United Uncovered?

Manchester United continue to confound the blogging analytic community. There doesn’t appear to be a shots model out there in the public domain that explains United’s relentless ability to stick the ball in the net at a far greater rate than their Premier League competitors. This is despite the millions of pounds spent by those competitors trying to catch up.

United seemed to get even better this year. It can’t just be explained by one player as we can see here and here. It doesn’t matter who they let go or buy in. Our own expected goals model which is pretty good for the majority was 19 (NINETEEN) goals out. Frankly they’re a turd in the shot statto’s waterpipe.

But we had fresh hope. We were quite excited by our step back from the shot to the key pass (chance created) theme in our last piece. If shot position and volume alone can’t explain United, then maybe the chances they create for themselves can.

We looked at each of the 439 chances that the Red Devils carved out for themselves last season. Using the numbers from that last piece, we can see where the ball was delivered from and to before the shot came in, and assign an average likelihood of scoring to each of those 439 chances.

United actually had well over 550 shots in total, so to fill in those 100+ blanks (the shots they didn’t actually create themselves) we simply go back to using the expected goals model to assign a likelihood of scoring.

As we said earlier, we were 19 goals out using just the expected goals model (we had United down for 61 goals when they actually scored 80 – not counting o.g’s).

Using the new chance creation model and the expected goals model together, we’re suddenly a lot nearer. We now expect 74 goals. The added nuance of the likely quality of the shots benefit a team like United. Crucially, United generate a great volume of shots in the good area of the box, but they also take proportionately more of their shots from here too. The likes of Stoke are great at taking a great proportion of their shots from here too, but they didn’t produce anywhere near United’s volume there. West Ham did, and managed to score 11 more goals than Stoke.

It’s early days still, but it looks possible that the other sides in the Premier League with similar shot volume from the central area inside the box (Everton, Manchester City, Chelsea) might not actually have been all that good, rather than United being a superhuman force. Looking at how the other team’s strikers misfired it certainly seems plausible.

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