Long time readers of this blog may recall a series we conducted earlier in the year regarding a sort of predictive football model: our Shots on Target Ratio (SOTR) directive.
This, rather loosely, suggested that the higher the number of shots on target a team has, compared to the number of shots yielded, would ultimately offer a snapshot of the expected success or otherwise of the teams involved.
We offered a graphic that depicted this after Gameweek 9 of the Premier League campaign:
Were we close to being accurate in any way? Well, we certainly predicted the rise and rise of Chelsea and Liverpool, and in the Blues case this largely pre-dated Antonio Conte’s switch to a successful 3-4-3 formation. All season long, Chelsea have been having plenty of shots on target and preventing their opponents from doing likewise; their position at the head of the table is no surprise to us.
Elsewhere there have been a few anomalies that we have been surprised by – Arsenal are overachieving according to their prior SOTR metric, as are Burnley. Have these two teams turned things around, or are they heading for a nasty fall down the table? Only time will tell.
Some five weeks later, we though it sage to check in again with the SOTR data and see if we can identify any new trends of interest. So here goes (look away now, West Ham fans):
As ever, the teams in light blue in the left-hand column are ordered by their current league position, with their SOTR data calculated to the right. The right-most column is how the league table would look governed by this data, and it is the differential between the two that offers the most interesting insights.
What the SOTR Data Tells Us
Straight off the bat, we can surmise that both Chelsea and Liverpool are good value for their lofty league positions. In fact, if Liverpool could defend better (this data set may have been skewed by Sunday’s 3-4 loss to Bournemouth) then they would be red hot title contenders given the amount of good shooting chances they are creating.
We can see that the league positions of both Manchester sides is ‘correct’ but there are three main anomalies towards the summit of the table. Firstly, Tottenham…..whaaaaat? For a side that is reportedly out of form, they are doing a pretty good job of hiding it. The second best attack is combining with the third best defence to deliver exceptional results. They are up +0.35 in the last five weeks; coinciding with the return of one Harold Kane.
Southampton have tailed off since our last update but they are still outperforming expectations, with the best defence according to our metric in the division. The Saints can expect plenty of bids for Jose Fonte and Virgil Van Dijk in the January transfer window, but if they can just fashion more meaningful chances for Charlie Austin and co then a top six finish is not beyond their reach.
And Arsenal….well, answers on a postcard there. We think the Gunners may highlight the limitations of our model (see the next section of this article), although having said that it is likely they are overachieving at present, even to a small extent. It will be interesting to see how their campaign unfolds.
At the other end of the table, our model predicts that Swansea might just survive and Hull, possibly, may join them. The Swans’ data is very surprising given the number of goals they have conceded, which suggests that opposition can get into ‘better’ shooting positions against the Welsh side. That will be a worry for Bob Bradley.
There is a feeling that Burnley may regress to their mean, as supported by our research, and at 5/6 the Clarets look to be a smart bet for relegation; even if their plucky approach has won them plenty of fans this term.
What the SOTR Data Doesn’t Tell Us
Clearly, Arsenal are a better team than their eighth position in our theoretical league table purports, and we believe this is where the quality of shots – or ‘Expected Goals’ as this is known in statistical circles – is important.
As you probably know, Arsene Wenger had a tactical change of heart in the summer and now deploys the outstanding Alexis Sanchez as a centre forward; a more enterprising presence that the battering ram tendencies of Olivier Giroud, that’s for sure.
The key is that the Gunners look to create higher ratio chances than mere speculative 30-yard shots on target – the old ‘Arsenal try and walk it in’ debate, if you like. So even though they have had 20 fewer shots on target than Tottenham, for instance, they have in actuality scored nine more goals than their London rivals. Hence, the quality of the shot is as important as the quantity coming in.
But we stand by the SOTR model, and believe it shows us a broad, overarching landscape of how the Premier League campaign is going to pan out. In short, expect Chelsea and Liverpool to compete, Tottenham and Southampton to improve and Arsenal to decline – maybe. Burnley, well, it could be time to polish off the tin hats.