B.U.R.L.E.Y. Projects the SPFL Table for the Rest of the Season

Yer Da was not the only one upset about the delay in releasing the SPFL post-split fixtures. In his digital man cave, B.U.R.L.E.Y. impatiently tapped his fingers loudly on his metaphorical desk, waiting to spit mathematical hot fire about how he thinks your club stinks. Yet, B.U.R.L.E.Y. had to wait to see who was playing who and where to do this. So with Wednesday’s announcement, he could finally doom your team to their fate.

But before we see how B.U.R.L.E.Y. sees the rest of the SPFL Premiership campaign shaking out, I wanted to take a look at how B.U.R.L.E.Y.’s preseason projections ended up.

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B.U.R.L.E.Y.’s Predictions for the Table in August

I am going to go ahead and award B.U.R.L.E.Y. a “Not Too Shabby” grade with these picks back in August. B.U.R.L.E.Y. successfully picked both 5 of the 6 teams correctly in the top and bottom six at the split, with only Kilmarnock performing well above B.U.R.L.E.Y.’s expectations. The robot Craig also got the order of 1-4 correct thus far, though he struggled a bit more on the bottom half of the table, having County and Thistle 8th and 9th instead of 11th and 12th as they currently sit. All in all, not bad for B.U.R.L.E.Y. heading into the split.

We can take each clubs updated metrics at this point of the SPFL Premiership season and see where B.U.R.L.E.Y. puts every club in the end of season table. To do this, we follow the same methodology we discuss here and simulate each club’s remaining schedule 1,000 times. We can then take the average points earned for each club in those simulations and project where they will finish come May.

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B.U.R.L.E.Y. Projected Table for the rest of the Season

Looking at the top half of B.U.R.L.E.Y.’s projected table, we do not see any movement from where teams sit currently. The most noteworthy thing from the top half would be that B.U.R.L.E.Y. sees Rangers pulling ahead of the pack for 2nd place, as he puts them on average earning 2 more points than Aberdeen come season’s end with the clubs currently sitting even on points.

The bottom of the table sees a bit more movement though according to B.U.R.L.E.Y. Currently, 5 point separate 9th and 12th, so the fight for automatic relegation and the relegation playoff spot are very much still up for grabs. I have recently discussed the metrics behind Partick Thistle finding themselves at the bottom of the table, and B.U.R.L.E.Y. must have read that article intensely, predicting that Thistle will not be able to pull themselves from the bottom.

The robot also sees County stuck to the relegation playoff spot, while Dundee will jump over Hamilton and finish 9th. He also sees St. Johnstone getting ahead of Motherwell and finishing the year 7th. Clearly with how close B.U.R.L.E.Y.’s projected points from the remaining matches are in the bottom of the table, only the Saints and Steelmen can feel relatively safe about not being relegated come season’s end.

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Finally, I just wanted to quickly mention how B.U.R.L.E.Y.’s match up with you all and Nate Silver in picking SPFL matches each week was going. In the graph above, you can see that B.U.R.L.E.Y. has a slight 2 match lead this season over you all and 538. I really wanted to commend you all for matching Silver and Co.’s SPFL predictions. Is the increased awareness of football analytics leading to more informed fans? I certainly hope so! Is my twitter account just an echo chamber? Could be, but I still doff my metaphorical cap to you all matching 538’s model in picking SPFL matches this season so far. Let’s beat that nerd Nate Silver!

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.

Celtic Have Found a Midfield Maestro in Olivier Ntcham

In their last match up against city rivals Rangers, Celtic saw two Frenchmen end up on the scoresheet in their pivotal 3-2 victory. Yet it was neither Moussa Dembele nor Odsonne Edouard that ended up with Man of the Match honors, but rather countryman Oliver Ntcham that was chosen. Ntcham put forth an assured performance in the middle of the park for the Bhoys, something that Celtic supporters have grown accustomed to from the French midfielder in his first season in green and white.

If we look at Ntcham’s goal contributions in SPFL play so far, we see that he has scored 5 league goals this season. Of those goals, 3 have come from outside the 18 yard box and he has an xG of 2.89 (0.17 per 90 minutes). While the intention of this article is to praise the play of Oliver Ntcham, a criticism you could have about him is his shot selection. 42 of his 50 shots this season have come from outside the box, or 83% of his shots in SPFL play.

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Olivier Ntcham Shot Map: Hey Olivier, why not try a shot in the box?

Scoring 3 of 50 shots is good for a conversion rate of 6%, which is higher than average (roughly 4-5% is average in the SPFL) for outside the box, but is still not a shot we would expect to go in that often. We could expect his goals coming from outside the box to start to dry up, as he is currently over-performing what we would expect. While Ntcham’s job in the Celtic line-up is not necessarily to be a goal threat, if he is going to attempt 2.9 shots per game, getting those shots in a more dangerous position will help him become an even better player.

Ntcham ling

While Oliver Ntcham’s shot selection may need work, you cannot help but be
impressed by his ability to pick a pass. Both anecdotally and statistically, the French midfielder has been impressive in his play-making this season. Though he only has 1 assist in league play so far, his underlying metrics have been quite impressive, with a total Expected Assists of 4.21 and 0.21 per 90 minutes, which is 9th in the league.

He also has a total Expected Secondary Assists (this is the same as expected assists, but for the pass before the pass before the shot) of 3.46 and 0.20 per 90 minutes, which is 2nd in the league. If we combine these passing metrics of xA and xSA, Ntcham has a total of 7.67 and per 90 of 0.44 which is fourth best in the league. All of these numbers show an impressive showing for Ntcham in his first season in Scotland.

Ntcham Pass Map
Olivier Ntcham Pass Map where he and teammates typically are when he sets them up (Open Play Only)

Looking at the pass map above, we see the median location of where Ntcham is when he makes a key pass (or the pass that leads to a shot) and average location where the player who took the shot was. It is clear that Ntcham makes his mark in the center of the pitch and from outside the box when setting up his teammates. We also see that he is most often setting up Celtic’s most dangerous goal threats such as Scott Sinclair, Odsonne Edouard, Leigh Griffiths, James Forrest, and Tom Rogic in the box, where they are more likely to score. Below is a perfect example of this, where we see Nthcam make a killer through ball from the middle of the pitch to find Griffiths in a high probability scoring location and Griffiths is able to finish.

Ntcham Dundee

While it is often referenced, for the most part there is not much one can gather from looking at a player’s pass completion percentage alone as a stat. This metric does not speak to the type of pass a player is attempting. If the player is just playing simple back passes, they would likely have a high completion percentage but that does not really tell us anything about the passing ability of that player. It is for these reasons most of those analytically inclined prefer metrics such as xA or Expected Passing (a metric that the data needed to calculate for Scottish football is not publicly available).

SPFL Pass % & xA xSA

However, if we combine a player’s pass completion percentage with expected assists and expected secondary assists, we can see how accurate their passing is and what type of passes they are making. Above is a graph featuring every SPFL player (minimum 900 minutes and averages at least 0.33 Key Passes per 90 minutes) total pass completion percentage and their xA+xSA per 90 minutes. That top right quadrant is where a player has completed higher than average percentage of their total passes, has a higher than average xA+xSA per 90 and where we can surmise the top passers in the league. Sure enough, we see Olivier Ntcham there among other names we would associate as among the best passers in Scotland. Ntcham not only is completing a high number of his passes, but the key passes he makes are more dangerous than most other players in the league.

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In his first season in Scotland, Olivier Ntcham has been a great addition to the Celtic midfield. He has chipped in goals for the Bhoys, though if we look at his underlying numbers for goal scoring we could guess he might not be able to sustain that. We can definitely surmise that based on his passing metrics that he can continue to pull the strings for Celtic in the midfield though.

At the beginning of the season, the Celtic midfield seemed to be deep, with lots of options. However, as the season has progressed, Olivier Ntcham has started to pull away from his teammates and appears to be certain to start any big matches Celtic have. Given he is only 22 years old, if the French midfielder can continue this form and these metrics, it is hard to imagine that he will not start to gain the attention of bigger leagues and teams and Celtic may be able to cash in on another big transfer fee.

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.

Some Quick Numbers on Mikael Lustig

In the aftermath of yesterday’s 3-0 loss to Zenit St. Petersburg, the internet has had Mikael-Lustig-Sportsinternationalplenty of thoughts about who the blame for Celtic’s form this season. These thoughts range from lukewarm to spicy hot, such as seeing on one Celtic message board say that “Brendan Rodgers is a fraud”. Regardless, Celtic supporters have had numerous ideas on who to blame for the result in Russia last night.

One of those facing the brunt of the blame for both last night and Celtic’s form dipping this year compared to last is Mikael Lustig. The 31 year old Swedish fullback is in his seventh year at Celtic and has become a cult hero for much of the Celtic fan base. However, it seems the Swede has seem his form dip this year. Before this season, the right back was one of the more consistent players for the Bhoys, but from observation it seems Lustig has not played as well as he has most of his Celtic career.

Celtic Chances Against Map
Chances Against Celtic Map Created by Dougie Wright

The above map was created by Dougie Wright and shows where the chances created against Celtic have come from in league play. The darker the green is on the heat map, the more chances have come from that area. It becomes pretty clear that teams in the SPFL see Lustig as a weakness in the Celtic back-line and are trying to expose the area he patrols.

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And if we look at the numbers for both the Celtic defense and the rest of the league, we see that to be the case. In the above table, we have the number of Key Passes (or the pass that set up a shot) teams concede on the right wing, the percentage of total key passes a team concedes that comes from the right wing, that percentage of key passes from the right wing compared to the league average, the expected goals from key passes conceded on the right wing, the percentage of a team’s xG conceded that came from key passes on the right wing, and how that percentage compares to league average.

As we see, the numbers are not kind to Mikael Lustig this season. Though Celtic have conceded about the average number of key passes from the right wing, they have conceded easily the highest percentage of the key passes coming from the right wing. 28.57% of the shots Celtic have allowed originated from a pass on the wing Lustig usually patrols, which is 12.21% higher than league average.

Celtic have also conceded by far the highest xG in the SPFL from key passes from the right wing at 5.07, which is 37.62% of their total. This is 22.03% higher than the average in the SPFL. The next highest percentage of xG conceded from Key Passes on the right is 17% less than what Celtic have conceded. Teams have clearly pinpointed Mikael Lustig and the right side of Celtic’s back line as the area to attack and these numbers show that they have clearly been able to do that.

Celtic’s recruitment strategy has been one of the more common places most have put blame for the result in St. Petersburg. Some have asked why a replacement for Lustig was not found either in the summer or January transfer market. Brendan Rodgers has been reluctant to play Christian Gamboa this season, meaning Mikael Lustig has played a lot of football this season. Both by observation and numbers have suggested that Lustig has struggled this season. Perhaps the high number of minutes he has played both for Celtic and Sweden has caused this dip of form, but if this continues Celtic will have no choice but to look for a replacement for the long serving Mikael Lustig.

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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.

What’s Wrong with Stuart Armstrong?

Many describe third place teams in the Champions League groups “parachuting” into the Europa League. If we apply this metaphor to Celtic’s performance in their final Champions League group match against Anderlecht, the Celtic plane suffered some turbulence before the crew ejected and headed into the Europa League and Stuart Armstrong was the drunk pilot doing shots of whiskey before take off.

Overly complicated metaphors aside, Stuart Armstrong’s performance in the first half at home to Anderlecht had many Celtic supporters ready to move on from the midfielder. Armstrong is coming off a season last year where he was seemingly the first name on the Celtic team sheet, getting call ups and starts for the Scottish National team, and even leading the Tartan Army to victory (albeit too little too late for the World Cup). Armstrong finished the SPFL season 13 goals and 6 assists, good for a 0.79 Goals + Assists per 90 minutes.

However, as this season began and the good feeling surrounding the well quaffed Happy Armstrong.jpgmidfielder started to fade away. Armstrong was on a contract that expired at the end of the season and seemed to be an impasse on a new agreement. Though a one year extension was eventually agreed to, as fans sometimes do, Celtic supporters were not too pleased with a player who seemed to be looking for greener pastures.

This feeling, combined with a reduction in goals and assists has only furthered the belief among some Celtic supporters that Stuart Armstrong is now surplus to requirements. Indeed, Armstrong is on the score sheet less, scoring only 1 goal and 3 assists so far in league play, 0.49 Goals + Assists per 90 minutes in the SPFL. These numbers have some Celtic fans asking, “What is wrong with Stuart Armstrong?”

And the answer to that question is “Nothing, thanks.” We can expand upon that answer and add a “regressing to the mean”. If you are here, you are likely at least somewhat familiar with the advanced stats in football and that they may tell us more about a players performance compared to traditional stats. While Armstrong may not be hitting the heights he did last season in goals and assists, what do these underlying stats such as xG, xA and others say?

If we first compare expected goals for Stuart Armstrong, we do see numbers that have gotten worse so far this season. Last season in 2,168 minutes, Armstrong had an xG per 90 minutes of 0.33. If we compare that to this season, we see a decreased xG at 0.12 per 90 in 818 minutes. It seems so far that the midfielder is no longer the goal threat he was last season.

Armstrong Goals and xG Graph.png
Since last year, we see Armstrong’s goal scoring come closer to his xG

However, we might need to dig a little deeper into these shot numbers. First, let us address the elephant in the room with Armstrong’s xG numbers last year. Despite putting up very impressive numbers, Armstrong overachieved his xG numbers in his goals scored, scoring 13 goals with an xG of 7.90. Now, some players are able to consistently able to over-achieve their xG over multiple seasons, but so far this season it seems Armstrong is not showing he is able to do that.

Of course, it is still too early in the season to come to widespread conclusions, however there is no shame for a central midfielder not being able to continuously finish at that high of a rate. With his xG total at 1.02 and 1 goal scored, Armstrong is about at where we would expect. In addition to perhaps seeing a regression to the mean scoring goals, Stuart Armstrong has also found additional competition for spots in the Celtic midfield.

While Armstrong was not around the Celtic first team until this time last season, Action Stu.jpgfrom that point on it seemed he was one of the first names on Brendan Rodgers team sheet. However, this season we have seen the emergence of Callum McGregor, goal scoring threat, as well as Oliver Ntcham’s arrival. McGregor has contributed 5 goals already this season in league play, while Ntcham has also added 3 goals.

This competition has seen Armstrong playing less. Last season, Armstrong appeared in 63.39% of available minutes in league play, while this season he has only appeared in 54.37% of available minutes. He has seen a slightly reduced role so far this season, but while he has not been able to score as much for Celtic this season, he has contributed to the attack other ways.

While Armstrong might be seeing some regression when it comes to goal scoring and xG, his passing numbers suggest he is at a similar if not better level than he was last season. Last season, he averaged 0.24 xA per 90 minutes, while this year he is averaging 0.29 xA per 90. He averaged 1.79 Key Passes per 90 minutes (or passes that lead to a shot), but is averaging 2.4 this season. All of this has lead to a similar Assists per 90 minutes for Armstrong as last season, averaging 0.37 per 90 this year compared to 0.42 last season. He is setting up his teammates just as well when he is playing, he is just seeing them converted at a slightly reduced rate.

Stuart Armstrong Pass Map.png

Along with stats showing how he sets up shots, Armstrong also seems to be just as vital in Celtic’s attack overall as he was last season. Looking at xSA, which quantifies the pass before the pass before the shot, Armstong is averaging 0.17 xSA per 90 minutes this season, while last season he averaged 0.07 per 90. This is another metric showing Armstrong has been more than a great head of hair this season.

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Armstrong’s xA and assist numbers have stabilized and remained consistent.

Tuesday night was a rough night for Celtic and their supporters. There is no hiding that Armstrong had a poor game and was subbed out because of it. This game seemed to be the final piece of evidence for many Celtic supporters that Armstrong has regressed and is no longer necessary. However, over this European campaign, who DID have good performances? Ntcham seemed to do much better than Armstrong at home against Anderlecht and set up goals in Belgium, yet his passing was erratic before those goals. The list of Celtic players who get a passing grade in Europe this campaign is a short one and casting Stuart Armstrong aside because of a small sample against superior competition seems short sided.

Yet, Armstrong still seems destined for pastures new soon. He added a year to his contract, but will find himself on an expiring contract at the start of next season. While he his stats suggest a player still able to create for his teammates, we might not be able to expect a double digit goal total from him every year. If Celtic were to get in offer in January or in the summer that is near their valuation of him, it might be wise to sell. If someone offers a transfer sum for a goal scoring midfielder for Armstrong, I would certainly take that offer.

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.

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.

Dashboard 1-3

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.

xG Leaders Belgium.png

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.