Match Preview: Fulham vs West Brom

Summary

This is a review of some of the key performance data for Fulham and West Brom this season ahead of their upcoming fixture on Monday 2nd November 2020.

As usual I will start with the key conclusions and leave the detailed underlying numbers further down the page for those who want to explore them. The data has been sourced from FBref.com.

The numbers point to two teams struggling at boths ends of the pitch but for slightly different reasons.

Attacking wise Fulham have a lot of possession and occupy good positions in advanced areas of the field, but struggle to convert those positions that into high quality chances, instead their attack is characterised by a high volume of very low quality chances, largely generated from crosses into the box.

West Brom meanwhile struggle to generate any attacking volume or quality, with data suggesting they venture forward little yet still lack the directness to cause most opponents problems. Their attack looks on paper to be the leagues weakest and their tally of 6 goals to date would appear to be flattering relative to the underlying creativity.

Defensively both teams don’t fair too badly in terms of the number of chances given up, but its the very high quality of chances conceded which is their undoing. For Fulham this is likely a side-effect of the attacking approach which leads them open to counter-attacks, but the data don’t immediately suggest why West Brom should be conceding such high quality chances, given their lack of possession and attacking ambition (at least evident in the data).

The numbers suggest to me a match up which should favour Fulham, West Brom are not effective at restricting opponents chances when defending deep nor are they successful on the counter-attack. This suggests they could be vulnerable to Fulham’s high possession and struggle to exploit Fulham’s high defensive lines. Whether Fulham can be as successful as other teams in breaking open the West Brom defence remains to be seen!

West Brom do favour attacks down the wings where their most creative players are and they will no doubt look to exploit the spaces left behind Fulham’s usually highly advanced full-backs. The match up then likely to focus on whether Fulham’s full-backs can generate good quality chances, and whether, when they dont, West Brom can get in behind them.

Attacking Statistics

West Brom and Fulham currently have two of the weakest attacks in the premier league, the reasons for their weakness differ but the underlying result is broadly the same. On a simple goals scored per game basis, the teams rank 17th and 18th in the league respectively

Both teams average 3.33 shots on target per game (tied 14th in the league), The first significant difference we see is when we look at total shots per game, Fulham rank quite highly, 9th in the league in fact while West Brom sit at 17th for this metric. Of course the implication then is that West Brom are getting a far higher proportion of shots on target than Fulham. Shots per game is shown in the table below.

If we start to explore the quality of chances created we see that West Brom generate, by some distance, the leagues lowest average xG per game (with Fulham in 14th).

The implication of the above then is that West Brom are significantly overperforming their xG, scoring at nearly twice the rate expected.

Both West Brom and Fulham generate very low quality chances, but Fulham just create more of them and this explains the superior xG. The chart below shows the xG generated per shot (excluding penalties) with Fulham and West Brom occupying 19th and 18th place in the league for this measure of average shot quality. Only Manchester United have created lower quality chances this season (surprisingly).

A footnote here that Fulham’s non-penalty xG per shot is trending upwards. In the review of the attack at the end of September, I noted Fulham’s non penalty xG per shot was around 0.055. It is now 0.07 having been 0.085 during October, this may reflect the presence of the new signings Ademola Lookman and Ruben Loftus-Cheek creating more attacking options. I will explore this further in my October review which is coming soon.

The approach to attacking looks very different between the teams. Fulham move the ball in possession much more. The chart below shows Fulham at 5th in the league for the distance the ball is moved while in possession, with West Brom in 19th.

In terms of pregressive ball movement (distance the ball is moved, in possession, towards the opponents goal) the difference is even more stark, with Fulham 3rd in the league and West Brom still 19th.

Note that the team in 20th in these metrics is Crystal Palace, who comfortably beat Fulham by absorbing pressure and undertaking rapid counterattacks.

West Brom are, however, less direct than Crystal Palace which can be seen in the chart below, it measures the average distance advanced towards the opponents goal and is a measure of directness in attack. Unsurprisingly Crystal Palace top this chart, and West Brom come in at 7th. Indicating they do play a direct style, but not to the extent of Palace.

Numbers suggest that while Fulham have been successful advancing the ball into opposition territory, West Brom struggle with this. The chart below shows touches per game in the attacking third of the pitch, Fulham rank 5th in the league, whereas West Brom are not venturing forward nearly as much at 18th in the league.

Fulham’s problem this season has been penetrating into the penalty box, and we can see in the chart below, Fulham’s penalty area touches drop off significantly compared to the final third touches. West Brom also struggle to convert their low number of attacking third touches into penalty area touches, positioning them in last for penalty box touches per game.

We known by now that Fulham’s main route into the box is via crosses from wide positions, they lead the league in attempted and successful crosses into the box. The trouble is that this is only leading to very low quality chances for Fulham (hence the high volume low quality problem set out above).

Fulham have also struggled to find routes to goal other than through crosses, the chart below show West Brom and Fulham at the lower end of the table in this metric.

Defensive Statistics

Fulham and West Brom are tied (along with Liverpool) for 17th for most goals conceded per game. Only Manchester United have conceded more goals per game(!)

Both teams are near or at the bottom of the league for shots on target given up….

…but do better when looking at total shots conceded, showing that a high proportion of shots given up are going on target, and are therefore probably coming from high quality chances. This is shown in the chart below, interestingly, Fulham actually give up fewer shots than they take themselves.

Fulham and West Brom are 18th and 20th respectively for the expected goals conceded per game (excluding penalties)

As implied by some of the shot data above, Fulham and West Brom give up some of the highest quality chances in the league as well ranking 18th and 16th respectively for non-penalty xG per shot.

It is slightly surprising that West Brom perform badly in this measure, as a team with low possession playing a direct style, we would expect them to get players behind the ball which usually leads to low quality chances conceded (Crystal Palace are the best at this as the chart above shows). Fulham’s struggle is mostly due to how high up the pitch they get which leaves them exposed defensively, but this is unlikely to be the issue for West Brom.

In terms of defensive approach, Fulham apply much more pressure on teams in the attacking third, which likely reflects that Fulham lose the ball high up the pitch and press high to win it back, compared to many other teams. West Brom are less inclined to press high up the pitch.

However one area where Fulham struggle is applying pressure to opposing players at all. The chart below shows the number of times, per game, that teams apply pressure to the opposition in possession, with Fulham ranking 19th. This may reflect in part that opponents tend to have the ball less against high possession teams like Fulham.

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