Watford Desperately Seeking Answers and Points

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Ray Burton
Ray writes mostly in-depth analytical pieces covering a range of sports from a more statistical perspective drawing his inspiration from the fanalytics movement. Ray writes on the NFL, Premier League, MLB, NHL, NBA, and NRL.

After reaching the FA Cup Final last season, the demise of Watford FC has been both sudden and dramatic. Sitting dead last in the Premier League with no wins from their first 10 games, Watford face a desperate battle for survival.

After finishing 2018/19 on a high with the cup final, Watford’s run to the showpiece final actually helped paper over a very poor end to the season. However, as the new season heads towards the all-important Christmas period they need to find answers fast before it’s too late.

Watford’s Most Succesful Campaign?

After reaching the FA Cup final with a come-from-behind win over Wolves in the semi-final, Watford began to show signs of distress in the league. In their last 6 games in the league following that game, they would win just once against disaster factory Huddersfield, draw once, and lose 4 times.

Conceding a staggering 12 goals in those six games, including four to West Ham, Watford would drop dramatically off the chase for seventh spot and a place in Europe, and finish 11th.

Indeed, you would have to go all the way back to March 3rd, 2019, to find that last time in that season when they produced an xG higher than there opponents.

For the uninitiated, xG is the expected goal rating for each shot taken. Add them all up for a game, and you have a teams xG for that game.

Even in their final two wins of that campaign, Watford’s opponents actually had a superior xG. Now that can come down to a number of factors to help you decide whether it is luck that stops you scoring, incredible goalkeeping, or lack of skill. The key in determining this is looking at the data over a longer period.

As an example, let’s take a look at Watford talisman Troy Deeney:

Watford Talisman Troy Deeney xG courtesy www.understat.com
Watford Talisman Troy Deeney’s xG courtesy www.understat.com

As we can see, Deeney has performed below his expected goals for the last three seasons and has been within 2.15 goals of it in each of the last 5 seasons. This tells us that he is an average Premier League striker, whose performances over time will likely gravitate towards that xG number.

Still Struggling

The 2019/20 season has obviously not started well, but why is that? Again if we examine the individual game xG numbers we see part of the problem. In seven of their eleven games, their opponents have posted a higher xG. That isn’t entirely bad news as it’s an improvement on the way they finished last season.

However, every single player in their team has a negative xG entering game week 12. That’s an incredible statistic. Not a single player is performing at an above-average level, not even slightly. Some players are close to average, but they are all below.

When you’re a team that struggles to create chances, you have to be able to take them. What does this tell us about the likely trajectory of Watford’s season? Well, it really depends. They don’t have a player who is expected to go out and bag themselves 20 goals a season. So they rely on players making marginal returns, scoring five to ten goals a season. And so far, none of their players look up to it.

Arguably their best player, Gerard Deulofeu, is, in fact, an average footballer. Over the last eight seasons his xG, and xA grade out as marginally below average.

Gerard Deulofeu Maps for 2018/19 and 2019/20 courtesy www.understat.com
Gerard Deulofeu Maps for 2018/19 and 2019/20 courtesy www.understat.com

As we can see Deulofeu is actually taking more shots this season than last, but his goals per 90 minutes have dropped dramatically.

There’s Still Time, No Really

Despite the predicament that Watford find themselves in, and their squad of bang average players there is still time to salvage this season. Despite their horrendous start to the campaign, they are only five points off safety.

However, they will likely be battling an inferior goal difference to their competition all season due simply to the fact there aren’t goals in their team. The goal output would be expected to increase as players revert back to average performance, and will slightly outperform their xG over the remainder of the season as a consequence.

Watford Players Pray For A Goal © watfordfc
Watford Players Pray For A Goal © Watford FC

Unless this considerable lack of talent in the goal-scoring and goal-creation areas isn’t addressed soon however, this will likely become a yearly struggle that will be lost in the not too distant future.

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