West Ham outperforming expectations, but deservedly so

Michail Antonio, West Ham. (Photo by Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images)
Michail Antonio, West Ham. (Photo by Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images) /

West Ham currently sit in 4th spot in the Premier League, and some have called their current position luck. In part, I agree, but I would also contend that we have deserved this luck.

One of the newest, most quoted and most frequently misunderstood stats in the game is expected goals or xG. This takes data from leagues all around the world and determines how likely a shot is to go in based on a number of factors such as the position of defender or goalkeeper if the ball is in the air and if it’s a header or hit with the foot.

West Ham are currently outperforming their xG for the season by about 2 and a half goals according to fbref. This puts us 8th in the league for that stat. By comparison, Manchester United have scored 9 and a half more goals than stats would suggest they should have, and Brighton have scored almost 13 fewer! But that doesn’t mean United are overly lucky, or Brighton are unlucky. It reflects the quality of their forward players.

Not all shots are equal in xG, and the stat itself isn’t all-encompassing. It’s important to consider who the chance is falling to and what chances West Ham are creating for which player.

Jesse Lingard, West Ham.
Jesse Lingard, West Ham. (Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth – Pool/Getty Images) /

Both of these sides have an average of 0.1 xG per shot (not including penalties). So they’re creating similar chances, but their strikers are vastly different qualities. When you can rotate Antony Martial, Mason Greenwood, Edison Cavani and Marcus Rashford, you should have better finishing stats than Aaron Connolly, Danny Wellbeck, Neal Maupay and Leandro Trossard.

The issue with the stat is that people often feel that if a team is outperforming/under-performing their xG over a run of games, then they will revert back to that normal at some point. If everything else is equal between teams, then that may be true. But it completely ignores the quality of chances created and the quality of the players taking the shots.

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I, for one, would rather have our players taking 5 shots with 0.2 xG each than taking 10 shots with 0. 1xG each. Our players are more likely to convert the better chances. If you have someone like Steven Gerrard taking a long-range 0.05xG shot, that’s better than Fabianski taking the same shot.

West Ham have an average xG per shot of 0.12, which puts them joint top in the Premier League with Manchester City and Liverpool. And with that kind of chance quality, you’re confident that you’re going to score regularly. And, under Moyes, the Hammers are creating chances that are fit for the players they’re falling to.

Tomas Soucek, box to box extraordinaire, is great in the air and using Antonio as a distraction for his runs he is a constant threat. We have other aerial threats in defence in the form of Angelo Ogbonna, Craig Dawson, Issa Diop and Fabien Balbuena. So again, we’re more likely to score these than a smaller side who get the same chances. So although we’re scoring more than xG predicts…I would say it’s to be…expected?

And two players who need to actually work on their shooting are two common features of the Hammers side. Michail Antonio should be at least a goal better off this season according to stats but has a league-leading 0.2 xG per shot. Meaning he has, on average, shot from better positions than any other player in the league.

Pablo Fornals, with an average of 0.14 xG per shot, is 2 goals down on expected. It’s one area he has been lacking since joining, but his work ethic and passing has really improved this season and I don’t think it’s long before he gets the goals he works for.

Next. West Ham still in good shape after valiant effort against City. dark

Also, the same page that says we’re scoring more than expected, also says we’re conceding more than expected…2.8 non-penalty goals more than expected. So…maybe we do deserve to be near the top of the table after all?