It’s often said that it’s better to be lucky than to be good.
Football regularly encapsulates that turn of phrase. You can be the better team over 90 minutes, but that doesn’t guarantee you victory. Far from it.
A team can have the better chances, but come up against a goalkeeper having the game of his career. Sometimes the striker has an off day. And sometimes the inferior team goes down the other end and the ball goes in off somebody’s arse.
It’s one of the things that we love about football: the sheer randomness of it all. More often than not the better team will win, but any result is possible between two sides in such a low-scoring sport.
This is why there is so much more to football than the end result. One metric that delves beneath goals scored is expected goals (xG), which measures the quality of chances a team produces.
Using this metric, we can find out who ‘deserved’ to win which matches. Of course, stripped of any context it is a useless statistic, just like any other. That’s why we’ve taken five matches and examined the circumstances which led to the ‘wrong’ team winning unfairly.
Premier League’s most unfair results this season based on xG:
Brighton (2.4xG) 2-3 (1.1xG) Man United
Anyone watching this match did not need expected goals to tell them that Brighton were robbed here. The Seagulls were clearly the better side with the better chances on the day against a sluggish Manchester United, but came out the wrong side of the result.
Brighton outplayed the visitors, taking 17 shots to Man United’s six, and appeared to be coming away with what appeared to be a good point when the final whistle blew. However, the VAR spotted a handball in the final play of the game, giving Man United a 100th-minute penalty to win it.
Bruno Fernandes dispatched the spot, thus completing the first game ever to be won after it had supposedly ended.
This isn’t the first time Brighton have outperformed their opponents but failed to win. By my count, there are 12 Premier League matches in which they have scored better on xG, but didn’t actually win.
PL games in which Brighton won on xG, but actually lost:
❌ CHE 1-3 | 1.4-1.2 xG
❌ MUN 2-3 | 2.4-1.1 xG
❌ SOU 1-2 | 2.1-1.1 xG
❌ CRY 1-2 | 2.6-0.2 xG
❌ WBA 0-1 | 2.6-0.5 xG
— Fantasy Faithful #FPL (@FPLfaithful) March 2, 2021
Perhaps the most egregious example came in the 1-0 defeat to West Brom, where they somehow managed to lose despite creating 2.6xG, while the Baggies only had 0.5xG. The south coast outfit missed two penalties, which would account for around 1.5xG and explains why there was such a discrepancy between the two sides.
According to Understat, Brighton could have expected to win up to 44 points based on their xG by now, which would put them equal with Chelsea. Unsurprisingly they have the biggest difference between their expected points and their actual points, which is why they are still battling for survival.
Leicester (1.4xG) 4-2 (1.9) Burnley
In terms of expected goals, this was a pretty close encounter on the face of it with Burnley just about edging proceedings. But Leicester City thumped them 4-2 on the night despite not looking particularly impressive.
The Clarets even took the lead early on through Chris Wood, but Harvey Barnes equalised soon after and the Foxes were 3-1 up at the hour mark.
As with any contest, game state has to be considered here. As Burnley were behind for so much of the match, they naturally had to attack more to get themselves back in the game. This is shown in the shot count, as they outshot the hosts by 17-12.
Still, a draw would have been a much fairer result to the visitors based on their performance.
Crystal Palace (0.9xG) 4-1 (0.8xG) Leeds United
Sometimes everything you hit goes in the net, which is pretty much what happened for Crystal Palace in their 4-1 win over Leeds United earlier in the season.
The Eagles had six shots on target with four of them finding the net, an unsustainable level of efficiency that has predictably abandoned them in recent weeks. Leeds did not create enough to win this match, but they certainly did not deserve the pasting they got.
This isn’t the only time Palace have managed to win while outperforming their xG this season. They thrashed West brom 5-1 despite having an xG of 1.8 compared to the Baggies’ 0.8.
While a first-half red card to Matheus Pereira proved decisive in that fixture, their recent 2-1 win over xG champions Brighton was a classic smash and grab. Brighton did more than enough to get three points, but were sucker punched by Christian Benteke’s late goal.
Burnley (0.5xG) 3-2 (2.6xG) Aston Villa
It’s long been speculated that Sean Dyche isn’t a football manager, but in fact a wizard. There’s no other explanation for his Burnley team consistently outperforms their expected goals.
Take this season, for instance. FBref’s numbers suggest they should have scored four fewer goals than they have, while they should have conceded four more. That would give them, yes, four points fewer than they have, which would put them one point above the dropzone instead of five.
Their 3-2 win over Aston Villa might be their greatest robbery to date. Despite going behind twice, the Clarets scored two late goals in the space of three minutes to steal it. That’s despite only having five shots on target, half the amount their opponents had.
Villa are clearly the better team this season, and their class showed in this match. Curiously, their form has dipped ever since this meeting, however.
Man City (1.9xG) 1-1 (0.3xG) West Brom
99 times out of 100 you would expect Manchester City to absolutely smash a team like West Brom, easily one of the worst Premier League sides we have seen in recent years.
Back in December these two clubs met at Eastlands, and as expected they dominated in terms of possession (77%) and shots (27-5) – but not in terms of goals.
Man City took the lead after 30 minutes through Ilkay Gundogan, but conceded just before half-time to make it 1-1. The Baggies only had one shot on target, and it wasn’t even the one that led to the equaliser. Semi Ajaya’s effort took a wicked deflection off centre-back Ruben Dias, deceiving Ederson in goal.
City put things right following this surprise draw, winning 20 matches on the bounce, including a 5-0 hammering of West Brom.