Liverpool put in a fantastic performance as they beat Leeds United 3-0 at Elland Road in a match soured only by the horrendous injury suffered by Harvey Elliott. Best wishes, warmest regards, Harv.
While the Reds’ xG total from the match broke models galore, Pascal Struijk’s red card meant they faced 10 men for the final 39 minutes of the game. Nonetheless, they had already chalked up 2.8 expected goals and two actual ones by the fateful moment (per Understat), so the job was already very much in hand.
More interesting from a numbers perspective were the efforts of Sadio Mané. The Senegalese forward had 10 shots which were worth exactly two expected goals in total. An average goal attempt is around 0.10 in value, so doubling that while taking the most shots in a match in his Premier League career illustrates what he achieved on Sunday.
And it got me thinking; how often do the best strikers in the game have a match in which they accumulate two expected goals without including a penalty?
The following list is by no means exhaustive, just a look at the some of the obvious strikers who immediately spring to mind. Mané’s feat of underlying numerical magic was certainly not unique, though it’s not something that occurs with a heavy frequency.
The top three names are who you would expect to lead such a chart, but as fabulous as they are they also play for very dominant teams in their league. As Mané clocked up his xG in Yorkshire rather than at Anfield, what do the numbers look like for matches played on the road? It’s also relevant to assess the standard of opponent faced.
Not quite so common now, is it? And while we can’t say what Leeds’ standing will be at the conclusion of 2021/22 – they are currently winless after four matches – they did finish in the top half last season; only four of the other examples in the table were against teams that matched that in the year in question.
It’s also worth a quick look at how Mané’s shots came about, to show how well he linked up with his colleagues in the front three during this match.
(If you’re unfamiliar with Statsbomb’s data, SCA 1 is the action directly before the shot, SCA 2 the one prior to that).
Notice how there are three chances where Mané passed to either Diogo Jota or Mohamed Salah before receiving it back, and there’s another (minute 81) where the trio all play a role. That may not seem worth highlighting but there were only 20 shots in the league and Europe last season where three of Liverpool’s four main forwards featured in this way.
Jota’s contribution to Mané’s shot tally is more noteworthy as it’s rare for a player to create four chances for a specific teammate. In fact, it occurs approximately once a season for the Reds.
The passes the former Wolves man made to his Liverpool’s number 10 were certainly not all perfect. Mané’s highest value opportunity demonstrates why one must always tread cautiously with single shot xG figures, as the ball was actually played behind him, leaving him to stretch to even generate a shot from the move.
There’s no doubting that Jota played his role superbly on the whole though, and Salah linked up with Mané almost as well. Between them they completed 10 opposition half passes to their colleague from the front three and seven of them resulted in shots at goal, with a further two delivering the ball to him in the penalty area.
This meant that the win over Leeds became only the second Liverpool league match in the last four years in which two players set up another for at least three chances.
The other? The 2-0 win over Burnley just two matches ago (where Alexander-Arnold set up three for Mané while Elliott did the same for Salah). The Reds will now be without their impressive young midfielder for the next few months at least but if their other hot combinations can keep firing then maybe this won’t be the last time we see a Liverpool player hit double figures in the shot column.