For many Rangers fans the answer to the headline of this article would be; a…
As we look back over the Scottish Premiership campaign so far, clubs across the country are assessing where they are and reflecting on the season so far.
Usually, the league table works as a fine barometer for which to judge teams by, but it doesn’t always tell the whole story. By examining each side’s cumulative expected goals (xG) (here’s a quick explanation for the uninitiated), we can see a clearer picture of each team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Below, we’ll go through the league team-by-team and, using xG data, establish whether each side is over or underperforming. By examining both a team’s xG for (xGF) and xG against (xGA), we can pinpoint where things have gone right or wrong for the side.
At the front end, things have been going about as well as they should be for the Dons. Aberdeen have found the net on 33 occasions in the league this season, which correlates identically with their xGF of 33. This reflects that Derek McInnes’ side deserve the goals they’ve scored, based on the quality of the chances they’ve created.
At the back, Aberdeen’s xGA is a little higher than their goals conceded – three goals higher, to be exact. This discrepancy suggests that Aberdeen may have been a little fortunate in defence this season, perhaps profiting from an opponent’s wasteful finishing as opposed to their own defensive rigour. Ultimately, however, the defence is doing a pretty good job – Aberdeen have the fourth-lowest xGA in the division.
Unsurprisingly, Celtic comfortably have both the highest xGF (55) and the lowest xGA (16) in the Premiership. In reality, the Bhoys have scored 48 goals in the league this season, implying that their attack has been slightly underperforming. The midfield are still creating chances, but the Hoops aren’t being as ruthless as they ought to be.
In defence, Celtic’s xGA is a solitary goal higher than their actual goals conceded of 15. This means the league table is pretty fairly representing how their defence has performed. Domestically, at least, Brendan Rodgers has little to worry about at the back, although Erik Sviatchenko will presumably be replaced this month after the Dane left Celtic Park on loan.
It will come as no surprise to Dundee fans that both the Dark Blues’ xGF and xGA is higher than the reality of the league table. In attack, their xGF is 4 goals higher than in their goals scored – put simply, Neil McCann’s side miss too many clear-cut opportunities. Too often this season Dundee have carved their opponents open only to lack composure in front of goal.
Conversely, Dundee’s defence can consider themselves a little fortunate. Our xGA data tells us that that the Dens Park outfit could have conceded another six goals had the opposition taken their chances. Only Partick Thistle have a higher xGA in this season’s Premiership.
Interestingly, Accies’ xGF is significantly lower than their goals scored. Basically, Hamilton have scored seven more goals than they could reasonably have expected to at this stage of the season. Because of this, we can say that Martin Canning’s side are overperforming going forward, likely due to excellent finishing. However, their xGF is the second-lowest in the league – more creativity is required if they’re to avoid the relegation dogfight.
At the other end, Hamilton’s xGA is three goals higher than their goals conceded. This suggests that the Accies defence is a little leakier than the league table shows – only Thistle and Dundee’s xGA is higher.
Hearts have the joint-second-lowest goals scored in the Premiership and their xGF is similarly low. Three goals separate their xGF from their goals scored, implying that Craig Levein can be a slightly disappointed with their return so far this season. Having said that, their low xGF indicates a lack of clear-cut opportunities created by the Jambos this season.
Under Levein’s stewardship the Hearts defence has became the second-best in the country, only lagging behind Celtic in the amount of goals conceded. Our xGA data tells us that Hearts could have reasonably conceded 32 goals so far this season, a massive increase from their goals conceded of 19. This demonstrates the impressive work Levein has done with the Hearts defence – even when their opponents have a good opportunity on goal, Hearts are finding a way to stop the ball going in.
Up front, Neil Lennon can’t have too many complaints about Hibs’ season so far. Both their goals scored and xGF are identical at 31, meaning that the Hibees are scoring about as many goals as they could reasonably expect, based on the number and quality of chances created.
It’s a similar story at the back too. Hibs’ xGA is slightly higher than their goals against, so Lennon could claim his defenders are technically overperforming. The two figures are separated by just two goals – in Hibs’ case, at least, the league table is fairly representative of their performances so far.
Killie, meanwhile, can feel a little hard done by. Their xGF is five goals higher than their actual total – in short, they’re not scoring as many as they should. Steven Naismith, who had been linked with a return to Rugby Park in recent weeks before moving to Hearts, would have surely helped Kilmarnock convert more goalscoring opportunities. Perhaps another forward is needed in this window.
At the other end, their goals conceded is a pretty fair representation of their xGA. They’ve conceded one more goal than they could have reasonably expected to, but the whole defence deserve credit – only Celtic and Motherwell have a lower xGA.
After a promising start to the season, the wheels are threatening to come off Motherwell’s Premiership campaign. Up front, Motherwell fans have plenty to be concerned about – their xGF is one of the highest in the league, yet they’re not scoring nearly as much as they should be. The Steelmen’s main attacking threat, Louis Moult has departed for Preston and been replaced with a forward who hasn’t scored since early 2016.
At the back, things are similarly worrying. Again, Motherwell’s goals conceded significantly exceeds their xGA. This means Stephen Robinson’s team are conceding from low-risk situations – improvement is required all over the pitch if they are to recapture their early season form.
The Jags are the lowest-performing team in the Premiership this season in terms of both xGF and xGA, reflecting the league table where they have scored the fewest goals and conceded the most. In attack, Alan Archibald can prove his side have been a little wasteful, with an xGF three goals higher than their actual goals scored.
Thistle fans should be worried about their defence, for obvious reasons. Worryingly, the defence has been every bit as bad as the league table suggests – there’s only a one goal difference between their xGA and goals conceded. Signing a new centre back in the January window must be a priority for Archibald.
It’s been a typically topsy-turvy season for Rangers this term but the Gers are performing roughly as they should be in the league. They’re scoring a few more goals than they could reasonably expect, as reflected in the four-goal gap between their goals scored and xGF.
Our xGA data paints a similar picture at the back – the Gers’ xGA of 28 is higher than their goals conceded of 25, but only marginally. Graeme Murty’s most pressing task must be reducing the number of decent chances against his side – Rangers are aiming for second spot in the league, but their xGA is only the fifth-lowest in the Premiership.
Owen Coyle can consider his team a little unfortunate to have only found the net on 21 occasions, compared with their xGF of 26. This should deeply concern Coyle – every goal counts for the league’s bottom-placed side, and County are squandering good opportunities.
Similarly, County are conceding more than they ought to too. They’ve conceded 36 so far in the league, but their xGA data suggests 32 would have been more fitting. Coyle must improve the Ross County defence if their six-year stay in the top flight is to continue.
St Johnstone’s attack and defence are performing pretty much as one would come to expect from a Tommy Wright side: underwhelming slightly in attack while overperforming in defence. Their xGF is 25, four goals higher than their goals scored of 21. With Michael O’Halloran and Graham Cummins both likely to leave McDiarmid Park this month, Tommy Wright needs someone else to step up and carry the Saints’ goalscoring burden.
As we mentioned, it’s a different story in defence for Wright’s team. Their xGA is 37, considerably higher than their actual goals conceded of 30. This highlights the impressive shifts defenders are putting in for Wright – a few more goals, and St Johnstone might just nick a top-six finish again after all.