Domestic football returns on Friday the 3rd of August, as the new Championship season kicks off. Yet another enthralling and unpredictable Championship campaign is expected, and Infogol Analysts use expected goals (xG) to preview the new campaign and generate the best bets.
An Expected Goals Recap
Expected goals (xG) quantifies the quality of any given scoring opportunity, giving each chance a probability of being scored. The higher the probability, the better the chance. xG provides a descriptive look back at individual games or over a longer period of time, helping to give an insight into future performance.
How likely is it that teams are going to be able to repeat their current form? Is the team over-performing or under-performing? xG can help answer those tricky questions. For a more detailed breakdown, visit our Expected Goals Introduction article.
The Story of Last Season
As we have been accustomed to with the Championship, nothing is straight forward, and last season proved this again, with surprises left and right. The top two were Norwich and Sheffield United, and neither of these were among the favourites at the start of the season, but their underlying processes were very impressive.
Norwich ranked as the third-best team according to expected goals, while Sheffield United, who the Infogol model flagged up as a contender in last season’s preview ranked second best.
Leeds were the unlucky losers last season, as not only were they the best team in the league according to xG (finished third), they were very unfortunate to be knocked out of the play-offs by Derby (2 Leg xG: LEE 2.89 – 2.21 DER).
No other teams were really involved in the race for automatic promotion, with these three teams head and shoulders above the rest, and apart from Aston Villa’s late surge into the play-offs, not much changed towards the end of the season. Villa, who appointed ex-Brentford manager Dean Smith halfway through the season, impressed after he took over, and they managed to secure a return to the Premier League, beating Derby in the play-off final at Wembley.
At the other end, Ipswich propped up the table after a dismal season, but one which Infogol saw coming in the 17/18 season preview, tipping the Tractor Boy’s for relegation, and they were the worst team in the league according to xG. Bolton and Rotherham followed them to League One, with Bolton’s off-the-field issues hampering their chances of survival, while Rotherham were the only one of the relegated teams to put up a fight.
Reading were once again fortunate to stay in the division, as they ranked the third-worst team according to expected goals, while Millwall were unfortunate to be embroiled in a relegation scrap at all. Norwich striker Teemu Pukki scooped the Golden Boot, notching an impressive 29 times, as nine players broke the 20-goal mark, six of which won’t be plying their trade in the Championship in 2019/20.
2019/20 Preview: At the Top
Leeds are unsurprisingly top of the betting for a long-awaited return to the Premier League after their near-miss in 2018/19, followed by two of last seasons relegated teams, Fulham and Cardiff. Of the three relegated sides from the Premier League, Fulham and Cardiff both have a great chance of bouncing straight back up to the promised land, with both teams having a great squad of players.
Cardiff were the one team out of the three that gave it a really good go in the Premier League last season, pushing Brighton all the way, and in the end, they were unlucky to be relegated according to xG, as they ranked as the 15th best team in the league.
The positives for Cardiff are the fact that Neil Warnock has stayed in Wales. They have a very similar squad to the one that got them promoted two seasons ago, and in that season their underlying process was exceptional – second best only to Wolves, who were well above-average.
They have been slightly overlooked in the betting, with the Infogol model giving them a 41% chance of finishing in the automatic promotion places, compared to the bookies 17% (5/1) – so there is great value in backing the Bluebirds to fly high this season.
Fulham will give it a good go, but there remain question marks surrounding Scott Parker’s ability as a manager, and they are best watched at this stage.
Marcelo Bielsa has stayed on as Head Coach at Leeds, which is a huge boost, and means that it is highly likely that they will maintain a similar level of process this season as they managed in 18/19. They were the second-best attacking team (76.8 xGF – 1.67 xGF per game), and the best defensive team (41.3 xGA – 0.90 xGA per game) in the league according to expected goals.
As can be seen in the below graphic, Leeds’ 10 game rolling average for 18/19, Bielsa’s side were very impressive, and their process improved drastically as the season went on, with their process at its highest when finishing the season.
While Pontus Jansson has left Elland Road, leaving them light in the centre of defence, their business in attack has been promising in the off-season, bringing back Jack Harrison on-loan, getting Jack Clarke back on-loan after selling him to Tottenham, and signing Hélder Costa from Wolves, a player who lit the Championship alight in 17/18.
Leeds are the team to beat this season, with the Infogol model giving them a 51% chance of finishing in the top two, and a 30% chance of winning the title – both of which offer value.
The bookies price Leeds up as 4/1 favourites to win the league, which equates to around 20%, so the Lilywhites should be backed to reign supreme this season.
In terms of the rest, West Brom and Swansea are both interesting runners, with both starting the new season with fresh faces at the helm. Slaven Bilić has taken over at West Brom, a side that were beaten in the semi-finals of the play-offs last year, but the squad he now has isn’t as good as last year’s roster, with top scorers Dwight Gayle (23 goals) and Jay Rodriguez (22 goals) both departing, as has Salomón Rondón. They may struggle to find goals this season as a result, and defensively they were woeful last season (60.6 xGA – 1.31 xGA per game), so may find it hard to match last season’s fourth-place finish.
Swansea impressed greatly last season under Graham Potter, and although they finished down in 10th, they ranked as the fourth-best team over the course of the season. Potter has since moved on to Brighton, and the Swans have replaced him with another promising young coach – Steve Cooper.
Cooper comes in from managing England’s Under 17’s, a team with which he won the U17’s World Cup in 2017, and he is a coach that plays in a similar way to the departed Potter, so their process has every chance of remaining the same.
Daniel James has already moved onto bigger and better things with Manchester United, Leroy Fer and Martin Olsson have been released, but if they can keep hold of their other star players (Oliver McBurnie, Bersant Celina, Mike van der Hoorn) then they can pick up where they left off last season.
The bookies don’t rate Swansea this season, giving them a 22% chance of a top-six finish (7/2), but the Infogol model thinks they are a good value bet to have another solid season (59%). Brentford (23% chance top six) are rated highly by many, and they should go well provided they keep hold of their best players, as should Bristol City (23%), with these two sides finishing seventh and eighth respectively in Infogol’s 18/19 xG table.
Huddersfield (23%) are a team best watched at this stage after their dismal season in the Premier League, with Jan Siewert still an unknown quantity. Derby (24%) and Middlesbrough (22%) will also be in with a shout of a top-six finish, and both start the new season with new managers – Phillip Cocu at Derby and Jonathan Woodgate at Boro – though there is plenty to improve on for both teams, as both had poor processes last season.
Stoke (7%) didn’t impress at the end of last season under Nathan Jones, and it is tough to know what to expect from them, while Sheffield Wednesday (15%) were mightily impressive in the run-in, but have had their boat rocked after Steve Bruce left to manager Newcastle. As ever in the Championship, you can make a case for most teams to have strong seasons, such is the competitive nature of the league.
Newly promoted pair Charlton and Barnsley head the relegation betting, followed by a hamstrung Birmingham, the perennial over-performers Reading and London pair QPR and Millwall.
Charlton (30% chance relegation) and Barnsley (34%) are both talented teams, but both are expected to find life difficult on their returns to the Championship, with the 2019/20 season expected to be a grind for both. Birmingham had their off-field issues last season, resulting in a nine-point deduction, and Garry Monk has since left the Blues, with his assistant Pep Clotet taking over.
They may be in for a struggle this season, especially with top scorer and talisman Che Adams (0.47 non-pen xGI/90) having moved to Southampton, and key creative force Jota heading to rivals Aston Villa, the Blues have a 24% chance of dropping into League One according to the Infogol model.
Reading have been flirting with relegation for the past few years, and unsurprisingly according to the Infogol model, as their underlying numbers over the past three seasons have been very poor – even when they managed to finish third in 2016/17 (18th expected).
Reading under Gomes
Many will argue that things have taken a turn for the better under new manager José Manuel Gomes, but the underlying numbers remain to a similar level, and although Reading had the 17th best record since his appointment just before Christmas, they ranked as the third-worst team in the league during that time, according to expected goals.
In fact, in Gomes’ 24 games in charge, the Royals averaged a measly 0.86 xGF per game (the fourth lowest in the league) and conceded an average of 1.58 xGA per game (the third-most in the league). So, while there may be an air of optimism surrounding the Madjeski heading into the new season, the Infogol model firmly believes that, if their underlying process remains the same, Reading will be embroiled in another relegation battle (IG – 27%, Bookies 16/5 = 24%).
Next in the betting are QPR and Millwall at 10/3, with both teams having gone through a transitional summer, but the model suggests that both are too short in the relegation betting market. Wigan (7/2) and Hull (4/1) follow, but the best value other than Reading to succumb to relegation lies with Luton.
The 2018/19 League One champions were mightily impressive last season, securing a long-awaited return to the second tier of English football, but they were so good that their best players have been cherry-picked. It is hard to gauge how newly-promoted teams will perform in the Championship, but the Infogol model suggests that Luton (26% chance relegation) should be priced closer to the likes of Birmingham (11/4), so for that reason there is value in backing the Hatters to head straight back to League One at 4/1.
As mentioned in the ‘Story of Last Season’ segment, nine players broke the 20-goal mark in 18/19, and of those players, only Neal Maupay, Oliver McBurnie and Jarrod Bowen remain in the Championship at the time of writing. All three have been linked with moves to the Premier League over the summer, but if they stay put, there is a compelling argument to back one of these three to be top scorer in 19/20.
Neal Maupay finished last season with 25 goals, an impressive figure in a competitive Championship, and that figure closely matches his expected goal tally (24.1 xG), suggesting that this level of goal scoring is replicable again this season.
In 18/19, the Frenchman averaged an impressive 0.54 xG per 90, bettering his 17/18 average (0.50 xG per 90), so here we have a striker that is very consistent at getting on the end of high-probability chances game in, game out. He takes penalties for Brentford and plays in one of the most attacking teams in the league, so he will continue to get chances, making him an obvious selection to finish top scorer at around 14/1 (provided he stays in the Championship).
Aleksandar Mitrović is the favourite to scoop the golden boot, and that isn’t a surprise given how prolific he was in half a season when he fired Fulham into the Premier League, but he is too short at a single figure price (6/1). There has been money for Huddersfield forward Karlan Grant, who scored 44% of his team’s goals after he joined in January (4 out of 9), but he is still young and is best watched this season.
Of the rest, the two-other stand out candidates are both Leeds strikers; Patrick Bamford and Kemar Roofe.
They both got a fair share of stick last season, especially as Leeds got so close to a Premier League return, but both posted very impressive numbers. In fact, Bamford was the league leader in xG per 90 minutes last season (0.62), with Roofe in a close tied second (0.59), so these guys are getting on the end of chances regularly, which is a good sign. Both struggled with injuries last season, but if they can stay fit this time around, there is no reason why they can’t fire Leeds back to the promised land.
There isn’t much between the two in terms of xG or price, but preference is for Roofe, as he will likely start the season as Marcelo Bielsa’s first-choice striker.
Leeds to win the Championship @ 4/1
Cardiff top 2 finish @ 5/1
Swansea top 6 finish @ 7/2
Reading to be relegated @ 16/5
Luton to be relegated @ 4/1
Neal Maupay top scorer @ 14/1 e/w
Kemar Roofe top scorer @ 16/1 e/w