Opinions

A statistical look at City’s away form: what’s gone wrong on the road?

After 20 league games, I think it’s fair to say that City supporters have been taken on a bit of a rollercoaster ride so far this season. The highs, to name a few; have been the 15 points collected from the first five matches and the emergence of Kevin De Bruyne as a genuine superstar. But there have also been some lows, namely the seemingly mile-long injury list and the pair of embarassing 1-4 (4-1) defeats to Liverpool & Spurs.

A quick look at the corresponding fixtures from this season and last illustrates that City are currently -2 points off last season’s haul.

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While any sort of an improvement over last season is obviously welcome, and quite frankly needed if our title aspirations are to be fulfilled, we only need to turn a win into a draw (or equivalent) at this stage. As the chart indicates, the two-point deficit was due to our away performances (although I thought it would be worse!), so what exactly has happened away from the Etihad? Since City have played an equal number of Home and Away fixtures at this stage, it makes sense to compare the results directly:

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Standing out like a sore thumb is the ‘Goals For’ column – 29 scored at the Etihad (2.9 per game) compared to 10 (1.0 per game) away from home – that is a stark difference. Whilst there will always be cries for City to “sort the defence out,” the reality with City is that their best form of defence has almost always been their attack. City have been at their swashbuckling best in recent years when they have tried to outscore their opponents. However, naturally, when City’s attacking play has become stagnant, the results have really suffered. Although City have notoriously struggled away from home in recent months, a quick comparison to the past five seasons indicates that the current 1.0 goals per game average is a poor as it has ever been in the Sergio Aguero era.

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Even in comparison with last season’s equivalent fixtures, we have fallen way short of the 17 goals scored. That flat line between Away Match #4 and Away Match #7 (see below) is like looking into the sun – shield your eyes!

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The poor away run has been discussed extensively in both print and on social media, so it should come to no surprise to anyone to see that City have really struggled to score on the road this season. However, is there any reason to optimistic?

Absolutely.

First of all, City can take solace in the fact that all the away fixtures in the first half of the season were played predominantly against the divisions better sides, amassing an average league position of 8th. The Emirates, White Hart Lane, Old Trafford, The King Power Stadium, The Britannia, Vicarage Road and finally both Selhurst and Goodison Park – scratch all of those off the ’15-’16 season itinerary. The second half brings trips to Anfield & Stamford Bridge but the majority of our travels will be to the league’s ‘lesser sides’ (although, wouldn’t it be just City’s luck if Chelsea were to be back to their best when Matchday 34 comes around?).

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Secondly, City’s underlying stats in our Away fixtures are actually VERY comparable to their home performances. In fact, City is ranked 1st / 2nd in the league in the following statistical categories away from home: Shots For, Shots Against, Shots on Target For, Shots on Target Against, Total Shots Ratio. Digging a little deeper into our 18 yard-box passing info also reveals a similar picture – there’s little difference between the attacking stats City are registering.

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In almost every statistical category that leads to goals, City are performing as well on the road, as they do at the Etihad. Inexplicably though, City are 19th (cheers to Newcastle for being worse) in converting those chances into goals. But, here’s the thing about conversion – it shouldn’t stay that low forever. Expecting it to improve drastically is not fanciful, especially considering the return from injury of both Sergio Aguero and David Silva.

To further illustrate my point, here is City’s shot map for both the home and the away fixtures:

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Thirdly, City’s poor away form in the league hasn’t necessarily spilled-over into the Cup competitions, thankfully. In six away fixtures in the Champions League and the domestic cups, City have registered four wins.

So what’s my prediction for the second half of the season?

Well, I envisage that City will continue to register a strong attacking output in these easier away fixtures, and hopefully the goals and points should start to flood in. However, don’t be too surprised if that rollercoaster keeps on going.

Many thanks to Sander Ijtsma, a Dutch Football Analytics Guru, for the Home & Away shot maps and Benjamin Pugsley/Objective Footy for the 18 Yard Box Pass information.

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