1. This has been coming for a long time

We’ve all known that this was coming. Anyone who’s watched us play for the last season and a half has known our results couldn’t continue to defy our mediocre performances. That’s born out if we compare the bottom half of the final league table from 2019–20 with the points and positions allocated on the basis of expected goals.

Bottom half of the league table

As the table shows, we were one of only two teams in the lower half of the league who secured more points than their performances deserved. More than that, our expected total of 32 points would have put us at the very bottom of the table, relegated along with Norwich and Aston Villa.

While it’s possible to defy expected outcomes in the short term, over the longer term results will revert to the norm. The more games you play, the more likely it is that luck will even out. To make that concrete, look at the top two clubs in the table above and note how last season’s expected performance has been an indicator of this season’s actual results. Both Southampton and Everton have been surprise performers this season, but not if we look at the underlying strength of their performances last season which weren’t rewarded. The opposite applies to us, of course.

  1. This season we’re getting what we deserve

So, what about this season? At the halfway point, we can look again at the difference between expected results, based on the quality of chances each team created in each game, and actual results.

Looking first of all at our own performances, it’s clear that our results are reverting to the norm. Overall, we have scored just over one more goal and conceded two fewer than would have been expected, and our actual points total is one higher than our performances have warranted.

NUFC expected points and position

Looking at specific matches, all of our defeats and all of our victories have been merited. Only the win over West Brom could be seen as a little fortuitous, and it’s only in our three draws against Spurs, Wolves, and Liverpool that we’ve gained points by defying the balance of play.

NUFC results and expected points this season

Finally, it’s worth highlighting our last nine games. As Bruce has been keen to point out, these have certainly included some strong teams, but they have also included all of the bottom three teams. Across those nine matches, we have a net xG of –10.26. Over the previous ten games our combined net xG was only –3.25. Both performances and results are deteriorating at an alarming rate.

  1. We should play 4-4-2

In nineteen games we’ve played as many as nine different formations, but there are only three formations which have been deployed for any meaningful length of time. The quality of chances we’ve created and conceded in those four formations are as follows.

NUFC formation stats

Considering that 4-4-2 was supposed to be the cornerstone of the great gloves-off reset, it’s surprising to see that we’ve already played that formation much more frequently than any other. It’s also been our most effective – or rather least ineffective – formation. When playing 4-4-2, we just about hold our own on the balance of play. What’s also obvious is that 5-4-1 is the footballing equivalent of waving the white flag. When we set up that way, our net xG is a miserable –1.66 per game.

  1. Relegation rivals are due an upturn

If those recent results are one reason to fear for the remainder of the season, the XG data from other teams gives us another. Below are the five teams whose underlying performances in the first half of the season have been least well reflected in their actual results. In other words, these have been the unluckiest teams so far this season.

Teams with results worse than performance

Worryingly, three of the teams below us – Sheffield Utd, Fulham, and Brighton – have been playing far better than their results suggest. And that’s certainly been reflected in their performances against us. Perhaps Sheffield United have left it too late and are too far adrift, but Fulham and certainly Brighton can’t be expected to stay where they are in the second half of the season. Their positions are false; ours is entirely genuine.

MATTHEW PHILPOTTS – @mjp19731