The festive holiday period presented games fast and furious, with numerous exciting and interesting results. Rather than a week-by-week review, I have decided to use this time to present a midseason team summary for each Premier League squad. The summary consists of shot data (both for and against), expected goals (scored and allowed), and team ratings both for the full season and over the past six game weeks. In addition, I offer a bit of my own analysis. Hope you enjoy and a Happy New Year to everyone!
Note: Percentages represent difference with league average. Defensive percentages have been reversed meaning a negative percentage actually represents defensive performance below league average. Numbers do not include Chelsea-Southampton Wednesday game.
Starting at the head of the table we have the attacking juggernaut that is Manchester United. The Red Devils have dominated all-comers offensively, scoring seemingly at will whenever they threaten. While the underlying numbers suggest Man U. have been a bit lucky offensively (2.5 goals per game is probably not sustainable - it was last season, SoT!), they are, and most certainly will continue to be, the best attacking team in the league (along with their cross-town rivals, of course).
Defensively, Man U. have been better in seasons past although they have allowed a few more goals than one would have expected given their shot and chance numbers. Anecdotally, it seems teams have attempted to outscore United on occasion, believing their backline can be had (the Reading game a prime example). This is a much different strategy than has been applied to many other elite sides and probably somewhat responsible for the higher than expected goals on both sides of the pitch.
Fun Fact: United have converted just 2 of 5 (40%) penalties this season. The rest of the league has converted 34 of 43 (79%).
Prediction: Normalcy returns offensively somewhat and the backline stiffens a bit. Expect a slight reduction in goals on both sides the remainder of the season, but nothing that impacts their championship march.
The defending champions have had quite the first half. Sitting seven points off United, City needs to get untracked in a hurry if a repeat is in the cards. Offensively, City have really struggled this season. Statistically, they look every bit as dominant as they did last year, but they simply haven’t converted. How much of this is due to Aguero’s fitness issues is unknown, but this team should be scoring more than they are.
Defensively, City are probably a bit better than they were last season, at least in the EPL. They are very clearly the best defensive team in the league. I don’t expect that to change over the remainder of the year.
Fun Fact: City have had at least 5 more shots in the box than their opponents in all but 4 games with only one opponent (Liverpool) able to equal their shots in the box total.
Prediction: Aguero finally gets healthy and the attack starts getting on track by the end of the month. City make a run at United, but the 7 points are too much to overcome. Second place and a new manager are on the horizon.
Two different managers and nothing much has really changed for the Blues. They still remain a superb attack, focused around sensational midfield play by Mata and Hazard. They have scored quite a few more goals than expected, possibly due to the 6 penalties scored, 2 more than anyone else and about 4.5 more than average. Defensively, they’ve been more porous than the goals allowed suggest, with Cech leading the league in save percentage among regular goalies. A top 4 spot looks almost assured with a game in hand and a 4 point lead over 5th. Beyond that, the Blues will be playing for lesser cups both in Europe and domestically.
Fun Fact: Chelsea has 6 penalties scored and has only hit the woodwork 2 all season. Both numbers are easily the best among the top table teams.
Prediction: Chelsea keep on keeping on. They firmly establish themselves as the 3rd best team in the league, albeit a substantial bit behind the top 2.
Spurs are an interesting club. A mishmash of parts with world class talents sprinkled in (Bale, Vertonghen). Adebayor, in particular, seems a bit out of place at times and one might wonder if his trip to ACN may allow AVB to find a better fit up front. Statistically, Spurs rely on shots outside the box more than most elite attacks, primarily a result of Bale’s proclivity from 18+ yards out. With that said, their shots on target are as expected and they neatly fit into the model for goals scored.
Defensively, Spurs are excellent at preventing shots but struggled with clear cut opportunities allowed. Should they improve down the stretch they will be one of the very best defensive units in the league, behind City.
Fun Fact: Gareth Bale has the 2nd highest rate of shots on target per minute among regular players in the league behind only Romelu Lukaku.
Prediction: Spurs continue to dominate weaker competition and sure up their backline. The attack comes and goes as quality up front is missing somewhat. Big games against Everton and Arsenal determine which European competition Tottenham play for next season.
Maybe the most pleasant surprise of the season. Everton were expected to be solid, but probably not legitimately compete for the top five. They are and I expect they will continue to do so presuming fitness.
Offensively, Everton havr dominated statistically. Fellaini and Jelavic represent physically dominant players and they’ve been able to get into the box against even the best opposition. However, neither have prove to be exactly a clinical striker, Jelavic suprisngly but Fellaini not so, and the resulting conversion rates have been a major drag on goals scored.
Defensively, Everton are a bit underrated, mainly due to the lack of clean sheets. Personally I feel that this is primarily the result of a scheduling quirk which saw them face better attacking opponents at home and lesser opponents on the road. This is a recipe for a bunch of single goal conceded games, something Everton have done twelve times thus far.
Fun Fact: Nikica Jelavic has just 2 goals on his last 40 shots, 35 of which came from inside the box.
Prediction: Everton continue to be statistically elite, but lack the quality that begets precision finishing necessary to challenge for a top 4 slot. Clean sheets come more regularly, but tough away fixtures doom Everton to a dog fight for a Europa slot.
Arsenal are in a battle to continue their run of UCL qualifications. Given the entirety of the first half of the season, one would think qualification is unlikely. However, Arsenal have been better when Walcott has been fit (both as a winger and a central forward) so I do believe the chance remains.
To do so, Arsenal are going to need improvement on both ends of the pitch. Offensively, Arsenal generate fewer shots than any other elite side. While this has improved with Walcott, that improvement needs to continue. Defensively, Arsenal are still prone to gaffs, as evidenced by their 12 errors leading to goal, the most in the league. This absolutely must stop or Arsenal may find themselves shut out of Europe altogether.
Fun Fact: The Gunners scored 23 goals in just 4 games (SOT, TOT, NEW, RDG). They have just 17 goals in the other 17 games.
Prediction: Fitness improves in the second half and the backline improves. Walcott finds his place, both as a winger and striker. Arsenal do just enough to edge Everton for 5th.