We’re back with expected goal data (courtesy of Michael Caley) for week five of the 2016-17 English Premier League. There weren’t any particularly shocking revelations this week.
Of course, the fact that already established patterns continued in last weekend’s fixtures would suggest that the themes of the early days of this season may well be themes for the first half or more of this year’s Premier League. If you’re Manchester City, that’s good news. If you’re United… well, not so much. On to the recap!
First, here are full xG results:
Manchester United has a Wayne Rooney problem.
This isn’t a shocker. Anyone with a bit of sense and understanding of tactics saw this coming in the preseason. The problems here are multiple:
- Playing Rooney as a number 10 limits the space that Paul Pogba has to move into as an attacker making runs from deeper midfield positions.
- Both Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are, at this stage of their careers, pretty limited in terms of mobility. So United simply isn’t industrious enough to do what’s required of them defensively or to produce consistently good chances offensively.
- Rooney just isn’t as good as he once was.
Oliver Kay’s take on United seems about right to me, if somewhat inaccurate regarding Pep’s City:
— Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) September 18, 2016
There are probably multiple ways of fixing this United team. There’s a lot of talent in the squad, even if it’s hard to discern if there’s a coherent XI in that squad. But dropping Rooney and replacing him with someone like Ander Herrera and dropping Fellaini and replacing him with Morgan Schneiderlin may do the trick.
Herrera will be a mobile, technical number 10 who can also provide defensive support in midfield as needed and who will not monopolize the advanced central areas. Schneiderlin is a solid defensive midfielder who can also spring quick counters with his passing ability. If you then play Anthony Martial on the left, Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the right, and Zlatan up top you might have a coherent XI. But we’ll have to wait and see what Mourinho does. His record makes me reluctant to bet against him. But his more recent record makes me wonder if United may be headed for a poorer season than many expected in the preseason.
Pep City is getting better going forward and less derpy in defense.
We’ll grant up front that a dominant performance at home against Bournemouth is not something City fans should get too excited about. That said, a 3.6-0.3 xG result is very strong. It suggests that not only is the City attack starting to fire more consistently, but the defense is also starting to solidify.
A big part of this transformation, if you believe Guardiola, is down to the presence of Claudio Bravo in goal. If Bravo can provide the platform at the back for City to build their attack and can eliminate the kind of silly errors that marked his City debut against United, this City team could be even better than many of us expected in the preseason.
Two particular things stand out with Pep City’s attack:
First, Kevin De Bruyne is, like, really really good. He looks set to be Guardiola’s star man at City and may already be the best player in the Premier League. Given that Romelu Lukaku is arguably the best striker in the Premier League, this may something rather dark about Jose Mourinho’s ability to assess talent. But regardless of what one makes of Mourinho’s choice to sell De Bruyne, the Belgian attacker looks completely terrifying in the free attacking role that Guardiola has given him at City.
Second, Nolito was a brilliant summer signing. That’s not necessarily a shocker. He was fantastic for Celta Vigo last season in Spain and is the sort of wide forward that Guardiola always managers to turn into an elite attacking talent. His work with Pedro and Douglas Costa was ample reason to think he’d get the best out of Nolito as well. Even so, the quality of Nolito’s performances so far has still managed to surprise me. He’s the perfect wide attacker for this City team and provides something they really were missing before his arrival.
Leicester City have mostly picked up where they left off last season.
The xG map from their performance against Burnley is extremely Ranier Leicester. They have a very high xG sum despite not having a ton of shots. I count 15 shots, but of the lot six of them were taken in the danger zone directly in front of the opposition goal.
Meanwhile at the other end, they limited Burnley to only seven shots, none of which were particularly high-value chances. This is how Leicester beats you: They limit the volume of shots that either team gets, but they manage to produce consistently excellent chances while limiting the number of chances their opponent creates.
This is a risky strategy to take since you can’t score if you aren’t creating shots. But the quality of chance Leicester creates is consistently so high that it usually works out for them. This weekend is a perfect example. It’s also an encouraging sign for Fox fans that record-signing Islam Slimani had a strong performance in the win. Leicester can’t afford to regress at all this season. They’re now balancing the Premier League with the Champions League and that they are facing a much stronger Premier League this season. Everything about this season is going to be harder for them. But so far they’ve (mostly) been up to the challenge. We’ll have to keep watching to see if anyone else can get at them as Liverpool did or if the Reds 4-1 triumph will end up looking more like a weird, flukey result.