All five of Europe’s top men’s leagues have kicked off for the 2023/24 season, so our weekly column can get in full swing now. Using data and insights from our analytics platform, xvalue.ai, we have picked out three matches that stood out.
🏴 Premier League: Manchester City 1-0 Newcastle United:
Defending Premier League champions Manchester City would have been looking forward to returning to the Etihad Stadium for their first competitive fixture since winning the treble, but they might not have been so excited about their opponents.
Since Eddie Howe has taken charge, Newcastle United have established themselves as one of the most formidable pressing teams in the league. They seem to press any and every team they come across with great intensity, and the UEFA Champions League holders were no exception.
However, as always, Pep Guardiola had a plan to break Newcastle’s press. He switched things up and set his side up to build out of their box in a 3-3 structure, as nominal left centre-back Manuel Akanji pushed up alongside Rodri and Mateo Kovačić in midfield, leaving Rúben Dias and Joško Gvardiol in the back line alongside Ederson. Kyle Walker pushed up along the right touchline, so after City drew out the Newcastle press, they often looked for him as an out ball.
Further up, Erling Haaland led the line with Julián Álvarez generally operating off his left and Phil Foden slightly deeper to his right. The latter duo combined for the only goal of the game as Foden nicely received a ball between the lines and slipped it to the Argentine forward, who picked out the far corner with a pinpoint finish.
Of course, this altered structure for Manchester City will most likely turn out to be a match-specific tactical change, but it is always interesting to watch them come up with solutions against different challenges.
- Field Tilt: 63.2% – 36.8%
- PPDA: 14.0 – 17.2
- xG: 0.89 – 0.23
- xGOT: 1.4 – 0.0
Takeaway: Manchester City controlled possession and territory while also managing to limit their pressing and attacking threat.
🇩🇪 Bundesliga: Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 RB Leipzig
Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig could not be ignored in the pre-season Bundesliga title race predictions as Bayern Munich did not seem at their strongest, so their opening fixture against each other was met with a lot of interest.
Simply looking at the stats, one may think that this was a close contest where Leipzig were a little hard done by the result. However, it is always important to contextualise data while analysing it, because in reality, Leverkusen were deserving winners here.
They got off to a fantastic start and were by far the better side in the first half, but conceded almost immediately after building a two-goal lead break thanks to goals from Jeremie Frimpong and Jonathan Tah. The second half was a more even affair, but the hosts were able to extend their advantage first thanks to Florian Wirtz.
Leipzig might have put up the greater xG tally at the end, but as the timeline shows, most of their dangerous chances only came after they went 3-1 down. So, except a somewhat shaky end to the match, Leverkusen had a lot of positives to take away from this win.
- xT: 0.6 – 0.9
- xG: 1.51 – 1.71
- xG per shot: 0.14 – 0.12
- xGOT: 2.7 – 1.7
Takeaway: Both teams were very efficient in the final third as they converted low-threat situations into high-quality chances, but Bayer Leverkusen’s finishing made the difference in the end.
🇮🇹 Serie A: Lecce 2-1 Lazio
The 2023/24 Serie A season looks set to be very exciting as there are no clear title favourites and the battle for the top four seems as wide open as ever. We have not even completed the first round of fixtures at the time of writing, and yet there already has been one big upset.
Roberto D’Aversa took charge of his first match for Lecce by hosting Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio, who had impressed enough in the latter stages of the previous season to become a part of the title race discussion this time.
They showed what everybody expected to see in the first half, controlling the match by keeping a lot more of the ball. Although they did not manage to create too many chances, the ones they created were always quite presentable and one of them proved good enough for Ciro Immobile to open the scoring. With a lead at the break, things seemed to be going quite smoothly for them.
However, Lecce came out all guns blazing in the second period and converted the match into a typical tale of two halves, as the xT timeline depicts:
It looked like they would go unrewarded for their efforts as the full-time whistle grew closer, but there was quite some late drama in store for us. Pontus Almqvist equalised in the 85th minute from the edge of the box and just seconds later, Federico Di Francesco won it for Lecce!
- Shots: 23 – 10
- xG per shot: 0.07 – 0.19
- xGOT: 1.6 – 1.1
- xPoints: 1.21 – 1.54
Takeaway: Lecce went all out for an equaliser in the second half and took a lot of shots from range, and ultimately their efforts yielded even more than what they sought.
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About the Author: Neel Shelat
Neel Shelat is a self-styled missionary of the religion of football. With an unwavering passion for the game, he spreads the word about football from all corners of the world through in-depth features, profiles, analyses, and podcasts. Over the span of three years, Neel has established himself as a prominent freelance journalist and analyst. His insightful contributions have graced platforms like Al Jazeera, Forbes Sports, among many others. If you wish to stay updated with his latest insights and thoughts, you can follow him on Twitter at @ShelatNeel.
This series of articles is a collaborative effort between Neel Shelat, Soccerment Research, and the xvalue Team.