A Statistical Preview of Celtic’s Champions League Opponent RSC Anderlecht

Going into match day 2, Celtic could not have a more different Champions League opponent in RSC Anderlecht that match day 1 foe PSG. Like Celtic, Anderlecht were seen as the also rans in the group also featuring mega-bucks squads Bayern Munich and Paris Saint Germain. It was all but assumed Celtic and Anderlecht would be fighting for third at the end of the group, and Anderlecht also was on the wrong end of a big loss (though not as big as of a loss as Celtic) to Bayern Munich in their first Champions League match of the campaign.

Unlike Celtic, things have not gone so well for Anderlecht domestically back in Belgium. onyekuru.jpegThrough eight matches, the reigning Jupiler Pro League champs sit in seventh place, 9 points behind Club Brugge. While this position may spell curtains for teams in other leagues, the Belgian set up allows for some hope. The top 6 teams in the league advance to a playoff. In the playoff, each team has their point total halved and then they play each of the top six teams twice more. The club with the most points at the end of that is the Champion.

While the unique Belgian league set up allows for a team to have hope after a slow start, it was not enough for the powers that be at Anderlecht and after seven matches manager Rene Weiler was sacked. Weiler led the club to the title in his first season last year, but only picking up 2 wins in those first seven matches was not enough for those at the club. While the club struggled to get results under Weiler this season, what do the underlying statistics say about Anderlecht’s performance thus far? Luckily, the fine folks at Strata can help us find out (as well as teach me that there is a club in the Jupiler Pro League that has “excel” in it’s name, a stat nerd’s dream team!)

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Looking at the numbers for the Juplier Pro League, we see stats telling a different story than points in the table are telling us for Anderlecht. In fact, Anderlecht’s underlying stats have been fairly good so far this season. Anderlecht has the best xG difference, the 2nd best xG for, and the best xG against through seven matches in the league. The Purple and White have conceded the lowest number of shots and have the highest xG ratio in the league (the ratio of xG for/xG+xG against). The only numbers that are not so impressive for the club is their goal total at 8, their goal difference at -1, and their points at 9.

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These numbers suggest that Anderlecht could be due for some positive regression to the mean, in which their performances start to result in more goals and points on the table. They also suggest maybe the club should have been more patient with Weiler, as the performances were OK despite Anderlecht being on the receiving end of some bad luck. With Nicolas Frutos, David Sesa and Thomas Binggeli are taking over managing the club on an interim basis, will the club see that positive regression that the stats say their performances deserve or will the sacking throw the club into disarray and see performances worsen? Hopefully for Celtic, it will be the latter.

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Taking a look at where Anderlecht’s goals have come from domestically, a pretty clear pattern emerges. Five of Anderlecht’s six league goals in their first seven matches came from the area we like to call the danger zone, where you are more likely to score. On the other end of the ball, seven of nine of their goals conceded came from the danger zone they were defending. Furthermore, five of nine came from crosses, but only one from a header. To me, this screams out a weakness that Kieran Tierney can exploit. Tierney is wonderful at bombing down the wings and making a killer cut back low cross. This sets up his teammates for this high probability danger zone shots. Seeing as this seems to be something Anderlecht is susceptible to and is a strength of Celtic’s, one would think this is something Celtic will need to exploit to be successful Wednesday.

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If we look at some individual players Celtic will need to look out for, a few names pop up on the Anderlecht squad list. Henry Onyekuru and Lukasz Teodorczyk are tops at the club in goals and expected goals, and seventh and eighth in xG in the league respectively. Everton loanee Onyekuru, who says he turned down a move to Celtic this summer, has 3 goals, an xG of 2.75, 0.61 xG per 90, and 3.3 xGAS, while Teodorczyk, the £4m signing from Dynamo Kyiv, has an xG of 2.59, 0.44 xG per 90, and a 4.26 xGAS. These two have been Anderlecht’s most high potent attackers domestically, though neither started their last match against Waasland-Beveren, though Onyekuru came on as a sub at half.

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Looking at some xA numbers, Teodorczyk has the highest expected assist numbers at the club and is twelfth in the league at 1.52. The man who is pulling the strings for the Anderlecht attack has to be Sofiane Hanni. Hanni has the highest expected secondary assist total at the club and is second highest xSA total in the league at 1.87. Hanni isHanni usually deployed as an attacking midfielder centrally and is the linchpin to the Anderlecht attack that has yet to find the goals, but has underlying numbers that suggest they are on the verge of being unleashed.

While it is hard to speak about the Belgian press, even the most ardent Celtic supporter probably understands it is a race for 3rd place after the 5-0 loss to Paris St. Germain in match day 1. To finish third and see European football past Christmas, Celtic probably need at a minimum of four points from their two matches with Anderlecht. The Purple and White may have struggled domestically thus far, but their underlying numbers suggest their is a good squad in there. Will Anderlecht rebound after Rene Weiler’s sacking? It is hard to guess, but Celtic would be wise not to take them for granted.

This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.

Alfredo Morelos: Some Quick Praise from a Small Sample

I can assure you there will no tired/borderline racist cliches in this article about Alfredo Morelos. Last season, Rangers had the second highest expected goal total in the SPFL, yet finished third in the table. Whether that is due to bad luck or poor finishing can be debated, but as a result Pedro Caixinha and Rangers decided that they needed to upgrade at striker. Out went Martyn Waghorn and Joe Garner and in came Alfredo Morelos from HJK Helsinki. Last season, Morelos scored 20 goals in all competitions for the Finnish club, but could he continue to score goals in the step up to the SPFL?

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Through six games, Morelos has certainly answered that question with a resounding “yes”. Going into the match-up with Celtic, the Colombian is currently top the goal scoring table in the SPFL Premiership with 6 goals. In addition to having the most goals in the league, Morelos has the highest xG in our model at 3.61, which is 0.77 per 90 minutes and 0.23 per attempt.

Looking at these numbers and his shot map above, it is easy to see why Morelos has had early success with Rangers. the Colombian striker has been able to get into great positions and get off shots with a higher than average scoring probability. 63% of Morelos’ shots this season have come from the Danger Zone, or the area in the box between the ends of the 6-yard box. All but one of his shots have been inside the box thus far. Morelos clearly thrives inside the box, getting shots where they can do the most damage.

SPFL xG leaders

If we compare Morelos’ per 90 numbers for xG to Moussa Dembele’s from last season (0.69 xG per 90), they are similar. Of course, it is way too early to declare Morelos on the same level as Dembele, but if the Colombian striker can continue his output at this pace it would not be unreasonable to compare the two. However, even if Morelos can reach the same rarefied air that Dembele did last season, Rangers still may need someone else to help ease the burden on “El Bufalo”.

Besides Morelos, Josh Windass and Kenny Miller are both among the top 20 xG leaders in the SPFL that are on Rangers. Yet, between Miller and Windass, they haveMorelos 3 1 league goal between them. Morelos may have the talent to carry Rangers for a period of time, but like all players, he could find himself out of favor with the finishing fairy and not find the net for a few matches. If Celtic are without Moussa Dembele, as they have been up until recently, they have the likes of Scott Sinclair and Leigh Griffiths that can help knock in goals. Can Morelos’ Rangers teammates provide the same support? It has yet to be seen.

While six games is a small sample in which we do not want to jump to conclusions, it certainly seems Rangers have upgraded significantly in the striker position from last year with Morelos. With such fine play, the Colombian striker is already subject to transfer rumors. However, if Rangers can hold onto him all season, they can expect to see greatly improved fortunes in front of the goal from last season.

This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.