Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a post-match column on the stats behind Villa’s results.
One of the reasons I really love looking at football through a mathematical lens is that it allows us to sidestep our conventional, results-based bias to take a look at how the match actually played out. Did it play out exactly how we saw? Which moments are emphasized?
Albert Adomah is the king of B6. Let’s jump in.
I’ll start with an apology for the lack of xV after the Sunderland win Tuesday night. Chock it up to the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States, and I promise* it won’t happen again.
*Can’t at all promise, since I’ll be back visiting family at Christmas (read: Boxing Day), and my grandma has no internet service.
Before we dive into Ipswich analysis, though, let’s hit a quick recap of that Sunderland win:
No xV coming for @7500toHolte because of the holiday, but takeaways from Sunderland win:— alex carson (@_alexcarson) November 23, 2017
- Sometimes it’s good to win ugly
- #AVFC really did well to limit S’land chances
- Robert Snodgrass is the kind of playmaker that can win you promotion
Villa have won a lot of different ways this year, but one they come back to from time to time is “nick a goal or two through individual skill and play out an ugly win,” which is actually a very good thing to have in your toolbox! You can’t always dominate a match, which is what makes “Robert Snodgrass can put a ball right where only Albert Adomah can get to it to tap-in” so damn valuable.
Albert Adomah will punish you for your mistakes
In Villa’s last three matches, all wins, Adomah has five of the club’s six goals. They’re a diverse group of goals, too — a penalty, a couple counterattacking goals, a scrappy one off a corner, and a poke home from a beautifully placed Snodgrass cross. This is good, because when you have a talisman, you want him to be dynamic and able to score in a number of different ways: Villa can beat you on the counter, can beat you when you’re sitting back, and can beat you off a set piece. It’s glorious.
The one common thread through all five of Adomah’s November goals, however, is that they took advantage of a defensive mistake. This is not a slight, and in fact is a good thing — because for years, Villa have struggled when presented with great opportunities. That’s no longer the case, in part thanks to Adomah.
Look at his goals this month. Commit a handball in the box? He’ll punish you from the spot. Leave him unmarked on a rapidly developing counterattack? He’ll bank it in off the post. Leave him unmarked at the back post? He’ll prod home from a gorgeous cross. Get caught flat-footed because you don’t expect a Glenn Whelan header is going to produce a chance? He’ll bundle one past your keeper. Really misplay a long ball and let Adomah in one-on-one with the keeper? He’ll finish.
I am a statistical man, and I know that Adomah’s ridiculously high chance conversion rate is not likely to continue throughout the whole year. But a lot of his goals are coming by doing repeatable things, and that’s encouraging to see.
Villa are playing some really good football right now
Let’s just let the xG charts speak for themselves.
Villa have won three straight matches in which they’ve been the significantly better team on the xG chart. That’s a good way to be playing football.
Aston Villa have injury problems and are still ok!
If I’d have told you at the start of the year that, at the end of November, Jonathan Kodjia and Scott Hogan would both be sidelined for extended periods, you’d have asked if Ross McCormack ever got his stuff together. Hint: he hasn’t. If I’d have told you at the same time that John Terry would also be in the midst of a long absence, you’d probably have freaked out. And if I’d had mentioned that Mile Jedinak’s first start would come on matchday 19, at centre back, and that he’d leave before half-time with a knock, you’d probably expect to see Villa in the bottom half. Yet here we are, with Villa sitting fourth in the table nearing the season’s midway point.
A lot of players have stepped up to fill these holes. Glenn Whelan is playing better than many give him credit for, Keinan Davis has been fantastic, Alan Hutton is playing well, and Adomah has been the best of the lot. There will, however, be someone from outside the current Villa XI who makes an impact if this team is to finish in the top two. It may be Jack Grealish, who works his way back into the team, or maybe Birkir Bjarnason. Perhaps one of the exiled centre halves will be called upon for a key shift, or Jed Steer could be forced into action.
Villa have had bad injury luck, but have largely been successful this season because players have stepped up and put in good performances. May that continue when Villa have more bad injury luck this year.
Finish the first half strong
Aston Villa have a tricky stretch coming up before Christmas, finishing the first half of the fixture list with trips to Leeds United (Friday) and Derby County (16 December), while hosting Millwall (9 December) and Sheffield United (23 December). Two wins and two draws would be a fine, if not good, result here. That would take Villa to 43 points in the first half, leaving a two-point-per-match pace in the second half the required haul to get to the 90-point plateau, and would ensure Villa lose no ground to Blades and that neither Derby nor Leeds gain it on the Claret and Blues. Millwall needs to be a win, but a draw in any of these other three results would be fine.
Let Wolves go
With 27 matches left to play, Aston Villa can absolutely still hunt down Wolves. If they do, however, they’re going up champions, with the Wolverhampton outfit going up as runners-up.
Wolves have 44 points through 19 matches. If they win just 46 over the last 27, they’ll finish with 90 points, a haul that would very likely ensure promotion. For reference, a 13-7-7 finish is 46 points. Barring significant injury, it is hard to see the table-toppers close with a worse mark than that. They’re a mid-table Premier League calibre side, and Villa fans would do best to think of Cardiff and Blades and Derby County as their nearest rivals for an automatic promotion spot.