I havent had the time to write any articles of any kind lately so i thought i would post some recent data visuals i have sent out to various clients over the past few weeks with some brief explanations of what they entail, enjoy and any questions feel free to contact me on my social media channels.
A recent model of mine i have been working on is an expected points model some of which i have posted on here before (search this site and you will find explanations for the model). This one is an updated SkyBet League 1 table. I compile these concurrently for all English based leagues and these are a useful tool in seeing how a team ‘should’ be doing and i keep these up to date on a weekly basis.
These are my brand new pass sonars inspired by the guys at @AnalysisEvolved. They are designed to show the pass directions of a team. This example is of PSG in a 3-4-2-1 shape. Again i can compile these on any team in the world if i have the data. Below is Thiago Silva’s individual pass sonar.
The first graphic in this set is an xG timeline designed to show the xG of two teams in a certain game and the second and third graphics are pass maps of the two teams from the same game.
This viz is showing Brentford’s Neal Maupay’s shot map so far this season (it needs updating as it is from earlier on in the season).
This screenshot is from a recent opposition report for a few clients i compiled. This shot shows a brief set piece analysis but is part of a detailed 20 page report.
Another xG graphic this time showing Aston Villa’s rolling xG and xGA for the season so far.
RB Leipzig’s ELO rating throughout the last few years this one created using Python software.
Using a mathematical equation called a convex hull we can show the positions that a given player seems to intercept the ball on average this viz shows Hernandez and Pavard’s success for France at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and was inspired by David Sumpter a well known mathematician after i had read his book Soccermatics.
Again using a convex hull we can determine some passing networks in the Spanish team against Russia and once this is from the 2018 World Cup.
Above is some tactical analysis from the Dortmund Bayern game.
And finally player radars. These are becoming an increasingly popular tool when scouting players and a lot of data is able to shown in one eye pleasing visual.
In my previous post on Expected Points I discussed the differing metrics I can use in roughly trying to predict the outcome of a league season in the format of a final league table. Due to the length of part one on the EPL I decided it would be easier to do a second post rather than bore everyone to tears on the first post but thanks for a massive response all the same! For the explanations of the parameters and metrics used in compiling these tables I suggest you refer back to the first post which can be found here https://wp.me/p8dqLB-8l
EFL Championship and SkyBet Leagues 1 and 2
Having been involved in differing capacities with clubs below the EPL, alongside supporting the best team in the midlands, Aston Villa (don’t @ me!), I have not only a vested interest in the Championship and League’s 1 and 2 (I will leave the National League out of these posts for now for post length reasons) but I also compile and collect these 3 league’s data throughout the season and find that they are very interesting when it comes to using various measures when producing data work.
Although there is some work published I believe that there is nowhere near enough detailed data and stat work around given the availability of various data sources however publicly available data is few and far between in all fairness. These three leagues are all well supported of course and fans maybe don’t get enough stat work done, or publicly published anyway, on their clubs but especially fans from clubs in Leagues 1 and 2. I should say that the data I used is up until and including the 6th of October’sfixtures in all three leagues.
More on Leagues 1 and 2 later but I will start with the Championship and alongside the tables I will sum up little about what I found and then see what possibilities could end up taking place come the end of the season.
As I mentioned in the first post on this subject I had my doubts about using expected goal difference as a valid measure of a team’s final league position but in the process of exploring the data and using the metrics went along it kind of grew on me a little.
Brentford fans will be pleased as punch to see their side at the top of the goal difference table but they might want to hold off due to the fact manager Dean Smith has now left the club to join Aston Villa and this of course will most probably have a huge impact on where their season goes from here. A +22 goal difference would have earned you a final league position of 5th or 6th position if we go, as we have done in our parameter, by last season’s final league table. Wolves won the league with a +43 GD with the nearest being another promoted club Cardiff City with +30 GD and of course it’s still possible to achieve Cardiff’s GD but unlikely anyone will touch Wolves’ 17/18 season total surely.
My doubts creep back in again when I see the high pressing Marco Bielsa’s Leeds team finishing the season with a GD of +14 when they already have a +13 GDat the time of writing but there is a long way to go of course and goal differences will sway, some considerably, as the season progresses. Sheffield United have started very well but xG doesn’t always match up with the reality but in theory a playoff spot, if not more, is easily attainable for Chris Wilder’s men.
So who should be worried? Well Hull and Ipswich (yes really) could be in trouble as most certainly will relegation favorites Rotherham United but the surprise (okay MASSIVE surprise!) is seeing Sheffield Wednesday at the bottom of this table. This is just not going to happen Wednesday are currently 6th in the table with a GD of +1 so how is it feasible they could finish bottom? They have conceded 15 goals with an xGA of 18.1(9th highest in the Championship) so still conceding 3.1 less than predicted, a small margin granted. And they are exceeding there xG by 4.3 goals (xG is 11.7 and actual goals scored is 15) again this isn’t a great number but it is still 8th highest in the league, not bad (I am planning on publishing all leagues current xG numbers when I get a chance). The issue is essentially conceding 18 goals and scoring 19 isn’t sustainable over a 46 game season and if this continues they will find themselves slipping down the table somewhat however not to the extent that the table above shows. Wigan, Bristol City, Stoke, Villa in 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th respectively all have similar records so the although the final table is skewed somewhat it’s easy to see how, given the four teams positions noted above, Wednesday could end up much lower down the league come May next year.
Anyway let’s move on to the final expected points table to see if we can correlate anything the goal difference table tells us.
Now this is more like it. For me this passes the eye test quite well. The top 6 sits quite well with me and the fight for the title, I expect, will be just as close as the table suggests although Sheffield United winning the title may be a stretch for me.
Brentford as we have discussed may have issues now Smith has departed. In general the top five are the same give or take (yes I know there are is no such thing as 77.04 points but you can see what we are trying to achieve here) 7th-18th is again very familiar and also the bottom 4. Sheffield Wednesday have managed to get out of the bottom four and finish 20th, probably more believable but I still have my doubts they will finish that low we shall see.
The two tables do correlate in general but with complications for teams in regards to managerial changes, injuries and schedules etc there can always be a massive swing either way on how things can change especially with two or three big wins changing goal differences up and down the table. I like the expected points tables in general and although being massively swayed by the teams xG numbers these are consistently more reliable than using current points per game. I would expect Leeds and Middlesborough to better their positions in my table but I’m interested to see how Brentford, Sheffield United and Derby progress and also how the Dean Smith effect at Aston Villa pans out.
SkyBet League 1
Four out of the last five seasons have seen the League 1 title won by a team with a points total of 90 or more and Barnsley look on course, even at this early stage, to achieve this, well maybe.
With the lowest xGA conceded (12.5 actual conceded is 9) and the highest xG at 23.1 (they exceed this by 2.9 with 26 goals scored) and scoring at 2.1 goals per game the numbers are looking really good for the Oakwell outfit so far who are in 3rd. Portsmouth and Peterborough lead the way currently and both of those sides are looking good and with the latter’s expected goal difference of -5 in my final table this again questions my thinking but 19 goals conceded with an xGA of 21.2 kind of skews the table given that Posh have currently scored 30 goals and exceed their xG by a whopping 8.8 this then answers the question of my table somewhat in terms of goal differences but again slightly questions the sustainability of Steve Evans’ teams goal scoring and goal conceding ratios over the course of a season.
Luton Town are another side that has real potential in at least achieving a playoff spot. In their first season back in League 1 and in both the goal difference tables and the expected points table the Hatters are predicted to end up in the higher echelons. With a predicted GD of +17 (last season this would get you 4th-5th position and the predicted 77 points would get you the same position wise)Nathan Jones has a real team spirit and huge work ethic ingrained into his side which I believe will all help in them in achieving a somewhat surprising top 5 finish.
Sunderland,Southend and a resurgent Blackpool all look to have decent chances of a playoff berth each come the end of the season. At the other end of the table Plymouth, who finished 7th last season but currently sit bottom of the table this season, already look worryingly frail at the back with a rather large 2.18 xGA per match (actually conceding 1.83) and with a huge total xGA of 26.3 after 12 games played they have been very lucky to concede just the 19 goals maybe they have a kind of alright defensive policy after all? Or does it say more about the shooting ability of the teams they have faced? You can decide (Hint: it’s not the first one) anyway it doesn’t make for optimistic reading and I predict them to finish bottom, and some way short of 23rd, in both of my predictive tables.
These results and metrics used are probably shoved to the back of any clubs data driven stat work at this level of football and is probably paid no attention to at all when in reality this could be massively important and relevant in a clubs performance now and in a predictive nature.
SkyBet League 2
So to the last league being covered in this article SkyBet League 2 and one of the most competitive with a standard being very similar throughout the league. There are some interesting outcomes here but let’s start at the top as it stands.
One thing is for sure so far this season. The Cowley brothers and Lincoln City side have found their promotion winning form when winning the National League two years ago. Finishing 7th last season, The Imps already have just over half the points they achieved in the whole of last season. With an xG total of 14.3 this season Lincoln have scored 20 goals at the time of writing (games inc. 6th of October remember) a plus of 5.7 xG means they sit pretty at the top of League 2 and also predicted to keep that top spot come the end of the season with a points total of 83.68 (or 84 if you like your numbers rounded up) a points total that last year would have got your team a 4th place finish stretching to 3rd (Wycombe finished in 4th with 84 points last season).
I can’t quite get my head around a +18 GD when winning a title in this league but this is what MK Dons are predicted to achieve in my goal difference table and its odd I agree especially given Lincoln already have +17 currently but in achieving fourth last season Wycombe did finish with the same goal difference so again although doubt creeps in it is still feasible, maybe. Speaking of MK Dons I have them coming very close in the expected points table with a predicted total of 78 points which last season would see you end up in either 5th or 4th position so comparing my table with last season’s it won’t be far off.
Looking up and down there isn’t much that sticks out between the two tables in terms of positioning and GD is pretty good as well with Grimsby predicting to have a -18 GD (23rd and 24th ended with -13 and -15 respectively last season) and could Mansfield end up with the same amount of points as last year (72) as predicted in my table? Can Notts County recover from a disastrous start to the season and end up escaping to 20th position with 51 points by the end of the season? in any instance it is more likely than them achieving 77 points as they did last year.
In the last two seasons 46 points or above would see you safe from relegation but using my measures 50-52 will be the probable cut off this year and the likes of Macclesfield (currently on 4 points), Cambridge (8), Cheltenham (9) and the aforementioned Notts County (12) will not be wanting to hear that I’m sure.
So there we have it I hope I have cleared up a few things and maybe reaffirmed some peoples thinking and hopes for the season ahead or maybe I have opened a few eyes to what is possible when using these metrics alongside the parameters I have used when compiling these tables.
Probably worth putting a few quid on anyway, maybe.
If there are any queries or questions in regards to the past two articles on this subject or others involving xG, xA or any predictive measures you have seen and if you think they may help when scouting teams or players or even if you think I could help your club or department in any of these areas feel free to get in touch.
Trying to predict the outcome of a team’s position at the end of the season is always going to be tricky and probably, in most people’s eyes, near on impossible and in some people’s opinions pointless however there are ways in which we can get reasonably close in achieving this. Given it’s the international break (yawn!) I thought this was a good time to publish what I have been working on.
Goals per game and goals against per game, points per game have all been used in the past to calculate the final league positions of clubs across various leagues but the future is nigh and when expected goals came along in giving us a better measure of a team’s performance across not only a single game but also longer term across a whole season we also gained a significant and more reliable way of assessing the way a league table may look at the end of the season.
I am going to be using two metrics. Expected goal difference and xP (expected points) which I believe are sustainable as they have been used in articles published before and also they are fairly accurate. In calculating expected goal difference I will use the difference between xG and xGA multiplied by the remaining games to get our goal difference totals and league position finishes and for the xP component I will use a more intricate method detailed below.
For this article I will be focusing on the English Premier League and in a few days publish another article covering the Championship and Leagues 1 and 2.
Expected Goals (make a) Difference
Using goal difference is probably not the most thought about way of trying to predict a final league table and work has been published in the past using simple goal difference and it has been proven to be a good indicator of the longer term sustainability of a team’s results but in this article I will not only put forward the case for what I believe are the benefits of using this measure but also why it may not be the best indicator.
So let’s start with the methodology used in creating the tables within the goal difference using some examples from a previous season.
The best teams earn the most points and it’s fair to say they will end up scoring more goals and in theory will end up conceding the least amount of goals over the course of the season but will this dictate their final league position? In the mind’s eye of course but in reality is it the same?
In an excellent, albeit brief, article published in 2012 on 5addedminutes.comNewcastlewere used as an example of this so rather than trying to search through seasons and seasons worth of data to try and find something similar I will use them as an example.
The EPL does not seem to change in regards to competitiveness from year to year and it is often spoken about that there are three ‘mini leagues’ within the EPL. In the 2011-12 season Newcastle United finished the season on a goal difference of +5 and 5th in the table on 65 points (normally this would equate to 55 points and only be good enough for around 7th or 8th position) so in theory they overachieved by 11 points and with only eight wins by a single goal and a trio of big defeats. These slender one goal margin victories can inflate a team’s final league position and although results fluctuate this may in part explain the Magpie’s final position in the table and of course there is no reason to believe this is sustainable winning by these small margins. The following year Newcastlefinished in 16th position with a -23 goal difference with a 41 points total proving that it certainly wasn’t a sustainable way to play over the course of a season.
The model above, as I explained above is merely using standard goal difference so what happens if we use expected goal difference to produce an ‘alternate’ final goal difference table.
The graphic below shows the EPL table at the end of the season when we apply this model.
The method for this is simply xGF per game – xGA per game = goal diff / 36 (games remaining) = final goal difference. Then we can assign a final league position based on the given clubs goal difference.
This is where I have some doubts about the reliability of this method with some of the numbers a little low on the eye test but we shall see in time. When referring and compiling anything along these types of lines looking at previous data sets is vital and it is imperative to go back and look at a previous season or seasons. For simplicity, we will look back to last season’s final EPL table.
Manchester City topped the goal difference charts with a +79 goal difference and finished as champions and in my table above this year they could finish with a +69 GD, a Liverpool (4th last year with +46 GD) are expected to have a +40 at the end of this year so all looking pretty rosy so far in comparison.
Things get a tad shady when we go a bit further down my table. Watford are expected to end up with a GD of +26 and a possibility of finishing 4th when last year they finished on -20 and ended up finishing in 13th on 41 points, quite a large margin and unlikely I think it is fair to say. Bournemouth, with an expected GD of +19 and a final league position of 5th (it should be noted I have placed them above Spurs for alphabetical order purposes only in this table), performed significantly worse last season with a -16 GD and a points finish of 44 points, one would assume they are unlikely-ish to finish in the Europa League positions this year.
But is it so inconceivable that Watford could finish above the likes of Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester United? In truth it probably is but it is interestingly comparable in that last season The Cherries finished only 2 places and 3 points in front of The Hornets with only a -4 GD in the favor of Eddie Howe’s men. Judging by my table they will be closely matched again this year only higher up the table. However unlikely that maybe this is a useful comparison when identifying which teams in the league are consistently going to be your closest rivals in terms of gaining points throughout the season and I’ve only compared one season to another of which one is predicted but the trend is already (slightly) evident.
The bottom four look a fair bit more ‘believable’ in regards to their final league positions but I still think this table is slightly skewed somewhat given Cardiff and Fulham are playing in a different league after being promoted last year so their data is less reliable even though Neil Warnock’s side look nailed on in finding it tough going getting out of the relegation places.
Now we have identified a kind of mini trend in regards to comparing two team’s possible similarities in scoring and conceding goals to end up with similar goal differences and final league positions come the end of the season I now want to look at my alternative method of calculating a points finish.
xP (Expected Points)
I will start with the methodology again to briefly get a gist of what to expect and to give some clarity.
I will use Burnleyas a quick example. Using an adapted Poisson distribution calculation we input Burnley’s xG per game in the first column and their xGA into the second column this then spits out the expected points per game they should achieve we then multiply that by the remaining games (36) to give us Burnley’s expected points finish from there we can assign them a final league position. This is similar to what betting agencies would use in a type of Monte-Carlo type calculation. Simple, right? My math symbols are poor at best so I will leave them up to smarter people than me but the methodology is the same regardless. On to the table.
Although this is my personal preferred method of calculating a team’s expected points finish it, like any predictive model, is never going to be 100% perfect as Manchester City’s 103 xP finish in my table may show… but hang on a minute didn’t they did finish on 100 points in winning the title last year? So perhaps I am being too harsh on the model, myself and Pep Guardiola’s rampant City squad. And as with the Bournemouth/Watfordgoal difference situation over the last two seasons we see a bit of consistency edging in, as we should of course if the workings are correct.
Throughout the process of compiling these two sets of equation’s my mind swung back and forth in regards to one being a better method than the other and its clear to see why. There are many similarities throughout when comparing the two tables. The top three are the same and the top five in general look very familiar, 7th to 11th are fairly similar as are the bottom four.
One team sticks out above the rest though. Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Nuno Esporito Santo has carried on the form and style of play that has seen his Wolves team comfortably go up as champions in the Championship last season with their infamous 3-4-3 shape. Is it possible that they could continue as they have started this season and end up in 4th spot come the end of the season? Of course if we go by the goal difference table most definitely not as they would finish 7 places below in 11th, something to ponder whichever way your opinion might sway.
Arsenal are starting to come round to Unai Emery’s way of thinking so I would expect them to finish higher than the predicted 8th but my confidence in that happening isn’t helped by the fact in both tables they are only a place or two apart and this would also, obviously, depend a fair bit on Bournemouth, Watford and Wolvesfaltering which they may well end up doing of course but in my opinion a top four, or even top five finish for the Gunners is not looking good either way.
How many teams will be involved in the fight for the last of (in my opinion) the automatic champions league spot after City, Liverpool and Chelsea remains to be seen but The Gunners have a fight on their hands from some unlikely teams at this point in the season and the end result will be interesting come the 19th of May next year.
Take it or leave it (depending on who you support)
So there we have it and make of it what you will and take from it what you want but you will probably want to disregard all of it if you are a Huddersfield United, Cardiff City or a Newcastle United fan and you may want to think about crossing your fingers and toes if you’re a supporter of the teams in the red half of Manchester and North London. Only kidding (maybe).
In recent weeks Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce has come under increasing pressure from the Villa fans especially given that his main critics may have thought, or had hoped, he be replaced by Brentfords Dean Smith or more optimisticly former Arsenal and Barcelona striker Thierry Henry to name but two names linked with Bruce’s job.
However new owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens didnt see it that way and decided that Bruce was the man to try once more to get Villa back into the Premier League after last seasons last ditch failure against Fulham in the play off final at Wembley.
So he can do it again right?
Well for us Villa fans its not looked so likely this season, so far.
First things first it shouldn’t be underestimated the impact the loanees who have not returned to Villa Park have affected the squad and Bruce’s planning.
Snodgrass returned to West Ham and has been playing regularly for the Hammers this season. John Terry has not returned for a second year and no matter how hard the club have tried it has been made clear to the former Chelsea captain that should he sign a short term contract he would not be returning on the same wages and terms as he was the year before mainly due to Villa’s on going financial issues but also this being the last year Villa will receive any parachute payments. Sam Johnstone, much to the annoyance that he could easily have stayed with Villa for another year, went to a promotion rival in West Brom, Lewis Grabban went on to pastures new and Josh Onomah returned to Spurs.
So blaming a squad lacking the quality of last year from a squad that mainly Bruce himself has built since being appointed in October 2016 is not the kind of thing fans want to hear. Neither is ‘the results will come’ or ‘the players are working hard’ or even ‘we are a big club and know where we should be’ or the most presumtious of them all, ‘we will be there and there abouts at the end of the season’, how can he be so sure? See @Myoldmansaid on Twitter for his amusing quotes for ‘Brucie Bingo’.
But the main issue that seems to get the fans up in arms, including me, is the consistency in playing some players out of position.
The benefit of being involved in football on a daily basis, especially doing tactical analysis and data work is being able to see certain things that some others may not. Tactically speaking. On the other hand what we have seen this season its pretty clear to everyone what has been the issues with team selection.
We were all thinking to ourselves that after last year we should at least be challenging for the playoffs even should we lose Snodgrass and Terry. And now given that Villa have aquired the loan signings of Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham who scored 26 goals for Bristol City the last time he played in the Championship and Yannick Bolasie Evertons long term injury returnee, Villa really should be aiming for the play offs and maybe beyond.
Bruce has a 45% win at Villa, more than anywhere else in his managerial career it should be noted.
Players out of positions
We are all familiar with Mile Jedinak being played in the centre half position alongside the ridiculous decision to let an orthadox centre back Tommy Elphick go out on loan. But other shapes and systems have been employed over the previous weeks and I wrote a post detailing what should be done a while back regarding what would be best given the squad Bruce has.
Tuanzebe constantly out at right back (he is a centre half), El Mohamady is not a right back, Grealish isnt suited out on the left and when playing centrally he has had his best games for Villa. I could go on of course but I think we all get my drift. And this is what fans just dont get about team selection and if the average fan can see its not working why cant Bruce?
I have advocated both of the shapes above in the past as i truly believe this is the best Bruce can get out of what Villa have, yes i know its three at the back but Bruce used it in pre season and then totally abandoned it when the league campaign started without any real reason as it did seem to work ok. Granted Jedinak is still one of those three centre backs but…well it is what it is.
Now i know that Bolasie and El Ghazi arent wing backs but if the team want to start going at their opponents from the off the 3-1-4-2 is probably the way to go. Whelan or Bjarnason will screen the back four and this shape also gets the best out of Grealish which is vital.
Of course Bruce has so many options and with Hourihane playing well he has another issue in selecting a competent but attacking midfield.
I feel like im starting to repeat myself. I would still like to see the diamond above against a lesser team (if their is such a thing) just to see how it could work. To be honest, its a stretch I know and the personnel have to be spot on but at least we have defenders in the corrct positions and two centre forwards plus a decent midfield with options to go to a 4-4-2 when defending.
Slow and sidways would be how I would describe the performance against Bristol City on Friday. As my pass map shows their was very little passing between players and the focus seemed to be get the ball up to Abraham and see what happens.
Grealish, Abraham and Kodija are shown as central here but this means the three players movement could have been across the front line especially Grealish and Kodija but overall it just didnt work did it?!
Tuanzebe isnt a ambitious full back at all and simply gave the ball to Hourihane in midfield. A full back should be an attacking option. Period.
Their was no width as Bruce abandoned the 4-1-4-1 that had seen Grealish produce his best form in previous games especially last season.
Against Sheffield Wednesday although ending up being beat 1-2 Bruce nearly got this right with one exception. Four at the back. Or the player selection of that back four (have a game of Brucie Bingo im not going there again)
At home Villa should be the dominant, attacking side and the 3-1-4-2 is the way to go given the players available for that game. This 4-4-2 is disjointed and looks nothing like a 4-4-2 should look like in any game let alone when playing at home. Fans want to see ambition and see their team put on an attacking performance especially at home but this doesnt seem to happening at the moment.
These pass maps are critical in showing the lack of tactical shape in a game and I wonder how or what some players are being told to play and what their specific roles are in a game.
Villa’s xG was 2.37 in the Wednesday game meaning they had chances that warranted at least 2 goals but again they fell short. Goals win games and Villa arent scoring enough.
However long Steve Bruce remains in charge Villa fans can expect multiple shape changes and personnel in various positions and its such a shame that this is the case as their are at least 2 other set ups that would suit the squad Bruce has and thats apart from the ones mentioned above.
The indecisiveness of team selection and playing players out of position smacks of a little desperation and not knowing what is the best shape let alone the best starting eleven is worrying even at this early stage.
A new director of football has been appointed so we may see some changes now that the position has been filled and with Preston coming to Villa Park tonight I cant help but feel Bruce is on thin ice with the fans anyway so 3 points is more than a must.
Following on from my previous article on using data to analyse goalkeepers in the EPL I said I would do the same for the keepers in the last of the three EFL leagues, so as promised here we go!
Now im not going to go into all of the detail of the metrics published in my previous post as I think we all had a fair bit to read in that post so if you need a refresher I suggest you screenshot the methods and refer back.
So for the three leagues I will be showing the following-
AAGS (above average goals saved)
xGA (expected goals against)
adjsve% (adjusted save percentage)
I wont be adding in some of the other metrics like-
Coming off line
This is purely because I am basically then doing a lot of other peoples work for them and they would have a decent set of numbers to work from but also I have people who are relying on me for a complete set of the information above and to share all what I have wouldnt be fair on them either.
All of the tables ahown here are based on the 6 games played so far.
So lets start with what most pundits, analysts, players and managers probably consider the toughest league to get out of, the infamous SkyBet Championship.
You dont need me to tell you that Middlesbrough’s Darren Randolph has started the season in exceptional form in between the sticks for Tony Pulis’ team.
Having faced 20 shots on target so far the former West Ham keeper has managed to save a whopping 18 of them and only conceding on 2 occasions hence the excellent 90% save percentage. A stat that will be backed up furthermore in the next table.
A keeper, more importantly a youngkeeper, that has really caught my eye is Leeds United’s Bailey Peacock-Farrell. The 6′ 4″ 21 year old joined Leeds after being released by Middlesbrough in 2013 after spending 7 years on Teeside in the academy.
Peacock-Farrell looks to have a bright future and under goalkeeping coach Marcos Abad, who previously worked under Aitor Karanka at Middlesbrough, he has an excellent tutor. Shot stopping (18 saves out of 22 faced) is another good record to rival Randolph’s.
Two positive features of his game I have noticed is firstly his ability to be able to read what could happen infront of him in regards to coming off of his line quickly for a big lad and secondly his willingness to come for practically every cross into the box. An impressive start from the Northern Ireland international.
As I alluded to earlier Randolph continues to impress in this AAGS table. Having directly saved Boro of nearly 5 goals, an excellent tally indeed.
Mulder, Dawson, Camp and Archer of Swansea, Sheffield Wednesday, Birmingham City and Millwall respectively all boast decent records as well so far. As of course does the aforementioned Peacock-Farrell.
Keepers in the bottom five of the table are maybe a tad hard done by as we must take into account the defensive capabilities of the players in front of them as of course we should for the keepers at the top having a decent defence in front of them, however being responsible for nearly 4 of the 9 goals your team has conceded doesnt make for good reading.
Dean Henderson has adapted well to life at Sheffield United as has Sam Johnstone at West Brom. Early days but there are some very good goalkeepers in the Championship and their needs to be.
SkyBet League 1
For me this is where things get interesting. Can we find a keeper in theses type of leagues that would be capable of making a step up in class.
Peterborough United’s 6′ 4″ keeper Aaron Chapman has come to the fore after signing for The Posh in May of this year from Accrington Stanley. 28 year old Chapman has had some serious injury issues in the past but has been a shining light for Steve Evans’ side in their top of the table start to the season and with a AAGS of 7.57 he really has won his side some games already with a save percentage of 83% as having faced 30 shots and only conceding 5 goals (with an xGA of 12.51) it will be interesting to see if he can keep this kind of form up. A tall keeper who likes to come for crosses is also always a bonus.
Another impressive keeper is Pompey’s Harrogate born Craig MacGillivray.
Saving 19 shots of 23 faced and conceding just 3 goals with an xGA of 9.75 is another excellent return for the south coast side. After making ninety appearances for Harrogate Town MacGillivray signed a two year deal with Walsall in 2014 and then went on to play for Shrewsbury on a one year deal before joining Portsmouth in June of this year.
I have watched him on several occasions and I have been very impressed with his decision making on coming off his line quickly and also his positioning and his stand- up-as-long-as-possible attitude when facing a one on one situation.
He is good enough to be playing in the Championship in my opinion.
Walsall’s Liam Roberts is another keeper I like and at only 23 he hopefully has a good future after a spending a lot of time out on loan in the Vanarama conferences in recent seasons.
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Topping the league at this moment in time the Cowley brothers Lincoln City team have made an excellent start to life in League 2 after gaining promotion on winning the National League title last season. A key player in the side is goalkeeper Grant Smith. The former Reading and Fulham youth team player joined Brighton’s development squad in 2012 but was released in 2014 and spells with Hayes (twice) and more recently Boreham Wood. Smith joined The Imps in June of this year and looks to have started very well indeed.
With an AAGS ratio of 5.37 and conceding only twice with an xGA of 7.37 the early signs are good.
Yeovil Towns on loan Chelsea keeper Nathan Baxter is also a very exciting prospect. The 6′ 3″ 19 year old has been with Chelsea since 2006 when he was 9 years old and he his thought very highly of at Cobham so I am told. Loan spells at the Met Police, Solihull Moors and Woking have helped him ease into senior football and then into League football with Yeovil.
These early numbers that Baxter has produced are testament to his confidence in his goalkeeping ability. Having faced 20 shots conceding just 3 goals with an xGA of 8.01 is impressive for any keeper let alone a lad his age. Being responsible for keeping out 5.01 goals so far this season is credible indeed.
I hope these metrics and methods have been as enjoyable to read and decipher as they were for me when compiling them.
I havent covered the National League purely for current on going reasons although I have compiled lists and so forth for it.
For the player scouting I get asked to do not a huge amount of it involves looking for goalkeepers.
Nothing unusual about that you might say considering there are far more outfield players to look at than the man between the sticks.
When clubs are looking to sign a new keeper it requires specific scouting methods to go alongside more traditional ways of looking at his/her performances. Looking at some data and stats and then applying them to some familiar and maybe unfamiliar metrics can give a better understanding of what a certain club is looking for in a new No.1.
The Importance of Adaptation
An easy example to use is of course Is Ederson at Manchester City.
Whether a keeper can adapt to a teams playing style is a big factor when recruiting.
Ederson has excellent distribution from not only his feet but also his hands , he has good shot stopping ability, his starting positions are excellent when preparing to come for crosses and on other set pieces, and that’s before we delve into his superb long ball delivery and eagerness to always be on the front foot to start counter attacks.
So what can we use to back up what video scouting is showing us?
Depending on what you want from a keeper varies on what metrics we want to apply to get an outcome that would show us a baseline and a rough idea for which keeper would look into more and compare some video to.
A question we could ask of a goalkeeper that would be useful to look at if we were a team keen on using counter attacks or getting the ball moving ASAP would be- does he tend to come for crosses quite often?
Above is a graphic detailing the crosses faced by keepers in the EPL and not only their catch success rates but also added in is whether we can identify any trends in whether they tend to punch the ball or prefer to catch it.
Now with all this we must bear in mind the fact that at the time of writing their has only been 4 EPL games so to make a comparison at this point in a season is pretty impossible but we are looking at how these can be applied and the longevity of the metrics. This is one of the reasons why I like to include the three other English leagues as we have a bit more of a sample size and the other is because we may find a keeper that could make a step up. This I will be covering the findings from in a post in the days following this one.
Back to the graphic and crosses and maybe predictably we can see Ederson is an early front runner. Even on last seasons evidence its clear the City No.1 likes to catch rather than punch, and for a reason, he catches to start counter attacks from short throws or his excellent, accurate long ball kicking ability.
Hugo Lloris is much the same but a surprising inclusion is Watford’s Ben Foster. The Hornets unbeaten start to the season is testament to a keeper than has had his ups and downs over the years but overall is a reasonably consistent goalkeeper. Having faced 22 crosses and successfully catching half isnt bad going but is probably expected.
Looking at some keepers, could be backed up by the following, throws?.
Choosing to throw the ball rather than lump it upfield is another sign of a team liking to play out from the back and building from throws from their keeper to a defender and this is useful when compiling opposition reports. Again Ederson is up near the top of the list but we would expect this anyway again given the style of play. Fabianski is another who tends to release the ball early but in a odd trend we see Foster at the bottom of the list possibly suggesting Watford prefer him to look long for Deeney and co. The same applies to Cardiff, Huddersfield and Brighton all long ball teams so even at an early stage of the season we can maybe identify a small trend here.
On the front foot
The trend of a sweeper keeper is more prevelant nowadays and teams are looking more and more for a keeper that is good with his feet but also willing to come off his line to deal with balls played in behind their defence.
Once more Watford’s Foster shows another quality some teams may look for. Remember these are small samples but its another valid point that Foster is happy to tidy up and come out of his area to clear up loose through balls and such like.
The importance of shot stopping
A blindingly obvious important area of goalkeeping is shot stopping so can we work out from some data how good a keeeper is in this area and if so how much has he helped his team in winning/losing/drawing games along the way?
Inspired by the excellent work of data scientist Derek Yam (@YAMiAM18) I have compiled the graphic above on measuring a keepers shot stopping ability.
Adjusted save percentage is a method that shows us a level in regards to if a keeper is performing better or worse than the average keeper in the league we can calculate this by showing the difference between expected goals against (xGA) and the actual goals conceded and then dividing by the total shots on target.
Another metric that can be used is Above Average Goals Saved which is an estimate that shows if a keeper has directly cost their team goals and vice versa. This is basically calculated by using the difference of the expected goals against divided by goals conceded.
Derek’s work is exceptional in this field and has personally opened my eyes to some very accurate ways of looking at goalkeeping metrics.
A minus figure on the AAGS tells us that a keeper has directly cost his team that many goals for example we can see that Petr Cech has been responsible for letting in 1.27 of Arsenal’s goals so far this season but he has faced 27 shots conceding 8 goals with an xGA of 6.73 hence the -1.27 number so we can argue either way in terms of good or bad (yes i know its only been 4 games but this is just to show the reasoning at this point) on the flip side of that we have Spurs’ Hugo Lloris who has kept out 2.64 goals with an xGA of 4.64 and facing only 10 shots and even at this early stage this is considered a good return.
Their will always be doubters around that will say whether or not it is fair and and also how to measure a goalkeeper when it comes to using data but I hope I have shown, with the help of others of course, that their are ways of using these kind of metrics to evaluate and come to a conclusion alongside more traditional scouting methods (of which i have experience of both in a professional setting, trust me it works).
So far this year already i have been impressed with Alex McCarthy and Ben Foster and although these methods are by far worth much more over a longer period of time they are still a one way of finding out which type of keeper would suit your team and there are more than the metrics and stats I have mentioned that we can use to evaluate a goalkeeper.
As I mentioned before, I will be publishing a quick article and some tables on the keepers in the Championship and Leagues 1 & 2 in the days following this one.
The critics of xG (expected goals) and xA (expected assists) will be so annoyed that I have brought this up so early on in the season. In fact some of the main supporters of the two metrics will probably frown upon it as well.
Personally, I like to start as early as possible in collecting the data and also to publish some early tables, I have my reasons and they are the following.
Have last seasons top players according to these metrics started the season as they left off in 17/18?
Are there any new players that have started the season well?
Given relegations and promotions are they any players who have performed well with their clubs?
Transfers. Have any new signings started well with their new clubs?
This is one reason why I like to get a look in early on.
Mo Salah has indeed it seems carried on his form from last season in to this one. Okay i hear you, and I cant push it any further than what it is and of course xG is a minor factor in performance statistics but Salah looks to have returned from an unsettling time with Egypt at the World Cup with confidence and his performances so far have backed that up. His xA numbers arent quite their but they will be, we all know it.
Another Liverpool man Andy Robertson has provided an assist so far and a question to be asked is does Jurgen Klopp want more of this type of attacking threat from the Scotsman this year?
Sergio Aguero is already exceeding his xG numbers and still looking like a world class striker season after season. It should be noted the xG stat is probably irrelevant at this stage (no player will get near .90 per 90 mins all season).
When we talk about assists in the EPL we tend to think of De Bruyne, Salah and Hazard and with KDB out for a few months it will be up to Salah and Hazard (I also expect David Silva, Lucus Moura and James Maddison to have decent numbers xA wise) to have excellent seasons in providing assists for their respective clubs.
According to the pundits and a lot of professional people within English football, this is probably the toughest of the four leagues to get promoted from that I have written about in this piece.
Dean Smith’s Brentford side impressed many people last year and they have began this season well again. With his preferred 4-3-3 shape, with Josh McEacharan in the heart of the midfield, Brentford play a quick, free flowing brand of attacking football and with Neal Maupay at centre forward and having scored 5 goals in as many games and 3 assists to boot Brentford have a striker in form and after his 17 goal haul last term Bees fans will hope it continues.
One of the reasons I gave earlier for wanting to look at some xG numbers this early was to see if some goalscorers would adapt to their leagues after relegation. Step forward West Brom’s Jay Rodriguez. Injury hit Rodriguez looks to have come into some early form and the Championship is suited to him theres no doubt.
Former Villa and Derby striker Andy Weimann is also playing well after his transfer to Bristol City with 5 goals exceeding his xG by 2 goals.
Can Norwich get a good return out of the much travelled Jordan Rhodes? Can Marco Bielsa do the same with the strikers he has at Leeds United until he can get new faces in in January? Both cases are in the balance in my opinion.
Sheffield Wednesday’s Barry Bannan is player who has the ability to change a game in the Championship but needs to improve on his assist tally from last year (3 assists) and would do well to repeat the 8 he achieved in the 16/17 season.
Another of Bielsa’s charges at Leeds, Pablo Hernandez, is another man who is very good on the ball and has 2 assists to his name already contributing to Leeds top of the table form.
I expect Leeds United’s Samu Saiz, QPR’ s Luke Freeman and Derby County’s Tom Lawrence to top the assist and xA tables come the end of the year especially Freeman who is more than capable of beating his 12 assists from last year.
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Walsall’s Andy Cook has had some very good chances to have at least 3 more goals than the two he has so far. His xG total of 5 suggests the former Carlisle man isnt finishing as well as he should do.
On loan Nottingham Forest hitman Jason Cummings has the opposite issue he cant stop scoring. Having scored 6 goals and with an xG of 3.93 the Scotsman hasn’t had any trouble in finding the net and in doing so propelling Posh up up the table.
Shaun Whalley’s delivery from set pieces doesnt come as a surprise to some of us hence him always having pretty decent numbers when it comes to asssits and he will pick up as the season progresses.
Sunderland’s Liam Gooch looks to be finally finding some form and long may it continue. Gooch has 3 assists already this season and with an xA of 1.95 the signs are looking good for him if he can stay injury free.
SkyBet League 2
In the table above are two reasons why I like to do these tables early.
MK Dons were relegated from League 1 last year but have began the season in League 2 unbeaten but they lack serious potentcy upfront. Kieron Agard has had some very good clear cut chances to add to his 2 goals, trust me ive seen it with my own eyes, hence his xG of 5.3. But his finishing needs a lot to desired and Paul Tisdale will need to think about this area of his squad if the Dons are to mount a serious promotion push.
On the flip side newly promoted Tranmere have a promising goalscorer in James Norwood who has scored 5 times this season and exceeding his xG of 4.07.
Assist wise bottom of League 1 Notts County have Dutch winger Enzio Boldewijn. The former Utrecht and Crawley Town man looks impressive early on and although mangerless after the sacking of Kevin Nolan, County shouldn’t be in the current situation come the end of the season given the squad they have to compete in League 2.
As I have said a great deal in this article it is still very early days in the season but I hope I have given you some insight as to what you can expect from your team in the coming season.
xG and xA numbers are always open for criticism for different reasons but they are a good marker when looking at taking goalscoring chances and also the creation of chances by the main players who try to provide those opportunities.