By Jason McKenna
Last week we released our podcast with Ted Knutson from Statsbomb on the 3 promoted sides. This week we are publishing 3 articles building upon the chats we had about these new Premier League outfits. We have included lots of data and facts to embellish the fascinating and highly useful insights Ted gave us in his interview. Our first article looks into Norwich City, the winners of the Championship and the first team confirmed promoted into the 2019/20 Premier League. Click the link if you want to listen to the podcast.
Norwich City’s promotion into the Premier League should be looked upon as a great success story. In the summer of 2018, before their promotion campaign had started, the team had just finished 14th after a whole season under a new German manager, Daniel Farke. His experiment had not been wholly successful in his first season in the Championship but the board kept their faith in him and his vision for the team. The team also sold their two best players James Maddison and Josh Murphy. But after a summer of shrewd signings and a continued commitment to their new footballing ideology the team won the Championship. They amassed a hugely impressive 94 points, scoring 93 goals and were back into the Premier League. 27 wins, 13 draws and 6 loses plus the huge number of goals looks good, but there is a lot to analyse with this Championship winning side.
Farke has shown his skill in management by operating within a tight budget, developing youth prospects and bringing a good footballing philosophy to the Canaries side. The team was tactically flexible deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation when moving forwards but when possession was lost and the team was defending they moved into a 4-2-2 or 4-3-3. The team had a mid block plus were fairly pressing, but not overly so, and they had the 4th lowest PPDA in the Championship with 7.86 passes allowed per defensive action. Farke also drilled his players to be adaptive to situations and made them aware enough so that they could change their approach to counter the strengths of the opposition. Teemu Pukki finished the top scorer for the team and for the Championship last season, whereas Buendia was the top assister for Norwich and came 4th for assists in the league. What is telling was that both of these players were cheap signings who grew into the side.
With 94 and 93 goals scored Norwich appear to be a highly potent, quality attacking side. Their goal output was the 3rd highest in the Championship’s history since the league was rebranded. On top of this the team managed the 2nd highest shots per game and the highest shots on target per match in the Championship. But their underlying data does shows that they may have over performed. The impressive team output of an average of 2 goals per game is lessened when contextualising it with the fact that they averaged only 1.47 xG per match, meaning they exceeded their expected output by nearly half a goal a game. But the team have moved into the Premier League where the quality of all the teams is higher, they will encounter better defences, thus their brilliant conversion rate and xG is likely to fall. This creates a problem for Norwich to even survive in the top flight, as Ted Knutson explains that instead of outscoring teams now the objective of the side will be to “score enough goals to get enough wins to stay up. They are not bad though, they have some good talent ”.
When speaking to Ted on the podcast he also warned of Norwich’s attacking output in the 2019/20 Premier League season. He stated that Norwich’s attack “over performed xG quite a bit” and agreed that a regression to the mean is “likely”. But he is excited to see how Buendia and Max Aarons adapt to the Premier League. On Aaron’s specifically he expects him to produce “some” attacking output but warns that he is still “very young”. Ted also stated that he shouldn’t be a regular starter for your fantasy team, but if he is priced right you can “play him as a backup against the weak teams and expect him to do okay there”. On Teemu Pukki Ted had a lot to say, stating that “you have to remember that there were 46 matches he played in the Championship, basically all the matches all of the time, so that is why you are seeing that goal return. He is slightly better than half a goal xG per game. As guys go up you should expect them to produce league average or slightly below, so we expect… 70% of what he had before”. It must also be taken into account that on Pukki’s most recent venture in a top flight league, the Scottish Premier League, he scored 9 goals in 38 appearances for the all dominating Celtic. Thus what we can draw from these discussions is that Norwich’s attack might not be the best to invest in, especially at the start of the season, as the team’s data suggest they cannot keep it up in the Premier League. Overall Ted stated it will be interesting to see how the team performs, especially as it is not clear that they have a Plan B or a more defensive side to their game to block out opponents.
Emi Buendia and Ben Godfrey had also been cited as potentially players who may pick up some returns from set pieces. The team is not that strong on set pieces though, indeed one of the other promoted teams is actually a specialist. In their title winning season Norwich were the most fouled team in Championship; they were fouled, on average, 14.3 times per match. From these free kicks they only scored 13 times from set pieces, 10th in the league, and once from a penalty, 2nd from bottom. Buendia was the main taker of free kicks through the season and 4 of the wingers 12 assists from last season came from dead ball situations. On the surface it looked like Buendia, with 24 chances created, and Ben Godfrey could have linked well on set pieces. Indeed Godfrey was second for headed chances in the Championship. But Ted Knutson explained that “Norwich were not particularly high at set piece goals scored last year”. The possibility of output from Norwich’s set pieces is unlikely, so his advice is “it is not something I would be placing significant transfer funds on”. Also Norwich had no set penalty taker in 2018/19. The team missed 5 of their 6 penalties they were awarded and rotated players to take spot kicks after each miss. Teemu Pukki took 2 and missed, Jordan Rhodes failed twice as well plus Stiepermann took one but failed as well. Only Mario Vranic scored a penalty for Norwich this season, but he missed the other that he took. So there is no penalty taker to capitalise on either.
On the opposite end of the pitch the team are also not looking great. Norwich conceded 57 goals, with 6 other top half sides letting in less than them. The tactic of Farke was to outscore his opponents and this is something that will be much less possible now the team is in the Premier League. Due to the amount of goals conceded, and the over performance in xG, Norwich had an xPoints of 78 and should have finished 3rd in the Championship. The team xConceded was 3rd best in the Championship with 0.96 per match, but this is still relatively close to 1 goal conceded a game in the league below the Premier League. This high xCon means that clean sheets are going to be very hard to come by when the Canaries encounter the much higher quality attacks of the Premier League. Ted told us that the team are “probably unlikely” to keep clean sheets, “I don’t think it will happen that often”.
What is also initially off putting, for both attacking and defensive assets, is the difficult start to the season: Liverpool (Away), Newcastle (Home), Chelsea (Home), West Ham United (Away), Manchester City (Home), Burnley (Away). You could not think of a worse set of fixtures to start off your Premier League campaign after a promotion. The team play the top 3 of last seasons Premier League and even though two of these fixtures are at Carrow Road this does not dissipate the mammoth task it will be to get any points in half of their first six fixtures. West Ham are also a formidable outfit having once again spent big in the close season to make their attack even stronger and Burnley are always tough to play at Turf Moor. Newcastle may be the most realistic game they can look to get points but last season the defence was solid and Steve Bruce likes to keep it tight at the back.
The conclusion that can be drawn is that Norwich are probably going to struggle in their first season Their return to the Premier League is going to be interesting to watch to see if they can continue their skill in the transfer market to get good value players that fit their system plus if they can adapt to the rigours and new challenges of the Premier League. On whether the team can be expected to stay up Ted offered the finals words that “Lets put it this way, I think they have got a chance… they only have to get a league average of points, they have to get slightly over 1 point per game. Can they do it? Possibly”.