Scatter graphics: League 1, 13 Sep 2016
With seven matches played the EFL is starting to take shape and – while there’s still plenty of time for things to change – it’s just about defensible for me to crank out some scatter graphics to see how teams are doing. Each of the four graphics is explained briefly below but there’s a longer explanation here.
I’ll make a few observations for each graphic and then provide a club-by-club round-up at the bottom of the post.
First of all, here is how the number of shots taken by each club compares with those they face in return. The average number of shots taken per match is on the horizontal and the average number faced is on the vertical, so bottom right (take plenty, allow few in return) is good while top left (take few, allow plenty) is bad. The stripes are like contours: the greener the stripe, the better the performance (and vice versa for red).
Bury have been by far the most dominant side so far, having taken around two and half more shots per match than the next most industrious attackers.
Southend are their polar opposites, with only Port Vale taking fewer shots per match so far and only Shrewsbury allowing opponents more opportunities.
Now let’s look at attacking alone. The horizontal axis stays the same as in the graphic above, but now the vertical shows the average number of shots needed to score each league goal. Therefore bottom right is good (taking lots of shots and needing fewer efforts to convert) and top left is bad:
Coventry’s awful luck in front of goal is stretching this graphic at the moment, but 27 shots taken per goal scored is unsustainably high and their fortunes will surely improve in the near future.
Scunthorpe are the division’s most clinical finishers, with Peterborough not too far behind, while Port Vale and Sheffield United’s own sharp shooting is compensating for a low number of attempts.
Next let’s look at the defensive situation – basically take the above chart and replace the word “taken” for “faced” on both axes. Now top left is good – facing fewer shots and able to soak up more per goal conceded – and bottom right is bad:
Northampton’s strong start to the season owes much to a very resilient defence which has soaked up over seven more shots for each goal conceded than the average team so far
Bradford and Bolton look to be particularly well-organised, allowing opponents few opportunities and soaking up much of what does get through, while Shrewsbury and Southend have struggled to limit both the quality and quantity of the efforts they’ve faced.
Finally here’s an attempt at correcting the first graphic for the quality of chances created and allowed, using the same “expected goals” values that power my shot timelines (explained here). The reason for doing this is that the results tend to correlate more strongly with performance than when we treat all shots equally:
Overall it’s Bury, Bradford and Scunthorpe whose performances are leading the way, with Millwall and Charlton also worthy of a mention. The Shakers have looked stronger in attack while the Lions’ defence has been their more valuable asset.
Walsall and Gillingham have looked shadows of the sides that challenged for promotion last season, with Southend, Shrewsbury and Oldham also in need of improvement.
Bolton may be top of the division but on this evidence they may struggle to remain there. The Trotters have put in some relatively average displays so far, although a seemingly well-organised defence should provide a strong platform to build on.
Bradford are my model’s favourites for promotion at the moment, having added some attacking steel to last season’s impressive defence.
Bristol Rovers may be sitting low in the table but overall they look to have adapted relatively well to the third tier. A leaky defence is the only real concern so far, so if that can be controlled then mid-table looks a likely destination.
Bury’s underlying performances last season meant that their promising start was always likely to fade, but they look far more convincing this time around. However they’ve yet to play any of the teams sitting above them in the table and aren’t due to do so until October, so it may be a while before we can kick the tyres of their promotion bid.
Charlton have made a solid start to life in League 1: sitting in all the right quadrants but not leading the way in any, which signals that a play-off finish may be likelier than an automatic return to the second tier. Having said that, four of their six matches so far having been against sides in the current top eight, so it’s possible that their averages will improve in the weeks ahead.
Chesterfield have looked strong up front but average at the back so far. Only Bury have taken more shots, which is a significant improvement on last season when only two clubs fired in fewer efforts than the Spireites.
Coventry look to have been unlucky up front so far – while their attacking output has been below par their finishing has been disproportionately wasteful (and should therefore improve in the long run). There are deeper concerns at the back, where their defence has been among the busiest and may require remedial action.
Fleetwood’s attack looks to have gone off the boil since last season, when it was among the more impressive overall. Some sharp finishing, coupled with a resilient defence, has compensated so far, but they will probably need an uptick in their underlying performances to sustain a play-off challenge.
Gillingham may be sitting in a similar position to last season but their performances look to have deteriorated. Only Shrewsbury have allowed opponents better chances so far and only a handful of teams have created worse ones themselves, so improvements will be needed to stay in the top half of the table.
Millwall have looked strong at the back so far – in spite of some frustrating leakiness – but up front they’ve been relatively average. Their strong performances last season still rank them among my model’s promotion favourites, but a sharper cutting edge may be required.
MK Dons have looked solid but unspectacular in their return to this level so far, performing at a similar level to fellow relegatees Bolton. They’ve been unable to match the Trotters’ execution – scoring less easily and conceding more readily – but the schedule hasn’t favoured them so far. With five of their first seven games having come against sides in the current top eight, their fortunes could well improve in the near future.
Northampton are unbeaten in 31 league matches and counting – they’re the only EFL side yet to fall behind in a match this season – with a formidable defence proving incredibly difficult to break down. Their attack has been less impressive, contributing to a sequence of five successive draws at the start of the campaign, so a second successive promotion is unlikely without some more industry up front.
Oldham have had the most trouble putting the ball in the net after Coventry and have also struggled to create chances this season, but their defence has helped them to grind out points regardless. Only Northampton and Bradford have soaked up more shots for each goal conceded, but with only three clubs allowing more attempts this may prove unsustainable.
Oxford are already looking comfortable at this level and are among the division’s more entertaining teams overall. Only two teams are shooting more frequently – although they are also the third most wasteful finishers – and only five have allowed their opponents more attempts in return. However on balance they are performing at an above-average level and should therefore be capable of a top half finish.
Peterborough have been among the division’s sharpest finishers so far but this could well be masking some problems at the back. While the Posh sit sixth currently, they’ve allowed opponents chances of worryingly high quality compared to those they’re creating. Therefore some rebalancing may be needed to sustain a promotion push.
Port Vale have created fewer chances than anyone else so far, and the joint-fewest on target, so may find it difficult to remain in the top half without some tactical tweaking. Only two clubs have taken a higher percentage of shots from inside the box, so the low number could be due to a heavy focus on working the ball into good positions.
Rochdale haven’t actually looked that bad despite their winless start, having allowed the joint-fewest shots in the division. While their attack has looked less impressive, the overall balance of quality between chances created and allowed is relatively healthy, so it’s a surprise to see them struggling.
Scunthorpe have been rampant so far – creating plenty of chances and excelling at putting them away – and seem pretty strong at the back too. They’re the only EFL side to have seen three goals scored in every game, with the lion’s share falling their way.
Sheffield United matches have been among the least eventful so far, with only two sides shooting at a slower rate and nobody allowing their opponents fewer attempts. This is a far cry from last season when only Peterborough created better goalscoring chances overall, but with three successive wins the tide may be turning once more.
Shrewsbury’s defence has been worryingly open so far, ranking worst for both quantity and quality of shots allowed. While their attack is performing better – only slightly below average – it doesn’t currently look sufficient to cancel out the problems behind them.
Southend’s underlying numbers looked poor for much of last season, so their late slide wasn’t a massive surprise to me, and it seems as though their problems have continued beyond the summer. The Shrimpers appear to be lacking a cutting edge up front while their formerly resilient defence is struggling to soak up shots as they did last term.
Swindon are the youngest side in the EFL, with the average age of their starting line-ups a shade below 23, and like similarly-youthful Coventry are struggling to contain their opponents’ attacks this season. Only two clubs have allowed chances of greater aggregate quality so far, with a relatively wasteful attack unable to balance this out.
Walsall’s impressive showing last season saw their squad heavily raided over the summer and their replacements unfortunately don’t look set to stage a repeat performance. The Saddlers are among the worst performers at both ends of the pitch so far and look a shadow of their former selves.
Wimbledon look to be making a good go of their first season at this level (since their enforced reincarnation, anyway) – slightly loose at the back but slightly better-than-average up front – and look capable of avoiding a relegation battle despite sitting relatively low in the table at present. They need to address some leakiness at the back however, with only a handful of sides having conceded more readily so far.