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Expected Villa: Bruce ignored problems in post-match presser

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Steve Bruce’s post-match comments were misleading at best. In this week’s edition of xV, we debunk the claims made by the Villa manager after the defeat at Reading.

Aston Villa Press Conference Photo by Barrington Coombs/Getty Images

It’s a day late, but hopefully just as good as normal — 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?

This is a special edition of xV, where we’ll only look at stats that are relevant to Steve Bruce’s post-match comments after the 2-1 defeat at Reading on Tuesday. Hint: The gaffer is making up excuses for himself again!

Aston Villa were really, really poor Tuesday night. They sat behind the ball for the entire first half, seemingly content to play out a 0-0 draw, and shockingly, that didn’t work. All of a sudden, the Claret and Blues were 2-0 down, and forced to dig themselves out of a hole.

Steve Bruce ran his mouth in the post-match presser, opting to blame the poor result on a number of factors that didn’t include “Villa created one legitimate chance in the entire first half.”

No, Steve, André Green shouldn’t have scored his third-minute chance

Bruce is seeing the football match as most supporters do here — he watches every Villa chance as if it has the potential to be a goal, but watches every Reading chance as if Villa have the potential to keep it out. It’s a subliminal form of bias most of us experience; we’ll dwell on our own team’s misses, and walk through in our head how they could have gone differently, but rarely do it for the opposition.

Green’s early chance is a perfect example of this, and it was a chance that was far from “gilt-edged,” which apparently means “of very high quality” in this context, I think (is gilt-edged a Britishism?). Yes, André Green had a pretty solid chance, especially from the early goings. But it’s also far from a great chance — Ben Mayhew’s Experimental 361, a stats-based football blog that mostly covers the EFL, only gave the chance 0.05 expected goals*; in other words, Villa will have to create that chance 20 times to expect to score once.

While I think this is a place where most expected goals models fall short (and it’s a data limitation problem) — all the model sees is a chance taken on the foot, via a through ball, from outside the box, and perhaps it reads it as a “big chance,” as the Opta employee has deemed it such — it certainly has a point. Being 1-on-1 with the keeper, from as deep of distance as Green was, with defenders in tow, is not a particularly easy shot. Since the chance is taken so far from the goal, the keeper closing down is able to take away most of the goal, while the defenders rushing behind make a difficult chip even tougher; you can’t loft it too much, lest a defender catch up and put it behind for a corner.

But even if you think Green’s chance was one that should have been taken, it’s brutally shocking that Bruce suggests that first half was good enough from Villa, because they missed a “gilt-edged” chance. The only thing of note this Aston Villa side created in 45 minutes of Championship football was a shot from outside the penalty area, off a through ball that was mishit and deflected into the path of someone who wasn’t the original target.

That’s not a plan at all.

*Villa had just one shot at the half-hour mark, roughly when this graphic was posted.

Similarly, no Steve, the problem wasn’t Villa not taking their chances

This is a common trope for a manager trying to shift blame off himself.

Short, to the point, and entirely wrong. Attack-wise Tuesday, Villa certainly got no less than they deserved, as neither 11tegen11 (0.86 xG) nor Experimental 361 (0.95 xG) had Villa reaching the 1.0 xG mark. The Claret and Blues were every bit as clinical as they should have been Tuesday, and it’s hard to argue they truly deserved much of anything that would have mattered against Cardiff City, too.

Yes, Villa created the chances that should have been enough to beat Hull City in the season’s opener. No, they did not create the chances that should have been the difference in earing at least a point at Reading on Tuesday.

There’s no excuse for a team with this much talent getting outplayed in two consecutive Championship matches the way Villa have. Perhaps, Steve, the problem isn’t the team’s ability to take chances — rather, it’s the team’s inability to create chances en masse, an inability for which the responsibility lies squarely at your feet.

The problem ain’t luck, Steve. It’s you.

Finally, no Steve, stop comparing Villa’s start this year to Newcastle United’s last year

I touched on this in Sunday’s version of xG, but there are few parallels to draw between eventual champion Newcastle’s start last term and Villa’s this year aside from the meagre point tallies.

Sure, the Magpies lost their first two matches, but they arguably had the better of play in both contests. Newcastle had a penalty appeal denied in a tight, 1-0 loss at Fulham that easily could’ve been an opening-day draw or away win, and they significantly outplayed Huddersfield in their 2-1 defeat in the second week of the season.

Aston Villa have done nothing of the sort — they haven’t been seriously competitive with either Cardiff or Reading, something Newcastle never exhibited last season, even when they lost matches. And by matchday 3, the Magpies had their swagger, beating Reading 4-1 and launching a five-match winning streak that shot them into the automatic promotion slots. Can anyone see Villa rolling off five in a row? No? Didn’t think so.

(Also, it’s kind of sad that Bruce walks into this presser with this stat ready to go, almost as if he was prepared to give losing remarks.)

Sorry Steve, three claims, none of them with much validity. You’re grasping at straws and peddling these statements to try and protect yourself.

Words aren’t going to help you, my friend. Only results will. And as long as you keep lying to yourself about the tactics, those results are going to be hard to come by.