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EFL Championship: The Story So Far

 

Reading hold what looks like an unsustainable lead at the top of the Championship, Norwich City play the sexiest football and Watford’s rebuilding job has started well. Elsewhere, Preston North End really don’t like playing at home and Blackburn’s Adam Armstrong looks like a great early contender for Championship Player of the Season.

With the November international break, we felt it was an ideal time to check in on the Championship and look at some of the data stories so far in 2020/21.

By: Matt Furniss

Royal Flush

 

Reading hold the strongest hand in the Championship this season so far, with their 22 points enough to see them establish a single point lead over Watford and Norwich City.

The points say that the Royals are the best team midway through November, but the underlying numbers suggest that their table-topping antics might not be sustainable.

Reading have scored 17 goals, with one of those being a penalty. Based on the quality of chances they’ve created with the exclusion of that single penalty kick, you would have expected the Royals to have scored 10 times (9.7xG), but they have outperformed that xG total by 6.3. That’s nearly double every other team in the Championship.

 

 

Defensively, they have conceded at the expected rate considering the chances opposition sides have had – so it seems to be an attacking anomaly only, at this stage.

Only Blackburn Rovers (21) have scored more goals than Reading (17) overall this season, but Veljko Paunović’s side have attempted the third-fewest shots (102), have the third lowest overall xG total (10.5) and have had fewer touches in the opposition box than any other side (159).


Shots Fired

 

Blackburn Rovers attempted 16 shots on target in their 5-0 win over Wycombe Wanderers in September; a tally that has never been matched in all 16 seasons that we have shot data for the second tier of English Football.

 

 

In fact, the last team to manage this many shots on target during a game within the top four tiers of English league football was Arsenal in December 2017, during 1-3 defeat at home to Manchester United. Unfortunately for Wycombe, they didn’t have David de Gea in goal.


Armstrong on Song

 

Adam Armstrong scored a hat trick in that game for Blackburn Rovers against Wycombe Wanderers – the only player to net a treble in a Championship game so far this season.

Armstrong stands out in many attacking metrics this season & has followed up a really strong 2019/20 season, where he scored 16 goals for the Lancashire side.

The 23-year-old has scored 11 goals in 10 games this season to date and has also managed the highest xG per 90 figure (1.06). He has attempted 14 more shots on target than any other player in the division (30) and 14 more shots in total than every other player (55).

 

 

Blackburn fans will no doubt be aware of Armstrong’s ability to run at opposition teams with the ball, but his total of 17 ball carries (progressing 5+ metres with the ball) followed by a shot is another league high, with two of these being scored.


Points on the Road for Preston

 

Preston have won all 13 of their points away from home – the first team to ever win their opening 13 points to a league season away. If you adjusted to three points for a win before this rule came into force, then Chesterfield in 1947/48 would have beaten this record….by a single point. They would have then won their first 14 points away from home that season in the second division.

 

 

Preston even exited the EFL Cup in Round Two, losing 0-2 at home to Brighton and Hove Albion – this after winning away in Round One against fellow Championship side Derby County.


Farke Life

 

With Leeds United promoted and Brentford having sold key members of last season’s team, Norwich City seem to be putting an early marker down as this season’s Championship team that will be the most pleasing to the eye.

The Canaries average 62% possession and 459 successful passes per game – both Championship highs. In fact, they are averaging 91 successful passes per game more than they did in the Premier League last season (368) and 56 more per game than they did in their promotion season from the Championship in 2018/19 (403).

Looking at open-play sequences, Norwich City have strung together 140 different sequences of 10+ passes in the Championship this season, which is a league-high total.

 

After winning the ball back, Daniel Farke’s side have progressed up field 15.5 metres on average with their open-play sequences – 2.4 metres farther than next-best side Brentford (13.1).


Youth the Way Forward for Hornets

 

After five successive seasons in the Premier League, Watford were relegated back to the Championship following a final day defeat at Arsenal.

Only Crystal Palace had an older average starting XI age in the Premier League than the Hornets did in 2019-20 (29 years, 132 days), so the Watford hierarchy understood that a rebuild of the playing squad was much needed.

So far this season, Watford have reduced that average age to 27y 33d, this despite having two of the three oldest players to appear in the Championship in 2020/21 in Ben Foster and Glenn Murray (both 37).

 

Vladimir Ivic has handed appearances to six different players while aged under 21 years old this season in the Championship.

Domingos Quina, Jeremy Ngakia, James Garner, Ben Wilmot (who has since turned 21), João Pedro and Daniel Phillips have all appeared for the Hornets in the league, with the first five in that list being regulars. In fact, no side have handed more minutes on the pitch to U21 players than Watford have (2819).


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