In this article, I am going to be reviewing the teams in the top half of the Premier League using Michael Caley’s xG table and the two analytics graphs (attacking & defensive) that I created. The article also contains a preview/prediction of their upcoming Premier League fixtures.
In terms of xG Chelsea have been the strongest in the league so far. They have been the best side offensively (average of 1.97 xG p90), much due to the form of Diego Costa (7 goals in 9 games) and the rejuvenated Eden Hazard.
Preview: This attack will really be put to the test this weekend when they are asked to break down the toughest defence in the league so far in Southampton.
Defensively, they have brought back the solidity pre-Mourinho meltdown and have the 2nd best defence in terms of xG (average of 0.73 xG Against p90, Southampton 1st). Moving from a back 4 into a back 3 has played a key part in this. They made this change in the last 3 games where they have won all 3, scoring 9 and conceding 0. In those 3 games their average xG Against p90 was 0.50; in the 3 games prior to that (with a back 4), they conceded 7 and their average xG Against p90 was 1.30. Whether this will be sustained if they continue to play David Luiz is another question.
City are still top of the league but their form has taken a dip. Since the start of the season City have topped the “xG For” table however now they have been pipped by Chelsea. This has been a large part due to their goals drying up over the last 3 games, but this is explained when you see their fixture schedule was Tottenham, Everton and Southampton; 3 of the top teams defensively so far. Defensively Man City, have the 3rd best defence in terms of xG, but this is understandable with how much possession they have. In my opinion, City are very much under-criticised due to how much they have the ball (average possession of 58%, the highest in the league) which is preventing there defenders’ real ability being exposed. Yes, possession is a defensive tactic in itself, although when you analyse their back 4 and midfield man for man, there are weaknesses there which teams are finding easy to exploit. This will be discussed in another post.
Preview: City are facing West Brom this weekend, and if The Baggies perform like Everton and Southampton did (which a Pulis side is more than capable of doing), then West Brom could easily cause an upset as they will most certainly be given an opportunity to grab a goal.
Liverpool have been great going forward this season, creating the most chances in the league (15.0 p90) with Firmino the main driver of this creativity (25 chances created). However, the reason to why these figures are not being carried forward into xG is because a lot of these chances aren’t being taken in good locations; they have taken roughly 9 shots per game outside of the box whereas in comparison Chelsea are taking closer to 6. Coutinho is the main culprit of fancying his chances from range (shot locations below), and whilst he has an impressive record scoring from outside the box, he is reducing the sides probability of scoring by doing so.
Defensively Liverpool have not been so good. The surprising thing is that Liverpool have conceded the fewest shots per game so far with 7.9, but these chances have mostly all been good ones for the opposition which is why it doesn’t correlate to a low xG Against. If Liverpool are able to improve in this area by conceding the same number of shots but from worse locations, they will be able to provide a genuine threat to Chelsea and City at the top.
Preview: Liverpool face Palace which could be a recipe for a high goals game (although usually whenever that is predicted, a 0-0 is almost nailed on) because both teams have been as equally impressive going forward as they have been unimpressive at the back. A Benteke goal against his former club is written in the script, whilst Firmino and Coutinho will likely be given the space to cause havoc.
Tottenham are still up there in Premier League xG table but will need to make improvements at both ends of the pitch if they are going to really provide a threat to the teams above. Even though they have still been one of the best sides at the back so far, their average xG against of 0.83 still surprises me as I think Dier & Wanyama protecting Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen & Rose is definitely the strongest in the league on paper. The absence of Alderwiereld for a few weeks now could have been a main contributing factor however. I think that Lloris has saved their blushes a lot so far, as it was only last week against West Brom that Spurs conceded a goal from open play. Lloris has needed to make 2.7 saves per game, 1.7 of which were in the penalty area; Fraser Forster of Southampton on the other hand has only needed to make 1.1 saves per game (0.7 in the box). The xG numbers also suggest that they have been lucky at the back so far. With Harry Kane still out, we can expect his return to boost their offensive capabilities, so if they can ease the unsustainable burden on Lloris then they too can provide a significant threat at the top.
Preview: Tottenham face Leicester at home, and with Leicester’s current form and mediocre offensive and defensive numbers, this should be a Tottenham win.
Rest of Top 8: Southampton, Arsenal. Man United, Everton
These 4 teams will probably be the ones competing for that Europa League spot at the end of the season. Southampton and Everton are both teams who have been quite resolute in defence so far (Southampton 1st in xG Against p90 with 0.67, Everton 5th with 0.90); Romeu & Van Dijk/Fonte of Southampton and Gueye & Williams of Everton deserve much of the credit for this. However, both lack the firepower to really make a significant threat to the top 4, which is evident when looking at the attacking analytics graph below.
The opposite can be said for Arsenal and United; whilst they have the ability going forward to hurt teams, they have been lacklustre at the back (in 8th and 9th respectively for xG Against, conceding more than 1.00 xG per 90) which will in my opinion cost them a top 4 place. This is particularly surprising for United, who you’d have thought would be very strong defensively under Mourinho, but Arsenal have a similar weakness in that they don’t have a true, quality defensive midfielder. Whilst Everton and Southampton have Gueye and Romeu sweeping up in midfield, oppositions are getting a free run at the Arsenal/United back 4.
Arsenal are up against Sunderland away, who sit bottom of the Premier League. In my opinion this is deceiving however, as the numbers show that Sunderland shouldn’t been in the relegation zone at all. Despite conceding the 4th most xG, Sunderland are relatively tough to break down (this is because their low possession deceives the numbers). And so if The Black Cats receive their much overdue slice of luck, and with Arsenal just off the back of a very poor performance at home to Middlesbrough, there is a chance of a result for Sunderland (albeit a bit of a slim one).
Burnley at home is simply a must win game for United & Mourinho. If he can’t win that, then top 4 is well out of the question as Burnley have been one of the weakest sides in both departments so far (2nd worst attack and 3rd worst defence in terms of xG).
Everton face West Ham at home, who have picked up some momentum with these last two league wins. Despite their attacking numbers been relatively similar, Everton are far superior at the back and so, with a biased opinion of an Everton fan, I expect an Everton win here.
Rest of Top Half: Middlesbrough, Palace
Similarly, to the last section, Middlesbrough and Palace have opposing stories. Middlesbrough have been very impressive at the back for a newly promoted side (the 6th best in the league in terms of xG Against p90; 0.92) which I believe is mostly due to the flourishing partnership of Ayala and Gibson. Considering the average age of this partnership is 24 years of age as well, I’m sure the two of them will be highly sort after if their form continues throughout the season. Going forward they are pretty weak (0.72 xG p90 and 6.1 chances created p90; both stats the 3rd worst in the league) with only Hull and Burnley producing worse attacking numbers. This seems surprising when they have Negredo leading the line, however they aren’t creating nearly enough chances for him.
Preview: Middlesborough face Bournemouth at home which (despite the xG table) is quite an evenly matched affair, in my opinion. With Middlesbrough’s form at the back they should be able to contain the Bournemouth attack, but the result of the game is largely dependent on whether Boro produce the right chances; Bournemouth are weak at the back so there is room to exploit this and supply Negredo with good quality chances, but with their current record this may not be achieved.
As just stated, Palace have been brilliant going forward. They (mainly Puncheon) are supplying Benteke with a lot of chances in good areas (Palace are creating more chances p90 than Arsenal; Palace 11.0, Arsenal 10.4), and he is thriving off that (scoring 3 goals in 5 games). Defensively they are allowing opposition teams far too many high quality chances, conceding roughly 6/7 danger zone shots per 90 (as opposed to Middlesbrough who concede about 3). If these two teams were combined, they’d be a guaranteed top half team with the forms they are on.
xG Data – Michael Caley (@MC_of_A)
P.S. In the future, I am aiming for these previews to be for the full league, and also to be published earlier in the week.