Everton, Man Utd, Palace and Brighton were among the biggest under and overperformers this season
We use expected goals (xG) data to highlight the biggest underachievers and overperformers in the Premier League

Premier League 2020/21: The biggest underachievers and overperformers based on expected goals


The Premier League season has reached its conclusion but does the final table accurately reflect performance?

Manchester City deservedly wrapped up the title, while many expected Fulham, Sheffield United and West Brom to be relegated as the campaign progressed.

Elsewhere though, some teams have managed to accumulate more points than their showings suggested they would, while others have been left confused as to how they aren't higher up in the standings.

Using data from Infogol's expected goals model, we look at four teams who found themselves in a 'false' position after 38 games.


What is expected goals (xG)?

  • Expected goals (xG) is a metric that measures the quality of any given scoring opportunity
  • Expected goals for (xGF) is the xG created by a team
  • Expected goals against (xGA) is xG conceded by a team

Manchester United

  • Actual finishing position: 2nd
  • Expected finishing position: 4th
  • Verdict: Overperformers
Manchester United's 2020/21 Premier League season

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's 'At The Wheel' status has fluctuated massively throughout the season but another year has passed without Manchester United being crowned the kings of England. Victory in the Europa League final will at least bring some silverware.

Even when they took top spot, it never truly felt like United were genuine title contenders and the mammoth gap between themselves and rivals Manchester City demonstrates that. Not only did the expected table have them not winning the title, it had them making the top-four on final day.

That expected table scenario had Manchester United battling not Chelsea or Leicester for the fourth and final Champions League qualification spot. It would have been, erm, Brighton.

They've outscored their expected goals tally with 73 from 65.9 while they managed to concede 44 when the statistics say it should have been 47.5. It's not a huge difference but enough to alter their league position when we factor in their close games and come-from-behind victories.

United are second for goals scored but sit fourth in the expected table. They have players who do have the ability to make the most of limited chances and that can be viewed as a positive - Edinson Cavani smashing one over the keeper from seemingly miles out being the most perfect example.

I'm always a fascinated observer of a Manchester United transfer window. Reports promise the world and they're often left with moves that leave you shrugging your shoulders. They are again in the position of needing a fair bit to happen and the track record suggest that just won't be the case.

While moves may be desired to help close the gap on City, the underlying numbers say that incomings are needed just to remain in the top-four picture. They're not a bad team, with some of the Premier League's best players, but sharing a city is the only thing they have in common with their rivals at the Etihad.


Brighton

  • Actual finishing position: 16th
  • Expected finishing position: 5th
  • Verdict: Underachievers

Anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to xG this season will not be surprised to see Brighton's involvement here. What is shocking is the vast difference between their expected and actual finishing positions.

They should (taking the theory to the nth degree) be battling among Europe's best in the Champions League next season. Being realistic, at the very least they ought to be a top-10 side.

The issue for Brighton has been converting the numerous chances that they create. There's an argument to be made that the Seagulls have huge potential with better players but even then, they should have done more with what they have.

Neal Maupay finished the campaign with eight goals from 13.74 xG. His 0.49 expected goals per game number also put him above the likes of Son Heung-min, Danny Ings, Ollie Watkins and Chris Wood - an actual tally matching those would have seen Brighton with a few more points on the board.

Brighton's 2020/21 Premier League season

Brighton sit seventh for average shots per game but 14th for efforts on target. At the other end, only Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City concede fewer shots over the course of 90 minutes. Average possession puts Brighton 10 yet what they do with the ball when it really matters has been their downfall - they are 15th for goals scored.

That's another metric that they have drastically fallen short on. The 40 goals have come from an xG of 56.7 which should mean their goal difference stands around the +16 mark. Instead, after 38 games, they are on -6.

While Graham Potter may not be the glamorous name that most Tottenham fans are hoping for, Brighton's underlying numbers demonstrate that he may be the most sensible appointment in North London. Putting better players into his system could drive them back up the table.

Ultimately, Spurs want a return to the top-four but remarkably it could have been Brighton there this season. Where could he take a club further up in the actual standings?

Perhaps Brighton's most important bit of business will be keeping Potter at the club this summer. Recruitment will be key though as they can't rely on the rub of the green to steer them away from relegation trouble - the system is right and it just needs the players to make it work.


Arsenal

  • Actual finishing position: 8th
  • Expected finishing position: 6th
  • Verdict: Underachievers
Arsenal's 2020/21 Premier League statistics

While the expected table only shuffles Arsenal up two spots from their actual finishing position, it's significant because it would have seen them qualify for the Europa League whereas they were left without European football - that for the first time in 25 years.

Mikel Arteta's style has divided opinion but it should have been enough to get them into the top-six, and while that would have still represented an underwhelming achievement, it would have at least kept them as part of the pack.

What is also interesting is that, while Tottenham finished above their North London rivals yet again, they should have finished 10th meaning that Arsenal would not have only ended up higher, it would have been by a considerable margin.

Arsenal's defence and 46.5 xGA should have given them to force best defence in the league, while remarkably they matched their xGF figure perfectly - with 55 goals coming from 55.0. While that does mean their xGD was +8.5 rather than +16, the strong expected defensive figures would have been enough to keep them in Europe.

Recruitment has probably cost Arsenal any decent attempt to build on last season's success. Lifting the FA Cup after just half a season with Arteta at the helm suggested things were on the up for the Gunners - instead it looks like another rebuild situation.

The long-running Mesut Ozil saga saw him move to Turkey and this replacement was crucial. Ozil was Arsenal's main creator and they suffered with him sat on the sidelines so any move was big. The answer was Martin Odegaard from Real Madrid - and if he doesn't sign permanently they essentially replaced Ozil with a short-term loanee.

Dani Ceballos and Mat Ryan were two other underwhelming temporary additions, although the latter was brought in to play back-up goalkeeper, while injury has disrupted Thomas Partey's start at the club. A lot needs to be done to bring this team at a decent enough level to compete and recent history in the transfer market suggests that won't happen.

Arteta can draw positives from the expected table saying that they should have been in the top-six though, showing that he is perhaps onto the right thing with the way they are playing, and a strong transfer window, however unlikely that may be, could see them push back into the European places.


Everton

  • Actual finishing position: 10th
  • Expected finishing position: 12th
  • Verdict: Overperformers

There was high expectation of Carlo Ancelotti's Everton after a summer of change in the transfer window and they looked like delivering on that with a very strong start to the season.

Victory over Brighton on matchday four moved them to the summit, a position which they would hold for a further two games after but, while the Toffees were dancing along to Spirit of the Blues' appearance in the UK charts, they would manage to break into the top four just once more across the remainder of the campaign.

Season highlights include a long-awaited victory over Liverpool at Anfield while also earning points against other teams around them in the table. Looking long term, we can perhaps point to those results as a way of highlighting their potential.

It was fun to watch Everton threaten the Premier League 'big-six' during the early stages, but it became evident that it wasn't sustainable with the expected goals battle going the way of their opponents. Their form was too patchy, with wins and losses coming in chunks and the former more difficult to get.

James Rodriguez's Premier League statistics

James Rodriguez's creativity was key but injury issues have seen him sidelined far too often. Allan's absence left them without that presence in the midfield and the squad depth issues at Goodison Park left them fielding teams that weren't good enough for where they want to be.

Both players were signed for low fees given the talent they bring to the table but there have been injury struggles in previous seasons and that has proven to be problematic during their time on Merseyside so far. It was a riskier approach that hasn't paid off as the club would have hoped.

Two positives in terms of their recruitment have been Abdoulaye Doucoure and Ben Godfrey. Similar recruitment in this coming window should put them in a good position next season with the goalscoring form of Dominic Calvert-Lewin throughout the campaign, and the strong showings from Richarlison in the second half of it, giving them firepower up front.


Crystal Palace

  • Actual finishing position: 14th
  • Expected finishing position: 18th
  • Verdict: Overperformers
Crystal Palace's 2020/21 Premier League season

Roy Hodgson says goodbye to Selhurst Park after a four-year stint at Crystal Palace and he can perhaps breath a sigh of relief that they weren't in any real relegation trouble at any stage. It's a potential big rebuild at the club over the summer and they will be pleased that isn't as a Sky Bet Championship club.

Shot-shy Palace have managed to push above Sheffield United and West Brom in the average shots per game charts but their issues in front of goal are demonstrated by the fact they sit second-last in the xGF table - the 38.8 is lower than their actual tally of 41.

A different direction will be welcome but this shouldn't be seen as a one-off. Last season's expected table had Palace in 17th and this campaign has seen them post some worrying numbers. Only five teams concede more shots per game - the averages have them conceding 5 more shots than they take.

It's only statistics that back up what we have been seeing across the past nine months. You say that Palace could have easily been dragged into the relegation trouble and the large majority would agree - the ones who wouldn't would likely point to how poor the three actual relegated teams have been.

The issue that Palace face now is how drastic the rebuild job seems. They'll welcome in a new manager with new ideas but the eye-watering number of players out of contract in the summer leaves questions about just how strong they will be.

You can add Wilfried Zaha's constant links away from the club alongside Eberechi Eze's long-term injury as two other major causes for concern. Christian Benteke's form has gained points in the latter part of the season, but it's unlikely to be carried into the new campaign.


Infogol's expected top-seven

Pep Guardiola's City won the title through defensive solidity

1. Manchester City

2. Chelsea

3. Liverpool

4. Manchester United

-------------------------------

5. Brighton

6. Arsenal

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7. Leicester


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