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Hot Stat Takes: West Brom will be safe, Spurs were not good

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Data-based reflections on the Premier League matches of the weekend.

Mike Hewitt

This week's matches featured an exciting, if unsurprisingly sloppy battle of the relegation leaders, a London derby between a title contender and a fading also-ran, and West Bromwich Albion once again losing a match where I thought they played pretty well. In this article I go through the underlying stats for these matches and try to counter some of the narratives that have followed the matches.

The stat tables here are based on my shot matrix statistics.

  • S DZ: Shots from the danger zone, the center of the 18-yard box.
  • S Wide: Shots from the wide area of the 18-yard box.
  • SoB: Shots from outside the 18-yard box.
  • S Cr: Shots assisted by crosses.
  • S TB: Shots assisted by through-balls.

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United

West Bromwich Albion lost at home 0-3 to an apparently rejuvenated Manchester United side. This loss dropped the Baggies deep into the relegation fight. They are outside of the bottom three only on goal difference over Cardiff City, and Sunderland are a single point behind with two games in hand. I have consistently rated West Brom's relegation chances as quite low compared to their table position, and this last match was another example why. The Albion created a bunch of good chances which they could not convert, and the scoreline (especially the clean sheet) flatters the Red Devils.

Club S DZ S Wide SoB S Cr S TB
West Bromwich Albion 6 4 4 2 0
Manchester United 6 4 4 5 1

The difference for Manchester United was some superior finishing (and excellent crossing). They deserve credit for producing a whole passel of chances against a solid defensive side like West Brom, but this match was not the stomping the scoreline suggests. Manchester United conceded ten shots from inside the box and six from the danger zone, including four DZ shots not created by crosses. While finishing failed the Baggies, if they keep producing chances as this rate, I do not think they will end up at any great risk of relegation.

As you can see at my Premier League Advanced Statistics page, West Brom have solidly average underlying stats. They've been quite unfortunate to take only a single point from so many of their good performances. They've actually outshot their opponents from the danger zone this season by about 30. No club in the last four years has been relegated that wasn't significantly outshot from the danger zone.

Dz_diff_rel

Ultimately, my stats have Fulham and Cardiff as the clear bottom two, with Sunderland in an increasingly precarious position. Any of these clubs could play themselves into or out of the relegation spots, but West Bromwich would be a huge outlier.

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur

Another big defeat by a top side was less of an outlier for Tottenham Hotspur. By my numbers, this was not a stomping along the lines of the Unpleasantness at the Lane or one of the Manchester City games. However, it also was not a close match. Tim Sherwood sent out an almost ludicrously negative lineup, and Spurs produced basically no goal threat. In context, Chelsea's reasonable haul of points looks like a good performance, and Spurs' inability to create anything of note challenges the narrative that this was a close game before the mistake and the soft red around the 60th minute. Sherwood's side had no attacking edge and was depending on three players out of position to create opportunities. It's not a surprise that did not happen.

Club S DZ S Wide SoB S Cr S TB
Chelsea 7 2 2 2 0
Tottenham 1 1 4 1 0

One shot from the danger zone, assisted by a cross. one shot off target from wide. Zero big chances. I have Spurs with about 0.28 expected goals on the match. This is the single worst attacking performance by a Superior Seven side all season. You can make a case, based on opposition quality, that United's lucky victory at Norwich City was worse. But at best, that was the second-worst attacking performance all season by a top seven club.

Club Opponent xG
Tottenham at Chelsea 0.281
Man United at Norwich 0.311
Chelsea at Man United 0.363
Liverpool at Aston Villa 0.421
Man United v Arsenal 0.432
Tottenham v Man City 0.432
Tottenham v Everton 0.528
Man City at Stoke City 0.568
Liverpool v Arsenal 0.588
Arsenal at Liverpool 0.598

Spurs once again came out of a match against a top side having barely troubled the opposition goal. In previous matches there have been various possible explanations, here it seems pretty simple. There were few true attacking players on the pitch, and no cohesion between an XI that had never played together in these roles before. Bad matches happen to good sides, as the above table shows, but the key point here is that was a bad match, through and through.

Cardiff City v Fulham

Neither was this match particularly good, by any stretch, but we did see two clubs come out to attack the game and a reasonable amount of excitement for gawking neutral fans.

Club S DZ S Wide SoB S Cr S TB
Cardiff City 8 3 8 6 0
Fulham 7 3 4 1 0

Cardiff City and Fulham both about doubled their average attacking performance. That speaks to two clubs going all out for the victory, but it also fits with the consistently terrible defending that has marked both sides all season. I think the game was a good reminder of why clubs shouldn't worry much about facing relegation-threatened sides with "something to play for." Even when they go all out, they're still pretty awful. They probably wouldn't be in 19th place to begin with if they weren't.