A very early look at chance creation in the EFL

Using my expected goals model, which rates the quality of each shot based on how often shots of that type are scored, I keep track of each EFL club’s attacking and defensive performance per match. This is the same data that powers my match timelines, but it’s more effective when aggregated over a number of matches to see how well clubs are doing.

That number is normally a lot higher than four, which is how many rounds of league games we’ve had so far, but I’m not renowned for my patience. I wanted to take an early look at how teams are doing, and also to break up the stream of timeline graphics I’ve been pumping out lately.

I’ve chucked all 72 clubs into my oft-used scatter plot template, with attacking performance (expressed as expected goals scored per game) from left to right and defensive performance (expected goals conceded) from bottom to top. As you can probably guess from the colour-coding, the green bottom right is good and the red top left is bad.

Bear in mind that some clubs will have faced tougher opponents than others and all squads won’t be equally settled due to late transfer activity, so this is just an early indication of what might be going on. However there’s still plenty of interest and I’ll pick out some of the clubs that caught my eye below:

FL EG 2016-08-22

Down in the bottom right, we can see that Portsmouth are putting in some impressively dominant performances in League 2 despite having only won one of their first four matches. It doesn’t look as though they’ve had a particularly easy start either, with two of their opponents having come down from League 1, so I’d expect them to start climbing the table soon.

Over in the far left, Sheffield United have really struggled to create chances so far, which explains their nightmarish start and suggests that they need to find a more effective route to goal if they’re to avoid another disappointing season.

Morecambe are the surprise early leaders of League 2 and it’s even more surprising once you see where they are on this chart (hint: at the very top). Their defence has soaked up a massive amount of punishment – far more than anyone else – so at this rate I’d be surprised to see them stay at the summit for much longer.

Down at the bottom, Norwich and Wolves have both put in some very solid defensive performances but have looked far more average going forward. Towards the bottom left we can see that Derby‘s own strong defence may have come at the cost of an attacking edge. They have three clean sheets but have only scored once – perhaps Nigel Pearson is prioritising defensive improvements before he lets his players off the leash.

In the opposite (top right) corner we can see that Nottingham Forest and Blackpool have been providing great entertainment for the neutrals while raising their own fans’ blood pressure: there’s been plenty going on at both ends of the pitch so far.


I’ll revisit this data again at around the 10-game mark, by which point most teams should be in positions that are pretty representative of their “true” level and some of the more extreme outliers should have drifted towards the centre.