xG, Goal Droughts and Masochism – Chelsea v Manchester United by the numbers

What do the stats tell us about what might be worth backing in Sunday's match?


A few weeks ago I wrote a preview of Liverpool vs. Manchester United, and it feels like I could simply copy and paste most of it here and congratulate myself on a job well done.

Jose will park the bus, there won’t be many goals, yadda yadda.

But that would be as boring as the Liverpool and United match proved to be, so let’s see what else can be said about this match.

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It’s an intriguing game as neither team is in sparkling form. In the last month, Chelsea have lost at Palace, should’ve lost to Watford, and were brushed aside 3-0 by Roma. United have only lost one of their previous six, but it was their last away match in the league and it was against Huddersfield. Their free scoring form from early in the season has dried up too.

It therefore seems logical to punt on there being under 2.5 goals at 8/13, right? Perhaps, but if we look at a table of how many times that has happened in the Premier League since the start of last season, you can see why that would be a tough call.

United’s figure would be even lower if they hadn’t rattled in a few score-line embellishing late goals against the dross at the start of this season. But then Chelsea had over 2.5 goals in all five of their home matches against other members of the big six last season.

Even so, there has only been one goal across two ‘big six’ games at the Bridge in 2017-18, so combining that fact with Mourinho’s dread of an entertaining match makes me think under 2.5 goals is the way to go.

But chances are there will be at least one goal, so who might score first? Romelu Lukaku is due a goal, for one. Regular readers (hi, mum) will know I said the exact same thing last week, before he duly went and failed to score against Spurs. Cheers, Rom. The big Belgian hasn’t scored in any of his last three league matches, in fact.

He only went four league games without a goal twice last season, and that was for an Everton side managed by Ronald Koeman.

Can you remember those crazy days?

He’ll also have a point to prove to his former club, who had the cheek to sell him to the Toffees. Though does that sort of thing apply when you now play for the manager who sold you? Is that a double jinx? Answer on a postcard please, Romelu. Oh, he’s 4/1 to open the scoring, by the way, and will surely end his barren run soon enough.

If you’re looking for longer odds in the first goalscorer market to keep things interesting, then one Francesc Fàbregas may be of interest. He’s 11/1 to break the deadlock, and with N’golo Kante an injury doubt, he stands a fair chance of playing.

Fabregas scored against Everton early in the season (as have most people), but has gone seven league appearances and twelve shots without a goal since. He’s hardly nailed on to score, but nobody said this betting lark was easy, you know.

A more obvious choice from Chelsea would be Alvaro Morata, who (like Lukaku) is priced at 4/1 to score first.

He made 18 appearances for Mourinho at Real Madrid in the early days of his career, and if you’re ITK like Paddy, you’ll know Jose wanted to sign him.

But will Morata score first? Well, only seven teams in the league have scored more headed goals than he has (three), and United are weak at defending crosses so he definitely has to have a chance.

So who’s going to win this clash? The expected goals data from this season suggests a 1-1 draw is on the cards, and that sounds about right to me. You can back that exact score-line at 5/1, or if you think there’s a chance of a higher scoring stalemate, then a draw with both teams to score is on offer at 10/3.

When looking at the expected goals (nerdy) vs. actual goals (the only stat that matters, poindexter), Chelsea have the biggest attacking differential in the division. Their shots have been worth 12 goals whilst they’ve actually scored 18. Similarly, United should’ve conceded 11 goals, but have only actually let in four. These will balance out into a draw, yeah?

Perhaps it makes sense to keep your powder dry and bet in-play on this one?

Only one team in the Premier League this season has won every game where they scored the first goal, and lost every time they conceded first: Chelsea.

Those runs can’t continue for ever of course, but United have also won every time they’ve scored first, and haven’t yet won when going behind. It’s a bit of a cliché, but the first goal is massive in this match.

As in, bigger than Mourinho’s fear of free-flowing attacking football in big games like this. Yeah, as big as that.

Whatever your bets, try to enjoy the match. Just don’t expect goals galore. Some games are ‘one for the purists’ – this might be one for the masochists.

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