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xV: Thoughts on the Ipswich performance, Tammy Abraham’s finishing quality, Villa’s home form

Aston Villa looked better against Ipswich Town than the 2-1 scoreline suggested. What else did we learn from a long-overdue league win?

Aston Villa v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship
Can Aston Villa turn Villa Park into a fortress the rest of the way? It may be the key to a successful promotion push.
Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images

Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a column on the statistics behind Aston Villa’s results! This week, we take a quick break from yesterday’s transfer madness to focus on Villa’s 2-1, bounce-back win against Ipswich Town last weekend.

Villa did what they should against an awful team

For about 75 minutes on Saturday, Villa looked in complete control. They dominated the match, got two goals up, and looked set to see out a comfortable win. Then, all of a sudden, those points looked seriously in doubt. A wonder strike cut the lead to 2-1, then the visitors hit the post a couple minutes later.

And then Villa got back in control and saw out what really was a good win.

There are times in football where the scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story, and Saturday was one of those days. If you simply look at the score, you might think it was a tight, nervy win against a bad team. And while it was nervy for a few minutes, by and large, Villa turned in one of the better performances of the season.

Just check the numbers — the Claret and Blues outshot their opposition 23-8 (13-4 in shots on target) Saturday, including a 13-3 edge in shots from inside the penalty area. If Freddie Sears doesn’t hit a wonder strike perfectly from 30-35 yards out, this game probably peters out with a 2-0 scoreline to Villa. It wasn’t just the raw totals where Villa seemed dominant, though — in fact, Experimental 361’s 3.7-0.4 xG edge to Villa paints an even stronger picture of the performance.

Granted, Ipswich are very bad. In August, when Steve Bruce only managed a draw down there, I said Ipswich may be the worst team in the league. That got a few of their supporters up in my mentions.

Can I take my victory lap now?

In all seriousness, though, and I’ve harped on this before in xV, the thing that Steve Bruce did most bad was losing or drawing awful teams. Villa need to dominate bad teams like Ipswich, like they did Saturday.

No, Tammy Abraham is not a poor finisher

I’m just gonna let this tweet stand for itself instead of regurgitating the basic concept here.

I don’t get this narrative for a couple of reasons (nor do I really understand the similar Raheem Sterling one!). The first is that personally, I’d rather have a player that gets in position to score a bunch of goals, but doesn’t finish at a high rate, than a player that doesn’t have good instincts, but can finish well. The first guy, who gets significantly more chances, is going to score more goals and better benefit his team.

Even if Tammy Abraham was that guy, he’d still have high value. The thing is… he’s not that guy.

As the tweet above alludes to, Abraham has a 24% chance conversion rate this season. That’s pretty damn good for a striker at any level. Yes, Abraham probably misses some “should have scored theres,” but most strikers do, and Abraham seems to convert the other chances at a pretty good rate.

To some extent, Abraham’s finishing rate is probably inflated by the high number of high-quality chances he gets (though, again, this is a feature of how good of a player he his). Even when you adjust for shot quality, though, we see that Abraham is certainly an above-average or good finisher. If you take a look at the most recent Experimental 361 attack breakdowns, which were published at the end of 2018, we’ll find that while Abraham isn’t in the top 10% of finishers, he’s not too far off that pace.

Tammy Abraham takes a high number of high-quality shots and has 19 goals this season (and didn’t play the first few matches of the season). He’s really good, guys, and we should stop fretting about the chances he doesn’t bury.

Villa’s remaining fixtures provide an opportunity

As far as fixture lists go, there are few better than Villa’s for making up ground on promotion rivals — of the current top eight, Aston Villa play all but Leeds United at home in the back half of the season. That fixture list creates a clear path for Villa to sixth and a play-off spot — if they can rattle off a few wins at Villa Park against teams ahead of them in the table, and can win away matches against bad teams consistently, the Claret and Blues will likely be playing into mid-May.

Villa are in a decent spot to do that, too, with a strong attack at home, where Villa have scored 34 times in 14 matches. If the defence can do enough to get Dean Smith some home wins, the back end of the 2018–19 season could be a fun one.