Before we get into the preview, here are the latest xG stats for the Premier League through week five. To make it a bit easier to navigate, especially on mobile, I’ve broken this out a bit.
As you can see, there are four genuinely elite attacking sides in Man United, Man City, Liverpool, and Tottenham. Tottenham produces the worst quality chances by some distance among those four, but is also taking 2-3 shots more per match.
Here are the defensive numbers:
As you can see, we have four teams that are genuinely elite defensively: Man United, Man City, Tottenham, and Chelsea.
What these two data sets suggest, taken together, is that we have three teams who are clear favorites for top four: Man United, Man City, and Tottenham. We then have two teams that are also in the conversation, but have issues to iron out: Chelsea is great defensively but less dangerous going forward. Liverpool is good going forward, but a mess at the back.
Given that Eden Hazard is now back for Chelsea, we should expect Chelsea’s attack to improve. Liverpool is more of a question mark. But if Chelsea’s attack improves, they are instantly a favorite for top four. If Liverpool’s defense improves, then we have a very tight race for top four.
Finally, I am trying to figure out a good way to show how lucky or unlucky a team has been with regard to actual performance compared to expected goals. That will tell us if a team’s results are about what we should expect going forward or if we should expect a change as the team regresses to the mean.
For now, I’m simply taking Goal Differential - Expected Goal Differential. The result is that teams with a negative number have been unlucky with their results so far while teams with a positive number have been luckier. Obviously numbers closer to zero suggest that a team’s results have been less inconsistent with xG while numbers further from zero suggest a team that has either been extremely lucky or unlucky. I am going to keep playing with this so it may change in subsequent weeks. For now, though, this is what it looks like:
What this suggests is that Arsenal, Palace, Everton, Liverpool, and West Ham supporters should probably expect a slight uptick in results assuming the same performance level. Palace, Everton, Liverpool, and West Ham have all been especially unlucky.
On the other end, Burnley, Huddersfield, Man City, Man United, Stoke, and Swansea are all beating xG so far, so we may expect poorer results in the future, assuming the same performance level. If you are Swansea in particular, that fact should make you very, very nervous.
Finally, let’s look at this weekend’s fixtures.
Two of the weekend’s games feature middle-of-the-road clubs facing the league’s elite as West Ham host Spurs and Southampton host United. In both cases, West Ham and Southampton have defenses that are pretty average—West Ham concedes around 13 shots on average with an xG value of just over .1. So we should expect Spurs to get their normal higher shot volume and probably a slightly diminished shot quality coming mainly from the higher volume. If Harry Kane and Dele Alli can finish chances as normal, Spurs should be OK. Something similar applies to Southampton v Man United.
One interesting fixture is Liverpool traveling to Leicester. The sides met midweek in the League Cup with the Lesters winning 2-0. But both managers featured rotated sides, so it is hard to extrapolate too much from that result to this one.
That being said, in style that game is probably what we should expect again. Liverpool had 70% possession and outshot Leicester 21 to eight. But while Liverpool only had three attempts on goal from 21, Leicester managed to get five out of eight chances on target.
This is a familiar problem for the Reds, of course. We covered it last week before their game against Burnley, saying that the match set up as a potential draw which is what it ended up being. Liverpool is going to take a lot of shots. Leicester will be fine with that—they usually concede a lot. On average, the only sides that concede more shots than the Foxes are Swansea and Burnley. Though Leicester is not as good as Burnley at reducing the quality of the opposition’s chances, they are a kind of Burnley Lite. Liverpool will get plenty of chances. But will they be able to score? The Reds will probably need some magic from Sadio Mane or Philippe Coutinho to get a breakthrough.
The same problem Liverpool had with Burnley exists at the other end of the pitch as well. Leicester does not take a lot of shots, but only Manchester United has a higher average xG/Shot value than Leicester. So you have a side in Liverpool that doesn’t give up a ton of shots, but tends to give up high-quality chances when they do facing a Leicester team that doesn’t create a lot of chances, but does create dangerous chances. Not hard to see this match being a tough one for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
Given Manchester United’s results this season, it is likely that one of last season’s top four is not going to finish there this season. If Liverpool is going to avoid that fate, these are the kind of fixtures they need to win.
Sunday’s lone fixture is Brighton hosting Newcastle. These two newly promoted sides are both performing above expectations in the league and, per xG, are about where we should expect them to be given their actual performances. It is likely to be a defensive struggle, as Brighton has a fairly toothless attack, almost certainly the worst in the league if you look at shots taken + chance quality.
Newcastle, meanwhile, is looking like a vintage Rafa Benitez side. They aren’t thrilling to watch, but they are effective. The Magpies are arguably the best defensive side in England outside of the five Champions League contenders. Going forward they are a bit like Leicester: They don’t produce a ton of chances, but they are third best in England in terms of xG/Shot. Expect a Newcastle win, but don’t expect many goals.
Oh, and if you would: Spare a thought for poor Crystal Palace. They have been ridiculously unlucky so far this season and are traveling to the Etihad on Saturday. They could play well and still get hammered 4-0 by Guardiola’s men. Given their underlying numbers, the Eagles are probably OK. But sitting on zero points after six rounds is a lot to overcome. Fortunately for Palace, Brighton and Huddersfield both have strong Middlesbrough potential, Swansea is hopeless, and Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth are also looking really weak. So there may be enough bad teams in the division that Palace can recover and avoid a real relegation scrap. But the longer it takes them to get some good results, the worse their odds become. And barring something unexpected this weekend, they’re going to head into match day seven still sitting on zero points.