This is the Opta Warm-Up, where ahead of every weekend we’ll give you all the need-to-know information and key EFL stats across the Championship, League One and League Two.

Edition 1: 5 October 2023

Wednesday Woes

Xisco Muñoz was sacked by Sheffield Wednesday on Wednesday night after overseeing a dreadful start to the 2023-24 Championship season. He only arrived in the summer following Darren Moore’s (who took them up from League One) departure and became the first Wednesday manager to be sacked on a Wednesday since Gary Megson in February 2012.

The Spaniard guided the Owls to just two points from their opening 10 games of the campaign – a tally he bettered in just one game as Watford manager (three) during his only previous spell as a coach in the competition. Of course, he ended up winning promotion with the Hornets across his half-season in charge at Vicarage Road in 2020-21, but he would have nowhere near the impact at Wednesday.

Sheffield Wednesday’s two-point tally is the worst by a side after 10 games of a Championship season since Stoke City (also two points) in 2019-20. To give some confidence to Wednesday fans, Stoke ended that season in 15th place and eight points above the relegation zone. The only other team to win as few as two points from their opening 10 games of a Championship season since the league rebranded in 2004-05 were Bolton in 2017-18, who also avoided relegation that season (21st place).

The next target for the club to avoid will be the longest winless start to a second-tier season in EFL history, which currently stands at 20 games (W0 D8 L12) by Rotherham United in 2004-05. Unsurprisingly, they ended the season bottom of the league and were relegated to League One.

Xisco Munoz

Cheltenham Not at the Races

If you think Sheffield Wednesday fans have had it bad this season, spare a thought for those supporting Cheltenham Town.

Now 11 games into the League One season, and Cheltenham still haven’t scored a goal. The previous worst scoring run from the start of any EFL tier was eight games set by Halifax Town in 1990-91. Cheltenham have already gone three games longer, with a home game versus Derby County to look forward to this weekend.

They could break another EFL record with a 12th successive scoreless performance on Saturday. They are already just the fourth side in Football League history to go 11 successive games without scoring after Bolton in 2019, Hartlepool in 1993 and Coventry in 1919 – but no team has ever endured a longer such run.

Their incredible goalless start to 2023-24 isn’t helped by an issue with creating chances – their 6.6 expected goals (xG) is the lowest in the league and they’ve also had the fewest shots on target of all League One teams (24). Twenty different players have had a league shot for Cheltenham so far this season, with Robert Street the biggest culprit, having had twice as many shots as any teammate (24) and the highest individual xG total (1.87).

Cheltenham Town Record No Goals

Expectation vs. Reality in the Championship

The Championship table is lying to you. Teams like Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers should be way higher than they are based on their performances so far in 2023-24, while teams such as Preston North End and West Brom should be much lower.

So, does our expected points model give a better indication of how the Championship season should have played out so far compared to the actual league table after 10 games of the campaign?

The Opta expected points model simulates the number of goals scored by each side in each match based on the xG value of every shot taken. It then uses the simulated number of goals to determine the match outcome (win/draw/loss). Each match is simulated 10,000 times. The expected points for each team in each match can then be calculated based on the proportion of simulations they win/draw/lose.

This is of course not an exact science, as expected goals data doesn’t include a lot of factors, such as game state and dangerous periods of possession that don’t lead to shots.

Championship Expected Points

Leicester City and Ipswich Town might have already opened seven-point and five-point gaps to third place, but the expected points model suggests it’s much closer at the top of the table than in reality.

Preston are third in the table, while Watford are 21st. But looking at the data, the two teams are performing as well as one another in the opening 10 games and should both have between 12 and 13 points.

Middlesbrough started the season terribly on paper, with just two points in their opening seven matches. At the time, they were bottom of the league alongside Sheffield Wednesday, but our model suggested that they should have actually been mixing it with the top six based on their attacking and defensive performances in their seven games. Since then, they’ve won three games in a row against Southampton, Watford and Cardiff City.

We know that football isn’t played on spreadsheets, but the underlying data can highlight trends that could show things your eyes haven’t spotted.

Championship Expected Places

Just Like Watching Brazil Notts County

Notts County lead League Two after 11 matches of the season, just months after winning promotion back to the Football League via the National League play-offs.

It comes as little surprise that they have adjusted to life back in the EFL as well as they have, following a campaign in which they missed out on automatic promotion despite winning 107 points and scoring a league-high tally of 117 goals. They broke the previous National League points record by two points… it was just a shame for them that Wrexham won four points more (111) and took up the single automatic promotion spot.

Whereas Wrexham are just outside the play-off spots, County are flying – despite an awful start. They opened the new season with a 5-1 defeat away at Sutton United. This is a fine example of not reading too much into opening day results, with Sutton now bottom of the league and scoring fewer goals in 10 league games since (four) than they scored on MD 1 (five).

Notts County are easy on the eye, too. They are the only side outside the top two tiers of the EFL to average more than 60% possession this season, while they average 90 more successful passes per game than any other team in League One or League Two (517). Only five clubs in the top four tiers of England (Manchester City, Arsenal, Leicester City, Chelsea and Southampton) average more open-play passing sequences containing at least 10 passes than they do (16.3 per game), too.

Being so comfortable on the ball is rare to see in League Two. Across the 12 seasons of in-depth data that Opta have from League Two, no side has got close to Notts County’s average of 517 successful passes per game – the nearest were Swindon Town in 2021-22, who averaged 381 per game – 136 fewer than Luke Williams’ side. Notts County’s average this season is even higher than every League One side across a season over that same period, with MK Dons’ 453 passes per game in 2020-21 the highest seen in the third tier over the last 12 years.

EFL Stats Playing Styles

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