An Incomplete List of Football Thanks
It’s Thanksgiving in America. That means turkey, fights with relatives about politics, and gimmicky content. With that in mind, here’s an entirely incomplete list of things I’m thankful for across soccer this year.
Attackers getting healthy
Wilson has been the catalyst for Bournemouth’s surprisingly strong start. The team sits in sixth with 20 points, and has an expected goal difference of 0.33 per game, also sixth best in the league. Wilson is a huge part of that. He’s one of only seven players (with over 500 minutes played) in the Premier League who are averaging over 0.30 expected goals per match and 0.20 expected assists. The rest of the list is Sergio Aguero, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Mohammed Salah, and Raul Jimenez.
In other words, he good.
He’s not a particularly high volume player, but when he does touch the ball he turns the opportunity into an extremely high quality shot for himself. Of the league's higher volume shooters (those averaging over two shots per game in 500 minutes played or more), he’s one of only two players to average over 0.20 expected goals per shot. He’s at 0.20, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang just noses him out at 0.21.
Wilson is coming off of two separate cruciate ligament ruptures, one in 2015-16 and one in 2016-17. Last year he was finally healthy and managed to start 23 Premier League games and appear as a sub in five others. And while he only managed eight goals and two assists it’s certainly reasonable to hope that last year was about getting back to former form and this year marks a return to the production he logged before his knee blew up a couple of times.
When he injured himself in his first Premier League season, Wilson was coming off back to back 20 goals seasons, first with Coventry City in League One and then with Bournemouth as they won the Championship. Hopefully, especially for Bournemouth, this season just marks the slightly delayed arrival of Wilson at the top level that those two years portended.
He’s always been great. He’s always been injured. Now that he’s back and firing on all cylinders he’s the scoring machine from the wing (and sometimes the front) that Dortmund’s title challenge is built on. He's 29, he probably doesn't have too many hurrahs left, so if this is his last one, hopefully it's a good one.
Helter skelter La Liga
There are only seven teams in Spain who concede more expected goals per game than Barcelona. They are hanging on to their first place position not because of anything they’re doing on the defensive side of the ball, but because Lionel Messi is leading a line that can (and has to) outscore anybody and everybody. The shots that defense gives up are pretty pretty ugly looking.
It’s not just Barca either. Second place Sevilla has leaned into attack at the expense of defense. Alaves in fourth place is an even worse defensive team than Barcelona (Alaves also has the third worst expected goal difference in the entire league at -0.46, so just exactly how they’re in fourth place remains a mystery). Even the vaunted Atletico Madrid fortress is conceding over an expected goal per game. Only Getafe, Eibar, and Valencia have managed to hold opponents below the one expected goal level.
La Liga is weird this year. There’s upheaval at Real Madrid, weakness at Barcelona and some traditional second tier competitors like Valencia and Villareal have played well but struggled to get results. Sometimes weirdness leads to defense and boredom, but thankfully in La Liga this season it’s leading to good old fashioned end to end stuff.
The Burnley keeper experiment
Last season Burnley were magic. They finished seventh. Part of what happened was Nick Pope did this. He was great.
Last season Joe Hart played for West Ham. He was terrible.
So naturally when Pope got hurt, Burnley went out and bought Joe Hart and handed him the keys, as you do. So far, he’s been…entirely average.
What does it all mean? I have no idea! But this experiment should help us figure it out.
Young stars breaking out
Everybody thought Andre Silva had potential. After announcing his presence at 20 years old for Porto with 16 goals in 32 games (albeit with five from the penalty spot) he promptly moved to AC Milan where, for whatever reason, he fell on his face. He only started seven games and scored two goals. A year later, he’s still only 23 years old, and he’s a fixture of Sevilla’s high-flying attack. He already has seven goals and his 0.52 expected goals per 90 is fourth in La Liga among players with more than 500 minutes. He’s not the highest volume shooter, 3.03 is tenth in the league, but his 0.17 expected goals per shot is fourth in La Liga among high volume (more than two shots per game) shooters. He camps out in the middle of the penalty area and puts it on net, and that’s exactly what Sevilla needs.
He’s 20. He’s scored nine goals in less than 600 minutes. Apparently all he does is shoot. It sure seems to be working.
Happy Thanksgiving, enjoy your Turkey.