We all love the Premier League. Be it that we watch it as avid football fans, lovers of great, historical clubs, or perhaps as veterans — or rising stars — of the various fantasy football competitions, you’ll do well to find a football fan who isn’t in love with its atmosphere and the complete spectacle bundled with the one of the best football competitions in the world.
It’s electrifying, it’s fast, furious, unforgiving, energetic, robust, sometimes a bit tranquil, sometimes more fierce — but at all times it’s captivating, engaging and — pardon the expression — bloody interesting to watch and follow.
Ten people could give eleven different answers as to why do they love the Premier League — still, at SofaScore, we tend to approach things in a different, more calculated manner. So, leaving the passion and preference aside, we will try to scrutinise the current Premier League season in a way to match the different needs of football lovers everywhere — through stats.
It is often said that “Winning is the only stat that matters”, and while that may be technically true, at the end of the day, in order to achieve ‘winning’, one must pay attention to many different things. Scoring more goals than your opponent may sound easy enough, but here we’ve already arrived at two different stats — ‘goals scored’ and ‘goals conceded’. Now, logic would tell us that in order to score, one must shoot as well (unless your opponents feel very friendly towards you), and the number of stats keeps growing and growing.
At SofaScore, we use and analyse more than 300 different sorts of stats per each player — every single game.
Now, when you look at the Premier League in that manner, above all that beauty, tempo, history and atmosphere — you can see a real mess. No one will fall in love with football because Ben Chilwell of Leicester City wins the possession 3.38 times per game in his defensive third, or because Chelsea have hit woodwork 21 times so far this season. No, in order to make stats beautiful, you need to delve into that mess and find out how exactly to explain that watching Burnley play is actually more interesting than waiting for paint to dry on the wall, or that beneath all the short passes of Guardiola’s Man City exists a genuine goalscoring threat.
Without further ado, let us begin with the current Premier League table (after 36 rounds):
Throughout the season, many have noticed how point gaps across the league created a real ‘class system’ — top 6 are virtually unbeatable by the rest (our salute to the Robin Hood of Wolverhampton-wood), relegation battle was all but over in March, and the duo at the top is clean sweeping the division akin to the best Madrid-Barcelona duopoly days in La Liga.
Keeping that in mind, we can divide the league in four different ‘classes’:
a) Title contenders — Man City, Liverpool
b) Top 4 contenders — Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal, Man United
c) Middle of the pack — from Wolves to Southampton
d) Strugglers — Brighton, Cardiff, Fulham, Huddersfield
It is the ‘class systems’ (and outliers) we will look for when presenting different stats as well — but beware, those classes don’t really have to match the classes shown in the table. Keep your eyes open!
Winning the ball
The main thing in English football is controlling the second ball. Without that, you cannot survive. — P. Guardiola
It’s hard to score goals on a consistent basis without having possession of the ball — not impossible, but still tough. For our first stat breakdown, we will take a look on how the Premier League teams win or lose the possession of the ball.
First, some definitions, in order to make things clear.
‘Possession won’ implies the total sum of tackles, aerial duels won, interceptions, blocked crosses or shield outs (shielding the ball from an opponent and letting it run out of play).
‘Ball recoveries’ stands for recovering the ball in a situation where neither team has possession or where the ball has been played directly to a player by an opponent.
So, while possession won means a conscious effort in order to win the ball (through duels and/or interceptions), ball recoveries are picking up the ball when it belongs to no one.
‘Possession lost’ is broader — it sums up all events where possession is lost for a team — meaning incomplete passes, clearances, bad touches, miss-controls, incomplete crosses, or even being offside!
Due to such definitions, there is actually more possessions lost than possessions won in a single football match, because simply playing a pass into touch will grant player a ‘possession lost’ while nobody will get ‘possession won’ or a ‘ball recovery’.
That clear? Good.
Teams positioned right on the chart lose the possession more, teams positioned up on the chart win it more — and vice versa. We can immediately notice four lonely dots— Everton, who lose possession a lot (160.8 times per game); Wolves who win it a lot (124.0 times per game); and Man City and Chelsea who tend not to lose the ball — and, in Man City’s case — not to win it either.
What does this tell us? Everyone who follows the Premier League knows Man City don’t really win possession — simply because they refuse to lose it in the first place. We can, however, notice one very interesting outlier when talking about the top 6: while Man City, Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal lay on the left side of the chart, Tottenham and — especially — Liverpool, lose their possession on average many more times than one would expect.
In short: Liverpool and Tottenham care much less about the possession in order to create opportunities, a feeling we can further explore by looking at the following chart — percentage of possession won in the final third.
The trendline is unmistakable — better teams tend to win the ball more higher up the pitch (Man United being a noticeable exception). If you’re playing in your opponents half, winning the ball and starting your attacks there, there’s no need to win the possession a lot.
Everton are once again sticking out: in addition to being second best in the division by the number of possessions and recoveries won per game, they are second best in the percentage of those possessions gained in the final third (9.02%).
Passing it around
I like it when the team is in control of the match. I like very much the ball possession; I like to play in the other half. — M. Sarri
Too often has the English football been branded as the birthplace and the cradle of hoof-ball. Goalkeepers and defenders hoofing the ball to find a tall forward, who lays it off for running wingers (strictly forbidden to cut in), there follows a cross from the byline, and a header either to score or defence to kick it and restore the cycle. Good old times?
With the recent managerial additions, the trend has reversed: possession football now reigns in the top English sides. Your Guardiolas, Sarris and Pochettinos inspired a change that allows us to witness some fun and interesting data on the following chart:
Yes, this trendline strictly shows how the top sides rely on short passes much more than the long balls. Man City and Chelsea lead the line (anyone surprised?) while on the other side of the spectrum we have big outliers in Newcastle, Burnley, and — the undisputed champions of the long ball football — Cardiff City, whose 24.41% passes are in fact a long ball.
Nonetheless, one must not forget that there are two main different types of long balls: forced long balls under pressure (hoof it), and wilful long balls (hoof it, but intelligently) — either as a part of the direct gameplay, or by your tempo playmaker in order to quickly switch a side in the build-up.
Which one is employed by a certain team is best seen by observing the average accuracy. By rule, long balls that are part of the gameplay will be more successful, right?
Suddenly a whole ‘class system’ opens before our eyes. Man City and Chelsea are miles ahead when it comes to pass accuracy — both short and long. The rest of the top 6 are bundled together as well, while the middle class sits in the middle (shoutout to Bournemouth and Crystal Palace who have exactly the same average accuracy of both short passes and long balls).
And then there’s Cardiff. As teary-eyed Neil Warnock dreams of football of old, we can conclude that not only that his side has the most long balls per pass in the league, but that his team maintains the lowest pass accuracy in all available departments.
But wait, there’s more. Different styles of play allow for different strategies, and some sides choose to play more direct, while some want to pass it around — but how many of those passes result in something in the end?
We can see here how Man City and Chelsea take their sweet time in the final third before making a shot, while sides like Newcastle and Wolverhampton prefer to shoot more often. Maybe Huddersfield — who average 7.36 final third passes per shot, behind only Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal — should’ve taken a leaf out of their book as well.
Also, left chart will show that the likes of Crystal Palace and Wolves finish most of their penalty area entries by attempting a shot at goal, while Huddersfield are once again not decisive enough.
That leads us to a next important piece of statistics: shooting the ball.
Buying the ticket
If you do not believe you can do it, then you have no chance at all. — A. Wenger
As mentioned in the introduction, in order to score goals, you usually have to take shots. It’s no surprise that teams with most goals scored take most shots, but here we will actually try to analyse the origin of the shots.
Natural division between the attempts to score a goal is to observe shots made from inside the box and those from the outside. A team that attempt unusually high number of shots from outside the box may either possess clearly good shooters or suffer from a creative block in the final third.
As seen here, it’s Fulham who try proportionally the highest number of shots outside the box in the Premier League (44.7%). In opposition, Arsenal really seem to always try to walk it in — the only two teams with a smaller percentage of the shots outside the box are Everton and Burnley.
It’s also quite interesting to notice a trendline that tells us that stronger teams attempt more of their shots from inside the box — but that could be simply due to the fact that they posses more creative players able to unlock defences, and therefore don’t have to resort to long shots.
It’s Rúben Neves of Wolverhampton who attempted the most shots from outside the box this season: staggering 70 attempts. Only 11 have been on target, and only 2 resulted in goals.
Scoring when it matters
When you concede in less than two minutes, it changes completely everything. — M. Pochettino
Winning the possession, passing, shooting, it’s all for nothing if you don’t score your chance in the end. And games can get incredibly hard if you’re having to chase the result from the very beginning.
That’s why it’s very intriguing to compare the goal distribution between the top 6 teams of the Premier League — and just a casual glance will tell us just how energetically and resolutely do Man City start their games.
With 37 of their 90 goals coming in first 15 minutes of each half (just to compare, none of Huddersfield, Fulham, Cardiff and Brighton managed to score 37 goals in this campaign as of today), Guardiola’s men are often on top of their opponents before they can even realise what’s happening.
Liverpool tend to do the opposite, scoring 23 out of their 84 goals (27.3%) in the final 15 minutes of the game (including the added time as well), while Spurs and Arsenal managed to spread their goals more or less evenly.
It’s — however — very striking to notice that Spurs conceded more goals in the final 15 minutes of their Premier League games than they did in every first half combined: 38.9% of their goals have come after the minute 75. Talk about a lapse in concentration!
Pressure related to goalscoring tends to be even more demanding for the weaker teams, who know they will have to exploit any chance they got when playing against the ‘big boys’ if they want to see any points.
The trendline in this chart is depressing but expected — naturally, stronger teams will create more big chances. Outliers are particularly interesting: Man City (98), Bournemouth (70) and Fulham (47) create more big chances than their league position would suggest (ok, maybe not in City’s case — for obvious reasons). Bournemouth have Ryan Fraser to thank: the man who is, at the moment of writing this, second only to Lionel Messi in the top 5 European leagues in the number of big chances created (25).
But which teams actually score their chances?
For answer, we’ll consult another chart: the trendline is crucial here, giving us an ‘expected’ (average) ratio of the big chance conversion. Teams above the trendline are better in converting their chances than the average, while teams below miss too many opportunities for what they create.
Immediately we can see that Liverpool are the undisputed kings of deadliness: they have converted 51 out of their 74 big chances so far (68.9%). Compare that to Chelsea who created exactly the same number of chances (74) but only managed to convert 32 (43.2%)!
Of course, some of your goalscoring ability will always depend on the individual player brilliance. If you have a player who can salvage points out of thin air, a lot of tactical preparation becomes much easier.
While this piece deals mostly with the team statistics, when talking about the important goals it would be impossible not to mention players who won their teams most points — those who are scoring ‘match winning’ goals.
The way to win battles, wars and games is by attacking and overrunning the opposing side. — Sir A. Ferguson
Not interested in ball possession whatsoever?
Despise the champions of ‘modern football’ who keep on telling you short passing is the way to play the game?
Think organised running is the way to undo any opponent who dares to push too far up the pitch?
Then welcome to the counter-attack club, home of all who feel the same. Fast break — best break!
Teams below the trendline attempt more shots after a fast break than one would usually expect — conversely, those above rarely attempt shots after the fast breaks (at least compared to the usual amount of shots they take).
Wolves and Bournemouth are the champions of this particular stat — no team comes close to their respective 5.76% and 5.37% percentage of fast break shots out of all shots taken.
Still, shooting alone won’t get you far — converting fast breaks into goals is something else.
And while Bournemouth lead the pack here as well, they are this time joined by Brighton, and Leicester — who scored impressive 8 goals out of their 21 fast break shots this season.
To complete Bournemouth’s counter-attacking hat-trick: the player who scored the most goals from fast break this season is their own David Brooks (3).
Mistakes were made
Football is a game you cannot play without making mistakes. — J. Klopp
Favourite stat category for the regular armchair fans is definitely a sphere of errors. Who doesn’t like bashing defenders whose mistakes cost their team important points? Who can resist reminding Liverpool fans of the titles that slipped away from them? Or casually throwing an insult or two towards David de Gea (don’t worry, he won’t catch them)?
Some players and teams are prone to making mistakes, but while to err is human, getting away with errors is even more so. We decided to check whose mistakes actually get punished.
This chart compares how often a defensive error results in a goal, compared to a total number of errors. That means that further on the left a team is, more are they getting away with their errors — and further up they are, more errors they generally make.
So it’s Leicester who can count their blessings, for having made 23 errors that resulted in at least a shot for opponent, they only conceded 4 goals. On the other hand, poor Huddersfield conceded 8 goals out of their 13 errors.
Time to duel
My first message is clear. Enjoy the challenges of each match. — U. Emery
Duels are often regarded by the fans as the measurement of just how much their team got stuck in. If your team is losing duels and lacking intensity, you can bet fans won’t be happy — especially in the English football, home of the old-fashioned football duelling.
Statistically though, a ‘duel’ is a 50–50 contest between two players of opposing sides in the match. It can be a challenge in the air between two players (‘aerial duel’), a take-on (‘dribble’ and ‘dribbled past’), a tackle (‘tackle’ and ‘dispossessed’), a smothered ball by the goalkeeper (‘smother’) or a foul (‘foul’ and ‘was fouled’).
Needless to say, for every duel won there is a corresponding duel lost depending on the outcome of the contest.
A high number of duels in a match usually suggests a more ‘messy’ play, as both teams scramble for possession and/or commit fouls.
In this chart we can observe how Everton actually contest with their opponents most times, while still winning more than half of those contests (50.09% to be exact).
It’s impossible not to mention Leicester, who are so far on the right side that one could almost miss them. Winning 53.39% of their duels, Leicester remind everyone on the side that stole the Premier League title under bigger sides’ noses two seasons ago through their ruthless play and unmatched intensity — despite some players missing and their position in the standings being little shakier these days, force and fervour still remain Leicester’s strong assets.
But it’s the other chart regarding duels that will reveal different tales about different clubs.
If a higher number of aerial duels corresponds to a ball spending more time in the air, we can easily pinpoint how each team likes to play — further above the trendline you are, more hoofing will occur (and vice versa).
Neil Warnock’s Cardiff say hello again, as their games, messy in the first place due to the second highest number of duels in total, ascend to whole another level when one sees that 43.8% of those duels are in fact aerial duels (compare to 27.3% for Chelsea who most of all teams avoid the aerial duels).
But even Cardiff are no match for Burnley. 48.8% of all duels occurring in Burnley’s games were aerial duels — mind you, they still only won 49.9% of those aerial duels.
Top 6 lay nicely grouped on the left side, with their games having fewer duels — mostly due to the fact that they tend to dominate, avoiding struggles for possession in the first place.
Player who gets into most duels is Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrović, who participated in 725 duels this season (unbelievable 18.33% of Fulham’s total duels included Mitrović); and Mitrović is leading the pack by some distance as well — no other player in the Premier League participated in more than 600 duels. And his win rate in duels isn’t bad for a forward either — 44%.
Alexis Sanchez would fit in any team in the world. — P. Guardiola, in his rare moment of madness
Stats can be beautiful — almost as beautiful as football. However, it’s important not to lose your head inside the sheer chunk of numbers connected with the most important of the least important things in life.
While we can do our best to analyse and dissect the game, write the countless amount of articles and stories about football, top rated players and teams, bring to light obscure facts and forgotten records, none of it can compare to that wonderful feeling of watching a football match, cheering for your team and debating points with your colleagues and friends.
So enjoy football! Enjoy the Premier League, its title race, its competitiveness and immeasurable spirit, enjoy its superstars and flops, enjoy its ludicrous transfers and juicy gossip. Next matches are just around the corner — this weekend. We might get the title decided. Who knows? That’s football.
If you at any point fancy to check a result from the game you don’t watch, a specific stat or evidence that will reinforce your point to a doubting friend, or in general monitor a performance of your favourite team or player — don’t worry: SofaScore will be there.