Most of them have anyway. One way to judge this is to look at the Expected Goals figures teams have created and conceded in each game and find the biggest positive difference for each side this season. Some of the matches will be obvious, some less so. Either way, you can’t outrun the xG; the truth will set you free.
Arsenal: vs WBA Jan 2 +2.75
That Arsenal are the only club with an entry from 2021 says as much about their improvement in the last few weeks as it does about the team they were facing. Suffice to say it won’t be West Brom’s last appearance as opponents in this list. In the swirling snow falling onto England’s highest league ground, Arsenal scored four times as they began their slow journey back to football’s summit. Sam Allardyce’s verdict? “We need to work out a way of not trying to be as sloppy as we have been at conceding goals.” Essentially, yes.
Aston Villa: vs Crystal Palace Dec 26 +3.46
It’s not the 7-2 win home win against Liverpool, which owed much to mistakes by the champions and clinical finishing by Villa, but a more prosaic-looking 3-0 win against Crystal Palace at Villa Park which saw Dean Smith’s team end with an xG of 4.33 from 20 shots despite playing for more than half the game with 10 men. If Villa are to finish in the top six this season it’s performances and wins like these they need to rack up. Patient, energetic, imperious.
Brighton: vs Sheffield United Dec 20 +2.34
Brighton dominating a game but failing to take their chances and letting the opposition escape with a point? The story is old but it goes on. To be fair, in this game Danny Welbeck’s late equaliser probably ensured the Albion fans didn’t feel too short changed for once but the underlying numbers disagree, with Brighton getting 2.88 xG-worth of chances, unsurprising perhaps given that Sheffield United were down to 10 men from the 40th minute onwards. That the only UK city which elects a Green Party MP should be so wasteful on the pitch is worthy of comment from Alanis Morrissette.
Burnley: vs Tottenham Oct 26 +0.41
It’s not incredibly surprising to learn that Burnley are yet to dominate many games this season, but they can feel hard-done by with this one, given Sean Dyche’s men restricted Tottenham to an xG of only 0.60 and ended the game with 1.01 at the other end. But Spurs have Kane and Son and inevitably the family firm combined in this game to give Jose Mourinho’s side an underserved win. Burnley’s day was saved post-game when Dyche became the first manager to use the word “quelled” in an interview, saying “We got done a little bit by a soft goal tonight, but we quelled a lot of good attacks tonight.” Variety like that should be worth a +0.5 xG bonus by itself. Sadly, it isn’t.
Chelsea: vs Leeds Dec 5 +3.42
Those old rivals Chelsea and Leeds have both entertained and appalled in equal measure this season. It was Chelsea who came out on top when they met at Stamford Bridge, winning 3-1 with an xG of 4.21 from 23 shots, 11 of them on target. In related news, Chelsea went top of the league with this result, and there were even (2,000) fans inside Stamford Bridge to witness it. This game actually took place barely a month ago, but it already feels about a decade has passed since then.
Crystal Palace: vs Fulham Oct 24 +1.49
Roy Hodgson coming out on top in a Roy Hodgson clasico is always nice to see, with his wildly inconsistent Palace side winning 2-1 at Craven Cottage, with Fulham’s goal coming in the 95th minute and being very much the consolation. Palace dominated the game, hitting 10 of their 14 shots on target with Wilfried Zaha in particularly devastating form. It was the first time Palace had hit 10 shots on target in an away game since August 2018, also in a match with Fulham. It’s their happy place.
Everton: vs WBA Sep 19 +3.63
Everton’s powerful start to the season was unexpected but enjoyable all the same. The 5-2 win against West Brom saw the home side create 3.97 xG, while the visitors scored twice despite having an xG of only 0.34. Dominic Calvert-Lewin became the youngest Englishman to score a league hat-trick for Everton since Tony Cottee back in 1988 while James Rodriguez looked like he had been waiting to come to the Premier League all his career. Glorious, unsustainable stuff but you take it where you can.
Fulham: vs Leicester Nov 30 +1.06
A candidate for most surprising result of the season so far but it was fully deserved. Getting a penalty will help your xG balance (Leicester know all about that) but perhaps not when it’s Fulham with their… inconsistent approach to spot-kicks. After missing three in a row via three different players, Ivan Cavaleiro finally embraced the classic 78%-chance-of-scoring-device to extend the lead given to them by Ademola Lookman. Fulham are a bogey team for Leicester and the science backs that up.
Leeds: vs Everton Nov 28 +1.99
Some games contain a series of gilt-edged chances, some rack up the xG through sheer number of shots. This game was very much the latter, with Leeds having 23 attempts, although only six of them were on target. Not a wildly unusual scenario for Marcelo Bielsa’s team going forwards but they had Illan Meslier to thank for making eight saves at the other end. So far this season there has been a shot every three minutes in Leeds’ Premier League games and they are second for total xG and second for total xG conceded. Opportunity knocks.
Leicester: vs WBA Sep 13 +2.41
Leicester’s overall xG figures are helped by the sheer number of penalties they get and it was no different in their opening game of the season, away at newly promoted West Brom. Two spot-kicks, both scored by Jamie Vardy, and a debut goal by Timothy Castagne gave the Foxes a flying start, and one the 2015-16 champions have certainly kicked on from. Don’t forget the penalties, though. Without them, Leicester’s xG total is only good enough for the bottom half. Don’t tell Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool: vs Leeds Sep 12 +2.44
In some ways Liverpool are missing Virgil van Dijk less for his defending and more for his role in the team’s attacking. The champions’ defending numbers have not changed wildly since the Dutchman got injured at Everton, but his team seem less capable of attacking like they did against Leeds on the opening day. Leeds had more possession and rattled Jurgen Klopp’s men but Liverpool still took 22 shots, including two penalties. Even so, part of the reason for Liverpool having an xG difference of +2.44 in this game was Leeds having a final total of only 0.32 in the game, the lowest figure recorded in the Premier League for any team scoring 3+ goals in a game. As we saw above, their return to Merseyside to play Everton two months later followed a very different script.
Man City: vs Newcastle Dec 26 +2.72
There are increasingly few certainties in life but Manchester City comfortably beating Newcastle at home is one of them. City won for the 12th consecutive time at home against them and even in a relatively sedate 2-0 match, still collected almost +3 xG more than Steve Bruce’s team. Were City a bit wasteful? Yes. Did it matter? No, they were playing Newcastle.
Man Utd: vs Leeds Dec 20 +1.87
Leeds’ third appearance as an opponent in this list is meat and drink to pundits and thinkers who believe Bielsa needs a Plan B for games in which Leeds need to shut up shop. They refused to change their ways even as Manchester United pulled further and further ahead and the underlying numbers prove it. Leeds’ xG of 1.78 is the most of any opponent in this article but their arch-rivals racked up 3.65. That total of 5.43 is the most seen in any Premier League game this season and the match was correspondingly entertaining. But football, for some, is not about entertainment. Plan B is not an entertainment procedure.
Newcastle: vs Everton Nov 1 +1.51
Newcastle must have put up some monster xG totals in the uncharted 1990s but in the 2020s those sort of performances are much harder to come by. So, the 2-1 win against Everton was very welcome, with Callum Wilson scoring a brace including one from the penalty spot. It was United’s third spot-kick in their last five Premier League games at this point, as many as in the previous 75 matches. You can boost your xG in a number of ways, and that is certainly one of them.
Sheff Utd: vs WBA Nov 28 +1.83
It’s possible that people of the future may look back on this game as one of the most doomed in Premier League history, especially if Sheffield United end the campaign with fewer points than Derby managed in 2007-08. West Brom won 1-0 but were absolutely battered by the Blades on xG. After the game manager Chris Wilder said “If you don’t take your chances and don’t show that quality in and around the box or the penalty area, you’re not going to win games of football,” and it’s hard to argue with that as both a blueprint for football and a validation of xG.
Southampton: vs Sheff Utd Dec 13 +1.67
Southampton climbed into fourth with this win and they have every chance of being in that exalted bracket when the season ends. This was one of the most comfortable wins any team has had all season, with the Blades making only 74 passes in the first half and having only three shots (none on target) all game. There are no easy games at this level. Oh really?
Tottenham: vs Man Utd Oct 4 +2.56
This was the third time in Premier League history that Manchester United had conceded six goals in a game. All of them have come in October but this was the club’s first at the hands of a former manager and that made it hurt all the more. As is usually the case with unusual scorelines, Spurs were particularly clinical, scoring with six of their eight shots on target but that 3.51 xG for the visitors was more than United ever recorded in a Premier League game at Old Trafford under Mourinho. Ouch.
WBA: vs Brighton Oct 26 -0.15
So, 19 of the 20 Premier League teams have recorded a higher Expected Goals figure than an opponent in at least one game this season, even winless Sheffield United. The only team yet to do it? West Brom, coming closest in their match at Brighton in October, but still falling short. Based on a range of metrics, this WBA team may well be one of the weakest sides seen in the Premier League for some time, yet Sheffield United’s inability to win even a single game means Albion are still well clear of 20th place as it stands.
West Ham: vs Wolves Sep 27 +1.90
At the time this 4-0 win for West Ham was a surprise but it was the start of their modestly impressive season, and featured a brace from Jarrod Bowen, a player who exemplifies an improved workrate and application from the Hammers in 2020-21. Seven shots on target and an xG of 2.36 was a solid day’s work from the home side, who were managed remotely by an isolating David Moyes, who operated a tactical hotline with Stuart Pearce on the West Ham bench, while Nuno Espirito Santo had to watch his players phone in a performance in real life.
Wolves: vs Crystal Palace Oct 30 +0.62
Wolves have rarely cut loose this season, and this is illustrated by the fact that their biggest xG margin in a game is only +0.62. It came against Palace in October in a game that actually took the club joint-top at the time, an event almost no-one can remember. 2-0 is never a dangerous lead, and 2-0 for Wolves with their invariably efficient defence is as safe as it gets. And so it proved.