PARADOX: MAN UTD ARE FORM TEAM DESPITE LEAGUE-TOPPING DECLINE

Manchester United are the form team in the Premier League with five wins in six games but there's a sense Erik ten Hag's side have regressed this term and the stats back it up.

Four of those wins came from narrow, one-goal advantages, while the convincing 3-0 win at Goodison Park came despite recording fewer expected goals (xG) than the hosts. At half-time, the xG scores were 1.43-0.09 in Everton's favour.

It's nothing new: United have lost the xG battle in five of their eight victories this term.

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Indeed, xG and expected goals against (xGa) provide a solid indication of how teams are faring at both creating and conceding goalscoring opportunities - but does this generally reflect actual success on the pitch?

The chart below plots every Premier League team's average xG, for and against, per game and it reflects the current table fairly well.

Sheffield United, who sit 18th in the table, have created the fewest dangerous opportunities and conceded the most, with fellow promoted sides Burnley and Luton not far behind.

At the other end of the scale, Manchester City, Arsenal, Newcastle, Liverpool and Chelsea are among the most dangerous and solid at both ends of the pitch. Manchester United and Tottenham sit among a clutch of mid-range clubs - on par with Everton.

Who's improved and who's declined?

If we compare these values with ever-present clubs' averages from last season, we can determine which teams have improved or declined, and to what extent.

The data reveals United have declined more than any other club.

Ten Hag's side sit deepest in the category for 'worse attack and worse defence' - creating around 0.3 expected goals fewer per game and conceding an extra 0.3 at the other end of the pitch this term. Other teams that sit in this category, to varying but lesser degrees, include Brighton, Fulham and Manchester City.

Four clubs have improved both offensively - at creating chances, at least - and defensively: Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Meanwhile, Arsenal are the only team to improve defensively but record a slight decline in attacking threat.

The majority of clubs have improved in attack but are weaker defensively, including West Ham, Spurs, Bournemouth, Wolves and Crystal Palace - while Aston Villa and Brentford have only suffered marginal dips at the back but improved attacking output.

Newcastle and Manchester City are the most static teams - almost matching their returns from last campaign in both metrics.

The table below combines the changes in both metrics and reveals Chelsea, Everton, Aston Villa and Liverpool are the most improved sides.

Mauricio Pochettino's side have won the xG battle in 11 of their 13 games this term but collected only 16 points along the way - with finishing problems clearly to blame for the disparity.

Meanwhile, Sean Dyche's side sit in the relegation places after receiving a 10-point deduction for breaching Profit and Sustainability rules but, like Chelsea, have struggled to convert the lion's share of clear-cut chances in games.

Tottenham have impressed this season and topped the Premier League table merely a month ago but have since suffered three successive defeats. However, the underlying numbers suggest Spurs may well have improved their offensive output under Ange Postecoglou, but that boost is wiped out and more with a defensive decline.

At the polar, wrong end, Ten Hag's side sit rock-bottom by some distance, with Brighton, West Ham, Fulham, Manchester City and Spurs being the only other clubs to record overall declines.

What about the finishing touches?

It's one thing creating goalscoring opportunities, or preventing them at the other end, but those chances still need to be converted or saved.

So, which teams are outperforming and underperforming their xG this season and could that shed light on what areas teams might look to bolster during the January transfer window?

The chart below plots the differential between xG and goals scored or conceded to categorise which teams are overachieving or underachieving expectations in defence and attack - based on the quality of chances they have created or faced.

The results suggest Manchester United have overachieved defensively but underachieved in front of goal - with forwards only registering one league goal this season before the win at Goodison - as have Luton and Fulham.

There's a happy camp of five clubs who have surpassed expectations at both ends of the pitch: Liverpool, Tottenham, West Ham, Arsenal and Aston Villa - but this overachievement can be a red flag for imminent regression.

Brighton games almost guarantee goals so it comes as no surprise that the Seagulls' attack exceeds their xG - especially with teenage sensation Evan Ferguson in the ranks - but their defence underperforms.

Meanwhile, Sheffield United's rearguard woes appear to be worse than they should be - although an 8-0 hammering against Newcastle in September and a 5-0 thrashing at Arsenal last month skewed those numbers even further.

Four clubs are failing to capitalise on healthy xG and xGa: Everton and Chelsea are primarily struggling to finish off golden chances, Bournemouth are underperforming at both ends of the pitch in equal measure, while Burnley's primary concern should be a league-low disparity between expected goals conceded and actual goals shipped.

Where should teams be and where should they finish?

Indeed, there are two more datasets to provide further evidence for which teams have over- or underachieved so far this term, in terms of creating and preventing opportunities at either end: Opta's expected points and predicted final table.

The expected points model (xP) factors teams' expected goals in matches and then simulates those scores 10,000 times to generate a result. Here, the results suggest Manchester City should sit top, ahead of Newcastle, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea.

The model does not factor Everton's points deduction, and so the Toffees' immense underlying improvement sees them command a top-half standing in eighth spot.

Tottenham and Manchester United both stand out as overachievers - sinking into ninth (-4) and 11th (-5) spots, respectively.

Will teams regress to the mean and finish the campaign where their xG pits them? Opta's predicted final table suggests Pep Guardiola's side will retain their title ahead of Liverpool and Arsenal - with Aston Villa holding their current top-four spot.

Newcastle would finish in fifth, ahead of Spurs, Manchester United, Brighton and West Ham - but Chelsea's finishing problems are predicted to culminate with a 10th-placed finish, which is still two places higher than last term.

Everton are predicted to escape relegation once again by the finest of margins, finishing in 17th spot for the second campaign running - while the forecast spells bad news for all three promoted clubs.

2023-11-29T12:16:10Z dg43tfdfdgfd