Revealed! How the Premier League table should REALLY look this season
City fix problems at both ends
Elsewhere in the top six, it’s no surprise to see that Manchester City have taken every opportunity – you don’t break points records any other way. Their real tally is seven points higher than their xPts total, thanks in part to their attackers scoring 14 more goals than would be expected.
However, the best teams all rate highly for attacking performance: every club in the Premier League’s top nine is outscoring their xG this season, along with West Ham (thanks to a pair of clinical strikers in Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez) and Bournemouth. It’s in defence that the top teams’ effectiveness varies, especially this season – which is why Ederson has been so important.
In 2016/17, with Claudio Bravo or Willy Caballero in nets, City let in 39 goals from an xGA total of 30. The result was seven ‘dropped’ points, while the other top-five sides each gained between six and 17. That’s quite the contrast. In fact, the xPts table had Pep Guardiola’s team winning the title by nearly 10 points, when in reality they finished 15 behind champions Chelsea. The Blues’ xG differential of +23, compared to City’s 0, pointed to an outfit that were extremely efficient in attack.
In 2017/18, City’s attack has been more precise while, perhaps more importantly, Ederson has kept their filthy sheets much cleaner and more in line with their xGA total. Guardiola and Mourinho both know the importance of a top goalkeeper.
Christian Benteke vs Crystal Palace
Roy Hodgson has done a phenomenal job with what looked to be a doomed Crystal Palace side. Even so, the idea of them qualifying for Europe requires an active imagination.
Yet that is what this xPts table says could, or even should, be happening. While they’ve conceded just one ‘extra’ goal in spite of their supposed goalkeeper crisis, Palace have netted only 41 goals from an xG total of 53, and being that far below average – not even good, but average – has cost them 15 points which would have taken them up to seventh.
It’s not FFT’s place to point fingers, but we’re going to do it anyway and name Christian Benteke as a key culprit. The burly Belgian has one of this Premier League campaign’s highest xG totals: 11.02, putting him 12th and above Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Eden Hazard, among others. Of those 11 expected goals, Benteke has converted… three. And that’s including a penalty in the dying moments of a 5-0 win last week. Maybe this is where his hot streak starts.
Sean Dyche, data-hater
Actually seventh are, of course, surprise package Burnley. Sean Dyche’s mob are the data-breakers.
All season, Burnley have picked up points aplenty despite losing the xG/xGA battle. Now we’re into May and they’re booking Europa League flights, despite simulations suggesting they should have 40 points (they have 54) and a goal difference of -17 (it’s +3). The Clarets are averaging less than a goal per game – an incredible statistic for a team in their lofty position – and that’s still a better rate than they ‘should’ have, according to the quality of their chances.
However, it’s their defence that baffles boffins. Burnley concede far fewer goals than their xG suggests they will: just 32 instead of 48. One contributing factor is the emergence of shot-stopping wonder Nick Pope and his, ahem, papal infallibility, but primarily the anomaly is down to tactics.
Dyche’s defenders have no problem with letting opposition players shoot, because they’re knowledgeable enough about physics to know that a football can’t travel through six or seven bodies. Burnley get more men between the ball and their goal than any other team, leading to an artificially high xGA count as opponents ping off an abundance of low-value shots, only to see them fly into boots, gloves, midriffs and faces. Only Stoke allow the opposition to have more shots per game.
The difficulty of getting numbers around the ball at all times means that it’s not as simple as just playing deep – but it’s deeply effective. No? Oh, suit yourselves.
Oh when the Saints go marching down...
Facing relegation in this xPts universe are Bournemouth, Swansea and Stoke, yet the first two aren’t in the real-world bottom three. The Cherries and the Swans are both outperforming their respective xG and xGA values, Bournemouth to the point of reaching mid-table safety, owing largely to an xG differential of +5 goals.
Swansea are 17th in the only table that matters, but even that shows impressive efficiency when their xPts value would place them well short of safety. The performances of Lukasz Fabianski have been key, because goals (27) and opportunities to score them (xG 26.6) are at a premium up the other end.
Conversely, Southampton and West Brom are ensconced in the bottom three despite having had every opportunity to be mid-table – indeed, Southampton’s putative xPts tally would put them in the top half. They’ve let in nine more goals and scored four fewer than xGA and xG data has predicted.
While Saints are counting the cost of injured and misfiring strikers, the resulting 12-point swing being colossal and potentially lethal, West Brom are even worse off despite an uplift in form under Darren Moore.
A monumental 13-point shortfall means that an ‘average’ Baggies team which took their chances and gave opponents fewer freebies would be 13th. In other words, they could be sat above Burnley, the most surprising entrants to continental competition since Australia joined Eurovision.
Neither West Brom nor Southampton ‘should’ be going down. That’ll comfort them in the Championship… right?