(Hopefully these will be a regular Friday feature. We’ll see. It depends on how busy life gets this fall.)
Here is a table organized by xGD through four rounds of this year’s Premier League. (The xG data comes from Michael Caley.)
xG Table 2017-18 Premier League
As you can see, we’re the top non-Manchester side in the season’s early days.
Now here are tables showing the activity and quality of a team’s attack and defense. The x-axis shows shots taken and shots allowed. The y-axis shows xG/Shot and xG/Shot Allowed. With attacking, top right is best. With defending, bottom left is best.
Key Takeaways from the Data
First, it’s early days, but the Manchester sides are frightening. City leads the league in fewest shots allowed by some distance and only Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion are better at average shot quality. Man United is second best in shots allowed, but is also the league’s best attack so far.
Second, Liverpool’s biggest problem continues to be how weak they are defensively. That said, it’s worth noting that they have very low shot quantity against very high shot quality when defending. What this suggests is that the system is mostly working—it’s disrupting the opposition before they can build an attack, thereby leading to fewer shots conceded. The problem is systemic breakdowns, especially on set pieces. This suggests that the problem should be easier to address than some sort of system-wide issue. Then again, this has basically been the story of Klopp’s Liverpool all along—he had almost a full initial season, a second full season, and now is on year three. You’d expect to see progress by now.
Third, Brighton and Huddersfield have big-time Middlesbrough potential. Last year Middlesbrough was an aggressively boring team that did alright for the first half thanks to some lucky results before hitting a major slide in the second half of the season. Through four matches, Brighton and Huddersfield are amongst the worst attacks in the league. They’ve both gotten some nice results anyway, but the underlying numbers are alarming.
Burnley is the type of team that could give Liverpool trouble.
Dyche’s Burnley has two signature traits: They give up tons of shots but they’re almost all crap quality. That has held up so far this year. They give up more shots than anyone else, but the quality of shot is on par with what Leicester, Watford, and Everton concede. The other trait is that though they don’t have a lot of chances, the ones they do create tend to be high quality and often from set pieces. This means that Liverpool could have a hard time breaking down Burnley and that the Clarets are the sort of team that can exploit Liverpool’s weakness against set pieces.
How good is Watford?
Marcos Silva’s Watford is fun, a little goofy, and they aren’t just winning games—they’re actually performing well on xGD: They’re currently sixth in the top flight, comfortably ahead of traditional midtable sides like Everton, West Bromwich Albion, and Southampton and even .7xG ahead of Arsenal. This weekend they host Pep Guardiola’s City. So far this year, Watford takes about as many shots as they concede and they win by creating better quality chances than they give up. Pep City will greatly reduce their chances at goal and also probably create far more good looks than Watford typically concedes. It will be interesting to see if Silva’s side can continue their good form against their toughest test of the season.
Chelsea hosts Arsenal
The good news: Arsenal can’t get embarrassed by inadvertently selling thousands of tickets to visiting fans.
The bad news: They’re headed to Stamford Bridge.
In terms of the stats, Chelsea’s attack hasn’t quite gotten going this year, but they’re going up against the second worst defense in the top flight on shot quality conceded. So this could be the bump that the Chelsea attack needs to get going.
On the other end, Arsenal’s attack has actually been basically fine this season. Shot quality is slightly lower than City’s but they shoot more often than City. So in terms of xG scored, they’re comparable to City or Tottenham. But Chelsea’s defense is arguably one of the best in the top flight. They’re avg. shot quality conceded is .0675—a remarkably low number, even given the small sample size we’re working with. What this figures to be is a low-scoring match that turns on a couple bad defensive gaffes from Arsenal.