Having been accepted by some mainstream media outlets, it’s now widely accepted that expected goals (xG) are one of the best measures of short and long-term success in football. If you can create a high frequency of quality goal-scoring chances, again and again, you are likely to win games of football – likewise, if you are yielding them in great quantities, it won’t be long before you are conceding goals and dropping points.
At Manchester United, one hallmark of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s torrid tenure in charge was his team’s ability to outperform their xG – a trait that perhaps kept him in a job longer than it should. Statisticians would have recommended his sacking a lot earlier.
If we consider the xGD table offered by Infogol – that is, xG for minus xG against – we have a good idea of how a team is performing on a consistent basis, and with 22 Premier League games in the tank (for United, at least) the data set is large enough to draw some fairly concrete conclusions.
One of those is that Manchester United is routinely outperforming their xGD in terms of points won. Their difference between Expected Goals created and yielded is -1.5, which sees them ranked ninth in the English top-flight and a relative mile from the top four.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 22, 2022
And yet, here we are in the non-stats world, reflecting on their 1-0 victory over West Ham – a result which catapulted them back into the top four of the table at the expense of the Hammers.
We might question the sustainability of that lofty position. Last season, the top four in the Premier League also ranked 1-4 for xGD, as they did in 2019/20 and as the top three did in 2018/19 too.
The point is that xGD is a very useful predictor, and so there have to be doubts about United’s top-four credentials. Priced at odds of 8/5 with Space Casino betting to achieve the very same – with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea considered shoe-ins for the Champions League places, the bookmakers have faith that the Red Devils will continue to surpass what many of the niche stats suggest they won’t. That is, of course, without considering the impact of temporary boss Ralf Rangnick.
Ralf’s Red Revolution
When Rangnick was appointed as the interim successor to Solskjaer at Old Trafford, it was a move that perfectly summed up the gap between those who see football in black and white and those that see the beautiful game in glorious technicolour.
The average Joe outside of Germany hadn’t heard of him, and so he clearly wasn’t fit for the top job at United, right?
But those who have a deeper appreciation of world football know that he is a widely regarded tactician in his own right following winning spells at Schalke and RB Leipzig, and know that he has an excellent track record of player recruitment – the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel are noted fans of the Rangnick way.
Man City, Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea’s Premier League points since Ralf Rangnick joined Man Utd. Only Pep Guardiola so far has won more points.
— UtdFaithfuls (@UtdFaithfuls) January 23, 2022
Since the 63-year-old took charge on December 3, United have embarked on a run W5 D2 L1 in the Premier League – a points-per-game rate of 2.12, which would see them sit just two points behind Liverpool if Rangnick had been in charge since the start of the season.
In those eight games, United has won the xG count on five occasions, and so the jury is still out on whether Rangnick will turn around the Red Devils’ fortunes as far as implementing a long term.
He is, perhaps, inheriting a squad not entirely in tune with his all-action, high pressing style, so there is some mitigation, and the deep stats suggest Rangnick has his work cut out in confirming Manchester United’s top four status this term.