Six weeks in and a few storylines are taking shape: Jose Mourinho is finished, but maybe he isn’t, Antonio Conte has fixed Chelsea, but maybe he hasn’t, Liverpool are playing like they’ve got Luis Suarez in the side, but maybe he left years ago and is shredding the Spanish league and so on. Beyond the tales of narrative what interests me is that over the first six weeks, the goals are (comparatively) flying in. Across the league, 11% of all shots have hit the back of the net and 34% of shots on target. This compares to long term averages of around 9.8 to 10% and 30%. Now the likely explanation here is the same as everything right now: it’s six weeks, it’s a brief skew, these things happen, but there’s a tantalising possibility that it’s something else and there are two interesting and possibly interlinked ideas that could be impacting here.

Firstly, there’s a strong argument that the coaching talent has increased in the league this year, and it’s not absurd to think that with that increase in quality is an increase in understanding how important it is to derive high volumes of strong location shots. Better tactical nous should include an understanding that creating clearer and closer shots is a desirable outcome to any strategy, so maybe that’s what’s happened?


Another theory is this. Cast your mind back twelve months: West Ham and Leicester were 3rd and 4th on twelve points, Tottenham 9th with nine, Liverpool 12th with eight and Chelsea 15th with seven. Some things were the same, Man City were top, Sunderland were bottom, but there looked to a be a middle class rise, and one that miraculously maintained for Leicester. This usually happens to some degree; a mid-range team or two gets a hot start and is in there pitching during the early months of the season before eventually fading or clinging on to a lower European slot.

This season looks very different, and a good deal more orthodox. Having played six games each and discounting the five games between them, the six primary top four contenders, City, United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool have only suffered two defeats and managed three draws. That means they’re running at 21-3-2 against the rest of the league, only United at Watford and Liverpool at Burnley have suffered defeat. Dive further in and these teams are averaging 18.9 shots and 6.5 shots on target against the rest while conceding 8.6 and 2.7 and this is powering averages of 2.4 goals scored per game and 0.8 conceded.

The middle class spent fortunes in the summer (as did everyone), buoyed by the television money, yet so far the league looks strictly tiered; the big clubs got stronger and have clearly represented that by steamrollering the rest. “But,” I hear you cry, “Palace are above Chelsea, and Everton are above them and United” and I reply, “Sure, but each has only faced Tottenham of the big six, and didn’t beat them.” Southampton and an organised Everton should be able to land comfortably in the top half and if Leicester get a little more organised themselves, maybe they will too but the old order looks to have returned.

Is this dominance what is skewing these conversion numbers up? Well, a bit? These teams are converting at high rates in these games, but that’s offset to a degree by the opposition not doing so; while it accounts for some of the rise, it doesn’t account for it all.  The rest of the league is still playing each other and converting shots at 10.4% and those on target at 33%, higher than long term averages. Maybe this is the short term skew and the big teams’ dominance, via relatively fresh, shrewd methods of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte, the goals and shots returning to United and the solid attacks of Arsenal and Tottenham, that is representative of change?


But it’s only six games. We shall see.

Some things happen, other things don’t

  1. Cold foot, hot foot

It’s long been a small side project of mine to ponder about players shooting and which foot they use. Building a new kind of analytics isn’t easy and this certainly isn’t it but that doesn’t mean that questions surrounding what might seem simple aspects of the game do not reward investigation. This topic re-interested me just recently and upon looking at some data from last season it struck me that very simple cases of reversion can present themselves. It once again highlights why process rather than outcome is the first place you want to search for answers when reviewing the abilities of players for whatever reason takes your fancy; be it recruitment, fantasy football or just idle curiosity.

Separating players’ shot totals into three buckets, right foot, left foot and head and filtering to 30 minimum attempts in the big five European leagues, the top five underperforming players by foot were all examples of players who had so with their right foot.  They’d scored few and way underhit an expected goal value, specifically with that body part. Here they are:


So what have we got here? A mixed bunch. Werner was part of the Stuttgart car crash shots team that skewed so badly that they went down (but unsurprisingly caught the eye of the smart RB Leipzig recruitment team). Pazzini underpowered Verona to 5 wins all year and they got relegated. Dzeko got a lot of shit for missing a ton of chances at Roma, Belotti showed range and scored four with his left foot, a header and some penalties in a respectable 12 goal season that could have been much more, and the versatile Wagner scored 11 times with his left foot and his head in a fine season for Darmstadt.

What came next? Well, Pazzini apart–he continues in the data vortex of Serie B, though has scored a couple–lo and behold, they’ve all started this season well and having scored 8 goals from 141 right footed shots last year, have each already contributed towards scoring 7 from 37 this.* Quick reversion all round.

2. Sadio Mané

Anyway, so what? This is a small sample of a subset, but it does once again highlight that the output (last year’s goals) was less accurately reflective than the process (shots refined to expected goals). And for the most part, there’s useful enactable truth therein. Step forward Sadio Mané. Last season, a four month stretch of not scoring in the league ended in March with a brace against Liverpool. Up to that point he was underhitting an expected goal volume by a league high volume. His cold streak concealed what was still solid process, and by season’s end he’d added six more goals and had “caught up” with broad expectation, as we can see here in his high quality location map: lots in the box and close in:


At no point did he profile like a player who was failing, yet there were people that questioned his move to Liverpool, perhaps remembering the scoreless run. So far this year he’s hit the ground running and looks to be an inspired pick for style, process and output, and for that there are similarities with the suitability of Roberto Firmino last year (who also profiled very well, and ironically for a Klopp team too, since he predated him). This is the second summer in a row Liverpool look to have nailed a big attacking transfer.

3. Wilfried Bony

Another player to catch the eye when looking at this is Stoke City’s loanee Wilfried Bony. Here’s a player that got the big move to Manchester City then went into a huge finishing slump and found himself a peripheral member of the team. I was positive about his move to the Potteries, and confident that Stoke had a good deal here, but damn does he need to find himself quickly. A right footer, he hasn’t scored with his right foot in the league since May 2015. His overall shot rate remained high last year at around 4.4 per 90, over three of which were coming from inside the box and he played over 1200 minutes but he could not score with his stronger foot. Landing in a Stoke side that hasn’t got anything going at all yet, he’s currently scoreless again.

What if he was a bad fit at City, but it wasn’t really his fault? If we look at his right foot shot maps for the 2015-16 aberration and for the months at Swansea, it’s revealing:



Under Manuel Pellegrini, City ran an attacking scheme that at times required their strikers to drift parallel towards the near post to receive cutbacks– think about it, you can see Sergio Agüero doing exactly that–and Bony’s 2015-16 shot map suggests that’s exactly what he was trying to do (Yellow line indicates parallel to post). However, if we check his Swansea 2014-15 map, 7/8 goals he scored with his right foot were from within the width of the frame of the goal and he showed no particular aptitude for shooting from this near post position. Indeed his whole profile suggests he is a player that particularly thrives very centrally and offers nearly nothing beyond.  There may be more to it: Manchester City would have faced more packed defences than Swansea but the flip to that is that he was often a substitute and rates rise and space can increase late in games.

Regardless, the upshot was that between his team mates, himself and the strategists, factors prevented Wilfried Bony from getting good quality chances on his favoured foot in areas he had previously been successful from. It looks as though he dutifully rumbled to the near post and struggled. Again you can visualise this. Think of Bony striking the ball. He isn’t a dynamic shooter, he has a more careful sometimes punchy technique and his physical strength allows his more languid style to pay off. Bony is also good in the air, yet despite high shot volumes, City were rarely a team that focused on crossing and creating headed chances. A bad fit? Sure thing, and something you might think that could easily have been identified before spending £30m  (back in 2015, this was a large fee…).

It remains to be seen if Stoke City can get the best from him, and hindsight sure helps, but do they even know this stuff? Across his three league games for them his seven shots are all right footed, consist of four beneath the yellow line marked, three from outside the box and he is yet to register a header, so maybe not, yet.




Thanks for reading





*before this weekend anyway, Dzeko kindly went 0/3 right footed and 0/8 all in against Torino, while Belotti nailed a header, won a penalty and landed an assist in the same game.

  • Ron IsNotMyRealName

    Not alwyas a big fan of James’ work, but this is solid. Another step could be taken in the analysis on really all fronts, but still.

    More to the point, Liverpool is on pace for 100 goals and Manchester City on pace for approximately 9000 goals. That will skew some shooting percentages. There is also the anti-Greco-Roman wrestling rule that resulted in Man U scoring 3 goals in a half they probably don’t get last year with Huth and Morgan holding players to the ground. So I would start there.

    Timo Werner was the best bargain going for a striker and I don’t know why the analytics types weren’t on this sooner. He’s the youngest player to 100 Bundesliga appearances ever. Ever. Pure #9 types rarely develop early. Usually first they get shots, then they get shots on target, then they get goals. He was getting a good amount of shots on target last year. He’s been a maniac at every youth level for Germany. RB Leipzig is the smartest club in the world right now, I think. Bellotti similar, but in a weaker league and probably would have cost more. Werner would have been a better buy for Swansea than Llorente, for example.

    Dzeko is just an aging striker, and the other two just aren’t good enough.

    The issue with Mane not scoring at Southampton was he was being played as a #10. When he played on either wing there, he played remarkably similarly to Alexis Sanchez in terms of stats. Quite right that his ability to get shots in the box as a non-striker is …whatever is better than outstanding. If he ever sures up his first touch, look out. He loses a lot of balls and still is a fantastic player.

  • Marmidone

    Of course it is really too early to have the big picture completed but, since the beginning of the season, we are starting to see which are the forces on the field: the City is very impressive, Mourinho has peaked two years ago with the Chelsea’s 2014 title, Conte is very overrated (especially after Euro 2016). Liverpool is doing a good season but I think that they will lack of continuity as last year; Arsenal is always the same Arsenal.

    • Ron IsNotMyRealName

      What do you mean by lack continuity? They’re probably the most flowing team in the league. Like Klopp said, anyone can pop up anywhere.

      • Marmidone

        Yeah, they can win over every single other team in the league (like only Man City) and, more important, they are playing very well: Klopp is the best manager for the club and for the city.

        But, in my opinion they will lack continuity of results (even if they are playing very well). I mean, at stage 1 they scored 4 goals in a few minutes against Arsenal (@ Emirates) and then, at stage 2, what they did? They lost against Burnley.

        When I talk about lack of continuity, I mean results not about how they are playing.

        • Ron IsNotMyRealName

          Sure, so no one else will drop points in road games against weaker teams. Got it.

          LFC has played at Arsenal, at Chelsea, at Spurs, at Burnley at Burton Albion, at Derby and hosted Leicester and Hull. In those games they’ve scored 4, 0, 5, 1, 4, 2, 3, 5 goals. Exactly 3 goals per game. This is with barely getting anything out of their strikers so far, which probably will not persist for a whole season.

          LFC averages the most shots in league games and most shots on target, and given up the fewest. 2nd in possession, 3rd in pass success rate.

          There’s literally no analytics-based reason not to believe in Liverpool at this point. They’ve been good since January. You’re just either living in the past or based on what you hope happens, not what actually is happening.

          • Marmidone

            What I mean is that, at the start of the season, they had (and they have, of course) the players and the manager to win against Arsenal (as they did) and against Burnley to consolidate the very impressive performance showed at Emirates Stadium. They didn’t and in my opinion if you want to win the title, you have to win this kind of match.

            Liverpool finished at the same position where they were when Klopp arrived in the League: they played very well but they didn’t improved their position: that is what I mean when I said “lack of continuity”. Of course this year is different but the lack of continuity’s problem was about the mental approach to the easier games, not how they played.
            But, as I said, Klopp last year did a very good job because Liverpool was a very good team and in fact they played two finals.

            I am not supporting against Liverpool, so please avoid this kind of phrase. I think Liverpool deserves a title as soon as possible and Klopp is the right manager to achieve this result but, for the moment, I do not consider Liverpool at the same level of City, United, Arsenal, Tottenham.

          • Ron IsNotMyRealName

            Yes they did improve their position, just not immediately. Over the last 16 games, they were a top 4 caliber team that scored the most goals in the league. Klopp took over a team in 10th place with a negative goals against. Under Klopp they were +15, and all of that was in the last 16 games (+16, 38-22, despite playing weak lineups in a few games late to prepare for Europa knockouts).

            This looks much the same as how they finished last (despite facing arguably the toughest schedule in the league so far) — 16-9 for +7 in 6 games. So we now have more than half a season worth of games where Liverpool has been on average more than a goal better per game than the opponent, and on a 100-goal full-season pace or thereabouts.

            Man U lost badly to Watford. Spurs drew against Everton and has 3 single-goal wins against Palace, Sunderland and Middlesbrough (good luck getting that to keep up all season). Spurs has City, at WBA, at Leverkusen, at Bournemouth, at Liverpool (cup), Leicester, Leverkusen, at Arsenal, West Ham, at Monaco, at Chelsea in Oct and Nov. Damn sight different than what they’ve faced so far.

            Arsenal has been good but drew Leicester which is rapidly looking more like points dropped than points gained.

            The FA definitely was looking out for Guardiola with the schedule they gave him to get his system going at City. SUN, at Stoke, WHU, at Little Bro, BOU, at Swans. They’ve had one clean sheet in that. They aren’t looking so unbeatable today in Scotland.

            Everyone’s going to have a game like Burnley at some point. Anyone that is still bashing Liverpool is doing it either out of ignorance or out of spite, and on this site, there should be no excuse for the former.

          • Marmidone

            Am I bashing LFC? Really? Are you kidding me? I already told you that for me LFC really deserves a title and Klopp is the perfect manager and has a very good team. I just expressed my doubts about their mental strenghtness in certain kind of matches, like they did last year. They played just 6 games this year, so of course it is very too early to judge their entire season.

            It was just my doubt about their continuity of results, not how they are playing because they are playing a really good football.

            But if expressing just a doubt means ignorance and, more important, means that anyone can’t talk in this site..well that is pretty amazing.

          • Marmidone

            Am I bashing LFC? Really? Are you kidding me? I already told you that for me LFC really deserves a title and Klopp is the perfect manager and has a very good team. I just expressed my doubts about their mental strength in certain kind of matches, like they did last year. They played just 6 games this year, so of course it is too early to judge their entire season.

            It was just my doubt about their continuity of results, not how they are playing because they are playing a really good football.

            But if expressing just a doubt means ignorance and, more important, means that anyone can’t talk in this site..well that is pretty amazing.

          • Ron IsNotMyRealName

            It doesn’t matter who deserves anything.

            My point is we have more than half a season worth of data that flies in the face of the notion that you’re putting forward. Everyone has bad results.

            To me you should have some kind of data-driven reason for your “doubt”, otherwise it is basically a naive, ignorant opinion.

            To me the only real question mark for LFC is which defense is their real defense, the one that played the first two games or the one that’s been pretty solid since. If they only give up 1 goal per game, they’re going to win an awful lot.

            But that’s not the case you tried to make.

          • Marmidone

            I have no data because data cannot prove the bad mental approach of LFC in certain games. Even Klopp talked a lot about that during pre-season, because he knows that is the real weakness of his team.

            And data also cannot prove if a team approaches a game in the best possible way, like LFC did in some matches.

            I’m not discussing the quality of the team, I just have doubts about their mental strength as I said. But it’s my opinion, there are not data to prove that. And it’s the same for the opposite.

            It’s the same issue with Arsenal, that is why I said in my first post “Arsenal is always Arsenal” because they are a very good team but they have a problem with the mental approach with certain matches. And that is why they don’t win championship, because they lose so many points in matches where they need to win easy. But, again, this is an issue that we cannot prove with data because is beyond the mere tactical way to play.

          • Ron IsNotMyRealName

            Whatever dude. If they have a bad mental approach you would think that would show up in the results. But you’re just cherry picking the results you want. They smashed plenty of weak opponents second half of last year too. Like Stoke, and Aston Villa. You could crucify every team except Leicester with that plank of wood.

            Arsenal finished 2nd last year to a team no one saw coming. They were the best team in the 2nd half of 2014 as well. They’re one of the best teams this year too and will be there or thereabouts.

            I feel like you’re a butthurt Manc. I don’t have any data, because you’re a wuss and don’t want anyone to see what you say, but not having data hasn’t stopped you from making statements that don’t have any basis in fact.

            Hell you could at least do something like plot mean, average points and standard deviation to show whether or not Liverpool has really been the most inconsistent top half team, or whatever.

          • Ron IsNotMyRealName

            Check out that lack of continuity in the 2nd half today.

            7 games, 5 road games, 16 points. Plus non-league road games against Burton and Derby. They have 10 from 15 PL points away. I dare say averaging 2 points per away game will have you in good stead in the league.

          • Marmidone

            As you correctly said, “in the 2nd half”.

          • Ron IsNotMyRealName

            None of the numbers I cited changed from when I posted to 8 minutes ago.

            Not surprisingly you chose not to address any of that.

            Their fightback just proves their positive mental approach.

          • Marmidone

            My previous comment was positive about Liverpool, because the second half was very well played. Tactically, tecnically and mentally. In fact Liverpool deserved to win the match.

            The problem was in the first half, especially in the first 30 minutes where Swansea was superior and it wasn’t just because Guidolin’s team played well.

            As I already said, I’m not discussing Liverpool’s way to play football, I’m just concerned about their mental approach to matches. Because they did a lot of mistakes last year (even if they played very good matches), and they almost repeated this year. But if they start to win a lot of matches like they did against Swansea (I mean: starting not well but recover and win), they are really a contender for the title. No doubt.

          • Ron IsNotMyRealName

            You mean they almost didn’t win an away match? That’s called the way things are in the Premier League.

            Swansea played great early but they were never going to be able to sustain that work rate. They don’t train that every hour of every day like LFC.

            You’re not going to play at your peak every minute of every match.

            Man U drew at home against the worst team in the league. And winning away is somehow indicative of a problem?

          • Ron IsNotMyRealName

            btw, LFC now tied with City for most goals in the league. More than 2 1/2 per game. Don’t need to keep a ton of clean sheets when you’re doing that.

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