player in the club’s history to score in nine successive games. That’s now 18 successful penalties from 20 attempts for the club, too. He really probably has earned a new contract.

Atlético played their part in yet another hugely entertaining group game – is this the best group stage in living memory? – roaring back from 2-0 down to 2-2 and having the better chances in the second half. They ‘won’ the game on expected goals, 2.17 – 1.30 but you can tell Diego Simeone that rather than me.

Alisson v Atletico
Alisson: back in the team and back to his best

The iconically aggressive coach stormed off at the end having seen his double goalscorer Antoine Griezmann sent off for a high boot and then a late penalty awarded by referee Daniel Siebert overturned, after the German referee went to review it on the hated VAR monitor. In truth it felt like Atleti were trying to win the same penalty Liverpool had just been given at the other end, but it still felt incredibly rare to see a referee change his mind like this.

It sets up the return match in two weeks perfectly: Liverpool qualify for the Last 16 with a win but Atletico, Simeone & co will be incredibly keen for revenge. The last major game before European football locked down for Covid-19 took place between these sides at Anfield in March 2020 and it was one for the ages. So was tonight’s; let’s hope for another one on November 3. In the meantime, Liverpool will go and try to score 3+ goals in a ninth consecutive away game, which just happens to be at Old Trafford on Sunday.


Press On, Ajax, Press On

Group C may be without an out and out modern European giant, but Ajax are doing their best to wear the label. After their 4-0 win over Borussia Dortmund Tuesday, the 2019 semi-finalists have the best goal difference (+10) in the competition, though that could very well change tomorrow when Bayern Munich suit up.

Ajax Dortmund Champions League

They did it again Tuesday in part by pressing with three shot-ending high turnovers, one of which ended in a goal. Their 45 high turnovers, 10 shot-ending high turnovers and two goals from high turnovers lead the competition. One of those goals came Tuesday along with and 16 of the high turnovers, which is the fifth-highest single-match total for a team in the competition this season. The most? Yeah, Ajax with 23 vs. Besiktas last month.

Ajax High Turnovers

Now to make too much of history: This is the third time Ajax and Dortmund have met in the Champions League, and the side that’s had the upper hand in the previous two has reached the competition final. In 1995-96, Ajax eliminated Dortmund in the quarter-final before losing on penalties to Juventus in the final, while in 2012-13 they met in the group stage with the German side winning both before Dortmund went on to lose in the final to the spoilers of dreams, Bayern Munich.


October 18

Mid-table Premier League game ends in a draw

Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace on Monday night was largely unfair on Patrick Vieira’s Eagles who had dominated the second half and turned a 1-0 deficit at the break into a 2-1 lead by the 70th minute. But Alexandre Lacazette, brought on in the 67th minute, added an energy and purpose to an Arsenal team that had once again looked a bit stuck, a bit process by numbers. Yes, Arsenal had 12 shots after the break, but only three of them were on target. Most were either unwise hits from long range from Thomas Partey, along with a close-range effort from Kieran Tierney on his 50th Premier League appearance that would have snapped any crossbar manufactured before 1998. Woodwork is off target, though, whatever your dad might say. Vieira looked devastated at full-time, because his team’s play deserves more than one win from eight games. Five draws, though, means they are only three points behind Arsenal and seven points off fourth place. And if you’re wondering what the record for draws in a single Premier League season is, it’s 18.

Yet maybe there was a bit of justice in this game, because it would not have been outlandish had MIke Dean reduced Palace to 10 men before half-time. James McArthur swung and connected with Bukayo Saka’s calf with enough force that the England star didn’t emerge for the second half. McArthur’s involvement in Arsenal’s equaliser did at least even it up a bit, though.

Palace are now unbeaten in their last four Premier League trips to the Emirates, and in Odsonne Édouard they have one of the most effective forwards in the Premier League this season. Édouard has averaged a goal every 90 minutes in the league for Palace, with only Roberto Firmino (53.7) and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (82.7) ahead of him. Even Christian Benteke is in form, bagging his 83rd Premier League goal. Only 48 players in the competition’s history have more; could he beat Cristiano Ronaldo to the century?

And a word for Conor Gallagher who continues to press, impress and pop up literally all over the pitch. Palace feel like a fun team to play for at the moment. Arsenal? Not quite as much, although last-minute equalisers can take the edge off most frustrations.


Conor Gallagher v Arsenal

October 16

The Breakdown

Q: Is there anything better than a solid October Saturday of Premier League action as the leaves fall and the drizzle sets in?

A: No.

Here, then, are a few of the key insights from today’s games:

◼︎ Aston Villa threw away a 2-0 goal lead to lose at Villa Park for the first time in the Premier League since a game with Manchester United in 2012. Wolves’ equaliser came from Conor Coady, arguably one of the deadliest finishers in world football… when he gets a chance. In 122 Premier League appearances Coady has had just three shots on target but two of them have resulted in goals.

◼︎ Leicester have won three games in a row against Manchester United for the first time since the year the vacuum cleaner was invented (that’s 1901 for any non-vacuum fans reading). The only thing that sucked in this game was some of Manchester United’s defending as they were barely able to celebrate the returning Marcus Rashford making it 2-2 before seeing Jamie Vardy make it 3-2 just 54 seconds later. Leicester’s fourth goal was tucked home by Patson Daka, who became the first Zambian to score in the Premier League; players from 105 nations have now netted in the competition. That’s 54% of all the countries in the world.

◼︎ Manchester City eased to yet another win against Burnley, recording their sixth clean sheet of the season in the Premier League, which is more than any other side in the division. Pep Guardiola’s team have faced a league low 4.78 expected goals and have seen their opponents muster just 12 shots on target all season, two of them from Burnley today. Liverpool may be impressing the most going forwards so far, but at the back City are in a different league to everyone else.

◼︎ Even so, Brighton have only allowed 21 shots on target this season, second to imperious Manchester City, and despite a few scary moments at Carrow Road against Norwich, they are now clear of Manchester United in the famous Premier League top four. Certain clubs embrace certain scorelines and 0-0 is very much a classic Albion outcome; Brighton have had 19 of them since they arrived in the Premier League in 2017-18, five more than any other side in that period.

◼︎ If Patson Daka (see above) is the representative of the 105th nationality to score in the Premier League then the 104th is Albanian Armando Broja, after his goal gave Southampton a 1-0 win against Leeds. It is the first time that two nationalities have scored for the first time in the Premier League on the same day since Ecuador and Japan did so in September 2002, in the form of Ulises de la Cruz for Aston Villa and Junichi Inamoto for Fulham.

◼︎ Edouard Mendy: good at goalkeeping. Read our exclusive interview with him here.

Klopp’s Men Break Hearts in Herts

The Premier League swung back into action in much the way that it left us two weeks ago, with Liverpool scoring goals and Mohamed Salah perfecting a new type of goal, which probably needs its own name and its own page on Wikipedia. The technique involves Salah wriggling past a phalanx of defenders before firing into the far corner. Against Manchester City in matchweek seven he scored with his right foot, this time he cut back onto his left – sending Craig Cathcart to Ricksmansworth in the process – and scored that way instead. Both brilliant goals, and rare to see such similar efforts scored in such a short space of time.

But in some ways, ok, in a lot of ways, this game was very different to the game against City earlier in the month. Liverpool were lucky to get a point from their match with the champions but today 5-0 probably flattered Watford. At half-time Claudio Ranieri’s new team had enjoyed 16% possession and were on course to set a new Premier League low, before recovering slightly in the second half and pushing the figure up to 23%.

Watford 0-5 Liverpool

Another difference from Liverpool’s previous game was the fate of James Milner. Run ragged by Phil Foden a fortnight ago, Milner today enjoyed a regal lunchtime, operating first in midfield, from where he provided his 86th Premier League assist, and then for a while at right-back after Trent Alexander-Arnold was given a rest in the second half. The ultimate pro and the ultimate squad member, this game showed why Milner continues to be loved by his manager.

Milner passes v Watford

The impressive numbers weren’t limited to James Milner, though. This was the seventh away game in a row in all competitions that Liverpool had scored 3+ goals, the first time an English top-flight team has ever done so. Sadio Mane became only the third player in Premier League history to reach 100 goals without needing any penalties, while Salah went level with Didier Drogba as the top-scoring African in the competition’s history on 104. Expect both him and Mane to be clear of the former Chelsea man pretty soon. Meanwhile Roberto Firmino found time to score his second Premier League hat-trick, taking him level with Kevin Nolan and one clear of Cristiano Ronaldo.

It was also Ranieri’s biggest ever Premier League defeat and leaves him with a lot of thinking to do. Few teams can cope with Liverpool’s revitalised front three in this sort of form but the sheer lack of character Watford showed, in the first hour at least, must be concerning.

Liverpool can now travel to Madrid for their midweek Champions League game with Atletico with a spring in their step. There they welcome back Alisson and Fabinho. Some thought they would be missed at Vicarage Road. Not in the slightest.


Predicting the Premier League: MD8

After another brief break for the international football calendar, the Premier League returns for matchday eight of the 2021-22 season. We all have our opinions on who will win and lose this weekend in the English top-flight, but what how does our AI-powered match predictor project the games will pan out?

Liverpool may have lost their last visit to Vicarage Road in a shock 3-0 defeat to Watford back in February 2020, but the predictor thinks they’ll have their revenge this weekend. The Reds have been given a 63.8% likelihood of winning the tie against Watford, who will have Claudio Ranieri in charge for the first time.

Manchester City have the biggest chance of victory this weekend according to the predictor (74.4%), with them hosting a Burnley side that have lost each of their last eight meetings with City in all competitions by an aggregate score of 30-1.

One of the most intriguing games of the weekend takes place in West London, with Brentford hosting league-leaders Chelsea in the late Saturday kick-off. Brentford have already drawn with Crystal Palace while beating both Arsenal and West Ham this season – the first team in Premier League history to remain unbeaten in each of their first three London derby matches in the competition. Chelsea, meanwhile, have lost just one of their 12 Premier League away games under Thomas Tuchel (W8 D3).

But check this stat out: Brentford have won seven of their nine top-flight matches against sides starting the day top of the table (L2), with this their first such match since January 1947 (4-1 vs Wolves). The Bees’ win rate of 78% against league leaders is the best of any club in English top-flight history. Can they improve that in this game?

Premier League Predictions