The Analyst Diary – August 31
Soccer

The Analyst Diary – August 31


Expected Better

Your dad’s on the SMS to insist that it’s too early to read anything into the league table. But even though the season is only three games old, scholars know that some teams are already in positions that clearly don’t reflect their start to the season. Tottenham fans are saying things like “well, it’s not been perfect, but you can’t complain with three clean sheets and nine points!” while Wolves fans are just staring sullenly into the middle distance.

There’s no precise metric for proving just how lucky or unlucky teams have been, but by working out the difference between their expected goals and their expected goals conceded we can use that as a proxy for how teams have really played so far. A lot of interesting trends emerge too:

  • Champions Manchester City and 2019-20 champions Liverpool are well clear of every other Premier League team so far, which augurs well for their title challenges this season. They may not have “won the transfer window” but they may “win some trophies” in 2021-22.
  • The third best team on this basis are Wolverhampton Wanderers, with a +2.9 on xG difference, although in real life they are yet to score and yet to collect a single point. Everyone knows they’ve been unlucky but here is actual raw proof.
  • The counterpoint to Wolves are Tottenham, who only have the 12th best xG difference yet are the only team to win all three of their games. A sustainable title bid? The numbers say not, but let’s see.
  • Manchester United’s inconsistencies so far are illustrated by the fact that they are the only team with exactly the same xG and xG conceded after three games. That puts them 11th in this table, eight places below their position in the Premier League. Signs of David De Gea returning to his 2017-18 acrobatic best could mean they sustain a higher position than the numbers say they “should”. They’ve also just bought Cristiano Ronaldo.
  • Leicester have two wins from three but only two clubs have a worse xG difference than Brendan Rodgers’ team so far. The return of key defensive personnel should help here, though.
  • Arsenal and Leeds are the only teams whose league position reflects their position on xG difference. That’s not positive news, though, with both sides in the bottom six. Arsenal’s xG difference figure is at least 2.0 lower than any other team in the Premier League team.
xG PL
Arsenal rock bottom irl and in xG life

The Disused Road to Wigan Cheer

You may have heard: Cristiano Ronaldo is back in the Premier League, and while everyone has been focusing on how much his game has changed in the 12 years since he left England, fewer have looked at how much the makeup of the Premier League has altered. So much so, in fact, that of the five teams Ronaldo scored most often against in his first spell, only one – Aston Villa – is currently in the top-flight, with three of them – Bolton, Portsmouth and Wigan – all languishing in League One. At least he has a definite chance to finally open his Premier League account against Chelsea, having faced them 10 times without scoring.

Ronaldo in PL

He’s unlikely to be scoring against any of these three this season, either.


Getting Away With It

Chelsea only conceded four fouls against Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday, including none in the second half when they were down to 10 men and fighting to stay level. Liverpool, in contrast, were penalised 13 times but didn’t pick up a single booking (Chelsea also received two yellows). Reader Freddie Mellor (no relation to Neil, I presume) writes in to ask whether it is rare for a team to be shown no cards but rack up a relatively high foul count (La Liga fans don’t laugh). Well, we have data on this from 2006-07 onwards and the highest number of fouls conceded with no cards shown is 25 by Southampton in a game at West Brom in August 2013. Saints won that 1-0, with manager Mauricio Pochettino praising the contribution of Rickie Lambert. Eight years later he is managing Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe, neither of whom have ever worked in a beetroot factory.


No Danger

So, another August is complete in the Premier League and once again no team came from 2+ goals down to win a match. Once again the fabled “dangerous lead” was no such thing. The opening day of the Premier League in 1992 saw Norwich win 4-2 from 2-0 down at Arsenal but since then it has happened in August only four more times; by Chelsea in 1994 and 2002, and then by Arsenal in 2004 and Reading in 2006. Before long we could see players featuring in the English top-flight who weren’t even born the last time a Premier League side threw away a two goal lead in August. As dangerous things go, it’s not exactly an escaped panther.