Chelsea vs Liverpool sees two of the top three clash at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening. Except for a goalless draw at the London Stadium last weekend, both sides have won all six of their league games this season. It’s an intriguing clash between two top teams, and difficult to call.
Unless you’re a bookmaker. They have Liverpool as favourites which, when looking at league results in matches between the big six since August 2016, seems like a surprising position. In that period, Chelsea have only lost three of their 11 games at home, and the Reds have only won the same number on the road.
The margin isn’t huge, and depends on your bookie of choice, but the general prediction seems to be around a 33 percent chance of a Chelsea win, 40 percent for Liverpool, and 27 percent the draw. All three outcomes have a relatively close likelihood of occurring, but is it right that the visitors have the edge?
Our data certainly implies Chelsea should have the advantage. They have the top three players from either of the two clubs, with one in each line of their team for good measure.
The headline statistics for the two teams are pretty even too. Both sides have scored 14 league goals this season, with Chelsea conceding four to Liverpool’s two. So far, so similar.
A quick look under the bonnet doesn’t suggest much difference either. Maurizio Sarri’s side have taken 70 percent of the shots in their games, and 74 percent of the shots on target. Those figures for Liverpool are 66 and 73 respectively, but that’s still impressive; the Reds have had a harder fixture list so far, and both teams’ figures would be more than capable of winning the league if maintained across a whole campaign. So what’s the significant difference between them?
The answer, as it so often is, is shot quality.
Only two teams have taken more shots from outside the box than Chelsea have. The Blues have had just one shot in the six yard box, which is the joint-fewest in the division. Their expected goals tally going forward have also been boosted by three penalties, though more on that shortly.
The picture at the back is even more alarming. Sarri’s side have allowed a total of 11 clear-cut chances in just six games, with Arsenal – the only side from the big six they’ve faced so far – clocking up five of them.
Liverpool, by contrast, have allowed their opponents just two big chances. One of those occurred when Alisson made the howler of the season, so without that Jürgen Klopp’s side have been very strong defensively. With 16 clear-cut chances of their own (which includes one penalty), they are behind just Manchester City and – believe it or not – Bournemouth on this front.
The following dashboard, using xG data from Five Thirty Eight, really highlights the difference between these sides. It shows the average xG value of the shots for and against for each Premier League team, when penalties are excluded.
The two teams are at opposite ends of the chart, and it’s definitely Liverpool who are where you would want your team to be.
None of this is to say the Reds will definitely win. Chelsea are still in fine form, and no single match will ever automatically align to longer term trends. The Blues won at Anfield in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday too, with a superb goal from Eden Hazard settling the tie.
The above chart does at least explain why models think Liverpool will win though. We just needed to dig a little deeper into the data.