The Data Day 2021-22: No. 1
Welcome to The Data Day, our rolling football stats blog for 2021-22, where we try and make sense of what just happened.
August 5, 2021
A New Man Enters the Villa
This one came out of nowhere. An unexpected text to say a new man had entered the villa, but this time it wasn’t a scene from Love Island but a notification that Danny Ings had sealed a surprising move to Aston Villa from Southampton. This was like a transfer from the 1990s and rare for the modern social media rumour mill era, with little warning that Ings was on the move, let alone heading to England’s second-biggest city. The only thing missing was it not costing 49p per minute to find out on Clubcall.
Ings has transformed his fortunes at the club he loved. A boyhood Southampton fan, the English striker scored more than twice as many Premier League goals (41) than any other Saints player since signing in the summer of 2018. Over these three years at the club, his form over the last two seasons have been the most impressive. His 34 goals since 2019-20 are bettered by just Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Jamie Vardy, while the first two of those players are the only ones to have scored more non-penalty goals (31).
Whilst not a prolific shooter – 2.6 shots per 90 over the last two seasons, which is a fair way below players like Sergio Agüero (4) Mohamed Salah (3.8) and Harry Kane (3.4), Ings makes sure that he makes the most of the chances he does get in front of goal. Since 2019-20, he’s overperformed his non-penalty expected goals total (21.7) by 9.3 thanks to 31 goals from open play – the only player to outperform by more in this period is Spurs’ Son Heung-Min (9.7).
Ings has an average of 0.56 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes in the Premier League since 2019-20, the exact same average as Harry Kane but the England captain’s non-penalty xG per 90 (0.44) is superior to that of Ings (0.39). A player with the average quality of chance per 90 minutes to Ings across these two seasons is Roberto Firmino, but Ings has doubled his non-penalty per 90 average (0.28).
Of the 45 top scoring players in the last two Premier League seasons (12+ goals), the only player to convert a higher proportion of their non-penalty shots in the competition than Ings (21.2%) is Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette – even then it’s by the finest of margins (21.3%).
Any worries about his fitness after an injury-hit spell at Liverpool that saw him suffer a dreaded cruciate ligament rupture in his first season (2015-16) followed by further knee surgery the season after, have been put to bed thanks to his spell at Southampton. In his three seasons at the south coast side, Ings played 65% of possible minutes in the Premier League (6,663) and his longest run of games out of the side was a sequence of five in between February and March 2019.
For Aston Villa, even if they lose Jack Grealish as expected in the upcoming days, this summer has been a successful one in the transfer market. Ings will be fed by the most creative Championship player from 2020-21 in Emiliano Buendía, while Ashley Young and Leon Bailey have been added to their squad to provide decent wide options.
Southampton fans might be worried about their firepower for 2021-22 as it stands, with their main goal threat in attack now coming through a trio of Che Adams, Shane Long and Theo Walcott. They’ll need to reinvest the money from the Ings transfer, and quick.
August 4, 2021
Hit the Road, Jack
Jack Grealish has been linked with a move away from Aston Villa in every summer over the last five years, but it finally seems that move might become reality this time around. With Manchester City willing to pay a reported British transfer record fee of £100 million for his services, Villa look to be losing their talisman ahead of 2021-22.
Aston Villa fans will be left feeling a little sore should Grealish depart. Okay, the move would be softened by some astute summer transfer business, with Emiliano Buendía already secured and the Leon Bailey arriving imminently – a wide forward that loves to run at opposition defences and cause problems. Good job too, as fan-favourite Grealish has become possibly the best-known Premier League player in recent seasons for doing just that.
Since 2019-20, Grealish from carries has either attempted a shot (53) or created a chance for a teammate (81) on 134 occasions in the Premier League – more than any other player. When considering three of the other four players in the top five across this period already play for Manchester City, they become an even more frightening prospect next season. He has a combined 30 goals and assists in the Premier League over the last two seasons, with exactly half of those coming directly after a ball carry (eight goals, seven assists).
At City, it seems that Grealish would become their first choice left-sided central midfield option, possibly overtaking İlkay Gündoğan – five years older than Grealish – in the starting XI. That would be harsh on the German midfielder, with him contributing towards 21 goals in all competitions across 2020-21 (17 goals, four assists), but the England midfielder would undoubtedly be the more attacking-minded of the two.
Grealish’s impending arrival could also mean a change to Kevin De Bruyne’s position from last season. 2020-21 saw him shift from a right-sided attacking threat to more of a roaming midfielder that often found himself in the middle and left side of the attacking half. With Grealish expected to provide more of that left-sided focus, it would allow De Bruyne to move back to more of a predominantly right-sided midfield position. His last season in this position (2019-20) saw him post his highest-ever goal (13) and assist (20) tallies in a Premier League season as well as his highest expected assists per 90 (0.47) and chances created from open play per 90 (3.5) averages ever.
Across 2020-21, Grealish was involved in 6.8 open-play attacking sequences per 90 minutes on average, with only Ollie Watkins (175) involved in more than Grealish overall (165) in the Premier League for the club. Seventy-one of his involvements in attacking sequences (43%) came as the player to create the chance in open play.
His style of play has obviously led to the 25-year-old being targeted by opposition players, sometimes cynically. True, Grealish makes the most of some tackles that he faces but is a master of drawing the foul from opponents.
Grealish’s tally of 277 fouls won is not only the most in the Premier League over the last two seasons, but it’s 39 more than any player within the top five European leagues over this timespan. 43 of those have led to cards for opposition players, which is another Premier League high over those two seasons.
Is Jack Grealish worth £100m? That’s not for us to decide, but it’s unquestionably on the steep side of the market considering he’s yet to play a single minute of European club football. However, the exciting prospect of seeing one of England’s most naturally talented players in recent times playing under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola could elevate his game to another level. Very often a joy to watch, even for the neutral, Grealish creates chances, thrives from taking risks and gets people off their seats. To think that City could still yet add Harry Kane to their attack this summer is a frightening prospect for the 19 other Premier League clubs and could finally see them secure the Champions League crown that they’ve been so desperate for.