Scatter graphics: Championship, 15 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).
Bristol City have taken far more shots than anyone else so far this season, although they’ve allowed a relatively average amount in return. The opposite can be said of Derby, who have restricted opponents’ chances well but offered a modest response.
In the top left of the graphic things look concerning for Rotherham, who have created the fewest chances in the division and allowed by far the most efforts at their goal.
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:
I’ve had to manually hack this graphic because Derby were ruining it. With a return of just one goal from 98 attempts, the other 23 teams were crammed into an incomprehensible mess at the bottom, so I’ve taken the step of boxing them out separately.
At the bottom we can see that Barnsley are narrowly edging out Newcastle and Nottingham Forest as the most clinical finishers in the division so far. Both the Tykes and the Magpies racked up big away wins in midweek which have boosted their numbers here.
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:
Newcastle aren’t just sharp up front – their defence is among the division’s most resilient. Both Brentford and Birmingham have soaked up more shots per goal scored but have allowed opponents more opportunities.
Rotherham have had more difficulties than most with keeping shots out, with Nottingham Forest and Blackburn also having trouble at the back.
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:
When we adjust for shot quality Rotherham remain in what was known as the “Charlton position” last season, and look to be in relegation danger without some swift improvements.
It’s easy to miss Derby in the bottom left: the Rams have put in the best defensive performances but also the third worst attacking showing so far: their midweek loss to Ipswich was only the second time this season that they’ve created one goal’s worth of chances in a game.
Brighton and Newcastle look to have provided the best all-round threat so far, although again Bristol City are worthy of a mention for their impressive attacking showing.
Aston Villa look to have made a solid start to life in the second tier and it’s surprising to see them sitting in the bottom half of the table. Only four sides have been more wasteful in front of goal, which goes some way towards explaining their underachievement.
Barnsley look to have made a swashbuckling return to the Championship, with only four teams having created more impressive chance and just three clubs allowing opponents better ones in return. Some clinical finishing has propelled them into the early promotion reckoning but their form may be unsustainable without some more defensive discipline.
Birmingham have regularly surpassed my model’s predictions under Gary Rowett but have been putting in some performances to match their league position this season – up front at least. Their defence has been the division’s most resilient – with over 20 shots faced per goal conceded – but is being kept busy, so it’s far from a given that they’ll remain in the top six.
Blackburn were one of last season’s underachievers, having put in some generally decent performances, but there’s less chance of a renaissance on this season’s evidence. Only Rotherham have looked less convincing up front so far and at the back they’ve been the division’s most porous team, although some of the latter may be down to bad luck.
Brentford have looked relatively average overall, although that in itself is impressive for such a young team: the typical age of their starting line-ups is around three years younger than the divisional average. Their defence has been incredibly resilient so far, with only Birmingham soaking up more shots for each goal conceded.
Brighton’s underlying performances have been the strongest in the division, so going one step further than last season and securing promotion looks to be within their power. However some below-par finishing looks to be letting them down at the moment.
Bristol City’s industrious attacking approach has worked much better against lowly opposition: their three defeats so far have all come against teams currently above them. Their defence has looked respectably average, so all those extra shots don’t appear to be leaving them unduly exposed at the back.
Burton have adapted surprisingly well to this level and don’t look at all out of their depth. Some clinical finishing has compensated for a somewhat leaky defence, but overall they’re giving as good – if not better – than they’re getting, with one of the more productive attacks in the Championship.
Cardiff’s attack has looked worryingly blunt so far, as their five blanks drawn will attest, and their defence has picked a bad time to spring leaks. Only three back lines are conceding more readily while Derby are the only club to have fired in more efforts per goal scored.
Derby have broken my attacking graphic and some naive shooting could be to blame. Despite creating plenty of chances, a division-high 56% have come from outside the box and a division-low 21% have been on target. This is what’s causing their strange position on the expected goals graphic: the average quality of their shots is poor, and operating one of the most impressive defences is scant consolation.
Fulham look almost bang average in the expected goals chart, with the defensive graphic showing how they’ve managed to rise so high in the table. An impressively resilient back line has soaked up almost 15 shots for each goal conceded, which is compensating for a slightly wasteful attack at the moment.
Huddersfield are the current table-toppers which, given their underachievements last year, is nice to see. However they’ve not maintained their performance levels from 2015/16 so far, albeit during a relatively tough start which has already seen them face three promotion favourites. Some sharp finishing and heroic defending has masked some modest performances – particularly up front – so I’ll be watching their numbers with interest.
Ipswich haven’t looked particularly convincing so far: only Rotherham have taken fewer shots and even after we correct for quality their attack doesn’t look great. While things look slightly better at the back, it’s still surprising to see them in the top half on current evidence.
Leeds seem to have made some improvements since last season: while they aren’t shooting that often the average quality of chances is pretty high (as evidenced by the rightward jump they make when comparing the fourth chart to the first).
Newcastle look poised to make the expected challenge for an automatic return to the Premier League at the moment. They’re among the best all-round performers and have been both clinical up front and tough to break down at the back.
Norwich have – some frustrating leakiness aside – performed similarly to Newcastle in defence but are much less impressive in attack. The Canaries look to have focused on quality rather than quantity so far, but the results have been pretty average and they may struggle to outscore some of their promotion rivals.
Nottingham Forest have been one of the more entertaining sides for the neutral spectator, having been above average for chance creation but incredibly busy at the back. Some impressively clinical finishing has compensated so far, but with only Rotherham looking more vulnerable at the back they could struggle to stay in the top half as things stand.
Preston have again looked relatively unimpressive going forward and have been relying on their stubborn defence to even things out. The balance hasn’t been as effective as last season so far, although with all five of their defeats being by a single goal it wouldn’t take much improvement for them to start grinding out more points.
QPR already look to have improved since last season, although with five of their matches having been against clubs in the current bottom seven it’s too early to say for sure. Some clinical finishing has been cancelled out by a porous back line so far, although that big defeat by Newcastle is skewing the defensive picture somewhat.
Reading look far more measured than last season, when a “scatter gun” attack rained in shots of poor quality. Their games have been among the quieter, shot-wise, although overall it looks as though performances have deteriorated slightly; particularly in defence.
Rotherham’s relatively decent attack took the edge off their poor defensive performances last year but unfortunately they look just as bad up front this time around. Allowing over 19 shots per match is unsustainably poor, particularly when you’re only taking around 9 yourself, so improvements can’t come too soon.
Sheffield Wednesday have looked dangerous going forward so far but some wasteful finishing has sometimes let them down. At the back they’ve looked less convincing: despite allowing opponents relatively few shots, only Brentford have seen a greater percentage struck from inside the penalty area than the Owls’ 70%.
Wigan haven’t made a stellar return to the second tier, looking below average at both ends of the pitch. Some relatively clinical finishing has aided their cause so far but, with only two clubs restricted to a greater percentage of shots from outside the area than their 54%, this may not last. Reducing the quality and quantity of shots they face – they rank third worst for both – must be a priority.
Wolves have already made noticeable improvements since last season, when they were often on the back foot and struggled up front without Benik Afobe. They’ve looked respectably average so far this time around – slightly above in fact, once you correct for shot quality.