A statistical analysis of Southampton’s season so far

It’s no secret that Southampton Football Club are in desperate need of a shake-up. Whether it’s with changes to management, a reshuffle amongst the higher forces at the club, or even additions to the first-team squad, something has to change.

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Everyone has their own opinion about where they think things have gone wrong, who’s to blame and how we can move forward, and generally speaking, the majority of Southampton fans are singing from the same hymn sheet.

But one of the greatest worries amongst the fan base is that the board are simply refusing to see the same cracks that we see.

So in desperate hope of perhaps finding some positive signs, or proving that our worries are certainly justified, we decided to crunch the numbers on Southampton’s season so far. Let’s start with the basics.

Since being appointed on the 23rd of June 2017, Pellegrino has taken charge of 25 fixtures, recording just five wins in all competitions. He’s averaged 0.96 points per game and consequently, has a win percentage of just 20% – the worst of any manager in Southampton’s history (20+ games).

Even cult hero Ian Branfoot managed to pick up a win ratio of 28.91%.

On top of this, Southampton have managed to drop 11 points from winning positions, after crumbling against Brighton, Arsenal, Huddersfield, Crystal Palace and Watford.

We’ve also managed to beat just one team from the Premier League’s bottom seven, and even then, that lone fixture was won by a moment of sheer genius from Sofiane Boufal. Pellegrino’s management was hardly a factor. Our only wins have come against sides placed 9th, 11th, 12th and 19th – all of which are within eight points of each other.

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So what about the performances themselves?

How effective has Pellegrino’s coaching been in the final third? And how have our defence fared with all the drama surrounding Virgil Van Dijk?

In order to answer that question, we need to look well beyond the surface of just our goals scored and conceded.

Expected goals (xG) is a system that gives a probability that any shot will be scored. It’s able to do this by assigning each attempt at goal a value between 0 and 1, as an indicator of just how strong the chance was. What helps to make this metric so useful, however, is that it’s based on floods of previous data, where the shot was taken from, the proximity of defenders, and the nature of the attack (i.e a direct free-kick or a penalty)

By using xG we’re able to assess a player or team’s finishing more accurately, while also being able to measure whether the team are playing better than results suggest. It’s an effective way of seeing whether a team deserve to be scoring more goals than their record shows, and as a result, whether we should soon expect a possible change of fortunes. The reverse can also be done to measure a teams expected goals against.

As far as statistics go in football, it’s just about the most effective way of determining a teams performance levels at both ends of the field, so let’s see how Pellegrino’s side have fared…

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In open play this season the Saints have recorded an xG of 16.9, having only scored a measly 15 goals. Not only does this suggest that we’re failing to create an abundance of clear-cut chances, but were also failing to convert them at the same time too, falling almost two goals behind our expected total.

As for our xG from set pieces and penalties, we’ve recorded 9.71 despite scoring on just eight occasions. Considering we’re yet to miss a penalty this season, that’s almost two goals lost on set pieces alone.

Last season Claude Puel’s Southampton came under fire for a distinct lack of fluid attacking football, but when you compare their xG at this same stage last season (30.45) to Pellegrino’s (26.61) it’s clear to see that matters have only got worse.

Then we come to our xGA (expected goals against) which totals 23.33 from open play, when in actual fact we’ve conceded 27 – 3.67 more than expected.

From set pieces and penalties our xGA totals 8.37, while the number of goals we’ve conceded stands at seven.

This could be put down to poor slices of luck that should level themselves out over the course of the season, but Southampton fans certainly aren’t alien to the concept that we’ve conceded too many soft goals. More specifically this could be put down to the poor form of Fraser Forster, who boasts one of the Premier League’s lowest save percentages this season. It’s certainly a factor to consider.

To put into perspective just how much our once resilient defensive has collapsed this season, we’ve already conceded more goals under Pellegrino (34) than we did in the entire 14-15 season under Ronald Koeman (33).

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And as for individual performances, there’s certainly cause for concern in attack too.

There’s been wide discussion about Pellegrino’s inability to make a single forward flourish this season, and the numbers certainly back that idea up.

For starters, the heavily rotated Maya Yoshida has recorded a higher XG (1.87) than Nathan Redmond (1.55), Shane Long (1.78) and Sofiane Boufal (1.04) this season.

For comparison sake, Long finished last season with an XG of 5.25, while Redmond finished with 4.82. Considering we’re currently well over halfway through this season, both are on course to fall seriously short of last seasons numbers.

Which after translation, essentially tell us that Pellegrino’s failing miserably at helping our frontline take up dangerous positions.

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The only Southampton players that have managed to consistently find goal-scoring opportunities are Charlie Austin and Dusan Tadic, who have recorded totals of 5.53 and 4.17 respectively. Beyond that, there’s not a single other Southampton forward that’s expected to score two or more goals.

Another topic of discussion has been Pellegrino’s inability to work out his strongest XI. If you’ve already failed to implement an identity within the squad (which he has) the least that you should do is create an identity through consistent team selections.

However, we’ve seen the exact opposite; Pellegrino’s made an average of 2.9 changes per fixture and has fielded an unchanged lineup on just two occasions this season.

The only team to rotate more than Southampton this season are Liverpool, who’ve done so through holding a wealth of options in attack and being unable to find their strongest backline. Southampton’s changes, however, have been simply mindless.

This piece makes for a dark and depressing read; there’s absolutely no disputing that. But I didn’t want this to be the tone – no genuine Southampton fan would.

I would love nothing more than to sing the praises of our manager and for us to suddenly find ourselves in stunning season-changing form, but these facts are just the dark reality of Pellegrino’s short reign so far. And I’m not convinced that we can allow this to be our reality any longer…

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