If you don’t know what 'Expected Goals’ are then I’m probably not the one to explain it to you and you should head here. But to attempt a summary; it’s a method of working out how likely any given shot is to go in, primarily based on where that shot is taken from. It’s worked out by how often goals from that location have been going in since we first started recording where those shots are taken from. That stands to reason, right? 6-yard box tap-ins are much more commonly put away than 30-yard wonder goals, that’s part of where the wonder come from.
Thanks to Paul Riley; rough, basic Expected Goals data just became publicly available to anyone willing to put a little bit of time in, and so here is my first go at playing around with that data.
As a team, this Premier League season, we’ve racked up an Expected Goals (or xG) total of 63.5 and we’ve managed to score a whopping 86 - of which 7 were penalties. So we’ve 'over-performed xG’ by a margin of 15.5 goals. We’ve scored quite a few more goals from the shots that we’ve taken than you would typically expect a Premier League team to do so. Over-performing xG can be put down to a mixture of variance (luck) and skill. Well, skill makes sense, we’re an above average team with above average finishers.
How about luck? If we look at Pochettino’s history with xG we can see that he’s consistently over-performed or matched it, not only at Spurs but at Southampton too. It’s possible he’s been lucky that whole time, but it’s unlikely. What I suspect is more likely, is that he’s beating it with great coaching.
|Expected Goals||Non-Penalty Goals||+/-|
Let’s look into individual skill. One of the clearest indicators of over-performing xG with individual skill is long shots. Spurs have scored some worldies under Poch, that’s not in doubt, but we’ve also taken an enormous number of long shots that have gone into Paxton and Park Lane (RIP). We’ve created a huge 12.5xG purely from long shots this season and scored 12 - a marginal underperformance. So we’re not making up the numbers there.
The big shortcoming of xG is that it doesn’t measure where the opposition are when the shot is taken. So, Kane running onto a through-ball finding himself one-on-one with the keeper and taking a shot from just inside the box is given the same mathematical likelihood as if he’s in the same location but the box is packed with players - clearly, that is not accurate.
The act of using tempo, positioning, combinations and movement to get at the goal un-marked is essentially the entire attacking side of football tactics. Pochettino is, in my opinion, one of the best in the world at coaching his team to open up opposition defences to create enough space and time for a good shot. That’s something we can see week in, week out.
Spurs have great finishers, we know that. Kane is outstanding and Dele isn’t too far behind, but it’s the latter I want to focus on. Dele is the latest player to play in a Pochettino role that is only now seeing him labeled as a ‘second striker’. This midfielder-with-the-biggest-goal-threat role has long been a staple of Pochettino teams (until this season it was, normally playing in off the left of a 4-2-3-1). Before Dele there was Chadli and before Chadli, Jay Rodriguez.
|Expected Goals||Non-Penalty Goals||+/-|
|Chadli 14/15 (Poch)||5.8||11||5.2|
|Chadli 16/17 (Pulis)||4.2||5||0.8|
|Rodriguez 13/14 (Poch)||10.5||15||4.5|
|Rodriguez 16/17 (Puel)||4.3||5||0.7|
They’ve all well over-performed xG under Poch, are they all great finishers? I’d say Dele is, I haven’t seen enough of Jay-Rod to comment, but I don’t think Chadli is. Rather than finishing the trait that they do share, and what makes them perfect for Pochettino’s ‘Raumdeuter’ role is their clever, inventive off-the-ball movement. This all points to there being a systematic strength to Tottenham’s ability to both create space in shooting areas and have players who can take advantage of that space by arriving in it at just the right time.
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