A few thoughts after just two games of the Premier League season

Early season expectations, advance of the stats and the time wasting rip-off.


1      Two games do not a season make

Lots of football followers are getting a bit carried away with how their team will fare this season, even though we are just two games into the Premier League campaign.

Huddersfield are only the second team to keep clean sheets in their opening two Premier League games following promotion from the Championship. The first team to do so were Charlton in 1998-99. And what happened to Charlton that season? Yes, they were relegated.

Hull City had six points after their first two Premier League games last season after promotion. They had beaten champions Leicester in their first game, and then won away at Swansea in their second. Of course, they were relegated at the end of last season.

2      Expected Goals (xG)

We continue to be bombarded with ever-increasing volumes of statistics in football these days, which may be of some interest, but what do they actually prove? Arsenal had 77% possession of the ball at Stoke last weekend and lost the game 1-0. Does that mean it is better not to have the ball too much?

And the latest statistic to come to prominence this season, although it has been around for a while is “expected goals”. I have been reading about this in some detail, and despite quite a liking for statistical analysis (out of interest only), I wonder if this one has been thought through properly. The concept is that they now measure the probability that any given shot will result in a goal. The purpose is to quantify the quality of each chance created, by analysing historical shots (up to one million of them) to assess how the probability of a goal being scored is affected by various factors, such as the distance and angle from the goal, whether the shot was hit by the stronger or weaker foot, or head, the type of assist, and passage of play.

Expected goals (given the shorthand xG) for each individual shot can then be added together to arrive at the expected goals for individual players and for teams. So, for example, in the Arsenal game at Stoke last weekend, the Gunners won the “xG” by 1.48 to 0.67. What does this prove? That they were the better team? Just like possession statistics does it really matter? Stoke won the game 1-0.

And what about potential flaws in the data? What other factors are not taken into account? The quality of the defenders, does the chance occur at the beginning or end of the game, what is the score at the time, are you under greater or less pressure because of league position, the beginning or end of the season, tiredness. These are just some of the factors that have occurred to me, and I’m sure there are many others. There are so many “human dimensional” factors that will influence what will happen in a game of football, and you have to include “luck” too.

Just for interest, in expected goals terms (xG) we lost our opening fixture at Old Trafford 1.93-0.48. Our game at St. Mary’s was a close run thing but we lost that, too, by 2.08-1.96. I’m sure that there are data analysts out there who would prefer the results of matches, and the subsequent league tables to be based on expected goals rather than actual goals! On a lesser scale, instead of extra-time and penalty shoot-outs, perhaps they would like to use xG to determine the result of drawn (actual goals!) cup games? It would be almost impossible to have a drawn xG game, so we would always have a winner.

What nonsense! Let’s not take this all too far! An interesting insight into performance? Perhaps, yes. Am I missing the point? Perhaps, yes. But let’s not get too carried away. Although if it was based on xG we wouldn’t actually be bottom of the league after two games!

3      Time-Wasting

In June I wrote a series of articles based upon the International Football Association Board (IFAB) rule change proposals. Part 3 of my series looked at their ideas for increasing playing time, which revealed how they were considering dispensing with 45 minute halves in a game of football, and replacing it with two periods of thirty minutes, with the clock being stopped every time the ball went out of play. The purpose was to make the concept of time-wasting a thing of the past, as the clock would not be running unless the ball was in play.

In my article I made reference to Tony Pulis bringing his Stoke City side to play at Upton Park in years gone by and how much time-wasting went on. And in an article I wrote for the much missed fanzine, Over Land and Sea, in November 2015, and also in my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford, my review of West Ham v West Brom (managed by Tony Pulis!) on 29 November 2015 referred to my own timekeeping of the game when I watched it back in replay on Sky Plus. I timed the second half as around 25 minutes of actual playing time.

So I had to smile when I read a piece on the BBC Sport website which referred to last weekend’s Burnley v West Brom match (you know the manager of the away side here!) which timed that the ball was in play for 47 minutes and 40 seconds in total! No game in the premier League has seen less action than this one. The fans are most definitely being short-changed in this respect. Apparently all the games in the Premier League this season have been timed and the ball was in play for more than an hour in just two of them. It’s about time the lawmakers took action and introduced this rule change immediately. It would be so simple. It would totally eliminate the whole concept of time-wasting. What is stopping it from happening?

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