Three games is an awfully small sample set on which to make any solid conclusions or assertions. Still, with the international break upon us and Deadline Day behind us I thought I’d have a look at the data and see what the opening few games have told us about the creativity (or otherwise) of the Premier League teams. I am fully aware that almost everything in this piece needs to be caveated with “remember that only three games have been played”, but I’ll assume that people would rather read those caveated comments than nothing at all. If you’d prefer not to then you have opened the wrong link. Data Rules In this piece we’ll look at the number of shots that each team has taken thus far. The plot below shows the total number of shots (horizontal axis) and the number of shots from centrally inside the penalty area (vertical axis) taken by each team during their opening three games. Centrally inside the penalty area assumes that the end boundaries of the 6 yard line were extended as far as the edge of the penalty area. Penalties have been excluded and headers included in these figures. (Click on the image to make it easier to read) Everton Everton has taken the most shots so far in the Premier League. Their total of 55 shots has been assisted by the score effects that they have “enjoyed” in their games so far. These score effects have meant that the Goodison men have been chasing goals through huge portions of their Premier League pitch time, but as with last season they are seeing far too many of their efforts blocked. These blocked shots, ceteris paribus, tend to be symptoms of teams that are too ponderous and static in their build ups as they give the defending team time to get defenders between the shot and the goal. For information, there are currently three teams which have seen 30% or more of their shots blocked. They are Everton, Arsenal and Sunderland. Tottenham Tottenham are a close second to Everton with 51 shots in their three games, although as with last year Spurs seem to have an overwhelming desire to pull the trigger early on their shots. It had been assumed that the primary reason for the majority of Tottenham’s shots being struck from outside the area last season was due to the presence of Gareth Bale. But on the early evidence of this season perhaps Bale merely fitted extremely well into the Tottenham system of play as opposed to him being the main architect for why they played that way. If indeed this is the case, then Roberto Soldado may end up being as frustrated as I had feared he might in this pre-season piece where I evaluated his acquisition by Spurs. Tottenham’s 15 shots from prime shooting territory are approximately just on a par with West Ham and Southampton even though those latter two teams have 16 – 18 shots less than Spurs. This love of long distance shooting is something that I feel the North London team need to work on. Their opening two wins and perceived favourable summer transfer activity has seemed to mask, in the mainstream media anyway, the fact that they haven’t actually scored any goals other than their two penalties. That really is poor from 51 shots at goal. Man City Man City has comfortably the most shots from inside central location this season. With 29 shots from this region they have seven more than their nearest rivals, Arsenal. However, City’s figure is somewhat inflated due to the fact that they have 18 headers included in their attempts, with all of them being attempted from these good positions. By contrast, Arsenal has only had eight headed attempts so far this season. Interestingly, whether by luck or design City have had almost double the amount of headers than any other team in the Premier League. Everton and Newcastle follow a long way behind City as “Best of the Rest” with 10 headed attempts. It is worth remembering that headers have a lower probability of being scored than a shot struck with feet from a similar position. Almost 80% of City’s shots have been from inside the penalty area this season. Although this figure will inevitably decrease as the game counter ticks by, they have displayed an extremely disciplined approach to their shooting. Compare that with Spurs’ tally of just 43% from inside the area. Even after just three games have been played, the assumed strong teams are making their way to the right side of the image. There are seven teams currently residing in this right side and six of them would belong in almost everyone’s top seven of strongest teams. The one exception is Newcastle, who takes the place of Man United as the only genuine top 7 team that is missing from the right side of the chart. Man United Before anyone makes the point that United haven’t been racking up the shots over the last couple of seasons, for example they only had the 7th most shots last season. They finished with just 18 inside central shots less than Man City last season (that’s less than 0.5 per game) who were league leaders for that metric. In summary, last season they achieved an excellent number of shots from prime locations even though they weren’t overly prolific in their total attempts. Perhaps the fixture list has been unkind to United, and specifically Moyes in his introduction, as they have faced both Liverpool and Chelsea during their opening to the season. However, any negative strength of schedule effect they have experienced which may depress their shots tally should have been more than offset by the game state that they suffered during both of those games. As they were at home to Chelsea and conceded a goal after just four minutes to Liverpool, they should have been actively searching for shooting opportunities during those two games. If 36 shots and 13 shots from central locations is their output when looking for goals over almost 200 minutes of football then this United team is going to be in for a long season and their fans’ expectations may need to be recalibrated from their previous highs. Questions were asked of Moyes and his penchant for prudent, conservative tactics when he was appointed to the Hot Seat at Old Trafford. The evidence of the first three games and their position on this chart does suggest that, even at this early stage, Moyes is going to have to do something a little more flamboyant with this United team. No longer can he continue with a midfield and attacking unit, excluding Van Persie, of Carrick, Cleverly, Giggs, Young and Welbeck. It might have been good enough at Everton, but surely United should have higher aspirations than merely competing and making it difficult for he opposition? Newcastle It comes as a surprise to see the Geordies currently holding the position that Man United will presumably occupy once a few more games have been played. In fact, given that they only had six shots in their first game against Man City their total of 47 shots after three games is even more impressive. Well, perhaps it would be impressive if their other two opponents weren’t named Fulham and West Ham. It is clear that Newcastle adopted a strategy of quantity over quality of shooting during those two games as with just 13 inside central shots their marker lies quite low on the vertical axis. Arsenal, for example, despite having one less shot than Newcastle, has had nine more shots from good positions than the Barcodes. Mid Table Teams West Ham and Stoke ranked number 1 and 2 last season in the Premier League in terms of the proportion of their shots that came from inside central positions. With that in mind, it’s probably not much of a surprise to see them highest up the vertical axis of the nine teams grouped towards the middle of the chart. It appears that Big Sam is sticking to his tried and tested approach of insisting on shoots from close in positions, and despite suggestions that Mark Hughes is attempting to change the way Stoke play these figures would suggest that they are still intent on avoiding long range shots where possible. Life at the Bottom There are four teams that are already visibly detached from the other 16 teams in the league, even at this early stage. The fact that three of those four are the newly promoted teams is probably to be expected, however the team that have had the least shots from inside central positions is Fulham. Over the past four seasons The Cottagers have firmly established themselves as a mid table side, but their start to this season has been far from acceptable. Fulham From their opening three games, Fulham have amassed just 24 shots with only an average of one shot per game coming from centrally inside the penalty area. In fact they have taken just six shots (25% of their total) from anywhere inside the penalty area. So bad has been their chance creation that, per our Expected Goals model, they haven’t even deserved to achieve their total of two goals. Unlike United, Fulham can’t blame their schedule for these rank bad numbers. Yes, they played Arsenal, but this was at Craven Cottage and their two away games were against Newcastle and Sunderland. I might alienate any North East readership I have with this comment, but those two teams certainly wouldn’t be considered two of the strongest teams in the league. Struggling against that calibre of opposition should have alarm bells ringing at Fulham. It’s early in the season and things can change, but a central midfield pairing of Scott Parker and Steve Sidwell is not going to get Jol out of this particular pickle. In a world where two footballs are allowed on the pitch at the same time Adel Taarabt may be able to provide some creativity, but the Moroccan currently appears to hinder Fulham’s attacking attempts. Hull and Crystal Palace These two promoted teams have both managed five shots from inside central positions but have taken a hugely differing number of shots to reach this point. Hull have managed just 20 shots (the lowest in the league), whereas Palace join the bunch of teams in the middle of the chart with 36 shots. From a Crystal Palace perspective it is clear that they are attempting too many speculative attempts. Given Palace’s total shots number of 36 the average league team would have somewhere in the region of five to six more shots from good positions. Looking at Hull’s marker on the chart we can see why, like Spurs, they haven’t managed to score other than from the penalty spot. I heard Robbie Savage on Match Of The Day last weekend say that the Tigers should have beaten City. I’m sorry, but looking at my figures that’s just being sensationalist. Very simply they are creating next to nothing, but if I was to look for a positive I would point to the opposition that they have faced. The fixture schedule was cruel to them with visits to arguably the two strongest teams in the country in their first three games but with those games now out of the way it is imperative that they start to fashion decent chances if they wish to survive in this league.