Thursday, 13 July 2017

Gylfi, "On me head, son"

Expected assists looks at the process of chance creation from the viewpoint of the potential goal creator.

An assisted goal is a collaboration between the player making the vital final pass and his colleague who tries to beat the keeper, but over a season these sample sizes tend to be small.

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne topped the actual assist charts in 2016/17 with 18, but these numbers may have benefited from a statistically noisy bout of hot finishing or suffered from team mates who frequently sliced wildly into the crowd.

Therefore, it makes sense to use the probabilistic likelihood of success in the 85 additional instances when the Belgian carved out a chance that went begging.

Here's the top ten expected chance creators from the 2016/17 Premier League, along with their actual returns, courtesy of the recipients of these these key passes.

The list contains the kind of players you'd expect to see when trawling the Premier League for creative talent.

The expected assists are based on a model derived from the historical performance of every assisted goal attempt from previous Premier League seasons.

So De Bruyne's over performance may reflect the above average talent, not just of himself, but also his team mates or it could be that creating and finishing talent is tightly grouped in the top tier of English and Welsh football and randomness accounts for the majority of the disconnect between actual and ExpA over a single season.

Swansea's Gylfi Sigurdsson, a constant topic of transfer speculation, lies 3rd in both expected and actual assists, with 9 ExpA and 13 actual ones. This backs up the Icelander's importance to the Swans, where he was involved in nearly a quarter of Swansea's ExpG in 2016/17.

His relatively large over performance, compared to his ExpA cumulative total of just under 9 may suggest he is particularly adept at presenting chances to his team mates.

However, a simple random hot streak from both or either participant in the goal attempt should not be ruled our.

In 9% of simulations, an average assister/assisted combination would score 13 or more goals from the 77 opportunities crafted by Sigurdsson.

Neither is there anything untoward in the fit of the model to Sigurdsson's 77 assists. Lower quality chances are converted at a lower rate than those which had a higher expectation of producing a goal.

So far there's nothing to set off warning bells for any potential purchaser, Sigurdsson appears to be legitimately a top echelon goal creator, albeit one who may have run slightly hot in 2016/17.

But if we make some direct comparisons to say De Bruyne, differences begin to emerge.

De Bruyne's ExpA per key pass is 0.15 compared to 0.11 for Sigurdson, which suggests that De Bruyne is, on average creating higher quality opportunities.

The profile of the position of the recipients of Sigurdsson's key passes is also strikingly different from those of the Manchester City player.

De Bruyne is supplying chances for a much larger proportion of attacking minded players, such as out and out strikers, wingers and attacking midfielders.

Whereas, over 50% of Sigurdsson's key passes are picking out defenders, notably central defenders and that usually means headed chances, from set pieces.

This appears to be confirmed by the final column in the first graphics of this post. Only a third of Sigurdsson's assists arrived at the feet of a team mate, well below the figures for the remaining nine assisters in the table.

All of whom check in with at least 67% of their potential assists being finished off with the boot.

Gylfi's penchant for set play deliveries to a defenders head also features in Ted's article on the transfer speculation surrounding Sigurdsson in The Independent as part of Ted's grand tour of the British press.

Despite Sigurdsson's apparent niche assistance role, at least in 2016/17, his ExpA per potential assist does still hold up well.

He's below De Bruyne, as we've seen, but is above the remaining eight players in the top ten, bar Fabregas and an anonymous Stoke player, who we want to keep.

So although he does deliver aerial passes to generally less skilled finishers, his relatively impressive ExpA per key pass does suggest that he can put the ball into extremely dangerous areas and with accuracy to find a team mate.

Also his actual assists from headed chances of 8 compared to and expected total of just over 5 suggests he may be more skilled at such deliveries than is the average case, although such small samples inevitably prevent random chance being eliminated as the main causative agent in any over performance.

Overall, Gylfi Sigurdsson may be worth a great deal of a side that is set up to benefit most from his particular creative skill set.

But those teams may be few in number and principal among them are his current employers.

All data via Infogol

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