As the new 2020/21 Premier League season is about to get underway, a big question is whether Liverpool can replicate their utter dominance. They’ve won the league by an unprecedented margin, and it never really looked like anything else was going to happen. Not even Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City teams that have just achieved 100 and 98 points in the previous two years could come close, they hadn’t been able to maintain that pace for a third season. Liverpool have just had consecutive 97 and 95 point seasons, hoping to replicate that form for the upcoming third season.
It had been noted that despite winning the league in record time, Liverpool’s expected goals and goal difference was still not as good as Manchester City’s. This suggests the idea that Manchester City were in fact the better team over the course of the season and that Liverpool have been merely lucky to win the league by such a margin.
Using shot distance, shot times and expected goals from www.fbref.com, I’ve approximate expected goals per shot for both Liverpool and Manchester City’s 2019/20 Premier League season. The total expected goal totals across each match have been proportioned out using shot distance to approximate expected goals per shot. Per shot information allows expected goals and minutes aggregation by gamestate.
Gamestate is an important factor in contextualising football matches. Stronger teams usually spend more time winning a game than weaker teams. Teams that are winning are no longer under obligation to push forward as much, with the losing team responsible for trying to get back into the game.
Across both the 97 and 95 point Liverpool seasons in 2018/19 and 2019/20, Liverpool achieved the majority of their expected goals in winning gamestates. Notably in the recent 2019/20 season, they actually achieved more expected goals winning by a single goal than drawing.
Whereas for Manchester City, there is a clear distinction between their 98 point 2018/19 season and the recent 2019/20 season. They have earned a much larger proportion of their expected goals at a neutral gamestate than their title winning season, they are clearly creating the chances but perhaps have been wasteful. It’s also noticeable that they create lots of their expected goals when they’re already 3+ ahead and lots more when losing than the previous year.
Now lets take a look at how long each team has spent in each gamestate across the season.
Much like the expected goals charts, the proportion of minutes played between each club suggests a clear difference in approach that each team needed to adopt. Liverpool have spent a much larger proportion of their time winning by 1 goal, whilst Manchester City spent more time Losing and winning by 3+.
They both spent a similar proportion of time at neutral gamestates, though Manchester City’s expected goals at this gamestate were much higher. This suggests more chances and shots were required to go ahead in the game, Liverpool went ahead more efficiently and spent more time ahead at +1.
As mentioned earlier, your approach can change once you are winning. You no longer need to force anything or take risks, the responsibility to equalise or reduce the deficit is on the opponents so they need to take risks. Playing with no risks allows for a higher floor in performance, no doubt being in winning positions so much helped Liverpool maintain their momentum throughout the season. When you aren’t winning, you are required to create chances and shoot more which in turn helps build up your expected goals numbers.
Manchester City built up a lot of expected goals whilst at a neutral gamestate, when they were losing and when they were 3+ ahead. At neutral gamestates, these are the goals that convert into points most easily, and Liverpool were more efficient than Manchester City. When losing, you need to create shots (rack up expected goals numbers) to get back in the games, but you’re only losing because you didn’t score the first goal. When you’re 3+ ahead, these shots and expected goals likely won’t change the points returns of the match. Manchester City spent lots of time either needing to score goals in losing or neutral gamestates or absolutely crushing teams, and little in between, which perhaps explains their ridiculous expected goals numbers.
Liverpool spend little time and expected goals to get from neutral to +1 gamestates, meaning they could spend reduced time with responsibility to take more risks. They spent little time losing and lots of time ahead +1, with little time spent at 3+. They get ahead early and then not much else happened in the game, pretty good strategy to win. They’re deserving champions and perhaps explains why their expected goals aren’t as bonkers as Manchester City’s.
There’s so much more data available for football matches now than there ever has been. There are some fantastic initiatives making tracking and event data freely available by StatsBomb and Metrica Sports. But there’s also lots of other information more widely available out on the web at the likes of https://www.transfermarkt.co.uk/ and recently fbref.com. These won’t be as detailed match to match, but offer a wider overview of what’s happening on and off the pitch.
Accessing information from the web can be time consuming unless automated, which is made very easy using some powerful Python packages and tutorials widely available, like FCPython. There are limits to what you can/should access automatically since we don’t want to overload websites with requests. More information on scraping can be found here.
There are many public functions for web scraping different places, but advice I would give would be to try and make your own to ensure you actually understand what you’re getting. I’ll still add my own interpretation of a web scraping function which works for player/squad tables on fbref, so here’s a link to the GitHub page which has the functions I used with some examples: https://github.com/ciaran-grant/fbref_data
There are lots of types of passes available on fbref, it’s really appreciative having all this data available to explore. Here I am taking a look at progressive passes, with a view to see who’s leading the way this year and if there are any styles we can infer.
Among the progressive passes available the ones that I’ve focused on are below:
Total Progressive Distance
Number of Progressive Passes
Passes into the Final Third
Passes into the Penalty Area
These have been chosen to try to get a cross between both quantity and quality of ball progression.
As each player has played a different number of minutes, I have used per 90 minutes to compare players. It may be more suitable to use number of minutes in possession for offensive passing such as this, and also number of minutes out of possession for defensive measures. But per 90 minutes goes most of the way there.
Each metric has a significantly different range of values, for example Total Progressive Distance per 90 minutes will be in the 100s/1000s whilst xA per 90 minutes will be between 0 and 0.5 usually. An extra 1 progressive distance is way less impressive than an extra 1 xA. To compare between statistics I’ve normalised each relative to the best performer respectively, this forces all comparisons relative to their peers at their productivity per 90 minutes.
This makes it hard to compare between different groups sometimes, but as long as you’re aware of the context what everything is relative to then that should be minimised.
On to the fun stuff!
Out of all players in the 2019/20 season it’s no surprise that two of the most complete progressive passes were: Lionel Messi and Kevin De Bruyne. We’ve passed the Messi sense-check at least.
Both are among the top across almost all statistics in both ball progression and actually creating quality chances.
There seems to be two styles that most players fit into, the above two are aliens so they don’t count. There are chance creators:
Angel Di Maria leads everyone in passes into the penalty area and xA, with lots of key passes too. These types of players seem to be great at using the ball in and around the box, converting possession into chances.
There are also deep progressors:
This is among all players, position agnostic. And David Alaba appears as the best passer into the final 3rd, whilst also high volume and distance in progressive passes. These are deeper players who can move the ball from the halfway line into the final third for your chance creators to thrive.
I have identified these personally just using some intuition, I think next steps will be to test my theory and apply some clustering or PCA to these players to try to identify more styles.
Designed to get a general overview of what the opposition team does well. This could be another subset of patterns of play that an opponent takes rather than just goals such as shots in the box, passes into the final 3rd, etc.
This tab shows the events and tracking data for the respective frames for all the Liverpool goals provided by Last Row.
Events – Pitch Value [Tab 2]
Designed to add context to the view of events that take place in previous tab. This will show what options were available to the player on the ball and what options the defence has covered. It can start discussions about player positioning off the ball and decisions made between events.
Pitch Value is created by adding the context of relevance (PT) and scoring opportunity (PS) to Pitch Control (PPCF) as outlined by @the_spearman.
Pitch Control is also the implementation from @EightyFivePoint’s tutorials. This computes the probability that each team will control the ball in each position on the pitch, subject to interceptions, time to control the ball and player velocities.
Where relevance is computed as a normally distributed probability constrained by ball travel time and Pitch Control. Mean of 14m as per @the_spearman’s Beyond Expexted Goals, 2018
Scoring opportunity is calculated as a normally distributed probability subject to the distance to goal.
Player Displacement – Pitch Value [Tab 3]
Once an area for improvement has been established, this tab will provide the opportunity to manually adjust a player’s position and get an updated view of Pitch Value. This can help to understand where players should be positioned at each event, with the consequences laid out. Reducing the Relative Pitch Control will help to prevent the opposition from scoring. Reducing their number of options will make them more predictable.
Pitch Value is as calculated from Tab 2.
Relative Pitch Value is calculated as the Pitch Value of each area divided by the Pitch Value at the current ball location for the event and frame. This shows areas which moving to will increase your Pitch Control, potentially providing suggestions for on/off ball decision making.
Hopefully this allows anyone who uses the app to understand how the values are computed without having to trawl through my messy code structure on GitHub.
Any further questions please do get in touch at @Ciaran_Grant or @TLMAnalytics
Lastly thanks again to all those contributing at Friends of Tracking for providing all the great content that they have been putting out. It really helps and inspires those of us who have been looking in from the outside!
Considering the suspensions of all major leagues, I thought it would be a good chance to catch up on how each one. Specifically here I’m taking a look at the distribution of minutes played by players in each team by the age of those players. The inspiration for this came from Real Sociedad and seeing that the core of their team has been a bunch of early twenty year olds and they currently sit in 4th should the leagues end now. This did seem unusual, but to compare with other teams this sparked a project that I have come across much more time to complete.
Minutes played is in all competitions during the 2019/2020 season up to the latest round of games before league suspensions.
I’ve taken a look at the top 5 European leagues and noted down some interesting, some weird and some funny things that came up.
The initial inspiration for this project, so it’s nice to confirm the intuition that allocating lots of minutes to a younger group of players isn’t the norm. They have done well this year, I expect this team to have players poached sooner rather than later.
What struck me with this was the gap between the core 7/8 players in their prime ages and the rest of the squad. They are always in ‘win now’ mode so it’s hard to ease in any youngsters, especially with the expectations of the last decade. But they’re going to need to start to trust a few more of the younger players they actually have an abundance of.
In my head, Atletico’s team is full of 30+ year olds. They are all just passed their prime and have all the experience and tactical nouse a single team could contain. Then I see that the majority of their team is late 20s, actually just hitting their prime. They’ve got some kind of weird, Simeone style conveyor belt going on behind the scenes there.
Another case of lots of minutes played by young players, not too surprising that it’s Lyon and Lille. However worth pointing out again because this is still very much out of the ordinary and some teams seem to be able to consistently do this.
This outlier up in the top left corner is Eduardo Camavinga, born on November 2002. He’s still 17. He’s on course to play 3000 minutes this year at centre midfield. He’s pretty good.
This other outlier in the top right is Vitorino Hilton, born in September 1977. He’s 42. He’s on course to play 3000 minutes this year at centre back. I had never heard of him before. He’s 42 and playing 3000 minutes in Ligue 1. I have gained much respect for him.
Obligatory lots of minutes for young players alert here. No surprise from Dortmund, but Gladbach are just a notch or two below in terms of the quality and quantity of minutes they’re getting from younger players this year.
RB Leipzig should also be in the lots of minutes for young players, but I thought they deserved a separate mention just because they ONLY play young players. There might be a virtual barrier around the training ground which doesn’t let you in after your 30th birthday.
Paderborn are currently bottom of the Bundesliga and look to have generally spread the minutes around, maybe trying different players or tactics to find something that works. I haven’t watched them. But interesting that the player with most minutes played is 22 year old Sebastian Vasiliadis in centre midfield. Is he the player the coaches trust the most? Or have they had injury troubles to other key players? He could be staying in the Bundesliga next year.
If there was ever a ‘win now’ team’s age profile, it would be this one. High proportion of minutes given to age 30+ players means that surely a rebuild is coming soon. De Ligt/Demiral are probably the start of that. (Note Buffon in the bottom right skewing the x-axis for every other team.)
The only really negatively correlated distribution I’ve seen, lots of minutes for young and not so many minutes for old players. I’d heard that Milan had made a decision to go in a different direction than overpaying just-past-their-prime players on long contracts, seems like they’re at least giving younger guys a go.
Special mention here goes to the island of players in their prime that Atalanta seem to have collected together. Hopefully they have a Gasparini type conveyor belt ready to go.
This is probably my favourite distribution of all. And yet there is nothing actually surprising about what there is to see. Burnley are a team of all old/in their prime players, and then there’s Dwight McNeil. Come on Sean, give him someone from his own generation to talk to at least.
Wolves, Sheffield Utd don’t rotate
There’s definitely something to be said here about team understanding and having consistent line-ups. All these teams have a group of players playing the majority of their minutes, all these teams arguably perform above expectations. This may be confirmation bias as I haven’t checked the cases where core teams underperform. Wolves have played more games than the other teams in Europe, and still don’t rotate. Looking at you Conor Coady at 4000+ minutes already.
The obligatory team with lots of minutes for young players is Aston Villa? They’re not especially seeing the success that other synonymous teams around Europe are having, probably due to this being mostly debut seasons all at once in a relegation fight.
That about wraps it up, if there are any interesting things you have spotted then give me a shout! Once again, this wouldn’t have been possible without starting off with getting the data from transfermarkt so huge props to FCPython and their website which does a great job. Check them out at @FC_Python.
Chances Created is a metric which tries to quantify the number of goal scoring opportunities that a player is directly involved in. Opta definition is Assists + Key Passes, where Assists are passes (final touch) which result in a goal from the subsequent play and KP are passes which result in a shot that doesn’t become a goal. So chances created can be reduced to the final passes (touches) before another player has an attempt at goal (and scores or doesn’t). As I’ve discussed on podcast The Monthly Football Podcast, Assists alone are pretty random since you rely on the shot actually going in the goal, so chances created is a bit less noisy and should more reliably predict future assists than assists actually do due to the sheer volume of chances created and opportunities for goals to be scored rather than relying on goals actually being scored which is hard.
Chances created relies on a player to actually have a shot at the end, otherwise there is no record of the opportunity. Opta also have ‘Chance Missed’, which is defined as a big chance opportunity where the player doesn’t get a shot away. Chance missed will be attributed to the player who has the big chance and decides not to shoot, which doesn’t help the creator who provided the chance. If we assume that the miss is largely due to the player not executing an attempt, then mapping these chances missed back to the creator in addition to chances created would give credit to creating the opportunity and not punishing them for something out of their control, such as the forward deciding to delay a shot and missing the chance to.
Chances Denied Metric
As usual, chances created and most quantified statistics deal with the offensive side of the game since it’s more tangible. Shots are there and they happen, counting them is pretty straightforward. A bit less straightforward is to count the passes prior to shots, with chances created. Both of these can be tracked over many events and quantify expected outcomes based off similar situations in the past, this results in expected goals and expected assists. What is not straightforward is how to quantify the benefit of defensive actions.
We can count tackles, blocks, interceptions and recoveries, however, much like steals, blocks and rebounds in the NBA, they don’t quite tell the whole story about how a defence works. Weaker teams are asked to defend more since they have less possession, this means they have more chances to rack up interceptions, tackles and recoveries. Possession adjusting these measures helps somewhat to normalise these differences, which means that we can compare the frequency of each action assuming they all have equal chances to do so. However it’s still hard to differentiate the quality of the actions, or how important they were to each team.
Chances denied are an attempt to quantify how much of an opportunity was denied by an interception or ball recovery. In a purely defensive, denying your opponent a goal scoring opportunity, sense, recovering the ball in the middle of the pitch is not as important as recovering the ball on the edge of your own box. Expected threat, created by Karun Singh (@karun1710), is a metric which quantifies how likely a team is to score from each location on the pitch within the next 5 actions. If we assign the xT to a recovery or interception or tackle considering the location on the pitch it occurs then we may get a proxy for how important each action was. Since defensive teams will get more opportunities, it may be worth possession adjusting this also to compare like for like.
The general concept trying to be captured here is to quantify the quality of chance or potential quality of chance that is denied due to the action taken by the defender. This quantity can be given solely to the defender making the action or collectively assigned to the players involved to appreciate the team aspect of defensive play. There is a question whether to include tactical fouls in here as well as legal ball recoveries, but will save that for another time.
After attending StatsBomb’s Introduction to Football Analytics last week, I was inspired to take another look at the free events data that they offer. One of the main obstacles to breaking into the football analytical industry is getting data to play around with and show what you can do, which is why Statsbomb’s commitment to offering such samples of data for free is so amazing and should be taken advantage of! There are endless possibilities of insight and visualisations to create using the event data, limited only by your creativity.
Support and free tutorials are also freely available for using data in R, including their own StatsBombR package and FCrStats’s twitter and GitHub who provides functions for creating custom pitches for visualisations. Did I mention they were both free?
It can be intimidating to start to work with complex data like this, so I will go through step by step and create a version of a popular match visualisation: an Expected Goals Shot Map.
Since the Fifa Women’s World Cup is currently taking place and the StatsBombR package is continually being updated with new games as they are played, I thought I’d use the recent England v Argentina game as an example.
FOr those completely new to R, you can download the latest RStudio version here:
library("StatsBombR") # Event data
library("SBpitch") # Custom functions for creating pitches
library("ggplot2") # Building visualisations
library("tidyverse") # Data manipulation
Create Blank Pitch
Using FCrStat’s SBpitch package you can create a pitch to use with custom visualisations using the create_Pitch() function. You can specify the colours and which lines you want to see. For the xG Shot Map, we will use the whole pitch.
Using the StatsBombR package, getting access to the free events data is as simple as running the StatsBombFreeEvents() function as below and storing it in your environment.
statsbomb_events <- StatsBombFreeEvents()
##  "Whilst we are keen to share data and facilitate research, we also urge you to be responsible with the data. Please register your details on https://www.statsbomb.com/resource-centre and read our User Agreement carefully."
Get Match Info
There are over 100 variables for each event of each match, so we want to narrow the data set down to a single match. We are interested in the Fifa Women’s World Cup match with England v Argentina. We are also only interested in shots, so will only include those types of events.
I have also included the colours for the respective teams to use later on.
The x,y location of each event is stored in a single variable as an array. Using the separate() function in the Tidyverse we can extract these and create new variables called “location_x” and “location_y”. Use as.numeric() to make the new location variables numeric so we can plot them later.
event_type <- "Shot"
team1_colour <- "red4"
team2_colour <- "lightblue"
# Narrow down to a specific match: Australia Women's v Brazil Women's
match <- statsbomb_events %>%
filter(# Fifa Women's World Cup Competition ID
competition_id == 72 &
# Eng Womens v BArg Women's Match ID
match_id == 22962 &
# Only keep events that are shots
type.name == event_type ) %>%
# X,Y locations are stored in a single array column, separate() into two columns
separate(col = location, into = c(NA, "location_x","location_y")) %>%
mutate(location_x = as.numeric(location_x),
location_y = 80 - as.numeric(location_y))
Create Goal and xG Indicators
Since we are interested in the actual goals and expected goals of each shot, we can create a goal indicator variable and respective expected goal variables for the shots of each team.
match <- match %>%
mutate(# Create a goal indicator
Goal = ifelse(shot.outcome.name == "Goal","1","0"),
# Create England goal indicator and xG
team1_Goal = ifelse((shot.outcome.name == "Goal" & team.name == unique(match$team.name)),"1","0"),
team1_xG = ifelse(team.name == unique(match$team.name),shot.statsbomb_xg,NA),
# Create Argentina goal indicator and xG
team2_Goal = ifelse((shot.outcome.name == "Goal" & team.name == unique(match$team.name)),"1","0"),
team2_xG = ifelse(team.name == unique(match$team.name),shot.statsbomb_xg,NA)
Plot Shot Locations
Okay, lots of preparation done so far. Let’s plot some shots!
ggplot2 builds plots from the ground upwards. Remember the blank_pitch we made earlier? We use that as a base and add the shot locations on top using geom_point to add points/dots
Oops, looks like all the shots happened at the same end, regardless of team. We need to reverse the shot locations of one team, since we know the pitch dimensions from create_Pitch() as 120 x 80, we can use those.
# Looks like all shots are at the same end, need to reverse the locations of one team
match <- match %>%
mutate(location_x = ifelse(team.name == unique(match$team.name),
120 - location_x,
location_y = ifelse(team.name == unique(match$team.name),
80 - location_y,
Plot Respective Coloured Locations
Let’s see if it worked!
# Try again, with different colours for each team
geom_point(data = match, aes(x=location_x, y=location_y, colour = team.name)) +
scale_colour_manual(values = c(team1_colour, team2_colour))
Oof, looks like England had lots of shots and denied Argentina anything significant.
We have shot locations, but it would be nice to see which shots are goals using the goal indicator we created earlier and we can use a different shape (triangle) to differentiate.
Looks like England scored with their best chance and could potentially have scored a few more considering their volume of relatively good shots. This is a skeleton of an Expected Goals Shot Map, we can add in annotations to make the final plot look more presentable and quantify each team’s expected goals versus actual goals.
That looks a little better, at least we now know the score and how each team did compared to their expected goals. After creating a blank pitch, we only need to add layers to get a visualisation of the information we want which is incredibly powerful. To get the visualisation for another match, simply change the match_id (and team colours) above!
The only packages used to create this are those loaded above, with the free events data provided by StatsBomb and extra functions/tutorials by FCrStats
Again, you can find those two here: @StatsBomb @FCrStats
Hopefully this will help get some people get started and overcome any initial intimidation. I will look to provide more of these types of step by step guides going forwards the more I get to play around with the data.
Manchester City find themselves once again top of the Premier League, with the chance to retain the title for the first time in 10 years since Manchester United in 2008/09. However they also find themselves without Fernandinho, the only seemingly irreplaceable player in their squad that overflows with talent. Fernandinho has missed four Premier League games so far this season, the two at the end of December in which they lost and left the league title in Liverpool’s hands and the two most recent games which were both dominating 1-0 wins. Even if their performances were no worse off and just lacked some luck, no doubt there is nobody else in their squad who can do exactly what Fernandinho does.
Even Guardiola has commented that there is no doubt they will be looking to bring in a replacement:
“I think with the way we play we need a guy who has of course physicality, is quick in the head and reading where our spaces to attack are”
In this post I will try to scout a replacement for Fernandinho using Statsbomb’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Event data. This is a small sample size, so will only include players and their performances in the World Cup. I will define some metrics that could be used to describe the type of player that would fit the role that Fernandinho plays and identify those players that performed best during the World Cup.
Guardiola talks about physicality, quickness of thought and reading where the spaces will be to attack. It is hard to quantify those qualities, however using adapting some simpler metrics could give a good shortlist.
We know that Manchester City will have the ball a lot and want to get the ball forwards to their more attacking players in attacking areas, relying on Fernandinho to progress the ball. Using Statsbomb’s passing events, with the start and end location in x, y coordinates, I have defined a ‘Progressive Pass’ to be one that moves up the pitch more than 10m. Players who have the ability to progress the ball forwards are desired. It could be argued that we also want to only include players who progress the ball from deeper positions so as to more accurately emulate Fernandinho’s role, however we have a small sample as it is and the ability to play progressive passes is what we are looking for.
Whilst lots of players are great at passing, what makes Manchester City so special and Fernandinho so hard to replace, is their ability or willingness to win the ball higher up the pitch. Check out a previous post in the link below where I show how many more times they win the ball back in the opposition’s half. In the same vein, using Statsbomb’s ball recovery event with the x, y location I create a count of times that a player has recovered the ball in the opponent’s half. This tries to emulate the ability to win the ball back quickly after losing it and pinning the opposition back.
The combination of progressive passes and high ball recovery is used as a proxy for the type of skills that Fernandinho portrays and can be used to get a shortlist of players that perform similarly. Looking at only the players who played positions considered as central midfield or defensive midfield, the top 10 is below.
One thing to note is that these are pure counts and not per game or per 90min. It would be worth taking a look at that to account for the differences in games and minutes played. For example, Croatia making the Final and Germany getting knocked out in Group Stage is a difference of four games, so Toni Kroos making it to 2nd on the absolute list is incredible.
Initially it looks like the list makes sense, players like Kroos, Modric, Rakitic are all players who you could see being able to play in a deeper midfield role. Mascherano is also in the same mould, even more so considering he has played at Centre Back most of the time for Barcelona and Fernandinho has begun to slot in there to bring the ball out.
Those players are all 30+ years old so no better than Fernandinho in terms of potential replacements. Granit Xhaka and Marcelo Brozovic are two that are just entering their prime midfield years at the age of 26. This is where it’s important to note that when scouting, context is important and large sample sizes are encouraged. Xhaka may have the progressive passing ability and love of yellow cards, but probably wouldn’t have the discipline.
This post has looked at outlining a way to narrow down a shortlist of potential replacements for Fernandinho, the methods can be used to find similar players for any player as long as you can identify what you are looking for. Ideally you would get a much larger sample size of games and could look at a player’s contribution per game or per 90mins to get a more stable shortlist. In the future I would like to look at some unsupervised methods which don’t require you to specify or create the similar fields as I have done here.
I have included the total passing heatmaps and the recovery maps of selected players; if you want to see any players specifically from the World Cup from any position then give me a shout!
Once again, massive shout out to Statsbomb for providing the free source of event level data, it’s hard to come by and even harder to collect so it’s much appreciated!
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.