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Villa defence has neither been good nor lucky this campaign

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Aston Villa have conceded 34 goals this season, joint-second-most in the Premier League. But they also aren’t quite as bad as the statistics would indicate.

Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Let’s get something out of the way first: Villa’s defenders haven’t been good this year. They’re pretty poor, commonly make miserable individual errors and have been responsible for a slew of goals conceded by the club this year.

But fortune hasn’t smiled on them either, and it’s likely to cost Aston Villa their status as one of the Premier League’s ever-present clubs come May.

You see, for every Alan Hutton mistake — seriously, can we fire him on a rocket to nowhere? — and chance created, it still has to be converted by the attacking player. That’s where Villa’s been hurt most this campaign.

While Michael Caley’s expected goals statistics haven’t updated since 21 December, we can still draw a fair few conclusions from them.

If you aren’t familiar, expected goals are a measure for how a match goes, similar to possession, shots or shots on target. The idea is this: A shot from 35 yards out is not as good as a shot from 5 yards out. There’s a certain probability of each going in — that’s the number of expected goals from the chance.

Thus, in the sense that it matters here, a team that concedes more expected goals allows its opponents a higher number of quality shots.

With that behind us, let’s get started.

A quick look at the expected goals allowed column (xGA) shows that Villa have conceded fewer good chances than a number of its fellow strugglers — and some better sides. At the halfway point, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Newcastle United, Norwich City, Sunderland and West Ham United all should have conceded more goals than Villa have to this point.

But as we all unfortunately know too well, that’s not the case. Just Sunderland have conceded more goals this term than Villa, who have seen 34 goals slip past Brad Guzan. That despite the Claret and Blues allowing just over 23 expected goals on the campaign.

In short, Villa’s defence has played well enough on the pitch to warrant having conceded around one third of the goals they actually have.

Sigh.

For a side that’s lost a lot of one-goal matches this season, above-average finishing from opponents has helped contribute to Villa’s plight at the bottom of the table.

Generally, there are three conclusions one can draw from the data:

  1. That the model doesn’t properly account for the magnitude of chances Villa are conceding. To a certain extent, this might be a little true — the defence has conceded a fair number of unmarked chances — but it’s unlikely it accounts for the full difference.
  2. That opponents are simply scoring against Villa at a rate that’s well above average. This would indicate Villa are unlucky.
  3. That Brad Guzan’s goalkeeping is below average, leading to Villa conceding more goals.
At the end of the day, it’s probably a combination of the three.

But regardless, while Villa haven’t been great defensively, they also haven’t been lucky. And that’s what’s put the club in a spot where they’re extremely likely to hit the drop.