Liverpool deserved to beat Manchester United, Manchester City continue to tear teams apart, and Crystal Palace were worthy winners against Chelsea
Jose Mourinho will have been delighted his team got a point at Anfield on Saturday. Everyone knew United would employ a tight, defensive game plan, and so it proved. But Mourinho won’t have been delighted his tactics worked; rather, that United got away with a point they probably didn’t deserve.
Expected goals (or ‘xG’ for short) are the current buzz stat in soccer analysis. No two models ever agree perfectly, but they’re often at their most interesting for a 0-0 draw. Who really deserved to win?
This is nothing new for Liverpool this season. They may have only won one of their last four league matches, but their underlying attacking figures have been strong. The Reds have generated at least two expected goals in every game this season, aside from in their mauling at Manchester City.
This outcome is nothing new for Mourinho’s United either. They have played six away league matches to top six rivals, and have now drawn three (all 0-0) and lost three. They’ve scored just one goal in these games too.
But their record should be even worse. A look at the FiveThirtyEight data reveals United were at least one xG worse than their hosts four times.
The match at Anfield this weekend saw United’s worst underlying attacking performance (0.3 xG) and heaviest defeat (1.8 xG). Mourinho’s team had fewer touches in the opposition penalty box (six) than Roberto Firmino (10) did. That should tell you everything you need to know about this match.
Mourinho defended his tactics, as he’s entitled to do. But don’t let him convince you they worked, as the numbers definitely suggest otherwise.
Manchester City were utterly ruthless against Stoke
As we’ve raised the subject of expected goals, it makes sense to look at Manchester City’s seven-goal haul through that prism.
It’s interesting to note City registered 4.0 expected goals in the opinion of FiveThirtyEight. That’s exactly the same as Spurs did when beating Hull 7-1 on the final day of 2016-17.
A team has logged at least 4.0 xG nine times since the start of last season. It has happened twice in 2017-18, and both times have been by City. In fact, they’ve done so in their last two home matches. Pep Guardiola’s boys look unstoppable right now.
The key to a high expected goals tally is to create ‘clear-cut chances’. These are what Opta call the opportunities when you would expect the attacker to score. After City created 10 of these golden chances against Palace, they followed it up with another seven here.
The ways that City get behind opponents time and again are a joy to behold. Their first goal saw Kyle Walker get to the byline before cutting back for Jesus to score a clear-cut chance. Two minutes later, a wonderful through ball from Kevin De Bruyne found Leroy Sane, who squared for Raheem Sterling to tap home.
By the 27th minute, another fine combination of crossing and passing in the box had seen David Silva put City 3-0 up. It’s the variety of threat which makes them so difficult to defend against.
The best attacking teams in the Premier League over the past six years have averaged three clear-cut chances per match; City had four inside half an hour against Stoke.
In total this season, a player has created two clear-cut chances in a league match 14 times. Seven of those have been for City, and both Sterling and De Bruyne did so against Stoke. Premier League defenders must be quaking in their boots at the thought of facing the Citizens.
Palace deserved their day in the sun against Chelsea.
Crystal Palace scored a goal! Crystal Palace won a match! It’s easy to be facetious about it, but after their terrible run they warrant a place in this week’s round up. They also merited their victory over Chelsea.
After the terrible luck Palace have endured this season, it was perhaps apt their opening goal of the campaign was an own-goal. Yet Wilfried Zaha, who was back in the team for the first time since the opening day, had already spurned a clear-cut chance by that point.
The Ivory Coast international made the most of one shortly before half time, though, and he gave Palace the lead. Cue second half Chelsea onslaught?
Well, yes and no. The visitors had 12 shots after the interval, but only four were in the box, and two of those were headers. Cesc Fabregas kept looking to play people in behind the Palace back four, but they held their shape well and caught Chelsea players offside three times. The Spaniard did set up Charly Musonda this way, but his shot went high and wide.
The only clear-cut chance of the half fell to Palace’s Patrick van Aanholt. He missed it, but the final tally of top quality chances was three to zero in the home side’s favor. Only City have missed more clear-cut chances than Palace this season, and it has cost the Eagles dearly so far.
The final xG score was 1.5 to 0.8 to the home side, so they deserved to put their first goals and points on the board. Palace registered 2.5 expected goals against Southampton, and 2.0 at Burnley, though. They bettered Saturday’s xG difference of 0.7 in those matches, too. Expected goals is a fabulous analytical tool, but it will never fully account for the magic and randomness within soccer. Nor should it.