Premier League: What the numbers say about how teams are really doing

23 December 2022 0 By Total Football News

Pep GuardiolaManchester City are top of the expected goals table with an expected goal difference of 17

With the Premier League about to return, the table makes better reading for some clubs than others, but it does not tell the whole story about how teams are doing so far.

While obviously results are what matter most, form can be temporary and luck can be fickle in football, so taking a look under the hood at a team’s expected goals numbers can help us see how much permanent class they have been showing so far and how the rest of their season could pan out.

Premier League teams' expected goals for an against graphic

Unsurprisingly, Manchester City have been the most dominant team in the Premier League this season. Having said that, the champions have not been as commanding as last season – their expected goal difference has dropped from 1.9 per game to 1.2 – and have relied more on Erling Haaland’s excellent efficiency.

This could be good news for Arsenal, who are not only ahead of the champions in the table but also within touching distance of them in terms of expected goals, showing that the Gunners are not just in a hot run of early-season form but do actually have the foundations for a potential title challenge.

Newcastle’s impressive rise under Eddie Howe has also been built on solid ground, with the North East club deservedly in the top four alongside Tottenham, who themselves have made a strong start to the season despite unease over their style of play.

While Liverpool still possess one of the best attacks, their defence has been relatively terrible for a team of their calibre. Although their defending did rely on giving up few, high-quality chances to the opposition last season, the Reds have so far given up the highest-quality chances on average in the league this season.

Eddie HoweEddie Howe’s Newcastle are deservedly in the top four after an impressive start to the season

By not getting the rub of the green in his first few games, it looked like Roberto de Zerbi had completely stalled Brighton‘s fantastic start to the season under Graham Potter, but the Seagulls continue to be a good side under new management.

West Ham have been better than the table suggests, as they still have one of the best defences in the league. While their attack has been fairly average, they should have scored more with the chances they have had, so expect them to rise up the table once they find their shooting boots.

While Manchester United have improved steadily after their poor start to the season, they have so far been nicking games rather than dominating them. That is not the most reliable way of winning games in the long term, so they will need to continue to improve if they are to challenge for the top four.

A run of bad results put Jesse March under real pressure a couple of months ago but Leeds have actually been performing like a mid-table team under him this season.

Brentford were never in real significant danger of going back down in their first season in the Premier League and so far it looks like it will be a similar story this time around.

Premier League teams' goal difference v expected goal difference

While better teams do tend to overperform their expected goals numbers and worse ones underperform, there is still only so far they can pull away before xG pulls them back

Aston Villa were actually fairly average this season under Steven Gerrard but a bad streak in front of goal and high expectations ultimately cost him his job, with Unai Emery inheriting a better team than results suggested.

With the focus on Manchester United’s terrible start and Liverpool’s leaky defence, it has gone under the radar how poor Chelsea have been, both under Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter. While it is too early into Potter’s reign to come to any conclusions, this will be a ‘transitional season’ for the Blues without significant improvement.

After a genuinely terrible start, Leicester did improve their performances to pull away from the bottom of the table, although the turnaround has perhaps not been quite as remarkable as results have made out.

Despite one sitting in mid-table and the others in the bottom two, Crystal Palace, Wolves and Southampton have been fairly similar in terms of overall performances, with limited attacks but relatively solid defences. Wolves should score more and Southampton concede fewer as the season goes on, but there is little room for error.

Fulham‘s gung-ho survival strategy of hoping their Aleksandar Mitrovic-led attack can make up for their poor defence is working so far. While they do not concede the most chances in the league, only Liverpool are giving up better ones. It goes without saying that Mitrovic must stay fit.

While they do deserve to be down near the bottom of the table, Nottingham Forest have been better than their league-worst goal difference of -19 suggests.

Jordan Pickford’s good form has masked how poor Everton have been defensively this season, so the Toffees need to improve or hope England’s number one maintains his form for the entire season. A consistent run of games for Dominic Calvert-Lewin could improve things at the other end too.

While Bournemouth have been the worst side in terms of expected goals, their performances have steadily improved under Gary O’Neil. Whether fully deserved or not, the Cherries have 16 points in the bank and with new owners, there is possibly money in there now too to improve the side in January.

The table sometimes lies

The actual Premier League table is obviously all that really matters, but an alternative one based on expected goals can show where it might be lying to us a little. By awarding a win to teams who have outscored their opponents by a third of an expected goal, we can see a realistic-looking table of results…

1Man City1410311733
8Aston Villa15735-224
9West Ham15654423
10Man Utd14572222
16Crystal Palace14338-512
18Nott’m Forest15258-911

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