I’m not huge on using stats when writing about football matches because [*cliché klaxon*] “there’s only one stat that really counts”, especially when looking back over a game, but they do occasionally make for interesting reading when trying to forecast what could happen in an upcoming game or when looking further down the track.
And I’m always keener to use them when they shed City in a positive light, which is why the xG (expected goals) table makes interesting reading ahead of tonight’s game.
If anyone is wondering, “Expected Goals’ is a measure – usually expressed as a number between 0 and 1 – on whether a given shot will result in a goal. It takes into account a range of factors and historical data and allows us to identify how many goals a player or team should have scored based on the quality of chances they had during a game.“
Why is this relevant in a City vs Brentford match preview?
Well, because in the current xG table for the Championship, City and tonight’s opponents are second and third respectively – both higher than their actual positions in the table.
[Data from FootballXG.com]
Interesting right? (Go on, humour me).
I guess it’s probably telling us something we already know – that City have created enough decent chances to have scored more than eight goals – but it does also reveal that we’re maybe a little fortunate to have conceded only six.
Either way, the metrics suggest more of the same will see us set fair on a course bound for the top six, just as they do tonight’s opponents, whose statistics belie their current 11th place.
Three wins in a week have given the table a healthier look from a City perspective but they were, on paper, three games we were expected to win.
But, as Daniel Farke reminded us yesterday in his Zoom press conference (well worth a watch by the way for the Keira Knightley analogy alone), the expectation levels are currently bordering on the ridiculous, with last-minute winners – of the type we celebrated ecstatically in 2019-19 – now being met with only relief and indifference.
In 2018-19 we were happy to be in the top six. In 2020-21 we expect to be in the top six.
That brings with it a level of pressure hitherto unseen by Team Farke, so it may even be with a slight sense of relief that they head to the Brentford Community Stadium tonight, with most bookies pitching the Bees as slight favorites.
Having just missed out on automatic promotion last season, after a thrilling winning run post-lockdown that saw almost edge out West Brom, Brentford still found the strength to make it to the playoff final, only to choke on the big night at the expense of Fulham.
But this is a football club built on solid foundations – and I’m not just talking about the new stadium. While they are known for their Moneyball approach and their links to FC Midtjylland in Denmark, they are also a team that has its identity defined and embedded, and their style is probably the closest anyone gets to replicating what we know as Farkeball.
They may argue they do it better.
They also have a way of picking up players from relative obscurity, turning them into quality performers and selling them on for a huge profit – Ollie Watkins being the most recent example and Saïd Benrahma likely to be the next when his season-long loan at West Ham is made permanent.
And, like all good production lines, they bring through or bring in replacements who will fulfil the same role as the departee, sometimes even improve it, with the latest, Ivan Toney, looking every bit as prolific in front of goal as Watkins did.
With both teams looking to wrestle possession away from the other tonight, it’ll be a very different game to those we’ve witnessed over the last week and a bit. Thomas Frank won’t set the Bees up to stifle City and, hopefully, sneak away with a point. Quite the opposite.
City’s task has been made doubly difficult off the back of Brentford’s defeat at Stoke at the weekend – their third of the campaign – and Frank will be looking to his men to dominate proceedings, especially early on, and create opportunities for Toney.
For Daniel Farke, he’ll naturally be hoping the three consecutive wins will have finally killed off the losing mentality that engulfed the club post-lockdown, but will also recognise how his troops wobbled at the weekend after the Wycombe equaliser.
Whether he can find a starting place for Mario Vrancic remains to be seen but this won’t be one of those games where City risk being bullied and that may open the door for him, maybe at the expense of Ollie Skipp?
We’ll see, although that may necessitate a reshuffle, which after three straight wins may not be the time.
Either way, expect a tough one, the biggest test since Bournemouth away, and this should really be one of those where we’re happy with a point.
Prediction: Brentford 2, City 2.