As the curtains closed on 2017, many Premier League clubs will have been able to reflect on a year of progress.
Manchester City, of course, are the headline act, storming to a 14-point lead at the top of the table and dazzling with Pep Guardiola’s unique brand of attack-minded football.
But City aren’t the only ones who’ve made strides in 2017. To varying degrees, sides like promoted Huddersfield Town, Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United have overshot expectations; it may not always feel like it, but Manchester United have slowly rebuilt a Champions League-worthy team; and Antonio Conte has brought the good times back to Chelsea, likewise Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool.
There’s no winter break in the Premier League, with the festive period in fact the busiest time of the English football season. While there is little time for clubs to wistfully ponder the culmination of the calendar year, we’ve used the arrival of the new year as a chance to delve into the statistics to see which sides led the numbers for the 2017 portion of the 2017/18 season.
With 21 fixtures played, more than half of the Premier League campaign is already in the books. Here’s what the stats tell us about the season so far.
What the xG tells us
Maligned in some quarters, those who embrace expected goals (xG) realise its value in identifying patterns in a footballing context. More commonly seen applied to single games to weigh up the balance of chances for the teams involved, xG’s most appropriate uses are over a longer period when a greater pool of data is available.
Using historical data, xG models measure each shot taken in a game to judge its statistical likelihood of being scored, based on the position from which it is taken. This means we are able to see broadly when a team is finishing chances at an especially efficient rate, or when the opposite is true and they are being more wasteful than expected.
Likewise, the expected goals against (xGA) metric helps us understand how a team is performing defensively.
It will come as no surprise to learn that Manchester City have produced the highest total xG for the season so far, with 55.46, and even then they are outperforming their chances created with high-quality finishing, scoring 61 goals.
The team whose finishing is most efficient relative to the quality of their chances created is Chelsea, whose 39 goals scored beats their 33.03 xG by a margin of 5.97; City are second with a 5.54 difference and Leicester City third with 4.93.
Defensively, owning largely to their domination of possession (more on that later), City have the lowest xGA in the league (13.83). Again, Chelsea are second (15.98), with Tottenham third (17.41).
Manchester United have the third-best defensive record when it comes to actual goals conceded this season, but their xGA does not tell a story of rearguard solidity. José Mourinho‘s men have only conceded 16 goals, but they have an xGA of 25.84, ranking them sixth, behind the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal, who are both widely perceived to be more defensively fragile than the Red Devils.
Indeed, Burnley (a difference of 11.48) are the only team outperforming their xGA more than United (9.64). This means that these sides are generally giving up a higher quality of chances than expected when looking at the amount of goals they have conceded.
Much of United’s differential can be attributed to the outstanding shot-stopping skills of goalkeeper David de Gea. The Clarets, however, are a more complicated analytical case, espousing defensive system based around getting bodies in the way of shots rather than outright prevention, a method thus far confounding statistical analysis.
Individually, Harry Kane leads the way in both goals scored (18) and xG (15.58). Of the players ranked in the xG top ten, Raheem Sterling, a man previously considered to be a poor finisher, is outperforming his xG by the greatest margin, with 13 goals scored against an xG of 9.91.
When it comes to expected assists (xA), a metric which tots up the subsequent xG of every chance-creating pass, Manchester City again dominate, with Kevin De Bruyne (6.95), David Silva (6.46) and Leroy Sané (5.61) all in the top four – Arsenal’s Mesut Özil (6.02) is the only non-City player to come between them.
In this instance, looking at which players are most outperforming their xA has little use as it tells us more about the subsequent shooting players’ accuracy than the passer. Of the players in the top ten for xA, though, Alexis Sánchez is the man most being let down by his team-mates, with his three assists falling below his sixth-ranked 5.31 xA.
With the ball
No team in the Premier League comes close to matching City when it comes to possession. The Etihad side enjoy a whopping 66.2 per cent share of possession on average, with Arenal (59.1 per cent) a distant second.
As such, the Citizens also make by far the most passes per game on average, with 724.2. Arsenal (632) are again second and Spurs third (589). And Guardiola’s men are the most accurate with their passes too, picking out a Sky Blue shirt 88.6 per cent of the time. Tottenham attempt the most long passes per game (36.5), ahead of Brighton (35.7) and West Ham United (32).
West Bromwich Albion, currently in 19th place and level on points with bottom-of-the-table Swansea City, see the least of the ball on average, with 42.2 per cent possession, trailing Newcastle (43.6 per cent) and Burnley (43.9 per cent). The Baggies also attempt the fewest passes per game (340.7 per cent), although Burnley have the worst completion rate (70 per cent).
On an individual level, England international centre-back John Stones, one of the most-improved players of the season, has the highest pass accuracy in the Premier League (96.9 percent). Of all the players with a minimum of five appearances, the former Everton man’s central defensive partner at City, Nicolás Otamendi, averages the most passes per 90 minutes, with 92.1.
Without the ball
On the defensive side of things, the teams who see less of the ball, and therefore have more defending to do, tend to dominate the numbers. Except, of course, when it comes to shots conceded, where possession kings Manchester City are again top dogs, allowing just 6.3 efforts at Ederson’s goal per game.
Huddersfield average the most tackles per game (19.3), followed by Crystal Palace (18.5) and Stoke City (18.2). Perhaps surprisingly, Bournemouth make the fewest tackles, with 12.6 per game.
Everton make the most interceptions per game (14.8), with Huddersfield (13.5) and Palace (14) again featuring highly. The Toffees also give away more free-kicks than any other side, committing 12.7 fouls per game.
The teams who see the most of the ball tend to, in turn, have the least busy goalkeepers. But that isn’t the case for Manchester United, with de Gea’s 3.4 saves per game ranking third in the league, behind only Swansea’s Łukasz Fabiański (3.9) and Wayne Hennessey (3.7) of Crystal Palace.
Of all the players with more than 200 minutes under their belt this term, West Brom’s on-loan midfield marshal Grzegorz Krychowiak leads the way when it comes to interceptions, demonstrating his sound anticipation to nick possession 3.2 times per 90. Manchester United’s Ander Herrera is top tog for tackles, with 4.3 per game, edging out Wilfred Ndidi (4.2).