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Expected Villa: Analyzing the stats from an opening day draw

In the first installation of this numbers-based column, we take a look at why Villa’s performance was pretty good, despite the poor result.

AFC Telford United v Aston Villa: Pre-Season Friendly
TELFORD, ENGLAND - JULY 12: Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce looks on during the Pre-Season Friendly between AFC Telford United and Aston Villa at New Bucks Head Stadium on July 12, 2017 in Telford, England.
Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images

Hello all! I’m launching a new post-match column this year on the stats behind Villa’s results, titled Expected Villa! xV for short, it’s James’ suggestion that plays on expected goals, an advanced metric used to analyze chance quality, and the all-too-familiar results Villa fans typically experience.

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?

Over time, I’ll hopefully dive into some data visualization, especially as it pertains to Villa’s (hopeful) promotion chase and how the Claret and Blues compare with past sides to go up.

Really, football is funny — if André Green buries his 79th-minute chance, we’re all singing Villa’s praises after a well-deserved win, rather than having a mini-crisis over two dropped points. Nothing else had to change; the direction of one header impacts whether we see a performance as good or mediocre. That probably shouldn’t be true.

I think the 1-1 draw with Hull City provides a good place to start this column because, well, at the face of it, we saw a predictable match: Villa played great in the first half, but came out flat in the second and gave up two points.

But in truth, the maths are a little kinder to Villa than what our eyes might have seen.

Assume the data come from WhoScored unless noted.

Villa attacked with a focused purpose

Over the course of Saturday’s match, Hull outshot Villa by a 14-12 mark — and it was a perfect example of why simple shot tallies aren’t worth much without context.

Of Villa’s 12 shot attempts Saturday, 11 of them were from within the penalty area. Of those 11, two (Hogan’s 31st-minute effort and Green’s 79th-minute open header) came from inside the six-yard box. If the Claret and Blues continue to generate high-quality chances at the clip they did today, they’ll have no issues this season — no team took more than 60 percent of their shots from within the box last year, and no team bested 11 percent of shots from within the six-yard box.

Villa also limited Hull’s big chances; while the Tigers took 14 shots Saturday, only half of those were inside the 18 (and none came within the dangerous six-yard box). Additionally, half of Hull’s chances were blocked before they had a chance to get on goal, compared to just two of Villa’s.

Both are promising signs that Bruce’s side could be more purposeful and better organized at the back this year than last. Villa will be hard to beat if that stays true — especially once Jonathan Kodjia and Albert Adomah return in the coming weeks.

It’s easy to forget, but Villa did keep their foot on the gas after going ahead

If you get a chance, check out 11tegen11’s expected goals plot from yesterday’s match — the timeline design does a good job of showing how the match changes when the game state does, something all xG analysis doesn’t necessarily do.

In fact, I think it’s one of the key weaknesses — if a club scores an early goal, that significantly alters how the rest of the match plays out, but xG plots don’t always pick up on that. We know the story well of the club that goes 2-0 down inside 15 minutes, dominates play for the last 75, but only finds one goal. They have more possession and significantly outshoot their opponent, but you can’t seriously argued they deserved to win the match.

It’s important to focus on how the match changes when the game state does, and in the 40 minutes between Gabby Agbonlahor’s opener and the half-time whistle, Villa come out very favourably. Scott Hogan had a great chance on 26 minutes to double the advantage, and that was just one of six shot attempts Villa offered between the 11th and 35th minutes. Villa did a great job of keeping their foot on Hull’s throat until…

Yet Villa still need to improve coming out of the break with the lead

Look, I think the second half struggles are to some extent a little overplayed. Obviously, the club should be doing better, but we should always expect a trailing team to come out of the break with a different, renewed plan to level the scores. So often, clubs that are pegged back early simply default to a tactical plan of getting into the half-time interval down just the one goal — just see what happened to Barnsley yesterday to see the effect of not getting to the interval. In this situation, your opponent is always going to take the initiative out of the break, and yes, Villa need to be better equipped to deal with it.

At the same time, the performance wasn’t nearly as bad as many past efforts from Villa. Before their goal, this was Hull’s shot output in the second half:

  • Markus Henriksen has shot blocked for a corner
  • Max Clark has shot blocked
  • Jarrod Bowen has shot blocked
  • Abel Hernández sailed a shot over the cross bar from 40-50 yards out

Look, Villa can’t go 34 minutes without registering a shot and expect to win a match ( which they did between the 35th and 69th minutes), but they didn’t concede a chance Sam Johnstone had to worry about until the equalizer came. This was good defending, and Hull’s goal never felt like “it was coming.” In truth, Villa might have been one or two more Hull attacks away from seeing out the 1-0 scoreline until substitutions could have tilted the balance back to a more comfortable match.

And Villa still should have won from 1-1

We really don’t need to spend too much time here, because André Green should have scored. No two ways about it. I’d imagine the chance conversion rate for “unmarked header in the six-yard box after the keeper failed to claim the cross” is, uh, pretty high.

It must be noted that this is better than “same old Villa” have done in the last few years, too; we’d have simply expected a hapless display without any major chances despite the opponent sitting back content with the draw. Well, that was the case until Christopher Samba came on as a striker (which is not an entirely terrible idea, for the record).

Villa need more involvement down the left side

Gabby Agbonlahor and Leandro Bacuna were invisible for most of the day, accumulating 59 touches between the two. Ahmed Elmohamady had 67 touches himself. To be most effective, Neil Taylor needs a forward willing to be more involved. Hello, André Green. Please meet the starting XI?

An opening-day draw puts Villa in some fine company

Of the last four teams to win automatic promotion from the Championship, three of them opened the season winning just one point: Brighton & Hove Albion last year, and Burnley and Middlesbrough in 2015.

And if you’ll remember, Newcastle United opened last term with two consecutive losses.

Hey, at least we’re not Yeovil Town

Oh, boy.

Well, at least they scored a couple goals.