This past week StatsbombES posted an article which you can read here that covered a range of topics in La Liga. My interest, naturally, is what they had to say about Villarreal, and if I had taken it to heart when I read it last Thursday perhaps I would not be as stunned as I was with the result. (In the article there, they summarize the information you’ll see below and if you are an able reader of Spanish, their stuff will probably be better than mine so I suggest you give it a read.)
To be clear, we were not unfortunate in any way yesterday, we got thoroughly hammered. A look at an xG map from that game shows we barely deserved half a goal while Atleti deserved at least two:
Our goal, which is noted by the small yellow star just inside the half circle at the top of the 18 yard box, had a 0.05 expected chance of going in. Our very best chance of the night was 0.08. You just aren’t going to nab many points, especially on the road, with a game like this. Don’t get me wrong, Atleti is an excellent defensive team finding their form at the exact wrong time for us, but this is a problem a few weeks in the making.
As you can see, while we outperformed our xG differential the first half of the season we’ve been quite far behind it for much of the last 12 games or so, meaning our season averages in these numbers are telling us something very different than the trends. We mentioned on the podcast a couple weeks ago that the results we were getting seemed better than the performances we were putting forward and I think this chart bears that out.
Over this same time we have become more and more direct as a team. This has been gaining us more shots but at the same time has meant we have lower quality shots on average, resulting in a lower xG per match.
We’ve also been defending higher over this period, which as we detailed last week is part of a scheme to start breaks around the midway line. The data, however, shows that doing this is resulting in fewer counter-attacking chances than we were getting before. Because we are pressing higher, we are not having quite as many shots attempted at us, but the shots that are coming in are of a higher quality than they were the first half of the season.
What all this statistical gobbledy gook means:
Basically, Calleja has tweaked things over the course of the season for the worse. We’ve failed to break 1 xG in the last two games, haven’t had 2 xG in a game since (ironically) the loss to Espanyol, our shot quality has been poor, and the goals we have scored have largely been like the incredible shots put in by Paco, Gerard, and Moi the last few games.
Something needs to change and fast or we’ll be the most talented team in the world not in European competition next year. I’m not just reacting to a road loss against a good team, I’m reacting to a string of unconvincing performances where the results could have been much much worse. We’ve kinda said for a few weeks now that it’s Europa or bust for Calleja’s job, but I’m going to be honest: if these underlying numbers don’t get better I want him gone whether we qualify for Europe or not, because what we are doing is not sustainable.