The Big 5 After 5: La Liga
We are five matchdays into the season in La Liga, so let’s have a look at some emerging trends from the early action.
Spain Remains Light on Shots
La Liga saw the least shots, goals and expected goals (xG) of any big five European league last season, and things have been even tighter in the early running of the new campaign. All three measures are down. While the English, Italian and German top flights have each averaged over three non-penalty goals per match, Spain has averaged just two, right in line with xG. There have been three less shots per match (20.30) than in any of the other leagues.
Even in the context of a competition that remains steadfastly low on goalmouth action, Athletic Club stand out as a particularly bad watch. Their matches to date have barely averaged over a single expected goal and have featured the lowest shot count (15.25) of any in the league.
A Promising Start for Betis
Real Betis always looked like one of the prime candidates to move up the table this season. Their 15th place finish last time around was allied to top eight metrics, and the attacking talent within the squad is such that even a minor defensive improvement, whether through luck or judgement, was always going to make them top eight contenders.
Nine points from their first five matches under Manuel Pellegrini represents a good start and has them second in the nascent table, albeit with at least two or three teams behind who will probably better their points haul once games in hand have been played.
Even with defeats to Real Madrid and Getafe thrown into the mix, Betis have begun the campaign as a shot dominant team, outshooting their opponents in all of their matches and taking 64% of the total shots across those fixtures.
It is a good starting point, but the difference between the quality of shots taken and conceded means they still have a negative expected goal difference at this stage. They are taking a few too many speculative efforts in attack...
...and while their higher defensive line and slightly more aggressive off-ball approach has so far done a solid job of suppressing opposition shot volume, the chances they have conceded have generally been high-quality ones.
With that said, they have already played Real Madrid, which skews things in such a small sample size. It is also unlikely those shot quality numbers will hold throughout the campaign given that they would have been comfortably the worst in La Liga at both ends of the pitch last season. As things begin to equalise out a bit, we’ll have a better idea if Betis are genuine European contenders.
Elche have only played three times to date, and do already have four points on the board, but they’ve looked decidedly underpowered on their return to the top flight following a five-year absence.
Unsurprisingly so, given that they weren’t even a standout side in the Segunda División last season. They made it up through the playoffs after finishing sixth in the table with bottom six metrics. Add to that a new head coach and the ridiculously short period of time they had to prepare for the top flight due to the delayed promotion playoffs, and it is to be expected that they've looked out of their depth.
Jorge Almirón’s side have averaged a pitiful four shots per match while conceding more than 18. They were outshot 27 to five by Real Sociedad in their opener, and then 18 to two by fellow newly promoted side Huesca in a 0-0 draw prior to the international break.
The squad has been reinforced with a flurry of late deals, no one can take the points they’ve already got away from them, and their shot numbers will naturally smooth out a little over time. But performances will have to improve massively if Elche are to have any chance of remaining in the division.
New Arrivals Doing Their Thing
David Silva may only have started three of Real Sociedad’s five matches to date, but he still leads the league in total open play passes into the penalty area. On a per-90 basis, he ranked in the top four of the Premier League in that metric for Manchester City in each of the last four seasons, and it seems he will again be amongst the most prolific suppliers in La Liga.
Dani Parejo may not have any goals or assists to his name since his off-season move from Valencia to Villarreal, but he’s continued to be the same reliable ball progresser as always.
Emre Mor is back at Celta Vigo, and even if he hasn't done much else, he continues to be a prolific dribbler.
And Javi Ontiveros may have only seen a combined 90 minutes or so of action for Huesca after joining on loan from Villarreal, but the player who last season took more shots per 90 amongst players who saw at least 900 minutes of action than anyone but Lionel Messi has already got off four efforts on goal -- just below his 2019-20 average.