The Data Day No 13: 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.
Sunday Set Piece Service
West Ham ended Liverpool’s 25-game unbeaten competitive run with a brilliant 3-2 victory over the Reds at the London Stadium and now find themselves in third place, a point ahead of Jürgen Klopp’s side.
This version of West Ham is built different to past editions built in East London during the Premier League era, and yet it still feels like a shock when they beat teams like Liverpool.
It shouldn’t come as a shock to any of us, of course – the Hammers have been the third-best Premier League team in 2021 so far with 65 points from 33 games, behind only league champions Man City (83) and European champions Chelsea (67). This tally is also seven points more than Liverpool (58) from the same number of matches.
They have accumulated 23 points from their 11 Premier League games this season (W7 D2 L2); only in 1975-76 and 1980-81 (both 24 when adjusted to three points for a win) have they ever had more at this stage of a Football League campaign.
Critics keep on pointing out that David Moyes’ side are only one or two attacking injuries away from being weakened too much for a title challenge, but what if they stay fit? Can this team really come close to replicating Leicester City’s phenomenal 2015-16 title shock?
Like that Foxes’ side, West Ham are well drilled and seem to have a plan. Two of their goals today came from corners and since David Moyes’ first game back in charge in January 2020, they have scored 32 Premier League goals from set-piece situations (excl. pens), which is five more than any other side.
Only time will tell if West Ham can surprise us even further, but they’re winning fans when they play football as well as this.
This victory might have only been by a single-goal margin, but Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Watford this afternoon displayed a bigger gulf in class than the scoreline suggests.
Arsenal’s Pierre Emerick Aubameyang missed a first half penalty – the first saved in the Premier League by a YouTuber, with Ben Foster (38 years, 218 days) becoming the oldest goalkeeper to save a Premier League spot-kick since Shay Given for Stoke vs. Everton in August 2016.
Emile Smith Rowe was the eventual hero for the Gunners, yet again – scoring his fifth goal of 2021-22. He became only the fourth player to score in three consecutive Premier League appearances when aged 21 or younger for Arsenal, after Nicolas Anelka, José Antonio Reyes and Cesc Fàbregas.
This victory was a fitting nod of the head to Mikel Arteta’s 100th game in charge of Arsenal. The Spaniard has won 54 of those matches, with only George Graham (56) winning more of their opening century of matches as boss of the club.
Like Arteta – with 150 games as a player at the club – Graham is only of only three other men to have both played and managed 100 plus games at Arsenal in all competitions, alongside Terry Neill and George Swindin.
Shot Shy Spurs
Coming into a game against an Everton side on a run of three successive league defeats and the arrival of a manager as revered as Antonio Conte, Spurs fans could have been forgiven for thinking today could have improved their fortunes on the pitch.
Well, they did keep a clean sheet and win a point away from home, but it was also yet another Premier League match without a single shot on target attempted. It’s now 227 minutes of top-flight league action since Harry Kane’s header in the 44th minute of Spurs’ 1-0 defeat at West Ham, before no attempts on target in two and a half matches.
Overall this season, Spurs have attempted the fewest shots in the Premier League (111), with only bottom-of-the-league side Norwich City (7.62) having a lower non-penalty expected goals total than they have (9.98). Fans will be expecting Conte to change things for the better, and quick.
Yes the early Premier League game (see below) took the lion’s share of the attention today but there were four other matches and if you need some #angles on them ahead of MOTD, well, here you go.
◼︎ A rollercoaster of a day for Norwich. They ended a run of 20 Premier League games without a win by travelling to a team they finished above in the Championship last season and winning 2-1. Worryingly for fans of clubs “establishing themselves in the top-flight” this was Brentford’s fourth defeat in a row, the first time they’ve suffered this sort of run in the league since December 2016 when they were guided by Dean Smith, a manager with his own consecutive defeats issue at the moment. Norwich then ended the day by dispensing with manager Daniel Farke in a manoeuvre that seems more about the two week international break than it does about winning in west London.
◼︎ Last weekend Sean Dyche eased happily into winning life in the Premier League for 2021-22 and for his next trick he only went and took a point at Stamford Bridge. It’s not an altogether unhappy hunting ground for Burnley, with six of the seven Premier League points they’ve won against Chelsea coming just off the King’s Road. Thomas Tuchel’s team have generally overperformed when it comes to finishing this season but not today. Chelsea had 25 shots against Burnley, their highest total in a league game they didn’t win since 2015. With Manchester City cruising to a win at Old Trafford it was absolutely two points dropped by Chelsea, but for fans of a ding-dong title race, it was delightful.
◼︎ Like a sort of footballing Jedi Council, Chelsea scoop up promising talent and distribute it across the galaxy. Youngling Conor Gallagher, for instance, is having a stellar season on loan at Crystal Palace and was incredibly impressive against Wolves at Selhurst Park today. Gallagher has created eight chances in his last two games and has had a direct hand in more Premier League goals than any of his Crystal Palace teammates in 2021-22, with four goals and two assists. He looks sharper every game, as you might well expect given the fact that his manager is one of the most decorated midfielders in Premier League history.
◼︎ Brighton and Newcastle were promoted together in what map experts told us was the most geographically distanced promotion to the top-flight in English football history, and the two clubs shared the points in a sometimes confusing game at the Amex Stadium on Saturday evening. Essentially Brighton never lose to Newcastle in the Premier League and that run continued, although they had five shots on target to Newcastle’s one. The image of the game was the late red card for Albion goalkeeper Robert Sánchez, punished by VAR for roaming and clipping Callum Wilson. Lewis Dunk donned the gloves and, sadly, didn’t have to face a shot, but in disciplinary terms it was business for usual for Brighton. Since they first appeared in the Premier League in 2017-18, no club has suffered as many sendings off as they have. A town that likes to shun red meat continues to attract red cards.
In his post-match interview with Sky Sports Phil Foden made his first mistake of the afternoon, stating that Old Trafford is a “difficult place to come to.” That’s absolutely not backed up by recent history, with Manchester City joining Liverpool and Aston Villa in winning there in the league this season, along with a host of other teams in the past few campaigns. It’s eight losses at the Theatre of Dreams™ in 2021, the most in a calendar year since 1989. 90s kids might remember that this fixture was almost comically one-sided in the early years of the Premier League, but here we are in late 2021 and former metropolitan whipping boys City have now won eight times at their neighbours’ place, more than any other visiting club in the competition’s history.
Against Liverpool in their last league game at Old Trafford United were 4-0 down at half-time, so statistically this game was only half as bad, as City trotted in at the break just 2-0 up. But in aesthetic terms this was even worse. It was a smothering, a controlled embarrassment, aptly reminiscent this weekend of an FA Cup tie with United as the plucky non-league hopefuls and City as the top-flight side whose superior tactical knowledge made the result an inevitability. Like Liverpool at Old Trafford, City spent the second half counting down the minutes and making United chase shadows, as the home supporters slowly drifted away. City made more passes in the second half (427) than United did in the entire game (389), while United had just four touches in the opposition penalty box, the lowest figure they have posted in recorded Premier League history. Four City players made more than 100 touches, with João Cancelo leading the way on 125; two of them key in setting up his side’s goals.
In 1994-95 Manchester United conceded only four goals in 21 Premier League home games; this season they have already leaked 11, the most at this stage in any campaign since the late 1970s. Almost every single metric is flashing red for the club, and they are now in danger of not just becoming detached from the likes of Chelsea, City and Liverpool but slumping into mid-table. This is the first time that they have lost successive home games to Liverpool and Manchester City since the troubled period that was March 2014. Those results fast-forwarded the end of the David Moyes era, you wonder just what it will mean in November 2021.
Predicting the Premier League: MD11
It was hard to witness the supercomputer last Saturday afternoon, whirring quietly and sadly in the corner after Crystal Palace won 2-0 at Manchester City and Liverpool let a two goal lead slip at home to Brighton. No-one’s infallible though, not even our favourite gleaming futurology machine. A quick reboot and all was well, and I’m happy to say it looks back to its technologically confident self ahead of MD11. This time the weekend starts, as all should, on Friday night with an almost too-hard-to-call clash between Southampton and Aston Villa at St Mary’s. A midlands team travelling to the Solent on an autumnal Friday night? Experts will remember that Leicester won 9-0 in that scenario a couple years ago but no-one, man or machine, envisages the same happening this evening.
The biggest game of the weekend comes early on Saturday as Manchester United host Manchester City at Old Trafford. A match which could have seismic implications for the title race, and maybe Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s job prospects too, will have the eager eyes of the world trained on it. Solskjaer is the only manager to have a win percentage as high as 50% against Pep Guardiola and United are unbeaten in their last four Premier League encounters with their local rivals. Even so, the supercomputer rates a City win at 49%, and, of course, it’s only just over 10 years since this happened.
The win predictor rates Arsenal (57.7%), Chelsea (57.1%) Liverpool (55.3%) and Brentford (54.8%) as the biggest favourites in the Premier League this weekend. Arsenal play inconsistent home counties outfit Watford at the Emirates, the Gunners with a record of 11 wins from 14 Premier League encounters with the Hornets and with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang having scored six goals in five games against them.
Chelsea, meanwhile, are back at Stamford Bridge and will face Sean Dyche’s Burnley, the Lancashire side cock-a-hoop from their opening win of the season last weekend. Even so, the wise supercomputer has noted that Chelsea have let in only three Premier League goals all season and have already scored 16 home goals this season.
Liverpool are away to West Ham on Sunday afternoon and the game looks like being a cracker. David Moyes, in his 1,001st game as a manager can go above Liverpool in the table if his side wins but our match predictor gives the home side only a 19.4% of victory. Your reasons machine? Well, Liverpool have scored 3+ goals in each of their last six Premier League away games and have scored 19 goals in five league away matches this season. Oh and Mohamed Salah has scored nine goals in eight Premier League games against West Ham. It’s fair to say that the Hammers will face some serious firepower in this one.
Brentford are also big favourites and that’s because they are playing Norwich City, a team suffering one of the most torrid spells in Premier League history. Brentford have lost three of their last four home league games but in the words the cheeky supercomputer just printed on to some A4 paper, “lads, it’s Norwich.”
Finally, Antonio Conte takes charge of his first Premier League game as Tottenham Hotspur manager up at Goodison Park. It may well be a good time to face Everton because they struggled for large swathes of their game at Wolves on Monday night and have already lost nine Premier League home games in 2021, one short of an unloved club record. They have also won only one of their last 17 Premier League games against Spurs, and that includes matches where Spurs didn’t have someone of the quality of Antonio Conte as their manager. And you don’t have to be a glossy supercomputer to predict that the Italian should make Tottenham a much fiercer prospect.
Saturday marks 35 years since Sir Alex Ferguson was appointed as Manchester United manager, replacing Ron Atkinson in the Old Trafford hotseat on November 6, 1986. Only one of these men has since had a hit Sky One TV series along Steve Bleasdale, so it wasn’t all bad for Big Ron.
Ferguson arrived with United having suffered seven defeats in 17 competitive games already in 1986-87 and just two days after a League Cup exit to Southampton. It wasn’t the best start for Fergie, with a 2-0 away defeat at Oxford the first of his 1500 games as United boss before they ended the season in 11th place.
Ferguson’s first full season in charge of United was deemed a better success, despite finishing behind rivals Liverpool – a second-place finish being their best in eight seasons. However, two lowly finishes (11th and 13th) followed in the subsequent league campaigns.
Despite finishing in the bottom half in 1989-90, their season was saved by an FA Cup victory – Ferguson’s first major trophy at United. The Scottish boss didn’t look back and would go on to win a phenomenal 37 titles in his spell at the club – including an honour in each of the following 11 seasons.
This isn’t a feature-length article on Fergie, but a quick-hitting blog post to mark the anniversary. Therefore, we’ll do what we do best and summarise his time at United through the best Opta facts.
- Sir Alex Ferguson managed exactly 1500 competitive matches at Manchester United, before retiring in May 2013. 70% of his club games as a manager were at the Red Devils.
- Ferguson won 13 top-flight English league titles as a manager – more than twice as many as any other manager in the history of the league and seven more than his nearest rivals; George Ramsay and Bob Paisley.
- Manchester United have won 20 top-flight league titles in England overall, meaning that 65% of these title wins (13) came under the management of Ferguson. They have not been champions of England since he retired.
- Ferguson won 528 games in the Premier League – more than any other manager in the competition. Only Arsene Wenger (828) took charge of more games in the Premier League than the Scottish boss managed (810).
- Of managers to have taken charge of 100+ games in the Premier League, only Pep Guardiola (2.31) has a superior points per game record in the competition than Ferguson (2.16). Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp is currently just behind (2.11) after 230 games in the Premier League.
- Ferguson won the most Premier League ‘Manager of the Year’ (11) and most Premier League ‘Manager of the Month’ (27) awards in the competition’s history.
- Ferguson managed Manchester United against 48 different clubs in league competition during his tenure as Red Devils’ boss and he didn’t fail to win a game against a single one of them.
- His most successful season with the Red Devils came in 1998-99, winning the treble (Premier League, Champions League & FA Cup). That season, Manchester United played 63 games in all competitions and ended the campaign on a 33-game unbeaten run, not losing a single game after Christmas.
- Ryan Giggs was both the youngest and oldest goalscorer for Manchester United under Ferguson. His first goal for the club came in May 1991 against Manchester City in the old English first division (17 years, 156 days old) and his final goal at United came in a Premier League match against QPR in February 2013.
- Giggs played more games than any other player under Fergie at the club (941), while only Wayne Rooney (197) scored more often than the Welsh winger (168).
- Before taking charge at Manchester United, Ferguson led Aberdeen to three of their four Scottish top-flight league titles (1979/80, 1983/84 & 1984/85) & was the only boss to lead them to European titles; the 1982/83 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup & the 1983 UEFA Super Cup.
- Only Carlo Ancelotti (including one Intertoto Cup win) and Giovanni Trapattoni have won as many UEFA club competition titles as Ferguson did during his managerial career (7).