Welcome to The Data Day, our rolling football stats blog for 2021-22, where we try and make sense of what just happened.
National Penalty Day
A wet and furious Saturday in the Premier League, with all three title contenders playing, winning and getting at least one penalty. Sounds rare, is rare: it’s the first time it’s ever happened on the same day in the Premier League.
Manchester City were first up and endured a frustrating lunchtime against Wolves, the visitors defending like lions (a sort of orange wolf), even when they were reduced to 10 men after Raúl Jiménez was shown two yellow cards in less than 50 seconds. The goal, when it came in the second half, was a penalty slotted home by Raheem Sterling, the England man becoming the 32nd player in Premier League history to reach treble figures. And if it seems like a lot of people have been going from the 90s to the 100s recently, then congratulations, you’re right:
So City held on to top spot with the sort of match people like to say “wins titles,” referencing England’s ancient obsession with the 1-0 win. Liverpool, second at the start of the day, only went and did the same in their emotionally charged encounter with Former Liverpool Legend Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa. Gerrard set his team up to frustrate and although Liverpool had 20 shots, only five of them were on target. The longest spell of ball-in-play time was two minutes and 15 seconds, the lowest figure in a Liverpool league game this season. Like their title rivals down the M62, Liverpool needed a second-half penalty, despatched by top scorer Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian has now scored or assisted a goal in 14 consecutive Premier League appearances, just one off Jamie Vardy’s record of 15 between August and December 2015.
Villa were aggrieved that they didn’t get their own penalty when Alisson appeared to pull down Danny Ings. Instead, they ended the match with no shots on target, but the progression they are making under Gerrard is clear.
Chelsea, meanwhile, came so close to losing touch with City and Liverpool, falling behind to Leeds, coming back to lead 2-1, letting that lead slip and scoring a 90+4 penalty to stay in touch. Chelsea’s defensive prowess seems to have vanished and they have now conceded eight goals across their last three games in all competitions, as many as in their previous 18. Chelsea allowed their opponents less than 1.0 xG in eight of their first 13 league games this season but have given away 4.64 across their last three.
Fortunately, they have Jorginho to tuck away penalties, which he did twice in this game, the second of them being Chelsea’s latest winner in a Premier League game for more than a decade. Thomas Tuchel has work to do, but his side are still in this.
Across London, Arsenal strolled to their customary home win against Southampton. They haven’t lost to Saints on their own turf since Super Mario Brothers 3 was released and after a slow start, didn’t really look like doing so today. Arsenal’s opener was the sort of playing-out-from-the-back move than angers uncles across the country but when it works, it works.
Martin Ødegaard continued his recent streak, having scored in each of his last three Premier League appearances for Arsenal (from seven shots), having scored only twice in his first 25 appearances for the club in the competition (from 21 shots). Willy Caballero, meanwhile, became the 17th player to play a Premier League game in his 40s. Born in 1981, he is old enough to have watched and remember Southampton’s last league away win against Arsenal, but I very much doubt he did/does.
The day concluded with Manchester United’s trip to Carrow Road. It’s no secret that they want to ape the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City so a 1-0 win via a penalty was the perfect outcome. Cristiano Ronaldo tucked it away with 15 minutes to go for his 91st Premier League goal and a total that brings him level with his recently departed former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and James Beattie. Norwich failing to score means Rangnick is the first United boss to register clean sheets in his first two league games in charge of the club since Ernest Mangnall in 1903. The new Mangall, what we’ve all been waiting for.
Whatever happens in the future, December 12, 2021 will forever be known as “that day when nearly all the action came from 12 yards.” Every day needs a theme; I’ve seen worse.
Boy, do Brentford like Fridays.
The last time Brentford played on a Friday night was on the opening day of the Premier League season. The Community Stadium was feverish, delirious, and crackling with energy as the Bees bullied Arsenal.
Tonight against Watford, the mood started subdued and nervy. But by the end of the game, the raucous cheers and cries of “Hey Jude” were a throwback to the opening day. The Bees are now unbeaten in their last nine league games played on a Friday (W7 D2), since a 2-0 home loss to Fulham in November 2016.
Thomas Frank’s side dominated possession throughout the game, but never really appeared to get much going against a susceptible Watford defence. For 84 minutes, Watford’s rear-guard action belied their season-long numbers. They scrambled and blocked everything that Brentford threw at them, which for the first 84 minutes, wasn’t that much.
The problem though, is that football matches famously last longer than that. The longer the game went on, the more Brentford threatened. In the 84th minute, a Pontus Jansson goal sunk Watford’s hopes of their first clean sheet of the season, after Emmanuel Dennis had put them ahead. It was a big blow, and had turned a win into what felt like a loss. But at least it wasn’t going to actually be a loss.
Then William Troost-Ekong happened. In the 94th minute, he lunged and scythed down Saman Ghoddos in the box to give Brentford a golden opportunity to win the game. Bryan Mbuemo duly punished him, sweeping in the latest Premier League goal of the season.
It’s a real sickener for Claudio Ranieri’s side, who have now won just two of their last seven away games in the Premier League when leading at half-time.
The one silver lining for Watford fans is that they looked threatening all evening up top with Dennis and Josh King. For all the talk of Brentford’s danger from set pieces, Watford’s opener came from a Tom Cleverley corner with Dennis powering home a header for his seventh goal of the season. The Nigerian has been directly involved in 12 Premier League goals this season (7 goals, 5 assists). Only Mo Salah – see what we did there – has been involved in more (22). His £3.5m acquisition from Club Brugge in July looks like the steal of the summer.
Cleverley now has as many Premier League assists as Luka Modric. He does have one fewer Ballon d’Or though, so we guess Luka has the upper hand there.
This is the start of a more palatable run of fixtures for Watford. They’ll need everything they can get out of King and Dennis to get themselves out of the mess they’ve created.
For Brentford, like most of us, they must wish every day could be Friday.
Continental Entertainers 2-3 Continental Progressors
Villarreal qualified for this season’s Champions League despite not finishing in the top six of La Liga, the cutoff for traditional Europa League qualification. They did so by beating Manchester United in the Europa League final. And although they couldn’t chase down United to win Group F on Thursday, they did more than they needed to in Bergamo to carry on to the Champions League last 16 despite sitting 13th in La Liga.
As underwhelming as they’ve been domestically under Unai Emery, the Yellow Submarine is fast becoming a side that surfaces to deal with continental tasks. It wasn’t supposed to be an easy one, needing at least a draw away to an Atalanta team on an unbeaten run punctuated with a win away to then-Serie A-leading Napoli.
Sitting on that thought for an extra day after being postponed due to heavy snow probably didn’t help, but Emery did it in textbook fashion for a club needing only to not lose: They defended well enough, keeping Atalanta goalless for 70 minutes, while countering and taking their chances. Villarreal scored with three of their first five shots and did it against the run of play all match:
Arnaut Danjuma added a brace to the goal he scored in the 2-2 home draw with Atalanta back on Sept. 14, which set the tone for the kind of Champions League campaign this would be for the Italian side.
It wasn’t Thursday’s home defeat that sent Atalanta out of the Champions League a bit earlier than the neutral fan may have liked. They led in all five of their preceding matches and won just once, so it was these four that really cost them a spot in the knockout phase:
The one game Atalanta did win, 1-0 over Young Boys, was the least exciting of the six they played. The nine points dropped from winning positions tied Milan for the most in this season’s competition, and only eight teams in Champions League history have ever had more in a group stage, topped by CSKA Moscow’s frankly ridiculous 11 in 2007-08.
But of course, Gian Piero Gasperini’s team had to make it entertaining even after going three down. The football gods decided this match couldn’t be lost in the Wednesday crowd of fixtures, and The Goddess wasn’t going to disappoint. La Dea had been unbeaten in 10 straight since a 3-2 loss at Old Trafford on Oct. 20 – including last weekend’s 3-2 win at Napoli, in which Atalanta led early, then trailed just after half-time, then had the lead back by the 71st minute – so they weren’t going to let it be at 3-0. Sprinkled in with getting two goals back, they hit the woodwork three times and failed to finish two manageable headers.
The kings of the two-goal swing weren’t able to get two more, and they now drop down to the competition Villarreal won in the spring, meaning the neutral fan no longer has to make the Tuesday/Wednesday decision of whether to watch Atalanta or the standard bigger clubs. The Europa League will be happy to have them, and in a few month’s time we’ll get to see if the Yellow Submarine can surface successfully in the Champions League last 16.
See Naples and Qualify (for the Conference League)
Leicester City are out of the Europa League but they remain in Europe. A 3-2 defeat in Naples has dropped Brendan Rodgers’ team into that new competition’s knockout playoff round in February. A late, late penalty from Tomáš Pekhart in the Legia Warsaw vs. Spartak Moscow game could have kept the Foxes in Europe’s second-tier competition but it was saved and instead they’ll continue their continental adventure in the third.
In truth, Leicester’s task in Naples was always going to be a steep one. Napoli have qualified from the group stage in all six of their seasons in this competition, and although Leicester created bigger and better chances, based on expected goals, letting Napoli go 2-0 up in torrential rain was never going to end well.
Napoli scored during both of their major spells of momentum and in knockout football, that’s a good trait to have. Props go to Napoli’s Eljif Elmas who has now been involved in five goals in his last five appearances in major European competition (4 goals, 1 assist), having failed to register a single goal involvement in his first 19 such games. Like anyone with an umbrella at this game, he was in the right place at the right time.
Leicester spent much of the second half knocking on the door but to no avail. They can point at Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s first senior goal for the club, but the bigger news is that the club have now gone 16 games without a clean sheet, their longest such run since January 2006. If you can’t defend you won’t finish in the top half of a table. In the Premier League, that’s a concern, in the Europa League that simply means a transfer to another competition, whether that’s a welcome development or not.
Bayern, Benfica, Barcelona in That Order
The question coming into MD6 was whether Barcelona would fail to advance to the Champions League knockout stages for the first time since 2000-01. Another question of the lesser of two evils variety: would you rather travel to Bayern Munich facing Champions League elimination with the Allianz Arena full of Bavarian supporters, or have nothing in the grounds to distract you from the imposing presence of Ballon d’Or-snubbed Robert Lewandowski for 90 unrelenting minutes?
The latter was the setting with Covid-19 restrictions in place in Germany, and the realistic answer is: there simply wasn’t a way out alive.
It became evident early on that a Barca win would be necessary as Benfica scored twice in the opening 22 minutes of Group E’s other match against Dynamo Kyiv, meaning even a draw would send Xavi’s side into the Europa League. By the half-hour mark, that meant Barca’s chances of advancing were down to 13.5%, and Bayern were just warming up. A Thomas Müller goal followed via an assist from Lewandowski, dropping Xavi’s side to a 4.3% likelihood of going through. Then came 2-0 thanks to Leroy Sane’s strike from distance, and reality – again – settled in for Barcelona at a miniscule 1.7% chance of progressing.
The 3-0 result pushes Bayern’s winning streak over Barca to four, extending the longest run of victories for any team against the Catalans in the history of the European Cup and Champions League.
Julian Nagelsmann’s team also ended the group stage with six wins from six matches, joining Ajax and Liverpool as this season’s crop to do so. Historically, that hasn’t necessarily meant good things, but as has often been the case in Champions League the past few seasons, Bayern are the exception and not the rule. Before this season, there had been 880 instances of a team playing in the Champions League group stage. Just seven teams from that 880 had managed to win every single match in their group: Milan 1992-93, Paris Saint-Germain 1994-95, Spartak Moscow 1995-96, Barcelona 2002-03, Real Madrid 2011-12, Real Madrid 2014-15 and Bayern Munich 2019-20. This is the first time more than one team has done it in a season, but only one of the previous seven have gone on to win the trophy: Bayern in 2019-20.
Müller’s opener was his 50th for Bayern in the Champions League, marking 12 seasons in which he’s had multiple goals in the competition, while this was his seventh with his head:
For all the fear that Lewandowski, Müller and the rest of the Bayern attack can instill, Barca’s exit is more about their own deficiencies. The Catalans, as it stands, just aren’t a Champions League Last 16-level club, particularly in terms of generating scoring chances. Barcelona scored two goals in six group stage matches in a competition that’s only seen two sides go through on three (Roma in 2002-03 and Villarreal in ’05-06). They haven’t scored more than a goal in any of their last nine Champions League matches in the last 365 days:
Their xG of 0.38 against Bayern is their third of six games this season in which they’ve been held under 0.4. Hanging that on one player may be petty, particularly in the season after Lionel Messi’s departure, but summer signing Memphis Depay hasn’t been an effective player for this team against strong competition. He may have created the fourth-most chances (17) in the group stages, but in addition to failing to record a shot on target in his first La Liga matches against Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, he’s also yet to do so for Barcelona in the Champions League:
Barcelona missed the knockout stages in 2000-01, but they missed out on the Champions League entirely in 2003-04. Wednesday’s 17-year-old starter Gavi wasn’t born, while fellow Wednesday starter Gerard Piqué was two months from his 17th birthday. That doesn’t clarify anything, and it’s not meant to. Rather, it feels chaotic and unruddered, much like the state of the club, still a matter of days into Xavi’s time on the job. A slightly more optimistic take is Xavi was part of that 2003-04 team as a 23-year-old. Good, great, and exceptional days did follow. But football is different in 2021 than it was in 2004 when an elite club’s elite academy was enough to build a European power, and getting back to that level feels like it’s going to be more complicated this time around.
Bayern Munich maintained perfection even after entering the matchday entirely secure. Barcelona remained flawed even when desperate.
Often the MD6 situation in the Champions League is that it’s over bar the shouting and, rather than a classic exhibition of European football at its finest, it’s instead a chance for grateful coaches to give eager youngsters and rarely glimpsed squad members some minutes.
But that very much wasn’t the case in Group G. With five games played it was the tightest remaining section of the tournament this season, with all four sides, Lille, Wolfsburg, Sevilla and Salzburg, able to go through.
Continental experts fancied a pairing of Wolfsburg and Sevilla to get through to the Round of 16 because the Bundesliga side were at home in their encounter with French border outfit Lille, while La Liga’s Sevilla had the European pedigree that surely gave them a big advantage over RB Salzburg, given that no Austrian club had ever qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League.
But we love football because it’s an infuriatingly random low-scoring sport that can see almost any outcome emerge, and so it proved. Salzburg used their Austrian advantage – that’s wins in all three of their home games this season – to humble Sevilla and put the Spanish side into the Europa League. That might be a blow for some teams, but let’s not forget that Sevilla have won the Uefa Cup/Europa League twice as often (six times) as any other club in the competition’s history.
In 2006 Sevilla won the Uefa Cup
In 2007 Sevilla won the Uefa Cup
In 2014 Sevilla won the Europa League
In 2015 Sevilla won the Europa League
In 2016 Sevilla won the Europa League
In 2017 there was the incident with the pigeon
In 2020 Sevilla won the Europa League
Meanwhile, 750km away in Germany, Wolfsburg wasted home advantage by crashing 3-1 at home to Lille, who top a Champions League group for the first time in seven attempts. After a cagey first half in which they took an early lead, the French champions created plenty of expected goals and two actual goals to make the knockout stage a certainty.
It was only Wolfsburg’s second ever home defeat in the Champions League (after that one when Michael Owen scored a hat-trick for Manchester United in 2009) and couldn’t have come at a worse time. Lille utilised both the youthfulness of Canadian prospect Jonathan David, who became the club’s first player to score in three successive Champions League games, while also maximising veteran Burak Yilmaz. He become the sixth player aged 36 or older (36y 146d) to score more than once in a single Champions League season, after a stellar list of Cristiano Ronaldo, Francesco Totti, Didier Drogba, Filippo Inzaghi and Laurent Blanc.
It means Lille will be drawn against a second-placed team on Monday and no one will fancy a trip to Stade Pierre Mauroy, despite the city’s justifiably fabled transport links.
The Group B Timeline
Kick-off: We know Liverpool are through. We know very little else, other than it’s Porto with a 58.9% chance of going through ahead of a home match against Atlético Madrid while Milan host the group destroyers Liverpool.
We don’t know if a team will manage to advance to the Champions League knockout stages with just six points. We don’t yet know if a team will go last to second. We don’t yet know if Porto will keep alive Portugal’s chances of sending three teams to the knockout stages for the first time in Champions League history. We don’t know if Porto vs. Atlético Madrid will become the second game in Champions League history with three straight red cards after Galatasaray vs. Spartak Moscow in 1993, but, thinking about it, that seems like a spoiler…
Milan 1-0 Liverpool, 29’: A Fikayo Tomori goal puts Milan in a good position, temporarily on seven points. Milan are going through. Simple.
But it doesn’t last because they are playing against perhaps the best attacker on the planet…
Milan 1-1 Liverpool, 36’: Mohamed Salah scores his 20th goal of the season in all competitions, including seven in six group stage Champions League matches. We’d be talking about this more if it weren’t for Sebastien Haller and Robert Lewandowski. Milan are back down to five points. Porto are scoreless with Atléti and temporarily on six points because they can’t get one past Jan Oblak. Even so: Porto with plenty of momentum on the pitch. Porto are going through.
Porto 0-1 Atlético Madrid 56’: Half-time can kill you, but so can an open back post. Antoine Griezmann finds himself in the right place at the right time, quickly adjusts his feet to slot home a corner at the back post that came to him from a Porto deflection. UPDATE: Atlético are going through.
Milan 1-2 Liverpool, 55’: Divock Origi scores nearly 40 minutes earlier than his winner at Wolves last Saturday. Barring a two-goal swing here, it’s essentially down to two teams to advance. Another spoiler, this would also be a winner for Origi. UPDATE: Atlético are going through.
Porto 0-1 Atlético Madrid, 63’: Wendell subbed on. If this seems insignificant, you’re right, but you’re also wrong. Wait seven minutes.
Porto 0-1 Atlético Madrid, 67’: Yannick Carrasco sent off for a dead ball altercation. Atlético are down to 10 men. Atlético are still going through as it stands, but new life for Porto. Everyone needs to calm down. No one does.
Porto 0-1 Atlético Madrid, 70’: Wendell is rather questionably sent off for a classic MD6 altercation. The game is now 10-a-side. UPDATE: Atlético are going through.
Porto 0-2 Atlético Madrid, 90’: 66th-minute substitute Ángel Correa breaks out on the counter and ends it. UPDATE: Atlético are definitely going through. Simeone has done it again.
Porto 0-3 Atlético Madrid, 90’+2: Rodrigo de Paul scores. Yeah, Atlético are definitely going through.
Porto 1-3 Atlético Madrid, 90’+5: A Porto penalty is slotted home morosely by Sério Oliveira. OK enough already.
Six from Six
Before this season, there had been 880 instances of a team playing in the UEFA Champions League group stage – including those four slightly unsatisfying seasons between 1999-00 and 2002-03 that contained a second group. Just seven teams from that 880 had managed to win every single match in their group:
Milan in 1992-93
Paris Saint-Germain in 1994-95
Spartak Moscow in 1995-96
Barcelona in 2002-03
Real Madrid in 2011-12
Real Madrid in 2014-15
Bayern Munich in 2019-20
You can add two more to that list now thanks to Liverpool and Ajax, with an opportunity of a third tomorrow night when Bayern Munich host Barcelona hoping to make it six wins from six in 2021-22.
This is the first time that more than one team have done it in a season, but only one of the previous seven have gone on to win the trophy: Bayern in 2019-20.
Will history repeat itself? Have Ajax and Liverpool peaked too early? Tune in next year to find out!
It feels like we’ve written a lot about Sébastien Haller in our Champions League coverage this season, but how can we ignore his ridiculous debut season in the competition?
Tonight, we witnessed him breaking even more records.
Not only did he become just the second player to score in all six of his UEFA Champions League group stage appearances within a season – after Cristiano Ronaldo’s efforts in 2017-18 – he became the first player in the history of the competition to score in his first six appearances in the competition overall. He also beat Erling Haaland’s record as the quickest player to reach double figures for goals in the UCL (previous seven, now six for the Ivory Coast striker).
With 10 goals, he also ended just one away from another Ronaldo’s group stage record – 11 goals scored in a single season within the round, from 2015-16. Haller is level with the efforts from Lionel Messi in 2016-17 and Robert Lewandowski in 2019-20 – not bad company to keep. The record goal tally by a player in a single Champions League campaign currently stands at 17, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s effort in 2013-14 at Real Madrid. Should Ajax go far in this tournament, then maybe Haller, unbelievably, will threaten that next?
…especially when we’re only a week into December. Mohamed Salah hit his 20th competitive goal for Liverpool in 2021-22 in their game against Milan tonight – already more than six different Premier League clubs.
Mo Salah is only the fourth player in Liverpool’s history to score 20+ goals in five consecutive seasons in all comps:— Michael Reid (@michael_reid11) December 7, 2021
Ian Rush – 6 in a row (1981-82 – 1986-87)
Gordon Hodgson – 5 (1930-31 – 1934-35)
Roger Hunt – 5 (1961-62 – 1965-66)
⭐MO SALAH – 5 (2017-18 – 2021-22)⭐#LFC
It’s not as if this is unusual for the Egyptian. This is the fifth consecutive season that he’s scored 20+ goals across all competitions, becoming the first player to do this for Liverpool since the great Ian Rush in the 1980s.
Salah’s best season at Liverpool in front of goal came in 2017-18 when he helped himself to 44 goals overall and equalled Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record from 2002-03 as the top scoring player for a Premier League club across all competitions.
He’s now just 24 goals away from this tally with over half the season left. Of course, he’s expected to be absent for some games in the new year thanks to the Africa Cup of Nations, but that tally definitely isn’t out of reach for such a phenomenon.
3: M to M
Aside from perhaps some reputation-building after two questionable recent Ligue 1 efforts, Paris Saint-Germain didn’t have any serious work to do Tuesday night against Club Brugge. Kylian Mbappé apparently did, and he did it quickly. A goal would have made him the fastest to 30 in Champions League history. In case of any bookkeeping errors, he went ahead and scored two. In the first seven minutes.
After just six minutes and 21 seconds, it was the second-earliest brace by a player from the start of a Champions League match, trailing only Rodrygo for Real Madrid against Galatasary in November 2019 (06:13).
And then, perhaps as if to apologise to the man he surpassed on the above list, rather than carrying at goal for a third in the 38th minute, Mbappé unselfishly played a ball into the middle that at first seemed to slow a transition. Messi took it from there and scored a Messi™ goal, moving left at the top of the box and bending his shot inside the left post for his fourth in five Champions League matches this season. He then added a second-half penalty to complete the scoring at 4-1.
Messi’s move to France hasn’t been consistent, though, and the competition he’s more familiar with is certainly where his PSG success has come this season so far, at least when it comes to finishing:
In all, Messi has scored 76 goals in the Champions League group stages, which is at least three more than any other player. Cristiano Ronaldo has 73. Brugge was the 38th team Messi has scored against in the competition, which moves him back into a tie atop that category with…you know who with:
Mbappé’s first goal came in the second minute on a first-time finish off the far post after an inexcusable rebound from Brugge goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. The second came five minutes later on a beauty of an assist from Ángel Di María playing Mbappé in on goal for a first-time volley.
Brugge has been an easy target for both Mbappé and Di María. Now on 31 Champions League strikes, Mbappé five against Clubb Brugge are the most he has against any one team with four against Barcelona. Di María’s assist was his 32nd in the Champions League, which is third among active players behind Ronaldo (40) and Messi (35). Four of Di María’s have come against Brugge in three matches, and he’s only equaled that total in seven career UCL matches against Manchester City.
They’ll have to pick on someone else when the competition resumes in February, and they’ll know who that is after Monday’s draw.