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Stats suggest Villa can turn around poor start with tactical tweaks

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Aston Villa are bottom of the Premier League. But they may be a couple changes away from rising up the table — because they haven’t been that terrible of a side this year.

Striker Rudy Gestede has enjoyed tons of service this year — but Villa’s attack isn’t quite clicking yet.
Striker Rudy Gestede has enjoyed tons of service this year — but Villa’s attack isn’t quite clicking yet.
Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Hey, guess what… Villa in Four Numbers is back! Huzzah! (Well, at least for today.)

I’m a self-proclaimed stats nerd, so Cartilage Free Captain’s Michael Caley publishing the first set of his Premier League advanced statistics is kinda like Christmas morning for me.

I’ll use it here — and perhaps more often if I keep writing stats-based columns — but much of Caley’s work centers around his expected goals (xG) model.

What’s expected goals? It works off basic probability theory — there’s a certain chance of any individual shot being converted given the position, type of shot, etc.

Think of it in terms of a test where you’ve got no idea what’s happening; you’re guessing on every question. There’s a true/false question, which you can expect to get right 50% of the time, a three-answer multiple-choice question (33%) and a five-answer multiple-choice question (20%).

Thus, you can expect to get 0.5 points on the true/false, 0.33 points on the first multiple choice and 0.2 on the final — giving you an "expected points" total of 1.03 on the test.

It’s the same theory for football, and attempts to a better indicator of telling the story of how a game went than possession, total shot ratio, etc. If you’re a nerd and want to read more, I’d encourage you to read Caley’s explanation of his model.

Anyway, the Villa numbers you came for…

60

The percent of Villa’s danger zone shots this campaign assisted by crosses, second-highest in the Premier League.

It’s not particularly surprising given Villa’s tactics that the Claret and Blues are behind only Southampton in this table, but it might be a solid source of frustration for those watching the weekly performances the club has put in.

Shots assisted by crosses are, by definition, much harder to convert than almost any other type of shot — and that doesn’t factor in the number of crosses pumped into the area that don’t result in a shot at all.

In short, Villa have spent a considerable amount of their time in the final third trying to score goals that are harder to score than other types. That’s a tactical failing of Tim Sherwood, especially on a squad which has playmakers like Jack Grealish and Carles Gil.

If the new manager avoids making the same mistakes, we could see Villa turn into a more dynamic, and prolific, attacking side. I think we’d all like that.

17

The number of goals conceded by Aston Villa this season.

17 goals in 10 games isn’t a particularly great defensive record by any stretch of the imagination, but why is it so poor? The expected goals against (xGA) figures can help us diagnose the Villa problems at the back.

Per Caley’s model, Villa have allowed just 11.1 expected goals this campaign on the run of play — yet there’s a hugely departure from the 17 Villa are "supposed" to have conceded. So on the whole, Villa’s collective defensive performance has been fine in limiting opponents to get quality chances — effectively, Villa have been losing matches they’re not supposed to.

Why?

We can point to a lot of things. There’s just unlucky goals, like deflected ones conceded against Manchester United or Chelsea, clinical finishing, like James Milner’s goal for Liverpool against Villa, individual errors, like those committed by Brad Guzan against Chelsea or late tactical decisions, like against Leicester City, to completely change a game on its head.

Regardless, Villa aren’t getting points they should be, namely because of conceding goals they shouldn’t be.

Hopefully that gets sorted.

4

The number of Premier League points Aston Villa have after 10 games. That’s, uh… bad.

It’s also, however, the number of points adrift Villa are, which is far from a catastrophic number. Turn one of the next three League matches — Spurs, Everton and Manchester City — into a shock win, and things are looking a lot better headed toward a relatively easy festive period.

Look, as we discussed earlier, Villa haven’t been that bad so far this season on the pitch. They’ve been the "better" side probably just once, against Sunderland, but there’s not been a game this year you walked away from feeling Villa got completely dominated in.

A slight tweak in tactics and lineups from Villa’s new manager, whoever it is, could be enough to get the club out of the hole in advance of Christmas.

1

There’s only one Aston Villa. Never forget that.