The Data Day No. 7: Our Rolling Football Blog
Welcome to The Data Day, our rolling football stats blog for 2021-22, where we try and make sense of what just happened.
Premier League MD5 Quiz
The fifth matchday in the 2021-22 Premier League season has been completed. We saw five away wins – the most in a single gameweek so far this season, and despite the most shots in a matchday in 2021-22 (288) we only saw fewer goals last weekend (23) than we did across this set of 10 matches (24).
But how much did you learn from the Premier League football on display across the three days of action? It’s time to find out…
Today was a sad day for football as Jimmy Greaves, the top scoring player in English top flight history, and formerly the top scoring player in Europe’s big five leagues until the emergence of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, died. The majority of fans in 2021 are too young to remember Greaves the player, but lots of us remember Greaves the television presenter in the 1980s. Has anyone before or since completely nailed the tone that Greaves did in his broadcasting. He was knowledgeable, funny, serious when required and, let’s stress this point again: funny. When he developed and seeded football cliches he did so as a master of football language. It’s a funny old game? Yes, but slightly less so without Jimmy Greaves.
And, in a reasonable twist of fate, the two clubs Greaves performed most productively for, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, met in the Premier League this afternoon. So let’s look at some other cliches and see whether they stack up in the light of this game…
The worst time to concede is just before half-time: Well, Tottenham went into the half time break level and the better side in the first half. But they still lost 3-0. Maybe the worst time to concede is: just then.
It’s a game of two halves: Yep, ok fine, see below.
2-0 is a dangerous lead: I suppose it was dangerous for Tottenham, because they ended up losing the game 3-0. We are five matchweeks into the 2021-22 season and not a single team has come from a two goal deficit to claim even a point this season. No danger here my friend. That ship has sailed.
The form book goes out of the window in local derbies: Tottenham v Chelsea is one of the most visceral rivalries in English football but this was Chelsea’s sixth London derby win in a row, the best run in their league history. Turns out being continental champions is more significant than geographically influenced but unscientific passion metrics.
It’s a marathon not a sprint: Did 2018-19 not teach us anything? That famous season saw Manchester City and Liverpool serve up the biggest flawless slugfest in English football history as neither side blinked in an endless run-in. City won the title on 98 points and Liverpool came second on 97. So far in 2021-22 Liverpool and Chelsea have exactly the same results in exactly the same order. If this was the case after 38 games we’d have an epoch-defining 39th game to decide the title. We’re not even through conker season, yet already no title-hunting club can afford to drop a point.
Football is a young man’s game: Earlier today in east London we saw 36-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo score against West Ham. Then a few miles to the north west and a few hours later Thiago Silva became the second-oldest Chelsea player to score in the Premier League behind Didier Drogba. Silva turns 37 on Wednesday yet oozes timeless class. He’s only 79 years younger than the club he plays for and that sort of experience shows.
Spot of Bother
Manchester United stretched their all-time English top-flight unbeaten away run to 29 games with this draw at West Ham this afternoon, and guess what? Yet again they had to come from behind in to secure all three points.
Starting in February 2020, this 29-match run has United secure 67 points, of which over half (34) have been won from losing positions. Many will have come in less dramatic fashion than this one, however.
With Man Utd leading in injury time, a Luke Shaw handball was given the dreaded VAR nod and on came special team’s kicker Mark Noble to inevitably steal a late point. But anti-penalty saving goalkeeper David de Gea had other ideas…
The Spanish shot stopper put his sour relationship with penalties to one side as dived to his left and palmed Noble’s spot-kick away to secure all three points for his side. This save ended an incredible run of 40 successive penalties in all competitions for club and country (including shootouts) that de Gea hadn’t managed to save – last doing so before today in April 2016 against Romelu Lukaku in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton.
If we learnt anything from this summer, it was probably: don’t bring a player cold off the bench to take an important penalty.
The winning goal arrived via Jesse Lingard, a popular figure in this part of London following a very successful loan spell at the Hammers in the second half of last season. Lingard has been involved in seven goals in his last nine league games at the London Stadium, but this was the first in a Manchester United shirt.
United’s opening strike came from Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored his fourth competitive goal in three appearances since his return to the club. In truth, he should have scored more in this game – his tally of seven shots hasn’t been bettered by a Man Utd player in a Premier League game since December 2016 (Paul Pogba’s eight vs Sunderland).
Ronaldo’s goal meant that he scored in a 66th different stadium within the big five European leagues since he debuted for Manchester United in 2003-04 – that’s more than any other player in those five leagues across this timeframe. Ronaldo holds many records in his career, with this admittedly on the more niche end of the scale.
In the timeless words of Sven-Goran Eriksson, “first half good, second half not so good.” That is a rough precis of Friday night’s Premier League encounter between Newcastle United and Leeds United, although the second 45 minutes was only diminished because the first half was *so* entertaining. For a variety of reasons everyone suspected that this game would be a delight and so it proved. The first half was a breathless faux-NBA style game, with each team taking it in turns to attack at pace, if not always with conviction. There’s an idea that Friday night games are a little bit looser, a little bit more ragged than games played on other, more staid weekdays, and the numbers do back this up. An average of 2.81 goals per game on Friday makes it the most entertaining (if you judge sport purely by the act of scoring) day of the week. With only two goals this match technically underperformed, although as we’ll see, not for the want of trying.
The first half contained both goals. Leeds scored first; Raphinha’s bending cross-cum-shot from the right flank was brilliantly dummied by Rodrigo, who simply star jumped over the ball, a rare manoeuvre which completely deceived Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow. It’s rare for us at The Analyst to point out the absence of recorded data but that non-touch by Rodrigo is one of the best ghost moves you’ll see all season.
Newcastle’s equaliser also contained haunted qualities as Allan Saint-Maximin ghosted across the penalty area from left to right, repeatedly threatening to shoot before shuttling one place further on, a dangerous chess piece in black and white. When he eventually did release the ball it flew past Illan Meslier to provide a genuine feel-good moment in a Newcastle season that once again hasn’t had too many. The support for the Newcastle players from the home crowd never dims. Other departments? Not so much.
And while the second half didn’t quite match the first, it still contained 18 attempts at goal. That took the game’s shot total to 38, which puts it third for the Premier League campaign so far, behind two matches from last weekend, one of which involved Leeds. But of the top five matches for total shots this season in the Premier League, tonight’s has the lowest xG by some distance. And that makes sense: these are two teams with exciting players but, so far, not a reliable way of converting that enthusiasm into quality. Both Newcastle and Leeds will head into matchweek six without a league win to their name but anyone who watched tonight’s drama will concede that deep down, they are both winners.
Predicting the Premier League – Matchday 5
Four matchdays in and we have four teams tied on 10 points at the top of the Premier League table. Of those four, only Liverpool have a home match on Matchday 5 and as a result they have the best chance of advancing to 13 points with a win this weekend.
The Reds host Crystal Palace, who ended Spurs’ impeccable 100% start to the season last weekend at Selhurst Park with a 3-0 drubbing of their London rivals. Securing back-to-back wins on Saturday will be difficult, with our match predictor giving them the second-lowest chance of victory this weekend (11.2%). Liverpool have won their last eight Premier League games against Crystal Palace and are on the longest current unbeaten run within the top four tiers of English league football, going 14 games without a defeat now (W11 D3).
Palace’s new signing Odsonne Édouard enjoyed a dream debut with two goals in his six-minute appearance vs Spurs. At this rate, he’d be on track to score 1,020 goals in the Premier League this season should he play every single minute of Palace’s 34 matches, which is *checks notes* …unlikely. He’s been directly involved in 21 goals in his last 24 league appearances (17 goals, 4 assists) across Celtic and Palace, so could be a threat to Liverpool’s unbeaten run in this game.
The heaviest favourites to pick up a victory this weekend in the Premier League are Manchester City, who host Southampton at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Our match predictor gives them an 82.1% chance of victory – the second largest seen in the Premier League so far this season after City’s 87.4% chance of a win at home to Norwich on MD2.
Southampton are winless in six Premier League matches (D3 L3) and come up against an absolutely rampant Manchester City side. Pep Guardiola’s team are the first English top-flight side to score 5+ goals in four consecutive home matches in all competitions since Everton in 1931 (six games).
Biggest chance of an away win? That’ll be Arsenal vs. Burnley according to the match predictor, with the Gunners having a 44.7% chance of victory at Turf Moor. Even Arsenal fans might think this is way too kind on their side, while some Burnley fans will be raging, but hear us out…
One. Arsenal are unbeaten in their last nine away league games against Burnley, winning four and drawing five of those games.
Two. Burnley haven’t won ANY of their last 12 Premier League home matches, with six draws and six defeats. This is their longest run without winning a home league game in their entire history. Is Turf Moor a “tough place to go”? Not really.
Three. Yes, Arsenal only defeated Norwich City 1-0 at home last weekend, but they should have scored more. An xG of 3.05 and 30 shots – more than they’d managed in their opening three league games in 2021-22 combined (29).
Talking of Norwich City, the Canaries will be hoping to get off the mark with a home game against fellow 2020-21 Championship promoted side Watford, at Carrow Road on Saturday.
The match predictor is kind to Watford in this one, with the Hornets being given a 43.4% chance of picking up all three points in East Anglia. This is how it’s panned out in each of the last four league meetings between the two sides, with Watford picking up a victory on each occasion, including a 1-0 victory last season in the second tier. Both sides need the points in this game, so expect a battle.
The biggest game of the matchday undoubtedly takes place in north London in the final game of Matchday 5, as Spurs host Chelsea.
Since 2020, Tottenham have picked up impressive Premier League home wins against Manchester City (three times) and Arsenal (two times) but lost their last home game against Chelsea in the competition (1-0) in February 2021. Our match predictor thinks that they can pick up another big win in this game (39.7%), with home advantage key – but Chelsea have won each of their last five London derbies away from home.
Can I fully explain their 31.2% chance of victory given in the match predictor on this away trip, well not exactly…but that’s the beauty of relying 100% on data and not having any opinion in the final result. Do I think Chelsea will win on Sunday? Yes. Am I smarter than a data simulation? Probably not, but we’ll see.