Teams that cross most don’t always score more goals. And why I find Norwich very intriguing

Some interesting findings off today’s EFL Championship charts, with 31/32 games played and Sheffield United set to face Reading tomorrow.

I ran a fairly simple plot on volume of crosses, added a column to calculate the ratio of right- to left-sided crosses and showed that via a colour code.

No real surprises about which teams get the most crosses in, with Villa and Sheffield United topping the table.


What does stand out about the Blades is the left-sided bias. But, that’s not really a surprise, more a satisfying graphical point on the chart.

What does surprise me is that Norwich — challenging strongly for automatic promotion — are in the lower reaches of the table for cross volume.

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. If you scan down the teams, there’s no league table-like order to the way they’re arranged. So, although there are some currently successful teams near the top, it clearly is possible to fling in lots of corners and not translate that into league success. See Millwall for proof of that.

Norwich might sit two places up from the quite un-penetrative Sheffield Wednesday in the cross volume stakes, but that’s not the full picture.

We can dig deeper here, by plotting crosses against shots.


And that shows that the usual suspects —  Sheffield United, Leeds, Villa — occupying the right-hand end of the chart with lots of crosses and reddened points that show they score plenty of goals.

But, check the reddest, most goal-scoringest blobs on the chart and it’s Norwich and WBA, with relatively low cross volumes. What’s more, Norwich have bunged in something like 100 fewer crosses than West Brom.

It’s not the first time I’ve noticed Norwich in a strange position on the chart.

Recently, I started to plot amount of time in the opponent’s third against the number of passes made there.

This season, the likes of Sheffield United and Leeds are doing lots of both. Some other teams are getting to the opponent’s box a lot but not necessarily making things stick like the above two (see Millwall again).


Norwich stand out again here, with relatively low amounts of time in the opponent’s third but lots of passes when they are there.

Norwich look like a team that try to dictate play in the middle third. Then, when they get chance, go through the gears towards the opponent’s goal to exploit a less dense defence.

In other words, they create space where they want it: Right through Zone 14 and on to goal.

It’s an approach I’ve lightly obsessed about (see previous posts, re plan Bs etc). I find the idea of being able to shift/pull an opponent vertically and then get in behind quite fascinating and a potential answer to low block traffic jams.

That’s all assuming I’m reading things correctly.



All we wanted for christmas was to outperform our xG: And we got it!

In the run-up to the festive period Sheffield United were underperforming.

Don’t get me wrong, we were outperforming pre-season expectations and what we should be able to do with our wage bill, but we had slipped from our early season exploits and our points-per-game tally was down to about 1.3 in mid-December.

At the same time, the Blades as a team fell short of expected goals figures. Billy was exceeding his xG but no other striker in the squad came near.

I documented lots of those numbers and my thoughts about whether we needed a plan B in a previous blog post.

I’ll talk about that more in another post perhaps, but for now let’s look at what Blades fans got for christmas.

That present was that we over-achieved our xG, and that precisely what is needed to maintain promotion form.

As a team, Sheffield United went from 14th and three less goals than our xG to 8th, and exceeding our xG by about 3.5.


At the Sharp end, as it were, that was largely the result of two players performing brilliantly.

On the one hand, Billy knocked in four goals over christmas and new year. He was already exceeding his xG, but goes into game 28 with xG of 13.05 and 16 real world goals.

The big story, however, is David McGoldrick closing the gap between what the numbers say he should do and what he actually achieves.

I’ll admit I was beginning to think Didsy more of a creator (and a fast, skilled, exciting one, at that) than a converter of chances, but the recent run of games rubbed that one in my face.

Before christmas, McGoldrick’s xG (11.66 after 22 games) was better than Billy’s (10.21 after 22) but he’d only scored 6 goals compared to Sharp’s 10.

But, in late Dec/early Jan, Didsy netted four times to take his xG to 12.82 and real-world goal tally to 10.


That run of results saw Sheffield United hit second spot in the table and 2 points per game in form terms.

So, to compare with chart I generated before christmas, after 22 games, here are visualisations for 27 games.

To start with, xG. Blades still keep good company.


In terms of expected goals against (xGA) Blades have gone from fourth best to the best.


That makes for good reading when it comes to expected goal difference, with Blades top of the table.


That wasn’t being translated into actual goal difference, and SUFC ranked 5th, however.

But, with 10 goals in four league games and only one in reply Sheffield United move up to 2nd in the Championship in terms of GD.


The hope now is that we can sustain this progress for the coming months. This season’s Championship has seen the top of the table spots change hands many times. Will some clear contenders emerge, and can Sheffield United be one of them?

Sheffield United mid-season stats: A great start but need goals, pace and a Plan B

We’re 22 games into the season, with the all-important Christmas schedule to come.

I’ve crunched and plotted a few key numbers for the Blades season so far.

My verdict: We’re doing really well. Punching above our weight. But we need to exceed our xG and that requires more efficient conversion of chances, with more pace up top and a Plan B in our style of play.

First, the good news.

Blades are up with the best in terms of expected goals (xG).

xG bar chart 20Dec18

And we’re at the right end of the table in expected goals against (xGA).

xGA bar chart 20Dec18

And below, here are United topping the table in expected goal difference (xGD)

xGD bar chart 20Dec18.JPG

Then we translate things into actual goal difference and Sheffield United keep good company once more.

GD bar chart 20Dec18

“We need to be more clinical!”

OK, so that’s all good news. We’re doing better than most of us probably expected in terms of league position this season. And we’re doing it with high-pressure, attacking football that’s pretty tight in the defensive department too.

But when we compare what expected goals says we should be scoring and what we are actually converting, there’s a slightly worrying disparity. It’s one that might account for the calls to “be more clinical” we’ve all heard at some point this season.

Look at the table of actual goals scored vs xG. Four of the Championship top six exceed their xG. Only United and Boro haven’t. (Preston and Ipswich get into the top slots by virtue of doing well with relatively few chances, in case you wondered.)

xGvsG bar chart 20Dec18

Should we want to exceed our xG? Absolutely. It shows that teams/players are more skilled/expert at what they do. The top strikers in football – Kane, Messi, Aguero, Suarez, Ronaldo – regularly exceed their xG, often by big margins.

United have four players we’d recognise as forwards – Sharp, McGoldrick, Clarke and Washington. Only one has converted his chances at a rate exceeding their xG this season, and that’s Billy Sharp, with xG of 10.21 and 11 goals scored after 22 games.

Meanwhile, David McGoldrick puts up better xG numbers than Billy (11.66) but has scored just six, while Leon has not had a good enough run to attempt to match his xG-beating performance from last season.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch we’re letting in more than we should, when we measure goals allowed against xGA.

xGAvsA bar chart 20Dec18.JPG

A distinctive style of play, but do we need a Plan B?

It has to be said, Wilder’s United have a definite way of playing. We top the tables in touches in the opponents box, and are clearly coached to head for the 6-yard box, or “Billy Sharp’s office” as I call it .

This plot clearly shows that, with United leading the Championship in touches per shot in opponents’ penalty areas.

Championship average is about 0.46 shots per touch. United average 0.36 shots from the box per touch in the box – that’s nearly three touches per shot – with relatively few punts from outside the box.

Meanwhile, counter-attack kings West Brom average 0.53 shots per touch in the opponent’s box.

TIB_vs_SIB_plus_shots_and_OOB copy.jpg

The plot above is what the Blades style of play so far this season looks like.

And it has served well. With the addition of more efficient goal conversion we could get back to the levels of deadliness in front of net seen earlier in the season (the Villa game, for example).

That might come by coaching, by players (like Washington) getting a better run, or by additions during the January transfer window.

An injection of speed would also allow for development of a plan B. The plot above shows the United are very distinctive in terms of pushing into high percentage areas, and playing high-tempo passing football.

It has worked, maybe more so during the first half, but often we seem not to be converting that possession in dangerous areas. And then we often also see a dip in the second half with our attacking 2-3-5 pinned back to a 5-3-2 with an outnumbered midfield and no outlet for an embattled defensive line.

I wonder if the latter is a consequence of the former. That is, that playing at such a high tempo early on leaves players fatigued, then prone to mistakes.

It certainly felt like that during the WBA match. If the the Baggies aimed to let us wear ourselves out in the first half – knowing perhaps that we sometimes struggle to convert territorial superiority into goals – and then hit us with sucker punches in the second, it was a plan executed to perfection.

So, I also feel like we need a plan B. One that allows us to play deeper. It often feels like there isn’t an in-behind for United player to play into, and that we don’t have the players that could really exploit it.

So, looking forward to the transfer window, we won’t get the likes of Dwight Gayle or Tammy Abraham at the Lane but perhaps we can hope for someone that can help build on what has been achieved so far this season.







Who are the Championship’s corner kings so far this season?

So far, it’s West Brom, who have banged in seven goals from less than 100 corners, for a success rate of 7.07% .

Least efficient are Nottingham Forest, with one goal from 103 corners, for a 0.97% success rate.

The average is 2.71 goals per every 100 corners. Scroll down for your team’s numbers.

Sheffield United top the table for sheer volume of corners (173), which is testament to how high they play around opponents’ penalty areas. But their success rate is below average, at 1.73%.

Corners plot copy

I made this plot from data released on Twitter by Stuart Reid, a set-piece analyst/coach who goes under the handle @From_The_Wing

While I think this is interesting, I do wonder if this is too small a sample size to draw too many conclusions from. With a range of just six goals, it wouldn’t matter how well-rehearsed your corners are for a couple of bits of luck either way make a big difference to these standings.

Corners numbers grab

Shots vs saves for Championship keepers: Who tops the tables?

Who’s the best shot-stopper in the Championship?

Right now, after 21 games, it’s Middlesbrough’s Darren Randolph.

If we measure shots saved against shots faced, Randolph has an 80% success rate.

At the other end of the table, Ben Amos, on loan at Millwall from Bolton, has stopped about 53% of shots aimed at his net (in 12 games). Scroll down to see those percentages in a table.

Average save percentage in the Championship is about 67%.

But can we tell how good a ‘keeper is from those figures? Not really. It’s not the whole story.

Here’s a pretty scatter plot that stars to give a clue about relative performance of goalkeepers.

Keepers plot abline xGAIn general, the more to the right and below the line a ‘keeper is, the higher his save ratio. And as you can see, those that play for clubs that are higher in the Championship are generally the ones that occupy those parts of the chart.

But there are some outliers. Namely, ‘keepers that appear to be putting in massive performances in very difficult circumstances.

First is Anssi Jaakkola at Reading with a save percentage of 76%. Next is Marek Rodak at Rotherham, on 73.5%.

Not only are these two saving way above the average number of shots against them. They are also doing it for teams that give up a lot of shots in high percentage areas.

To show that, I have also factored in total team xGA (expected goals against) to give an idea of the quantity and quality of shots given up by a goalie’s team.

So, the size of the point shows that Jaakkola and Rodak generally face shots of high quality, and a lot of them too.

Meanwhile, Darren Randolph’s Boro team – exhibiting “the Pulis effect” – are masters in restricting opponents to low percentage shot areas, making his table-topping 80% save ratio look a little less hard-fought.

Are there any outliers in the other direction? If any, Orjan Nyland at Aston Villa is a contender.

Keepers bar chart 17-12-18

Most of his fellow ‘keepers are in the better-than-average zone, whereas his save percentage is just about bang on the mean at a club with about average xGA for the division, but I’d guess that Villa’s free-scoring style both accounts for that and lessens its effect.

Having said all that, I’m not able to give the eye test to all these conclusions. It’d be good to hear from fans of other clubs about whether the numbers ring true.

Even if they’re not the greatest measure of a keeper, I think they can say something about team performance and playing style.

Table 17-12-18