League football is back after an intense international break. Time for recapping what has happened so far in the European top 5 competitions. We have analysed them using our advanced metrics (xPoints, xG, xA, xOVA, etc.), which sometimes confirm the tables’ initial verdicts (like in the case of Napoli), while in other cases highlight how the league ranking could look different: in France, for instance, Nice have been among the top performers according to our models, but currently stand third, 8 points far from PSG (although with one less match). Interesting names populate our individual charts: Laborde (Rennes) and Danjuma (Villarreal) are among the top 5 for Expected Offensive Value Added per 90 minutes.
The first two months of league football have given us a first indication of the real value of the European teams. While nine or less matches are not nearly enough to draw strong conclusions, we put our advanced metrics at use to identify the teams and players that at least deserve some special attention.
The best team performances
In Spain, while Sevilla are performing better defensively, Real Madrid have been driven to the top by the marvellous start of the season of Karim Benzema, who has outperformed xG by 4 goals (9 goals vs. 5.01 xG).
In the Premier League, Chelsea are the current leaders, with 16 points after seven games, but the title battle looks tight: Manchester City rank above the Blues for xPoints and well above for xG and xGA, placing them as one of the best teams in Europe. However, Liverpool put last year’s injury crisis behind their back and are now set to contend the title with last year’s UCL finalists.
Regarding the relegation areas, Granada look among the worst teams in the top 5 leagues for xG and xGA. They have the worst xGA and xPoints values among the top 5 leagues as well as the 4th worst in terms of xG. Arminia Bielefeld, Augsburg, Norwich and Getafe should be concerned too. Watford were not convinced with their start to the season and decided to bring in the experienced Claudio Ranieri in order to shake things up at Vicarage Road.
The best player performances
Offensive value added
Individually, some of the standout players are the usual suspects, but the beggining of the season has seen some players rise above expectations. Among these, we have Gaëtan Laborde who, following a strong Ligue 1 season with Montpellier, joined Rennes and became an integral part of the team, allowing him to become the best performer in terms of Expected Offensive Value Added per 90 minutes (‘xOVA P90’). Another surprising name comes in the form of Arnaut Danjuma, who has been in scintillating form for Villarreal, earning himself a call to his national team. Robert Lewandowski is by far the player with the highest xG P90, but not only for his smart positioning, he also refines chances for his teammates as testified by his xOVA P90, which is the highest in the Bundesliga and second highest overall. Cristiano Ronaldo has quickly found his ground at Old Trafford, thus reaching 0.65 xOVA P90 enough to enter the top 5.
Expected Assists and Expected Goals
Mason Mount is the best player in the top 5 leagues for xA P90, a step up from the very high standard of chance creation he already set last year. He is followed by Alexander-Arnold, best among defenders, and Malinovskyi. Federico Dimarco, called up for the first time with the national team, showcase his skills on the left wing, in particular his set piece delivery, allowing him to become the 4th best for xA P90 in the top 5 leagues. Nice’s duo Gouiri-Delort are among the best players for xA and xG combined and a fundamental part of their team, just like Insigne, who stands out both for attacking and creative output.
Haaland‘s meteoric rise finds confirmation also through data: he is certainly among the best shooters in Europe right now: having the highest xGoT (7.57) and resulting by far the best player for SGA (3.81).
SGA stands for Shooting Goals Added, which measures how much a player’s shooting increases the probability of scoring the goal with respect to his initial xG. We explain our new metric in detail here.
Top players for dribbling and heading
Individually, Adama Traorè is once again the best dribbler (100 dribbling index), as he attempted 11.6 dribbles P90 with an astonishing success rate of 83.1%. To put this into context, no player in the top 5 leagues has attempted more than 10 dribbles P90 and no player with at least 5 dribbles has an accuracy better than 76%. Perhaps surprisingly, the most aerially dominant player so far has been Salernitana’s Milan Djuric, who won 11.5 aerial duels P90, with an impressive success ratio of 73.1%.
Top keepers on goals prevented
Looking at goalkeepers instead, Geronimo Rulli from Villarreal and Aaron Ramsdale from Arsenal have helped their respective teams the most in Europe to keep their nets safe: they are ranked first and second in the top 5 leagues for saves ratio (85.7% and 84.6%) and goals prevented per xGoT (0.79 and 0.56).
Our new metric, Goals prevented per xGoT, measures the difference between xGoT (xG on target) faced and goals conceded, showing the ability of the goalkeeper to stop a shot. More details are found here.
Review of the top 5 leagues
In the Premier League, lots of teams are packed at the top of the table. Chelsea are currently first mainly thanks to heroics from E. Mendy (SPR: 62, joint-best in the Premier League) and a sturdy defense who has conceded just 3 goals in front of 8.6 xGA, a sign that things are going in their favour at the moment and to sustain this level of defensive solidity they will have to improve their underlying performance numbers.
Liverpool have had a strong start to the campaign following last year’s troubled season. They are the best team in terms of offensive production: they top the rankings for: xG (17.8), Shots (147), Shots on target (53), Chances created (110), xOVA (15.6). In this sense, Liverpool’s front trio has been pivotal for their production, but with a surprise: along with Salah (SPR: 62, joint-best in the league) and Manè it is D.Jota who is leading the attack instead of Firmino (who suffered an injury against Chelsea but was fit to play against City). The return of Van Dijk and a repolished Trent Alexander-Arnold (1st for xA and chances created P90 in the top 5 leagues with 2.62 xA and 4.2 chance created P90), put Liverpool back into title contention.
Manchester City have the best defense of the league by far (3.90 xGA vs 7.35 xGA of second-best Wolverhampton) and continue to showcase their highly entertaining possession based (312 passes in the opposition half P90) football. The addition of Jack Grealish adds world class talent to an already stacked frontline. The departure of Aguero has allowed G. Jesus to have more space, which he is taking advantage of considering he is 4th for xOVA (2.70) in the Premier League.
Tottenham are remarkably outperforming their xPoints (12 points vs 7.02 xP) and are missing Kane‘s goals, as he is still to find the back of the net. Despite Nuno Espirito Santo’s focus on the defensive phase, their resulting xG P90 (1.00) is the fifth worst of the Premier League, too low for a team with such offensive talent.
West Ham rank 3rd with regards to xPoints and are continuing their run of form from last season despite collecting less points than they should have (11 vs 12.5 xP). The star player has been Michail Antonio (SPR: 62, joint-best in the Prem) who with 5 goals and 3 assists has been the Hammers main offensive threat. His underlying numbers confirm this (4.47 xG, 0.75 xG P90, 0.23 xA P90 and 0.38 xOVA P90).
Norwich and Newcastle have the worst defenses of the league (16 goals conceded, 14.1 xGA and 15.1 xGA respectively) and need to find defensive solidity if they are to escape relegation. The Magpies will needs to better assist Saint-Maximin who has been their standout performer thanks to 4.71 successful dribbles P90 and the 2nd highest xOVA in the league: 3.14.
On the other hand, Watford have obtained better results but still opted to change manager with the appointment of Claudio Ranieri.
In the Serie A, Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli is currently leading the table, having won all matches so far and having made the most xPoints per match in the top 5 leagues. They are the best team in terms of ball control, they rank first in total passes, pass accuracy and ball possession. Insigne has had the biggest contribution to the team, being in the top 5 charts for xG (4.97), xA (1.86) and xOVA (2.41).
AC Milan is replicating the outperformances of last season (19 points vs 13.7 xP). The main reason for this is Maignan, who has replaced the departed Donnarumma very well, since he prevented 0.20 goals per xGoT, the second highest value among all Serie A’s goalkeepers after Musso (0.21).
Despite two fundamental players like Lukaku and Hakimi left during last summer, Inter Milan is ranked first for xG and xOVA in the Serie A, thanks to the newcomer Edin Dzeko’s physical and heading skills (3 out of 6 goals are headed goals), Lautaro Martinez (highest rank for xG in the Serie A and fifth in the top 5 leagues) and the contribution of all the team to the offensive phase (11 different scorers in 7 matches).
The worst underperformers in the Serie A are Cagliari. Cagliari have collected only 3 points and currently standing last in the table. But with 8.13 xP they have showed they deserve better and we expect them to get out of the relegation zone. However, Cragno is not living a good moment, as he prevented -0.50 goals per xGoT, the lowest value among Serie A goalkeepers.
Fiorentina‘s good position in the table (currently 5th) disguises the second worst overall xOVA in the Serie A (5.3), and the second best outperformance (12 vs 7.25 xP). In this sense, the arrival of Nico Gonzalez and the finishing abilities of Vlahovic allow I Viola to create and finish chances better than before.
Real Madrid, currently sharing the first spot with Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid in La Liga table, have the highest values for xG (16.2) and xOVA (14.6). Karim Benzema is certainly the best contributor to the offensive phase and has started in scintillating fashion: he has the highest number of shots (34) and shots on target (17), having scored 9 goals and provided 7 assists, despite xG and xA values of 5.01 and 1.89 respectively. His 2.25 SGA place him third in this list suggesting he is shooting very well, however this kind of form looks unsustainable in the long term.
The financial troubles at Barcelona have probably had an impact also on pitch performance, as they are currently 9th in the league (but with a game in hand against Seville). In terms of xPoints per match, Barcelona don’t perform that badly considering that their average of 1.73 xPoints per match ranks them 4th in the league. The departure of Lionel Messi is obviously affecting their offensive capabilities: the highest xOVA value in the team is from Braithwaite, who produced it in just his first 3 matches as he then suffered an injury that could force him to miss up to 4 months of action. Memphis Depay cannot compensate Messi’s output in terms of goals (3 and 3.53 xG), assists (1 and 1.13 xA) and chances created (17), but has been an extremely valuable addition to a team who was in great need of talent upfront.
Sevilla‘s strong defense (only 3.81 xGA, lowest value in the league) is allowing them to rank first in terms of xPoints per match (2.09). The two centre-backs J. Koundè and D. Carlos are excelling in their roles: in particular, Carlos has been astounding thanks to his tackle success ratio (83.3% vs 64.9% average) and ball recoveries P90 (7.01 vs 4.87 average). Also the goalkeeper Bounou‘s save ratio (78.6%) is above goalkeeper average.
After winning their 11th title last season, Atletico Madrid is once again the biggest outperformer in La Liga, with an outperformance of 5.74 points (17 points and only 11.3 xP). This can be explained by their solid defense (second lowest xGA in the league), despite Oblak not living up to his usual standards: his saves made P90 (1.0) and save ratio (57.1%) are currently well below the goalkeepers’ average (2.81 and 67.8%).
Villarreal‘s Arnaut Danjuma and Real Betis‘s Nabil Fekir are contributing the most to the good performances of their respective clubs, as they have the highest values in La Liga for xG P90 (Danjuma), xA and xOVA (Fekir). The two Spanish teams are indeed second and fifth in the expected points table, with the third and second xG values, respectively. Villarreal is also the only team yet to lose in the Spanish top flight.
Bayern Munich, once again, are proving themselves as the team to beat in the Bundesliga. Their underlying numbers suggest that they are clearly the best performers in the league. To contextualize, they have more than 50% of the xG’s produced by second placed RB Leipzig (23.8 vs 15.6). Therefore, they dominate all the main offensive metrics thanks to: 23.8 xG, 24 goals, 129 shots (56 of which on target), 22.0 xOVA (2nd placed Dortmund has 12.7).
Consequently, Robert Lewandowski (SPR: 66, 2nd in the Bundesliga, 4th overall) reaps the benefits of playing with Bayern by racking up an incredibly impressive 8.83 xG (1.2 xG P90, highest in the top 5 leagues). But the Pole doesn’t just get on the end of chances, he is also integral to elevating the quality of the chances as he displays the highest xOVA by far in the competition ahead of Leipzig’s Nkunku and fellow teammate Alphonso Davies. As further proof of his involvement to the team’s offensive manoeuvre is the fact that he is the 1st player in the Bundesliga for completed through balls (7).
While Lewandowski dominates the xG and xOVA charts, Borussia Dortmund‘s Erling Haaland (SPR: 70, best in the Bundesliga, second overall) looks like Lewandowski’s main rival for the goalscorer charts of the Bundesliga. The Norwegian has netted 7 times on top of serving 3 assists. With a SGA value of 3.81, he is the best by far in the top 5 leagues, followed by Schick (2.68). This is a further validation of Haaland’s exceptional shooting ability.
Bayer Leverkusen are the greatest outperformers of xPoints (16 points vs 10.8 xPoints). Particular standouts have been Schick (SPR: 57 joint 4th in the Bundesliga), Wirtz (already 4 goals and 5 assists for the Wonderkid) and Hrádecky (SPR: 61, 3rd in the Bundesliga, 2nd in the Bundesliga for prevented xGoT with 0.23).
RB Leipzig still have to adapt to the managerial change, their underperformance should be matter of concern, but on the bright side their underlying numbers suggest that they remain the strongest contenders, with Borussia Dortmund to Bayern, although they have a very slim margin of error if they are to mount a credible title challenge. Their offensive production is still high (15.55 xG, 2.22 xG P90). However, with 10.65 xGA they have just the 11th record of the league which leaves them with significant margins for improvement. Gulacsi‘s performance (0.208 prevented xGoT per xG) is part of the reason Leipzig have conceded less goals (7) than what their xGA predicted.
On the other hand, newly promoted Bochum and Greuther Furth are struggling at the bottom of the table, also due to an underperformance of xP (4 vs 6.07 and 1 vs 6.65 respectively). Their main problems lie in their defensive frailty (17.62 xGA and 14.01 xGA respectively, worst and 3rd worst in the league).
Nice, currently sitting in the third place in the Ligue 1, is first in terms of xP P90 in the Ligue 1 and third in the top 5 leagues. This is certainly also thanks to Amine Gouiri and Andy Delort. Gouiri is the team’s most prolific player this season with five goals and three assists coming from 6.97 xG, 2.33 xA, and 2.88 xOVA. These impressive stats place him on the podium for xG, xA, and xOVA in the Ligue 1 with his teammate Delort following shortly after. The Algerian created 2.59 chances P90 (vs 1.0 average), 0.43 through balls P90 (vs 0.09 average), and 1.60 through balls as percentage of passes (vs 0.41% average). This marks a significant increase from last season at Montpellier (0.11 P90), sign that he is playing a different role which enhances his associative play thanks to wingers such as Gouiri and Stengs. Regarding the defense, Jean-Clair Todibo has formed a solid partnership with his teammate Dante since the beginning of the season, as they both tackle and recover more balls than average, as well as having great passing stats: passing accuracy of 91.6% and 89.9% respectively and possession losses of 7.4 and 7.6 P90, respectively.
Paris Saint-Germain, as expected, is leading the Ligue 1 table, with a +6 difference with respect to second placed Lens. Within the Ligue 1, they have the highest percentage of goal conversion (17.2%), the highest number of successful dribbles (138, mainly thanks to Mbappé and Neymar), the lowest xGA P90 (0.78), and they are the best team in possession (best rank in ball possession, passes and passing accuracy). Hakimi is proving to be worth all the money spent last summer, as he has been lethal offensively: 62.5% shot accuracy, 2.35 xA and 3 goals scored from just 0.60 xG. Messi has only played 190 minutes in this season and therefore excluded by our analysis. Later in the season, with more minutes played together, the fantastic front trio could reveal all its devastating potential: a xOVA feast.
Gaetan Laborde is the best player in the top 5 leagues for xOVA P90 (0.97). His transfer from Montpellier has proven to be an extremely smart signing, which coupled with the contemporary loss of Delort, has significantly weakened Montpellier, one of last season’s surprises.
Lorient has been the team with the greatest outperformance of xP in the top 5 leagues (+6.4). In fact, their xPoints of just 7.6 is the second lowest in the league but they have remarkably collected 14 points so far, which puts them joint-5th in the table.
On the other hand, Brest are the biggest underperformers in the top 5 leagues (-6.1), so they should be partially comforted performance wise with what would otherwise be a very grim league table for them. A similar argument can be made for Saint-Etienne, who have only collected 4 points in front of 9.74 xPoints.
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