The game was the 10th in the league for both Mikel Arteta and David Moyes at their current clubs. The latter once signed the former as a player, but it was the Spaniard who came out on top as the Gunners won 1-0.
Everton, Tottenham and Watford have also changed managers during this season. On the face of it, the new appointments have paid off, as all have taken more points from their first 10 matches than their (permanent) predecessors did in their final 10.
Football is a low scoring sport though, where fortune can have a massive impact upon results. If clubs are to improve long term under a new manager, their underlying performance needs to pick up too.
So which of the five clubs who dispensed with their managers midway through 2019/20 have made the most gains on expected goals (‘xG’)? Let’s rank them and see what improvements, if any, have occurred when the last 10 of the old manager go up against the first 10 for the new boss.
A word on the method: the data is taken from Five Thirty Eight, and expected wins are awarded if a team has over 0.4 expected goals more than their opponents. This means they are ahead by the equivalent of one clear-cut chance, which seems reasonable, and it also ensures the expected table has a similar number of draws as the actual table, to keep things realistic.
There’s no points for an improved playing style, or ‘giving the fans their club back’, whatever that weird phrase actually means. We’re just interested in output in the statistics, so let’s see who has made the most difference.
5. Arsenal: Mikel Arteta vs. Unai Emery
Points: 17 vs. 12 (+5)
Expected points: 12 vs. 13 (-1)
While Arsenal haven’t experienced the lowest points change on the pitch, they are the only side from our quintet whose underlying performance has dipped. Perhaps of greatest concern is that they have taken more points than they’ve deserved – as per the rules of our little game, at least – in four of their last five matches.
The Gunners’ main issue from earlier this season remains; they don’t generate enough shots. Only six teams have mustered fewer goal attempts than Arsenal, and they’ve only had more shots on target than their opponents in seven of their 28 games (and just twice under Mikel Arteta).
The average xG value per shot has increased at both ends of the pitch, with the main cause for the upturn in results being defensive over-performance. Arteta’s Arsenal have only conceded nine goals from chances valued at nearly 16, though conceding 19 fewer shots on target than they did in Emery’s final 10 will obviously have helped. Is Bernd Leno the new David Seaman all of a sudden? His mistake against Olympiakos suggests otherwise.
4. Watford: Nigel Pearson vs. Quique Sanchez Flores
Points: 15 vs. 7 (+8)
Expected points: 12 vs. 12 (0)
What a season it has been for the Hornets. Captain Troy Deeney’s first six league appearances of 2019/20 took place under four different managers. We’re not even comparing their current gaffer with their first of the season, just the only other one who had 10 matches in charge.
While the two managers both deserved three wins and three draws from the samples we’re looking at, there was a scarcely credible goal difference swing of 18 on the pitch; Nigel Pearson’s side scored eight more while conceding 10 fewer. Not getting beaten 8-0 obviously helped on that front though.
Where Arsenal have primarily improved at the back, Watford have taken a great leap at the front. In Pearson’s first 10 games they converted 50 percent of their shots on target, when league average is 31 percent and Flores’ side only put away 18 percent of theirs.
That won’t be sustainable – indeed, they’ve converted three from 10 across their last three matches – but chance quality has improved in their favour at both ends of the pitch, so they should keep picking up results.
3. West Ham United: David Moyes vs. Manuel Pellegrini
Points: 8 vs. 7 (+1)
Expected points: 8 vs. 5 (+3)
You have to ask, was any of it worth it? West Ham’s board appointed Moyes in 2017, replaced him as they wanted to aim higher, and then ended up with the Scot back presiding over a near identical level of output as Pellegrini.
The statistics haven’t improved much either, though Moyes is the only new manager here who has faced ‘big six’ teams four times in his opening 10 matches, with three of the clashes away from home.
And the signs are encouraging. While the total shot tally has dipped slightly, shots on target have risen and the volume of clear-cut chances has nearly doubled, leading the average xG value per shot to go from below league average in Pellegrini’s last 10 to over for Moyes. Indeed, his shot quality figure would be the fourth best in the division if it were sustained across the whole season.
But ultimately, West Ham have largely done what Moyes’ teams always do: little of note against the big boys while competing well against their peers. Was any of it worth it?
2. Tottenham Hotspur: Jose Mourinho vs. Mauricio Pochettino
Points: 16 vs. 10 (+6)
Expected points: 16 vs. 13 (+3)
Mourinho is ahead of Moyes in our ranking on expected goal difference, but both former Manchester United managers earned exactly the points their teams’ performances said they should have. As they employ similar tactics, particularly against the big sides where the ball is almost more of an enemy than the opposition are, we shouldn’t be surprised.
Few would argue a change was needed at Tottenham, and performances have picked up. By coincidence, Spurs had the exact number of shots (116) in Mourinho’s first 10 matches as in Pochettino’s last 10, but with five more clear-cut chances and an extra 10 attempts on target.
As you would expect from a Jose team, the greater improvement was seen at the back, though it was at unsustainable levels early on – just 8 percent of opposition shots were clear-cut chances in his first 10 games, when the average is 16 percent – and it has rebounded toward the norm now.
Jose’s other current problem is that where he had Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son for nine and seven of his opening 10 games respectively, he now has neither. Cracks are beginning to show in his relationships with some of his players too. In short, Tottenham have got what they should have expected, and Daniel Levy may need to loosen him purse strings.
1. Everton: Carlo Ancelotti vs. Marco Silva
Points: 18 vs. 7 (+11)
Expected points: 23 vs. 16 (+7)
If you look at Marco Silva’s record in his final 10 games you could feel sorry for him, as Everton won just two of the matches when they should’ve been victorious in five. From an expected goal difference of +2, poor performance in both penalty boxes saw them register -9 in reality. Of the five deposed managers studied here, Silva came out on top in their closing spell in charge.
Yet after the palate-cleansing caretaker spell of Duncan Ferguson, Carlo Ancelotti has taken things up a level from what was already a perfectly competent set of underlying statistics.
Some problems do remain. The Toffees are still scoring fewer and conceding more than their expected goal figures suggest they should be. Everton had four clear-cut chances against both West Ham and Newcastle, but only took a point from each match.
But the fact they had so many golden opportunities is still encouraging, as is their work at the back. Despite conceding two more shots per game than they were under Silva, Ancelotti’s side have limited the chance quality enough so that their total expected goals conceded is lower. It’s impressive work, Carlo, but you might need to make a Pickford removal in the summer.
Statistics correct up to and including matches played 8th March 2020.