Premier League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Watford’s decrease of goals-per-xG
Watford took just four points from their last six Premier League games of this season. In addition, the team of Spaniard Javi Garcia only managed to score six goals. Because of these poor performances in the last games of the season, they got knocked out of the top ten and finished in 11th place.
However, besides the fact that they scored just six goals, their goals-per-xG value was also noticeably low. This tactical analysis will show the reasons for that development.
Between the game against Leicester City on 1 December 2018 and the match against Fulham on 2 March 2019, the goals-per-xG of the Hornets was 1.195. In this period the striker and captain of the team Troy Deeney played 88.0% of the available minutes. On the other hand, the second English striker in the squad Andre Gray played just 18.1% of the available minutes.
In the last six games, their goals-per-xG decreased to 0.405. Deeney missed three out of these six games because of a red card which he received on 15 March against Arsenal. Considering this, he played just 34.1% of the time while Gray was 70.4% of the time on the pitch.
In light of this, there is an obvious relation between the two strikers and the goals-per-xG value of Watford and furthermore their scored goals. However, when it comes to goals and xG they have similar stats in this season. While Deeney scores 0.37 times per 90 minutes, Gray has got a value of 0.43. Besides that, between their xG values are also no huge differences (0.41 and 0.31 per game).
The 27-year-old Englishman isn’t a traditional striker. With 0.24 assists per game, he has way more than Deeney who has just got 0.08. You can also watch this in his style of play. He tries to use his powerful body to keep the ball away from the defender and then tries to find a teammate. His assist before the 4-1 against Fulham is a perfect example. He uses his body to shield the ball and then finds Kiko Femenía with a perfect pass. The Spaniard just needs to place the ball next to the goalkeeper.
Before the 3-1 against Fulham, he played a perfect pass to his strike partner Deeney who then scores. Other strikers would have kept their head down and would have taken a shot. But Gray has always got his head up to find a better-positioned teammate.
Considering this, Gray is not a striker who just waits in front of the goal to get the ball and then try to score. He wants to receive the ball in front of the last line of the opposing defence and then either lay the ball off or play a through ball.
However, Gray has not just got the stamina to block his opponents away, but especially the pace to get into dangerous areas. Whenever he combines his speed with intelligent runs, he can be a great danger for every defence in the Premier League. In the image below you can see one of his typical runs behind the last line of the opposition.
Even though he already scored seven goals in 29 Premier League appearances this season, his conversion of chances into goals isn’t always the best. In the match against Southampton for example, he got himself into a great position with the aid of his pace. However, he couldn’t manage to get the ball past the goalkeeper.
The 30-year-old’s greatest strengths are his stamina and his good positioning. Like Gray, he likes to receive the ball with his back to the oppositional goal and then lay it off for his teammates. But, the English captain of the Hornets hasn’t got such a good technique like his younger compatriot. In the image below, he receives a pass from Will Hughes, but his first touch is very bad and so Mateo Kovačić can win back the ball for Chelsea.
He’s also very important for Watford because of his ability to win aerial duels. Before the 3-1 against Fulham, he wins the aerial duel, so Gray gets on the ball and can assist Deeney a few moments later.
Deeney isn’t the fastest player but is intelligent when it comes to positioning. Almost every goal of his comes after a one-on-one with the goalkeeper or a shot from a short distance. Almost none of his goals result from a shot from outside the box. Furthermore, he only uses his right foot to shoot.
The 2-1 against Burnley shows exactly these two factors. At first, he brings himself into a good position and receives a perfect pass from Abdoulaye Doucouré. In the one-on-one against the goalkeeper, he uses the outside of his right foot instead of the inside of his left one. However, he scores and that’s what matters at the end of the day.
Gray played well during the absence of Deeney, but he isn’t an out and out attacker like his older teammate. Gray uses his stamina and pace to get into good positions and then either try to score or find another teammate. In light of this, without Deeney upfront, he has one teammate less who converts his passes into goals.
In addition, Deeney is the captain of the team. Without him, the team hasn’t got its most important leader. Furthermore, his ability to be in the right position at the right time in front of goal is incredible. In light of this, it’s no surprise that their goals-per-xG value and the actual goals were less than usual during his absence.
The last games showed how important Deeney is for the Hornets. Even though he isn’t the player with the most incredible technique, his motivation and presence in front of goal are very important factors for the team.
Gray played good in the last games of the season but also benefits from Deeney as his partner up front. It will be interesting to watch how Garcia will use the two English strikers in the next season.
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