Riyad Mahrez

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The story of the Premier League season in expected goals, points

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Human error and exceptional efforts mean that production often goes unrewarded in sports. It’s “why we watch” and why they don’t hand out trophies based on theory.

According to Opta, the expected goals (xG) “measures the quality of a shot based on several variables such as assist type, shot angle and distance from goal, whether it was a headed shot and whether it was defined as a big chance.”

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Plenty of goals, like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s first touch, 11-yard shot from the center of the box against Wolves, are xG. Others, like Jonjo Shelvey‘s unruly, long free kick against West Ham, are not.

Many times, the xG data shows us a game very similar to the final score line. Take Manchester City’s 3-0 defeat of Aston Villa on Oct. 26, where Villa missed a big chance but things otherwise went exactly as expected given the chances produced by Pep Guardiola‘s men (Graphics via the exceptional twitter.com/MC_of_A)

Now consider Christian Pulisic‘s hat trick game for Chelsea at Burnley, a 4-2 win for the Blues, when some moments of individual brilliance from both teams transcended the ordinary means of production. In an xG world, the Clarets win 2-1.

So it’s stands to reason that the site UnderStat shows us an xG table quite off from the Premier League table. Here are the teams producing or failing to produce outcomes befitting their created chances.

NOTE: Excuse some of the word choices here. It’s tricky to deal in what “should” or is “expected” to happen without sounding a bit absurd. No match, player, team, or season is accurately depicted by numbers, but an 11-match sample size is as good a time as any to see who’s living a charmed or cursed life in the Premier League.

Individual leaders

The top five players in xG+xA per 90 minutes (min. 400 minutes) belong to Man City (Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne) with only Tammy Abraham of Chelsea stopping Bernardo Silva from making it six of six. Mohamed Salah is eighth, while Christian Pulisic and Marcus Rashford are ninth and 10th.

Teams beating xG

Leicester City‘s early season has been remarkable, and was so well before the Foxes hung nine goals on Southampton. Brendan Rodgers‘ prolific men have scored 27 goals this season, almost 13 more than expected. On one hand, that’s pretty magical. On another, it could be foreshadowing.

Spurs have 17 goals this season, almost five more than their xG total.

Sheffield United have conceded a miserly eight goals this season, and that’s almost seven fewer than xG.

Players in xG wilderness

Given his side’s “over-performance,” it’s not a surprise to see Jamie Vardy‘s 10 goals coming in about 5.48 more than his expected 4.52

Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino is living in a different world, his three goals and three assists about 2 lower than expected. Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe is expected to have scored three goals this season, but has just one.

And how about Sheffield United’s David McGoldrick, who has not scored in 565 minutes but could have 3.31 goals according to the table? West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko is expected to have 3.28 assists, not one, while Miguel Almiron hasn’t delivered to the tune of 2.34 xG+xA

xG table, in points

According to xG, it’s not a big surprise that Man City should be leading the table. The two-time reigning champs and xG darlings gave 25 points, but were expected to claim about 27.

Meanwhile, Leicester (-6.83) and Liverpool (-8.3) are flying past their xG totals, and Newcastle (-4.13) isn’t far behind. Manchester United (+7.48), Everton (+6.82) and Watford (+9.16) are scratching their heads.

Here’s how the Top Six would look in an xG world:

  1. Man City, 26.8 xPTS (25 on real table)
  2. Liverpool, 22.7 xPTS (31)
  3. Manchester United, 20.48 xPTS (13)
  4. Chelsea, 20.41 xPTS (23)
  5. Everton, 17.82 xPTS (11)
  6. Brighton and Hove Albion, 16.31 xPTS (15)

How should Man City and Liverpool rotate their squads?

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With Liverpool and Manchester City set for a heavyweight clash this weekend, the teams must still navigate the midweek Champions League bouts, and decisions remain for both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp on how to both allow players to compete for places and rest those who require some time on the bench.

For Liverpool, the easiest decision Klopp will make as Liverpool gets set to take on Genk on Tuesday is to sit Mohamed Salah who has dealt with an ankle problem over the past month and with international duty coming up needs all the time to rest he possibly can muster. However, there are a few decisions the German must make that require a bit more thought.

With Joel Matip out for three weeks with a knee injury suffered against Sheffield United, Dejan Lovren has been deputizing at center-back alongside Virgil Van Dijk. Klopp must decide whether to allow Lovern to continue in that role and develop a consistent and critical partnership with his new center-back pairing or allow Joe Gomez a chance to prove himself in that slot. Consistency is often a valuable component of a center-back partnership, but offering Gomez an opportunity to snatch the position for himself could also potentially be beneficial down the road.

There are also questions about how to proceed in midfield as the Reds have some players clamoring for playing time. Fabinho was benched against Aston Villa as the Brazilian sits on a yellow card, ensuring his availability for the Man City game, but he could be afforded a run out against Genk. Still, playing Fabinho midweek has its risks, and both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita could both be given the spot instead. Adam Lallana started in Fabinho’s place against Villa and could be an option, although he doesn’t seem to be a first-choice player for Klopp at this point, while James Milner is also a do-it-all piece who could be utilized if need be.

The key for Liverpool is they cannot completely look past Genk, for a slip could see them fall out of a qualifying position in Group E altogether. For Manchester City, who travels to Italy for a match with Atalanta on Wednesday, they remain in a position of strength, topping Group C by a significant margin and afforded the opportunity to take chances with the squad.

City is already missing the likes of Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane, and Oleksandr Zinchenko for various long-term reasons, and they have a few more injury concerns this week that thins the squad further. David Silva pulled up just before halftime this weekend against Southampton and is likely out until after the international break, while Rodri also likely remains sidelined with a hamstring problem.

That leaves questions all over the squad. Fernandinho continues to deputize at center-back, preferred over Nicolas Otamendi, but the latter could enter for Champions League play to keep Fernandinho healthy for the weekend’s big game. Angelino suffered cramps against Southampton, and the Atalanta game could be another chance for Benjamin Mendy to earn favor going forward.

In midfield, Phil Foden is a likely replacement for David Silva, a chance for the 19-year-old to earn a first-team place and potentially start over the weekend as well, while Riyad Mahrez could play with Guardiola potentially spelling either Bernardo Silva or Raheem Sterling for a rest. Kevin De Bruyne is always an injury concern for Man City, having missed a host of games over the past two years with various problems, so he also presents a decision for Guardiola should the Spaniard wish to mitigate risk, but the David Silva injury will not allow him to do that without making concessions elsewhere.

Chopping and changing is part of the game, but too much can bring a halt to a squad’s togetherness and momentum. Consistency is a key factor for many top managers, and both head men will have big decisions to make with such a massive game on the horizon.

EFL Cup: Man City cruise past Saints; Everton, Leicester into QF

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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in the EFL Cup round of 16…

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Manchester City 3-1 Southampton

The two-time defending holders reached the quarterfinals of this season’s EFL Cup with a comfortable 3-1 home victory over Southampton, courtesy of goals scored by Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero (twice).

Otamendi got the scoring started when he headed home Bernardo Silva’s corner kick in the 20th minute. Aguero scored either side of halftime, first by applying the simple finish to Kyle Walker‘s cross in the 38th minute followed by a tap-in from Riyad Mahrez‘s pinpoint service in the 56th. Aguero bagged his brace to mark his 350th appearance for the club (all competitions).

Southampton scored from a corner kick of their own, but it was too little and too late when Jack Stephens headed home James Ward-Prowse‘s ball in the 75th minute. Claudio Bravo wasn’t forced into making his first save of the game until the 65th minute.

Everton 2-0 Watford

Everton scored twice during the final 20 minutes to survive a ropey encounter with Watford at Goodison Park. Mason Holgate put the hosts ahead after 72nd minutes before Richarlison put the game out of reach with the Toffees’ second goal in the 92nd.

Everton boss Marco Silva was forced to make two subs before the second half begin. Defender Yerry Mina lasted just 41 minutes before suffering an injury, and Moise Kean was subbed off at halftime after struggling to produce in the first half.

Burton Albion 1-3 Leicester City

Leicester followed up their 9-0 drubbing of Saints by putting three past League One side Burton Albion. Kelechi Iheanacho and Youri Tielemans put the visitors 2-0 ahead after 20 minutes, but the Brewers fought their way back into the game through Liam Boyce‘s goal in the 52nd minute.

The game remained 2-1 until the final minute of normal time, when James Maddison slammed home a cross from Demarai Gray to make it 3-1 and put the Foxes at ease.

Elsewhere in the EFL Cup

Oxford United 1-1 (4-2 PKs) Sunderland
Crawley Town 1-3 Colchester United

EFL Cup Tuesday preview: Man City, Leicester, Everton in action

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Five Premier League teams return to the field for League Cup fourth round action on Tuesday, including a pair of all-Premier League meetings.

A berth in the quarterfinals is on the line, but many top-tier teams still may wish to rotate the squad as fixture congestion continues to prove difficult to navigate. Manchester City is likely top of that list as they take on Southampton, with Pep Guardiola potentially looking to get fringe players some time against Premier League opposition.

22-year-old Angelino seems the most likely of the reserves to see the field, although Guardiola could look to get Benjamin Mendy more playing time in place of the injured Oleksandr Zinchenko. Riyad Mahrez could get a run on the field while Raheem Sterling sits, while teens Eric Garcia and Adrian Bernabe both could be in contention. Southampton will be looking to bounce back from its landmark drubbing against Leicester City over the weekend, and that could push Ralph Hasenhuttl to field a strong lineup.

Also meeting are Everton and Watford at Goodison Park, with both squads languishing in the bottom of the league table and looking for some form. The Toffees feel like they’re on the brink of breaking through with a string of performances, and this match looks a promising chance to break the scoring struggles against a woeful Watford defense.

Leicester City has drawn a road date with Burton Albion coming on the heels of the Saints pasting. They have scored 21 goals across their last four matches, white-hot form that will have Burton fans cowering prior to this matchup. Burton Albion sits 13th in League One after relegation last season, but they knocked off Bournemouth last time out, so the Foxes will need to keep their heads.

All games kick at 3:45 p.m. ET.

Tuesday EFL Cup matches

Man City v. Southampton
Everton v. Watford
Burton Albion v. Leicester City
Crawley Town v. Colchester United
Oxford United v. Sunderland

Sterling on 1st Champions League hat trick: ‘I should have had four’

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Raheem Sterling was sounding a bit like his very particular manager in discussing his incredible performance on Tuesday.

Sterling scored an 11-minute hat trick in the second half after setting up two goals in the first half of Manchester City’s 5-1 comeback win against Atalanta at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

“I should have had four,” Sterling said. “Riyad Mahrez put me through and I was looking to put one on a plate for him. But I went through and should have finished it.”

The aforementioned manager, Pep Guardiola, would later echo the notion, while crediting his winger for a complete performance.

“Raheem Sterling was brilliant,” he said. “He could have scored one more. Not just with the ball, without the ball, he helps us a lot.”

City is now 3-0 on the group stage, setting itself up well for the next two UCL match days, which are in close proximity to big Premier League matches against Liverpool and Chelsea.

Atalanta started well and took a lead when Josip Ilicic won a penalty off Fernandinho, but once City found its way, well, see ya later.

“It was difficult with them going man for man, it was tough to get space. But we had to stay patient, wait for a chance and take them when they came.”