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No, Aston Villa ‘should’ not have been 3-0 up at the half

Aston Villa were better than Bristol City in the first half, sure. But they’d have had to finish better than the world’s best players to appease Villa fans, apparently.

Aston Villa v Huddersfield Town: Sky Bet Championship
Manager Roberto di Matteo of Villa looks on during the Sky Bet Championship match between Aston Villa and Huddersfield Town at Villa Park on August 16, 2016 in Birmingham, England.
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

I’m Mad Online.

That was a pretty trash second half from Aston Villa. That’s why they lost. Not because of some stupid idea of “not taking their chances in the first half.”

That’s the narrative you’re going to hear once again after this result: That Villa lost at Bristol City because they weren’t up 3-0 at halftime. And you’ve maybe seen me ramble on about expected goals in the past, because they’re a good way to measure how well a match was going.

Based on the chances Villa created in the first half? They would have been expected to score .42 goals, per @experimental361’s model. Not three. Not two. Hell, not even one.

Could Aston Villa have scored three goals in the first half? Absolutely! Could they have not scored at all? More likely! Hell, it’s plausible Bristol City could’ve led at the break, and not the Claret and Blues.

We’re inherently biased individuals, and when talking about football, it comes out more here than any other time before. We don’t recognize that Jack Grealish’s goal was more likely not to happen than to happen — because we think of it as a 100 percent, sure-fire thing because, well, it happened — and we think about every missed chance as something that 100 percent could have been scored.

But that key word, once more, is could. If you flip a coin three times, sure, it could land “heads” all three times. But you and I both know we don’t expect it to happen, because that’s only going to happen 12.5 percent of the time — you’re just as likely to get three “tails” on the other end.

Flipping a coin, of course, vastly overstates football chance conversion rate; there are very few chances in the game that are even 50 percent chances (mostly cutbacks from inside the box and tap-ins into open nets off rebounds). Even the best teams and best players don’t score on anything near all their chances.

Sergio Agüero, a world-class striker, scored on 24 of 93 shots in the Premier League last year (excluding blocked shots). Lionel Messi scored 26 on 117. Robert Lewandowski’s rate was 30 on 124. Even if you only look at shots on target, Agüero scored on just 46 percent, Messi on 35 and Lewandowski with 41 percent of his shots on target.

These are, in my eyes, the best attacking players in three of the world’s top leagues. And they aren’t scoring at a rate much better than 1-in-4 on all shots, and none crack 50 percent when we’re talking about shots that hit the target.

(And I haven’t even taken out penalties as part of the analysis, because I don’t have the time to do that.)

Ross McCormack, Jordan Ayew and Leandro Bacuna, unfortunately, aren’t Messi or Agüero. Clearly.

But for so many, the narrative of this Villa loss won’t be the complete second-half collapse. Because, you know, if Villa had just done what they did in the first half again, they’d have won the game.

No. It’s going to be that McCormack or Bacuna or Ayew or anyone else in the squad isn’t better than Sergio Agüero or Lionel effing Messi.

Stop it. Not only is it irresponsible or plain ridiculous, but it’s also flat-out wrong. There’s no universe in which Villa “should” have been 3-0 or 4-0 up at halftime after they had six shots.

So stop excusing a ridiculously poor second half with, “Well, if we’d have done more in the first half…” Aston Villa is not better than Barcelona. Stop acting like they should finish better than them.