Euro 2020: Perhaps Brighton are not so bad after all...just look at Spain's xG
Euro 2020 was meant to be a chance to escape the spectre of expected goals, if only for five weeks before the Premier League returns for the 2021-22 campaign in August.
Lord knows Albion fans could do with a summer break from all that talk about underperforming xG, expected points and the particularly crushing ‘Brighton would be fifth in the table if they took their chances’.
For the first three days of Euro 2020 at least, there was no mention of xG. Instead, we could admire an Italy side, who are uncharacteristically incredible going forward, tear Turkey apart on day one.
On day two, there was the chance to appreciate the karma of Russia fans booing Belgium players for taking the knee, only for Romelu Lukaku to score twice as the Red Devils – with
Leandro Trossard on the bench – showed that they have every right to be considered one of the favourites.
And on day three, we could get into full ‘It’s coming home’ spirit as England won their opening game at a European Championships for the first time ever, gaining a small measure of revenge on Croatia for that World Cup semi-final defeat three years ago.
This lack of xG was nice whilst it lasted. For on day four, Scotland managed to lose 2-0 to Czech Republic despite ‘winning the game’ 2-0 on expected goals. Whilst that was a Brighton-esque outcome, there was an even bigger xG disparity to come that evening when Spain met Sweden.
In the heat of Seville, the Spanish managed to rack up 17 shots with their 85 per cent possession. They had an xG of 2.47 and yet found themselves drawing 0-0. For their part, Sweden were nearly as terrible in front of goal despite hardly having any of the ball, somehow registering an xG of 1.34. This was largely thanks to Marcus Berg who produced a miss even Aaron
Connolly would be proud, contriving to put the ball off target when presented with an open goal from two yards out.
Another player who would do well in Brighton blue because of his ability to squander even the simplest of chances is Spain’s Alvaro Morata. Which leads us nicely onto the point of this week’s column, which is that even if Tony Bloom opens his cheque book and spends big on the striker we all know the Seagulls need this summer, it comes with no guarantee of ending the xG nightmare.
Morata has cost the likes of Juventus, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid a grand total of around £135 million in his career so far. For all that cash, he really cannot hit a cow’s posterior with the proverbial banjo.
See also Timo Werner, another centre forward Chelsea have spent big on yet scored only five goals for the Blues. According to the dreaded xG, he should have had 20.
Bloom could suddenly find £50 million and Brighton could parachute a Morata or Werner into their squad, but as the experience of watching Chelsea last season or Spain against Sweden shows, unless you get the right sort of player for the way you set up, then it can be money wasted. Presumably, this is why Brighton will not be rushed into a decision on a new striker. The Albion have been burned twice before.
Jurgen Locadia was an unmitigated disaster after arriving for a club-record £14 million from PSV Eindhoven. He is currently struggling to score goals for FC Cincinnati in the MLS.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh arrived six months after Locadia, taking his place as the most expensive player in Albion history at a cost of £17 million from AZ Alkmaar. He has managed two Premier League goals in three seasons, he will surely be moved on this summer at a significant loss to the balance sheet. If a nation with the talent levels of Spain can struggle with xG even more so than Brighton, then perhaps we should not feel too bad about expected goals.
Clearly, it happens to the best – and if a player who has cost as much as Morata cannot make a difference, it shows how difficult it can be to address the problem. Brighton need to find a way to do it though, for the sake of all our sanity and the need to avoid a fifth consecutive relegation battle next season.
And please Euro 2020, no more mention of xG over the rest of the tournament, I beg of you.