Who tends to have the first chance in the Premier League?

Last month I wrote a blog that utilised StrataData to investigate the importance of the first chance in football, specifically looking at the 2015/16 English Premier League. Following up on that piece I will now take a closer look at the players who tend to get the first Good or Great Chance in a game for their team.

My hope for this post is that it will provide some interesting information to those of you who enjoy making trades in the first goalscorer market or satisfy those looking to make a late run for glory in their fantasy game of choice.

Let’s begin by taking a look at the updated values for team win probability when having the first Great or Good Chance in a game:First Chance Prem League01

With another six and a half rounds complete since we last looked at these figures it is pleasing to see that things are largely holding firm across the board. When the home team has the first Great or Good Chance in a game they still avoid defeat around 80% of the time and when the away team has the first they avoid defeat around 71% of the time.

I should note that this updated table has required the addition of a “None” column, thanks to Norwich City’s 0-0 draw with Manchester City at the weekend. Amazingly this game did not contain a single Great or Good Chance, with 13 poor quality attempts registered and an analyst fair score of 0-0 being recorded as a result.

Looking at Great Chances alone things remain largely the same too, though the proportion of wins for the team who has the first Great Chance has risen by around 3%, which points towards even larger significance than first thought:First Chance Prem League002

Remember that the average team typically converts a Great Chance around 45% of the time compared to around 27% for Great/Good combined, so many of these events in this table will have resulted in a goal being scored.

Hopefully by now you agree with me that that the first chance in a game is important, especially when that chance is a Great one, but who are the players most likely to get the first Great/Good Chance in the Premier League?

Let’s take a look at the rankings by player, first of all:First Chance Prem League 03

Surprisingly Odion Ighalo of fourteenth-placed Watford leads the way, having the first Great/Good Chance on ten separate occasions this season and finding the net twice in such situations.

It is much less of a shock to see 19-goal Jamie Vardy of Leicester hot on his heels with nine, though he has also only scored from two of these situations. Ighalo has started 29 games this season compared to 31 for Vardy, which makes the Nigerian’s numbers all the more impressive. This also speaks to Ighalo’s superb start to the season, as there is no doubt his output has dipped since the turn of the year.

Many of the usual suspects feature in the upper echelons of the table, though it is important to note that Diego Costa (23), Jermain Defoe (21), Sergio Aguero (22), Bafetimbi Gomis (17) and Olivier Giroud (21) have had significantly fewer starts than the two players at the top of the standings.

League top scorer Harry Kane (31 starts) is there or thereabouts, but it seems the 21-goal Tottenham man tends to save his impact for a little later in games.

For me the most surprising name in this list is Michail Antonio of West Ham, a player who has has found himself at right back of late, though Ayoze Perez runs him close in this respect. As a Newcastle supporter I was surprised to see any of our squad here at all, though in fairness the young Spaniard has started 19 games and scored six times.

Breaking it down by team there are some more surprising entries that catch the eye:First Chance Prem League 04

The much-maligned Christian Benteke remains Liverpool’s best player at getting the first Great/Good Chance in a game, while Robbie Brady is an unusual entrant on the list for Norwich. The Irish winger has started 29 times and scored three goals, but is probably benefitting from the striker rotation that has taken place all season at Carrow Road.

Although we are dealing with a very small sample size for the most part, the conversion rates of Romelu Lukaku (Everton) and Bojan (Stoke) really jump out from this list. Lukaku has hit the net on 2/3 occasions when having the first chance, while Bojan has struck 3/4 times.

When narrowing our field of view to Great Chances alone things do not change too much at the top in terms of best performers, but the list is significantly different overall:First Chance Prem League 05

Ighalo looks to have been the best bet for first goalscorer this season as he gets the first Great Chance more often than anyone else, though his conversion rate is significantly lower than that of Vardy and Kane. Those two players have 40 goals between them in the league this season and 11 of these goals have come from the first Great Chance in a contest. One common adjective used to describe England’s potential front two for Euro 2016 is “sharp” and it again fits nicely here.

Aguero is unsurprisingly near the top again, but a 17% conversion rate for a striker of his class is desperately poor. Only Bafetimbi Gomis of Swansea comes anywhere near this figure, but is perhaps much more the sort of player you would associate with squandering opportunities. It should be noted that Lukaku is nowhere to be seen here, which makes his conversion rate from the previous table all the more impressive. We can assume all three of his chances were merely Good ones, which have an average conversion rate of just 15%.

I would hope you would agree that James Morrison’s appearance in this list is probably the biggest surprise of all so far, though, with Tony Pulis’ West Brom side hardly known for scoring goals or even just making chances. Morrison is a good all-round player and has featured in multiple positions this season, finding the net three times from 17 starts. Interestingly he has failed to take all four of the Great Chances he has had when they have been the first in a game, though. He is in good company with Aleksandar Mitrović (“Misstrović”), though the young Serb came up trumps in the recent Tyne-Wear Derby so maybe I should lay off him a bit…

Let’s finish by taking a look at who tends to get the first Great Chance in a game per team:First Chance Prem League 06

Players aside it is really no shock to see Aston Villa sitting at the bottom of the table for having the first Great Chance in a game, registering the first big opportunity just twice all year. The fact that it is Scott Sinclair’s name here also says a lot, with the former Manchester City man firmly out of favour with Remi Garde these days after starting 14 games earlier in the season.

Southampton’s Sadio Mane joins Morrison and Mitrović in never scoring from the first Great Chance in a game, though after his excellent brace against Liverpool it is hard to see the Senegalese winger being too concerned about this.

Only Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney have a first Great Chance mean time in the second half of a contest, which points towards how opposition teams set up to contain these teams in the early stages of games. It also points to issues both teams have had in creating the first big attacking moment in a match, with four instances being towards the lower end of the scale.

Perhaps the lack of respect shown to Leicester and Watford is why Ighalo and Vardy have fared so well this season. It has undoubtedly taken teams some time to come to grips with Claudio Ranieri’s style, though the Foxes are still grinding out win after win. Harry Kane’s involvement in the upper segment of these lists is testament to just how strong Tottenham’s attacking numbers have been all season. If the league were decided by metrics then they would be champions already.

I hope that the data discussed in this blog helps you add some winning legs to accumulators or topple that annoying friend who seems to dominate your fantasy league every season. For my next piece I will take a look at what England’s squad for Euro 2016 would look like if StrataData was making the selection instead of Roy Hodgson.

Rich Huggan (@AnalysisRich)

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