Thursday, 17 November 2016

Are Brighton legit and have Gary Monk and Steve Bruce turned Leeds and Aston Villa around?

The Championship is now more than a third played and we’re starting to see some decent statistical trends coming through, although the table doesn’t fully reflect those yet.

In fact, much of the middle is still quite a mess, but at the very top and bottom, the quality, or lack of, is showing.

In most meaningful categories Newcastle are head, shoulders, and sometimes an entire upper body above the rest of the field.

Meanwhile, at the other end, Rotherham look like a League One team already: it would take a serious burst of good fortune to even bring them up to parity with their fellow relegation candidates. Sorry Millers fans.

There are three quite intriguing games on TV this weekend as the major leagues return from the international break, so let's look in a bit more detail at the match-ups involved.

Brighton vs Aston Villa

Behind Newcastle, Brighton have put some distance between themselves and the competition, but while they are a statistically good team, this has been fuelled by the highest save percentage and second highest scoring percentage (just behind Newcastle) in the division. The combined PDO total of 123 (league average is 100) is actually off the (my) charts.

The problem maintaining this form will come if and when this hot streak runs out.

The Seagulls are only a midtable side when it comes to where they take their shots from, although they are one of the strongest defensively. This shows with Brighton just 19th with 29.65% of all shots being on target, while they are best at restricting teams as fewer than one in four (24.57%) opposition shots hit the target.

The other real key to Brighton’s success comes at when they are getting their shots on target. At level score situations Brighton have the third highest shots on target share in the division – 0.625 (or 62.5% of all shots on target).

Combine this with a 40% scoring rate (league average is 30%) and it is easy to see why they are such a dominant force so far.

When you are playing with the lead so often and can force teams to take more than half their shots (99 out of 182) from outside the 18 yard box, you have a very good chance of being successful.

Brighton’s opponents on Friday night, Aston Villa, have had a pretty difficult season so far which resulted in the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo with Steve Bruce replacing him.

What difference has that made? Well, Villa were actually a pretty much league average shots team throughout Di Matteo’s brief reign. He played a more open game than Steve Bruce has shown so far, which resulted in more shots both for and against per match.

But the killer statistic for him was Villa not being able to hold a lead due largely to a shocking 11% shooting % when one goal up. Indeed, Villa only scored ONE goal when leading under Di Matteo, and that has not improved since – they’ve only managed TWO shots on target when leading so far under Bruce.

It’s worth remembering at this juncture that Steve Bruce’s numbers especially are a very small sample size, but they can provide some interesting indicators.

Aside from taking a more defensive stance overall resulting in fewer shots for and against, the one real improvement Bruce has made is in shots on target share, from 0.51 to 0.56. Some of this may be down to shots being taken slightly more centrally in the box compared to Di Matteo’s team, but otherwise it is hard to spot what may be responsible for this. Perhaps it is just a case of Villa’s potentially potent strikerforce finding form.

Which brings us on to the other major boost for Bruce; shooting and save percentages – a fourteen point increase when combined. These factors, which can be subject to high levels of variation, have really powered Villa’s rise, although the aforementioned shots on target improvement will have helped too.

At level score situations Villa are red hot at the moment, and have goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini rocking a 90% save mark in Bruce’s term. This is likely to cool off and when it does it seems likely Villa will find themselves stagnating in mid table unless other factors improve.

Ipswich vs Nottingham Forest

On the face of it Forest fans should be the most concerned in this fixture, but Ipswich followers have good reason to also be looking over their shoulders.

Life has not been fun at Portman Road this season and while the shot share numbers look generally above average, particularly when scores are level, the locations are far less desirable.

Ipswich have taken the fewest shots (just 30) within the dangerzone (six yard box and centrally in the 18 yard box) and sixth fewest within the 18 yard box as a whole. Instead, McCarthy’s team (as always, it seems) has been surviving on an aerial attack and stout, if not outstanding defence.

This is not necessarily a secure position to be in as a heavy aerial attack typically converts at a much lower rate. And should the goals dry up this way, it could be all too easy to get sucked in to the relegation battle.

Forest are already there however, with below average shot numbers being further hurt by below average shooting and save percentages. Their numbers are slightly more encouraging at level score game states but they are not able to maintain this when leading.

And although the attacking shot locations are generally mid table, they have conceded more six yard box shots than any other team (11) – the only side to hit double figures in this regard.

There are several sides worse than Forest, but the problem is they already have a head start and life can seem so much harder when you are already staring the relegation zone in the face.

Leeds vs Newcastle

The Champions-elect (yes, I said it) visit one of the surprise packages of the season in the final game of the weekend.

I asked before the season if this was the best squad to ever play in the second tier of English football and the answer was generally positive. After a slow start the Magpies have now hit their stride and look a cut above everyone else.

Of course upsets, injuries etc. happen, but the gulf in class is noticeable visually and in the numbers.

Leeds are a strange one indeed and I’m at a bit of a loss to explain their current lofty playoff place perch.

After a very poor start to the season their overall 11v11 shot numbers have pretty consistently improved to at least league average, and even slightly above. Signs that Gary Monk’s system is bedding-in perhaps?

However, their shot locations are very mid-table and they’ve even spent the same amount of time winning as losing (396 minutes) with 767 minutes at tied – all almost exactly league average.

Leeds do a pretty good job of making sure that the few shots they do take make it on target and the win over Norwich was probably their most impressive statistically of the season, following wins over two much more lowly teams, Wolves and Burton.

So perhaps this is just them hitting a run of form, a sign of a fairly weak schedule so far and how close the table is – just three points separate Leeds in sixth with Preston in eleventh.

If Monk can sustain this improvement however, then they could cement a top half place and push towards the playoffs – that would be quite a turnaround from the last few years of statistical awfulness.

How they perform at home against Newcastle, and not necessarily the result, could give a decent idea of where this team is heading.

PositionTeam 11v11 Corsi 11v11 Fenwick 11v11 SoT 11v11 Goals Rate 11v11 Sh% 11v11 Sv% 11v11 PDO Points
14 Aston Villa 0.495 0.517 0.524 0.52 26.15 72.88 99.04 21
13 Barnsley 0.473 0.467 0.443 0.52 37.14 72.73 109.87 21
7 Birmingham 0.478 0.464 0.455 0.54 35.71 74.63 110.34 25
23 Blackburn 0.432 0.428 0.432 0.39 29.63 64.79 94.42 13
12 Brentford 0.489 0.492 0.507 0.58 28.38 79.17 107.55 22
2 Brighton 0.532 0.574 0.578 0.76 42.37 81.4 123.77 34
9 Bristol City 0.519 0.5 0.529 0.54 34.38 66.67 101.04 24
18 Burton 0.529 0.54 0.508 0.49 27.27 70.31 97.59 18
21 Cardiff 0.497 0.528 0.477 0.37 26.92 57.89 84.82 15
16 Derby 0.54 0.532 0.541 0.48 18.18 76.79 94.97 20
8 Fulham 0.54 0.546 0.5 0.59 37.1 74.19 111.29 24
3 Huddersfield 0.552 0.519 0.542 0.5 29.31 65.31 94.62 29
15 Ipswich 0.47 0.496 0.51 0.48 28 68.75 96.75 21
6 Leeds 0.485 0.522 0.526 0.53 31.67 68.52 100.19 26
1 Newcastle United 0.613 0.6 0.648 0.74 43.04 72.09 115.13 37
5 Norwich 0.54 0.511 0.511 0.5 38.03 60.29 98.32 27
20 Nottingham Forest 0.493 0.465 0.479 0.43 34.33 58.9 93.23 16
11 Preston 0.462 0.467 0.481 0.55 35.38 72.86 108.24 23
17 Queens Park Rangers 0.471 0.482 0.517 0.45 28.33 62.5 90.83 20
4 Reading 0.515 0.483 0.459 0.53 31.15 76.39 107.54 28
24 Rotherham 0.346 0.332 0.366 0.31 32.08 59.78 91.86 7
10 Sheffield Wednesday 0.572 0.576 0.555 0.46 22.54 66.67 89.2 24
22 Wigan 0.481 0.472 0.473 0.42 26.42 67.8 94.21 14
19 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0.512 0.523 0.504 0.39 23.44 63.49 86.93 17

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