This week's Projected League Table highlights which teams are trending in right (& wrong) directions

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written by: @TheGersReport

This is part of an ongoing series in which I will regularly share a projection model that makes data based predictions of the final Scottish Premiership table.  It is rooted in projecting goal differentials for the season & the fact there is a direct correlation between goal differential & points earned.

The model banks points already earned by each club & applies Expected Goal differentials to project out the rest of the season.  For more, check out this introductory post.

As more matches are played:

  • Teams will have banked more (or less) actual points & that will be reflected in the projections

  • The Expected Goals Differentials will become more solidified

This means the projections will build accuracy as each week of the season passes.


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Some observations:

  • The “analytics” have liked Celtic all season long & they have swapped places with Hearts at the top of the Projected Table week after week. But you can see in the weekly trends, that this is the first time the projections have established any kind of gap between the two clubs. Celtic’s issue this season has been a lack of scoring, however the numbers always suggested that goals were on the way.

  • Hibs is beginning to separate themselves from the middle pack of clubs & now is projected to finish much closer to the top two then those 4-6 slots. However, the difference in their Expected Goals & their actual goals scored is a bit of a red flag. So far this season, Hibs have scored 17 non-penalty goals while their xG total is 11.14. What’s driving this pretty extreme difference?

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Hibs are scoring on 16% of their shots this season which:

  1. Is clearly outpacing the league average rate

  2. Doesn’t match up with their Expected Conversion Rate (which actually is slightly below average).

What does that all mean? Hibs are scoring at a rate that doesn’t appear to be sustainable unless they find ways to create higher volumes of high percentage chances. However, teams can make tactical adjustments to get out in front of expected declines in scoring.

A good example of a club doing this is currently sitting fourth in the Projected Table.

A couple of weeks ago, I highlighted the fact that Rangers had scored on 19.4% of their shots despite having an Expected Conversion Rate of 10.3%.

For Rangers supporters, the hope is that internally the team is very aware of all this & that they are looking for ways to improve the volume of quality chances they create to soften the blow of inevitable regression.
— Written by yours Truly on September 28, 2018

Whatever adjustments Rangers have made in recent weeks…it’s working. Below you’ll see their Conversion Rates back at then end of September, compared to what they are now (two weeks later).

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Given we are still so early in the season, rates are going to be more sensitive to ebbs & flows…which is useful here to prove a point. In the past couple of weeks, Rangers are doing a much better job of creating dangerous chances - as evidenced by their increase in Expected Conversion Rate. This has softened the blow of an inevitable decline in actual Conversion Rate.

 courtesy of SNS

courtesy of SNS

There’s one last team I want to point out this week & it’s St. Johnstone. Tommy Wright’s side started the season pretty well, sitting in the top six for the first month or so - while actually showing some glimpses of “fun football”.

After this past weekend’s debacle against Celtic, they now have a -11 goal differential & as you peel back the layers of the statistics it becomes easier to pinpoint their biggest area of improvement.

The beginning of this process is when we isolate point projections based on actual goals for & allowed, along with Expected Goals & Expected Goals against.

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St. Johnstone may have the worst defence in the Scottish Premiership. They’ve allowed the most goals in the league, while only Dundee & Hamilton have worse Expected Goals Against totals (the difference between Dundee & St. Johnstone is 0.06 - so basically one low percentage shot).

Furthermore…

  • Only Dundee (15) has allowed more goals from inside the box than St. Johnstone (14)

  • Only Motherwell has allowed more goals from outside the box. St. Johnstone has allowed 4, Motherwell has given up 8 (can you say goalie issues?)

  • St. Johnstone has allowed the most goals from open play (13). Nine of those have come from normal build-up play (most in league), while four have come on counter attacks (second most in league).

 courtesy of Getty Images

courtesy of Getty Images

What makes all of this even worse, is that in typical St. Johnstone fashion…they really don’t spend much time on the ball. They have the second worst possession rate & are stuck defending 59% of the time.

While looking at these numbers, there is one glaring weakness in St. Johnstone’s defensive play. Of the goals that they have conceded, eight have come from defending the right flank. For context, only one has come from attacks starting from the left flank. If you watched James Forrest score his four goals last week, these numbers clearly pass the eye test - St. Johnstone’s left side of the defence is there to be exploited.

Left back Scott Tanser & left sided center back Joe Shaughnessy haven’t been very good this season.

Tanser, in particular, has struggled defensively. For all Scottish Premiership full backs who have played at least 225 minutes, Tanser has the lowest Tackle Success Rate at 50% (the league average for full backs is 70%).

The 23-year old left back is known as an attacking threat up the wing, but the results haven’t really been there this season. He averages 0.24 Key Passes per 90 (among the lowest rates for full backs), 1.81 cross attempts (bottom 35% of full backs) & 0.96 successful dribbles per 90 (ranks 13th among full backs).

Tanser’s attacking numbers certainly don’t “wow you” or come close to masking his defensive liabilities.

For Shaughnessy, some of his defensive numbers actually look pretty good. His Tackle Success Rate of 88% is fourth best in the league for center backs, while he also has the fourth highest aerial challenge win percentage (80%). His Relative Shot Suppression Rate of +0.05 is tied with Rangers’ Nikola Katic & is among the ten best rates in the league.

However, his Relative Scoring Chance Suppression Rate of -0.12 is actually the third lowest rate in the league (only John Souttar & Scott Boyd have worse rates). So while, Shaughnessy rates well at suppressing shots in relation to his center back partner, he’s among the worst at allowing dangerous chances in his zone of influence. When he has played, 67% of the Scoring Chances & 71% of the goals allowed have come from his defensive area.

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When looking at the visual above you can see:

  • Goals being scored mostly against the left side of defence

  • A higher volume of kicked shots from the heart of the box, coming again, against the left defenders

  • An extreme imbalance of Key Passes originating in the box…coming against the left side of defence

Considering how bad St. Johnstone is in attack, they really can’t afford to be this bad defensively.

Ultimately, this is another example of how stats can highlight an issue (St. Johnstone’s left side of defence) & then the hope for St. Johnstone supporters is that they can make tactical (or lineup) adjustments needed to fix the issue.

Some notes…