The Citadel Falls
Nine empty halves and 89 shots sounds like the recipe for a grim hangover but for Liverpool fans it’s even worse than that. It’s their team’s attacking output since the 7-0 win away at Crystal Palace, a game that looks less like a statement victory now and more like the football equivalent of eating nearly all the contents of your fridge in one go and then subsequently wondering why all that’s left is half an onion. After the romp at Palace, Liverpool returned to fortress Anfield to face Sam Allardyce’s West Bromwich Albion, took the lead after only 12 minutes through Sadio Mane and then settled back to enjoy the fruits of the then-current timeline.
But timelines change. West Brom eased their way into the game and equalised with eight minutes to go. Strange as it sounds now, that almost seems like a heady, glorious result for Jurgen Klopp’s team in retrospect. Since then, Liverpool have had a 0-0 at Newcastle, a 1-0 defeat at Southampton, a 0-0 draw at home to Manchester United last Sunday and then the invincibility-shattering 1-0 home defeat to Burnley on Thursday, the club’s first loss in the league at Anfield since April 2017. The second longest unbeaten home run in English top-flight history ends at 68 games, Chelsea’s 86-game run at Stamford Bridge set largely under Jose Mourinho in the 2000s remains the industry standard.
Four games without a goal is Liverpool’s worst run in the league since May 2000, a date much closer to the club’s 18th title win than their 19th. Liverpool are yet to score a single goal in 2021, which means at least goalkeepers at Eibar and Newport County have scored more league goals than them this year, that Andy Carroll has scored more than them, that John Stones has scored more than them. The last five league games have seen Liverpool clock up an xG of 7.2 in exchange for a single goal, plus six (wasted) Opta-defined Big Chances in those four barren matches since Allardyce visited. This is freakish football, but then so was getting 97 points to come second in 2018-19 and then 99 to win the league a year later. The wheel turns, fortune shifts, the ball won’t go in.
Mateta Flies In
Crystal Palace have signed Jean-Philippe Mateta from German Bundesliga club Mainz 05, but what does the data say about the Eagles’ new French striker?
The 23-year-old has a very decent goal tally of 24 from 67 games across his Bundesliga career – a rate of better than a strike every three games on average. In fact, just four players have scored more goals in the competition than Mateta while aged under 24 since the Frenchman’s first Bundesliga season in 2018-19.
However, looking at the quality of chances Mateta has been afforded during his Bundesliga career that goal tally should be higher.
After a great breakthrough season at Mainz where he netted 14 times from an xG of 14, the last two seasons have seen him underperform his open play xG by five goals – the third worst record in this period behind Daichi Kamada (-5.2) and Breel Embolo (-5.1).
He’s scored with just over one in five of his shots in the German top-flight this season (21.4%) which shouldn’t be downplayed, but the reality is that could be much higher with more clinical finishing.
His 28 non-penalty shots in 2020-21 have had an xG total of 7.8 – meaning his average shot quality is 0.28xG, the highest of any player in the Bundesliga this season. To put it more simply, the average player would be expected to score with 28% of these shots based on historical data.
Crystal Palace currently have the third-lowest non-penalty average this season in the Premier League at 0.86, so they will be hoping that Mateta can be a man to improve their goalscoring threat.
The famous 40 point mark
Despite the keen efforts of Leicester City and Manchester City, Manchester United are back on top of the Premier League with an incredibly neat total of 40 points at the halfway stage. Recently with Manchester City and Liverpool reaching or nearing 100 points 40 at this stage would be way off the pace but this is 2020-21 and we have a real, authentic old-fashioned title race. To some it might feel like United haven’t done quite enough to be there but historically, teams winning the league title from a position exactly like this, or even worse, is pretty standard. Adjusting to three points for a win to make it a fair comparison, 70 previous champions of England have had 40 points or fewer at this stage, from Everton in 1891 all the way through to Leicester in 2016.
It has become less common in recent times, with 33 of those 70 title wins coming before World War Two, but even in the Premier League era it has happened eight times, with five of Alex Ferguson’s 13 Premier League crowns seeing United sitting fewer than 40 points after 19 games. Meanwhile, the last team to have exactly 40 after 19, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team do, were Arsenal in 1988-89, who you might remember were an unfancied big club managed by a former player, had waited too long for the league title but managed to depose reigning champions Liverpool in dramatic style. This United team are certainly showing signs they have the mettle to get their hands on their favourite piece of silverware. The win at Fulham equalled a club record for unbeaten away games in the league (17), it was a record 94th win in the Premier League after conceding the first goal, and United are on course to set a new Premier League record for comeback wins in a single campaign. 2020-21 is about determination rather than domination and don’t they just know it.
7 – Manchester United have won seven Premier League games having gone behind this season – only Newcastle in 2001-02 (10) and Man Utd themselves in 2012-13 (9) have done so more in a single campaign. Mindset. pic.twitter.com/fMpStIgumf
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 20, 2021
High & Tight
Manchester City briefly went top of the Premier League after scoring twice in the final 15 minutes to beat Aston Villa. It’s semi-traditional to describe such wins as “hard-fought”, but the sheer end-to-end nature of this highly enjoyable match made a mockery of that phrase. There were 38 shots in the game, second only to Manchester United’s home encounter with Leeds in the Premier League this season, but it was Manchester City’s defence that once again emerged with the most credit, having kept their 10th clean sheet of the season and in the face of some considerable Villa pressure. The John Stones/Ruben Dias partnership is quickly emerging as one of the most effective in contemporary football, but, good as they are, we’re still a long way from the defensive heights of the mid-2000s Premier League. If you had to guess the team with the most shutouts in their opening 18 matches of a season you might plump for Chelsea 2004-05, and it’s a reasonable theory, but the record is actually held by Rafa Benitez’s European Champions a season later. Liverpool in 2005-06 racked up 14 clean sheets in their first 18 league games but a lack of firepower undermined a proper title challenge and they could only finish third, nine points behind Chelsea.
Even so, while City this season may not quite be on the same level as a peak-Mourinho/Benitez 2000s side, they have an attacking flow that neither of those managers have hit. Bernardo Silva ran further and at a higher average speed than any other player in the Villa game and was rewarded with the opening goal, while Phil Foden was seemingly inspired by his battle with Jack Grealish by serving up five shots and creating six goalscoring chances, making him the youngest ever player to have 10+ shot involvements in a game under Guardiola. The man he overtook? Decent enough.
11 – Phil Foden created six chances & had five shots vs Aston Villa – he is the youngest player (20y 237d) in Pep Guardiola’s managerial career to have 10+ shot involvements in a league game, overtaking Lionel Messi in 2008 vs Sporting de Gijón (21y 89d). Destined. pic.twitter.com/q6PuDcFcB9
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 20, 2021
Having suffered through ‘Blue Monday’ just a day before, it didn’t get much better for Frank Lampard and his Chelsea side on Tuesday night as they fell to another defeat in the Premier League.
Lampard suffered the 18th league defeat of his 57-match reign in the competition, equalling the tally that Jose Mourinho suffered in his second spell at the Blues – the only problem being that the Portuguese took charge of 35 games more in that stint. The last game in that second Mourinho spell was a Premier League defeat away at Leicester City.
This all means that Chelsea have averaged just 1.67 points per game under Lampard – the fourth worst average of any permanent Blues’ manager in the Premier League era. If they lose at home to Wolves next Wednesday, then this average will slide below that of Ruud Gullit’s 1.65 average. A grim situation.
Under their former midfielder, Chelsea have conceded 1.35 goals per game in the Premier League, their highest average under any permanent manager in the competition. 50 of their goals conceded with Lampard in charge have come away from home in the league, which – as pointed out by Duncan Alexander – is more than any other Chelsea boss in their first 29 away games in the competition.
goals conceded in first 29 PL away games as Chelsea manager
Special Mourinho: 13
Gloomy Mourinho: 27
— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) January 19, 2021
Echoes of 2015-16?
Leicester City find themselves top of the Premier League table after 19 games of 2020-21, albeit possibly only for a single night, with Manchester City playing tonight.
This is the first time that the Foxes have been in first place this late into a season since winning it in 2015-16 and credit must go to Brendan Rodgers for transforming a side that were languishing in 11th position after 28 games when he took charge in February 2019.
Since taking charge of the Foxes, they have won 117 points in 67 Premier League games – the exact same record as Manchester United and the same points tally as Chelsea in two games fewer. The argument that they have broken up the hegemony of the “big six” in the competition has some substance now.
But how to we rate the Foxes chances of lifting the Premier League crown?
Unfortunately for them, we give it just 0.4% chance of happening, with their most likely finish being in fifth. The historic strength of their title-challenging rivals proves to be just too strong for our model to ignore them….at the moment.
• The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) given each team’s attacking and defensive quality.
• The team’s attacking and defensive qualities are based on four years of historic results, with more weighting given to their most recent results.
• The model will take into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes against and reward them accordingly. For example, scoring vs Man City is worth more than scoring vs Newcastle.
• We can simulate the upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution with the two teams’ attacking and defending qualities as inputs.
• Finally, we simulate the outcome of the season 10,000 times in order to estimate the likelihood of each team finishing in each league position.
The re-appointment of David Moyes in December 2019 didn’t generate much enthusiasm within the West Ham United support base, but the Scottish manager has steadied the ship at the London Stadium.
Waking up after going six unbeaten like… pic.twitter.com/lKunjKrek3
— West Ham United (@WestHam) January 20, 2021
With 38 Premier League games under his belt in this second spell at the Hammers, that’s the equivalent to a whole campaign. Historically in a 38-game season, that would be enough to secure ninth place on average – a placing that would be the best the club have achieved in the top-flight since 2015-16 when they finished seventh.
32 – West Ham have picked up 32 points from their 19 league games this season (W9 D5 L5), the Hammers’ highest ever points tally at the halfway point of a Premier League season. Moyseh. #WHUWBA pic.twitter.com/uzWayCFcsk
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 19, 2021
With 32 points on the board this season, it’s West Ham’s best-ever tally after 19 games of the Premier League season. It’ll be interesting to see if they can replicate this in part two of 2020-21.
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