I will take a look at the intriguing situation that Deportivo Alaves have found themselves in. Comparing where they were a year ago to where they are now, I will look to identify whether or not their current results are sustainable.
In 2016/2017, Mauricio Pellegrino managed Alaves to 9th place in their first season back in La Liga for 6 seasons. This was a great achievement and quickly drew the eyes of the Premier League where he went on to manage Southampton. Luis Zubeldia, an Argentine who had never managed in Europe before, took over for the start of the 2017/2018 season before being sacked after losing and failing to score in each of the first four games. Gianni De Biasi, who was previously the Albania coach who managed to qualify them to their first major tournament, replaced Zubeldia. Though he managed to get them their first goals and wins, it wasn’t enough as after only two months in charge his contract was terminated as Alaves sat rock bottom of the La Liga table on 6 points. They had 2 wins and 11 losses from 13 games, only scoring 7 goals and conceding 22. After a great first season back in La Liga finishing 9th the year before, this wasn’t exactly how they’d hoped the start of their second season would go. Since then, Abelardo Fernandez has been in charge and has won 19 out of 35 La Liga games, winning 1.74 points per game. Alaves would’ve finished 5th in the 2017/2018 season had they maintained that across a season and qualified for Europe. After 10 games in the current 2018/2019 season, Alaves find themselves 2nd only behind Spanish giants Barcelona.
Apart from the set back early in 2017/2018, Alaves have proved they are well worth their place in La Liga. In only their 3rd season back to La Liga they are sitting in 2nd place, I will take a look at the stats behind their recent fixtures to judge how sustainable their recent results have been.
So far Alaves have won 6 games, drawn 2 games and lost 2 games, meaning they are at 2 points per game and results are better than average across Fernandez’ tenure. They have scored 14 goals and conceded only 9, however their expected goals (xG) is 10.41 and expected goals against (xGA) is 13.59. Alaves are outperforming their expected returns at both ends of the pitch, they are scoring more than and conceding less than is expected based on the shots that have occurred. When a team is outperforming their expected goals, it is usually not sustainable, elite level finishing is the exception. We can expect that Alaves will regress back to the mean, wherever that mean is.
Even though Alaves have outperformed their xG/xGA as a total, looking at each match they’ve played individually tells a different story. Since they appear to be over performing expectation, you may expect that they over perform in each game. This is not the case as there is only one game that they have won where they had a lower xG than their opponent (1.10 – 0.85 vs Real Valladolid [away]). This includes their win against Real Madrid in which they snatched victory in the last-minute to earn a 1-0 win with xG of 0.95 – 0.84.
Two games in particular highlight the importance of looking at individual games, their first game away to Barcelona and their away trip to Rayo Vallecano. Barcelona thrashed Alaves 3-0 on the opening day after receiving a guard of honour for winning the title last year, with xG of 3.27 – 0.25. So 3.27/13.59 of xGA and 3/9 of their goals against all came in the first game, in the nine games since then they have had an xG of 10.32 and conceded 6. They are still out performing xGA, however it’s a much more representative view. Several games later, Alaves won 1-5 away to Rayo Vallecano with xG of 1.08 – 1.25. Helped out by a Rayo Vallecano red card and some excellent finishing in the first half, they created some higher xG chances in the second half with more space to counter into and ran away with the game. There were 5/14 of Alaves’ goals but only 1.25/10.41 xG in this game, meaning that in the other nine games they had and scored nine goals from 9.16 xG which looks much more reasonable and sustainable.
Across each individual game the xG prediction for a winner is correct 70% of the time (2 draws and 1 loss), if Alaves carry on putting up these numbers for xG and xGA then there’s no reason why their success isn’t sustainable. The only question is whether they can keep it up. Of course, xG doesn’t win you games, actual real-life goals do. Let’s delve into what type of goals and when these goals are scored.
Alaves haven’t scored a single goal in the middle 15 minutes of any half (15-30/60-75mins). This means all of their goals have come at the start or the end of a half, these are very good times to score. A goal at the start of a half will put you on the front foot and a goal at the end of the half gives the opposition little time to react, if it’s just before half time you can go and regroup whilst if it’s just before the end of the game there’s usually no time for reply. It is not a conscious decision when they decide to score but provides insight into the flow of how Alaves try to play. Explosive starts to each half with a quieter middle to relax before ending strongly. Alaves are very good at finishing halves but whether that style of play is sustainable is another matter, out of the 10 games they’ve played in they have scored in 90+ minutes five times. This has won them three games and drawn one meaning that they have gained seven points from last-minute goals. That is not sustainable.
Considering that Alaves appear to be over performing their expected returns at both ends at a total level, the fact that they have scored goals in 90+ minutes in half of their La Liga games and they are currently sitting at 2 points per game which is above their average in the last year, it doesn’t appear that their current results are sustainable. That’s not to say that they will revert back to the relegation battling side a year ago, but they will regress back to their mean somewhere in between.
Credit to understat.com once again for their amazing site and xG models. Check them out.