After a 2-1 loss to relegation threatened Swansea City, Everton are now five games without a win. The Blues have fallen to 12th place, their lowest position all season. After being in and around the European places earlier in the season, they’re now closer to the relegation zone than they are to the Champions League places.
On November 22nd Everton were as high as seventh. With three of their next five games coming against Newcastle, Bournemouth, and Norwich, they were looking up the table. Two months later they’re outside the top half and are unsure whether to look up the table to the European spots or down to the relegation zone. The question is whether this Everton is the real Everton.
It’s safe to say Roberto Martinez’s men got very unlucky in their loss to Swansea. Above is an expected goal map from Michael Caley. It shows that Everton created more chances and created better chances against Swansea, and ended up being very unlucky to lose. But the argument could be made that they’re due for a couple losses like this. Everton are currently converting roughly 40% of their shots on target. Since Opta started collecting data in 2009, only two teams have finished with a shot conversion rate of 40% or higher. Those two teams were the 2012/2013 Manchester United and the 2013/2014 Manchester City, both went on to win the title. In that time no Everton team has converted more than 31.1% of their chances. Chances are their current conversion numbers are unsustainable and will drop as the season goes on.
Moving back to expected goals, the Toffees have over performed in that area thus far. Above is a chart from Paul Riley listing his expected goals for and expected goals against for each team. According to Riley’s model, Everton have been expected to score 29.58 goals while having scored 40 actual goals. Even when that number is rounded up to 30 expected goals that is an over performance of 10 goals. No other team in the league has over performed their expected goals by more than six goals. As they start to regress to the mean with both their shot conversion rate and their expected goals, we can expect to see a few more unlucky results like the one against Swansea.
While their offense has been more than a bit lucky, the defense has been legitimately bad. Looking back at that expected goals chart from before, Everton’s expected goals against is 33.77. If you round that up to 34 you have the number of goals that they have conceded this season. That just means they have not been lucky nor unlucky, they have conceded exactly as many as they “should” have. That number of 34 expected goals against is fifth worst in the league, according to Riley’s model.
Finally, their primary source of goals has been Romelu Lukaku. He has been great this season, but he has been overperforming his expected goals, scoring 1.38 goals for every expected goal. There are very few players in the world that can consistently outscore their expected goals with Messi being the king of this (This is where you make a shocked face) scoring about 1.3 goals per every expected goal. 1.3 is known as the Messi line and you can expect most people that are over 1.3 to regress a bit.
There is precedent for someone to have one crazy season where they go and outperform their expected goals, and he isn’t so far over the Messi line that he will definitely regress. But he also seems to have been a bit lucky when it comes to pure shot numbers. He has scored with 18% of his shots, four percent above his career average of 14%, and with 52% of his shots on target, an 18% increase on his career average 0f 34%. Again, there is precedent for a striker having a crazy good season, but a betting man would put his money on Luaku cooling off a bit and not finishing at quite such a high rate.
Everton have been riding an unsustainably hot offense this season, with a possibly unsustainably hot striker, while having those two factors cover for a mediocre defense. That’s not exactly a recipe for success. Roberto Martinez need to hope either his defense tightens up with the return of Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka, or that his offense can continue their near historic rate of finishing. Even if they regress to the mean, Everton shouldn’t be relegated, but considering Roberto Martinez promised Everton owner Bill Kenwright Champions League football a midtable finish for the second season in a row would not be good enough.
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*Individual game expected goal map from Michael Caley
*Individual expected goal data (Lukaku) and league wide expected goal data from Paul Riley’s website
*Previous shot conversion data from objective football
*Lukaku shot percentage data from @footyintheclouds