There’s never a bad time for a stat update, but the international break is better than most. So here’s a potpourri of significant numbers, in alphabetical order by club…
Arsenal: Two years ago, Arsene Wenger got hipped on analytics, ordering his team to take fewer shots from distance. Despite finishing fourth in total shots, they were 18th in shots outside the area. Last year he backed off a little, and they were sixth in total shots and 11th in shots outside the area. Now he’s given up: they’re fourth in total shots and third in shots outside thatwhite line. And they’re still Arsenal.
Bournemouth: One of the reasons the Cherries are struggling to score is that they’re not finding the best shooting positions. Right now 34.2% of their shots have been blocked, the second-highest in the league behind Huddersfield. For comparison, last year they were at 26.0%.
Brighton: This is a side that know how to take care of the ball. They’ve had the fewest unsuccessful touches and have been dispossessed by far the fewest times. It’s not just because they’re a low-possession side, either. Crystal Palace have had only a bit more possession and they rank bottom in both categories.
Burnley: Going the opposite direction from Arsenal. Last year the Clarets took fully 46% of their shots from outside the box, second-highest in the league. This year they’re at 30%, easily the lowest. Just part of their evolution.
Chelsea: Last year the champions led the league in successful tackle percentage, at 68.4%. This year they’re leading the pack again, with 73.1%. But there’s a difference: last year they were 18th in the league in fouls committed; right now they’re at the top of the table. It suggests that their overall defence is less precise.
Crystal Palace: The Eagles have let in 17 goals, four more than any other side in the league. But they lead the league in interceptions, at 15.7/game. Are they gambling too much in defence?
Everton: Dribbles don’t by themselves make you a good team – Crystal Palace lead the league – but there’s a reason they’re followed by Man United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Man City. Dribbles mean you’re confident on the ball, and more dribblers give you more attacking options. Last season Everton were a reasonable eighth at 10.6/game. But with three of their four leading dribblers from last season (Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, Yannick Bolasie when fit) missing, and the fourth (Kevin Mirallas) stuck on the bench, they’ve dropped to an abysmal dead-last 4.4. They don’t have enough variety in attack.
Huddersfield: I hadn’t really pegged the Terriers as a wing-attack team, which shows I haven’t been paying attention. Only 19% of their attacks have come from the middle of the pitch, which over a full season would be easily the lowest ever recorded.
Leicester: The Foxes aren’t defending very well this season, and it shows in their tackle percentage, second worst in the league at 57.0%. For comparison, in their title year it was at 66.7%. Having N’Golo Kanté helped, of course.
Liverpool: Here’s a stat for which I have absolutely no explanation. Last year Liverpool were 19th in aerial duel percentage, at 45.2%. This year they’ve made a big jump, to 50.9%. Same players, different results. But their total aerial duels per game are down from 38.3 to 33.1, so maybe they’re just more selective in launching the long one.
Manchester City: Here’s the stat that tells you we’re in the Pep era. Last year City recorded 60.9% possession, becoming the first side in the league ever to break 60%. They also set a record for largest margin between the first and second place side in this category, at 2.6%. This year so far? It’s up to 63.8%, with a margin of 4.1%. As Sarah Winterburn wrote in Winners and Losers last week, they are nearly there.
Manchester United: Dribbles again, and another significant change. Last year United were seventh in attempted dribbles, 17.9/game. This year they’re top of the charts at 20.6, and the gap between United and second-placed Spurs is the largest between adjacent teams in the table. The biggest jumps come from Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, plus the addition of Nemanja Matic to the midfield. As noted above, in successful dribbles United are second, at 12.7; last year they were ninth at 10.6. (Two dribbles a game may not seem like much, but a successful dribble significantly increases the odds of a good scoring chance.)
Newcastle: Rafa’s boys have sent 18.5% of their passes long, a fairly high number. But without a genuine target man, only 40.1% of their long passes have been successful, second-lowest in the league. Still, that strategy has worked for Leicester in the past, and so far Magpies fans can have no complaints.
Southampton: If you think this year’s Saints look a lot like last year’s, you’re right. Last year they were seventh in shots taken, 14th in goals scored; this year so far they’re sixth in shots taken, tied for 14th in goals scored. Last year they were seventh in shots allowed, eighth in goals allowed; so far this year they’re ninth in shots allowed, tied for seventh in goals allowed.
Stoke: Will the Potters finally shake their reputation as a physical team? In Mark Hughes’ first two seasons, they were tied for second and sole second in yellow cards. The last two years they’ve been 17th and 12th. Right now they’re tied for last with mild-mannered Brighton.
Swansea: We know the Swans are struggling to score, but their shot figures are ridiculous. They’ve taken only 6.6 shots/game. The lowest ever recorded for a full season is 9.6, by Middlesbrough last year. And it’s not as if the team have had an impossible schedule – among their opponents have been West Ham, Crystal Palace, and Newcastle.
Tottenham: One of the ways you can see Tottenham have changed under Mauricio Pochettino is in interception stats. Teams with high interception numbers tend to play aggressive defence in their half of the pitch. In his first two years, Spurs were 5th and 10th in that category with 17.8 and 17 per match respectively. Last year they were 20th by a large margin, at 8.3. This year they’re again 20th by a large margin, at only 6.9.
Watford: The Hornets’ attack is greatly improved over last year, when they scored only 40 goals, a mere 1.05/game. This year it’s 11 in seven games, a much higher 1.57. Except they’re taking the same number of shots as last year, 11.1/game. The difference is in conversion rate: last year they scored from 12.1% of their unblocked shots; this year so far it’s 19.6%. Unfortunately, that latter figure is likely to go down. For comparison, last year Chelsea led the league in conversion rate at 19.7%. Watford will almost certainly have to create more shots if they want to sustain their current goal-scoring pace.
West Bromwich Albion: Tony Pulis sides regularly lead the league in percentage of their shots taken inside the six-yard box, because they rely so much on set-pieces. They’re outdoing themselves this year so far, at an absurd 21%, which easily beats Pulis’ old record of 16%. But that’s too much of a good thing.
West Ham: We conclude with an odd one. The Hammers have been fouled 16.0 times/game, an amazing 3.4 more than second-placed Bournemouth. They’re not a particularly high-possession team, and they’re near the bottom in dribbles, so there’s nothing in their play that would produce lots of fouls. What’s going on?