Spurs to crash and burn as Chelsea come back to life: what the stats suggest for the Premier League in 2024

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A look at which teams should get better in the second half of the Premier League season - and those who will struggle if the statistics are correct.

We’re just over the halfway stage of the 2023/24 Premier League season and the narratives are firmly set – we know, or think we know, who the runners and riders are, the challengers and the relegation scrappers, the good, the bad and the frankly indifferent. But do the statistics agree?

Have leaders Liverpool really been the best side in the top flight so far? Are the bottom three of Sheffield United, Burnley and Luton Town actually the weakest trio of teams? Across the league there are teams who are riding their luck or getting way fewer points than they deserve – at least based on xG and similar metrics.

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Of course, stats only tell half of the story and if a team is, for instance, scoring way fewer goals than they are “meant to” then that often indicates a problem, such as terrible strikers. A team who is overperforming by the raw numbers might be a little lucky, but they might also just be really, really good at finishing or have a goalkeeper who is capable of saving more shots than most. So with all that in mind, let’s look at how the stats suggest the rest of the season will go – and we’ll make sure the appropriate context and caveats are applied along the way.

The title race

There’s nothing fortuitous about Liverpool’s league position – they have the best expected goal difference in the league and their 43 goals have come at an xG of 44.1, suggesting that they have, if anything, been a little unfortunate or profligate in front of goal. Frankly, the slight discrepancy might just be the tax you pay for playing Darwin ‘Barn Door’ Núñez up front sometimes.

They have, admittedly, conceded 4.6 goals fewer than the stats reckon they would have done on average, but that’s just what having Alisson in net will do for a team. The Brazilian has apparently been worth about three goals prevented on his own compared to the shots he’s faced, which covers most of the discrepancy. This is a serious title challenge, and there is no indication that they won’t be there or thereabouts come the end of the campaign.

If the game was scored solely on statistical output, there would only be two rather unsurprising challengers for the coveted top spot – Arsenal and Manchester City. They have expected goal differences of 20.0 and 18.9 respectively, which is a little lower than Liverpool but absolutely miles ahead of anybody else in the league. They also have the two tightest defences of any team in the top flight. Going purely by the numbers, this is very likely to wind up as a three-horse race by the time we reach the home straight.

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The hunt for top four

What about second-placed Aston Villa, then? Well, it might not be too much of a shock that they’re overshooting their numbers by a fairly long way at the moment, but while they’re a long way behind the three best teams and are overperforming their xG by a fair margin (43 goals to 36 expected – mostly because of Leon Bailey and John McGinn), they still look like very serious top four contenders, and indeed there’s only other team who can claim to have been better… Chelsea.

Yes, Chelsea. Seriously. Their defence hasn’t been as good as Villa’s, on the spreadsheets or in real life, but where the Villans have been finishing just about chance they get, Mauricio Pochettino's boys have drastically undershot their xG. Their expected goals of 39.4 is the second best in the league, but they only have 35 in reality, with most of the gap down to the unfortunate Nicolas Jackson, who still has some settling to do in England and should have around three goals more than he actually does. On average, they’ve put in the fourth-best performances in the country – Pochettino may have done a rather better job than would appear at first glance. Still, they’re tenth, and probably won’t be able to make the ground up unless they get very fortunate indeed.

We haven’t mentioned Spurs yet, of course, who sit fifth and just a solitary point off the top four – and that’s because they’ve been, statistically, the single 'luckiest' team in the entire league. Their numbers say they should be slap bang in mid-table with a goal difference of zero, but they’ve scored a whopping seven goals more than an average team would with their chances and have conceded nearly six fewer. That implies that maybe Ange Postecoglou has had some good fortune so far, but is also a ringing endorsement of Son Heung-Min and Guglielmo Vicario, who have been brilliant. It’s also worth noting that their numbers have suffered from a marked decline since the 4-1 defeat to Chelsea in November – roughly when their injury crisis began. That probably isn't a coincidence.

If the numbers are to be believed, Manchester United won’t get anywhere near top four – and indeed they aren’t even on top-half form as a team. In a more mathematically perfect world, they would be in the bottom half, just about. Newcastle United are a slightly odd case, in that they’re fractionally outperforming numbers which reckon they should be seventh in the table but are actually lower down thanks to the teams above them that have either been getting lucky or just doing better with their chances, depending on how you wish to interpret things. Their numbers were also skewed heavily by he recent statistical tonking they took at Anfield, so once the sample size gets larger again they'll probably look better than they do right now. Brighton & Hove Albion are pretty much exactly where they should be, from position in the table to goal difference, and are currently the favourite team of all statisticians who wish everything was as neat as it feels like it should be.

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The relegation dogfight

There are three teams who have been massively worse than every other team in the league, at least on the raw data available – Sheffield United, Burnley and Luton Town. The table simply isn’t lying at all when it comes to the drop zone, and it will require a massive turnaround from any of them to avoid an immediate return to the Championship. They are all well off the pace in the Premier League, both in attack and defence, and while Luton give the impression of putting up a fantastic fight, the numbers have them as the 18th-best team and a very long way behind the next worst, which is Fulham, closely followed by Nottingham Forest and… West Ham United!

Yep, that’s right, West Ham, currently occupying a Europa League spot, are a real statistical freak. They’ve scored several goals more than an average team would with their chances and have conceded five fewer. Some of that is because of their outstanding start to the season, when they temporarily made a massive mockery of the entire concept of xG, and some of it is because a handful of players like Jarrod Bowen and Alphonse Aréola have been very good indeed. But the fact is that most teams tend to revert to the mean over the course of a long season, and that means that it’s quite likely that West Ham slide away from the European places before too long unless they improve.

Speaking of teams who are defying all of the data right now – let’s talk about Brentford. A run of one win in eight sees them hovering somewhat precariously over the relegation zone, but the numbers say they should be just fine. In fact, they’ve been the sixth best team of the season in terms of creating and preventing chances, and in a more just world would have more points than Newcastle or Brighton. Everton, meanwhile, have the numbers of a solid mid-table team, and it’s only that pesky ten-point deduction that makes things look bleaker than they should. Given that they have their noses in front of Luton already, we reckon they’ll be OK.

That leaves just three mid-table teams we haven’t mentioned, so for the sake of completion we should note that the numbers are perfectly happy with where Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Bournemouth are, more or less. The stats do reckon the order they’re currently in should be flipped, with Wolves the weakest side and Bournemouth the best, but the discrepancies aren’t especially substantial. They’re more or less doing just as well as they deserve.

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So there we go – judging by the stats, Spurs and Villa will fall away, Chelsea will climb the table and West Ham could be dragged down into the bottom half while Brentford launch a late surge for the European places… at least, if every team gets what they deserve and keeps playing as well as they are now. Which, I think we can all agree, won’t happen across the board. So is all of this a little pointless? Perhaps a little, but it can give us some solid indications of how the rest of the campaign is likely to play out, and can give us some solid ammunition for arguments down the pub. And what could be more worthwhile than that?

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