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Bielsa’s right: Leeds United were the better team against Birmingham City

Underlying numbers suggest that Leeds were unlucky against Birmingham

Leeds United v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

Marcelo Bielsa has said a couple different times that he felt that Leeds United were the better team against Birmingham City, even with a 2-1 scoreline going against Leeds in the match.

He made the statement during the press conference after the match, and repeated it during the pre-Sheffield Wednesday press conference, saying that while they had lost, and perhaps Bailey Peacock-Farrell had at least one goal that was an error on his part, that Leeds were the better team on the day.

The underlying numbers would tend to back up Bielsa’s assertion that Leeds were the better team on the day. The xG, or Expected Goals, statistic, which measures the average percentage of success from each shot location on the pitch, gave an Expected Goal total for Leeds to be 1.11, meaning that on average, Leeds should have scored one goal in the match, which they did. However, Birmingham City’s Expected Goal total was 0.17, meaning that Birmingham had only a 17% chance of scoring one goal, much less two.

Now there are flaws in the xG rating and it’s far from perfect, but it’s a decent way of telling how a game went, with the better team usually scoring higher on the xG and the worse team scoring lower, and matches that were pretty even, such as the Ipswich Town and Bolton Wanderers game from last weekend, usually have very similar xG totals. The xG totals are a little more useful than just basing how a team did on possession because of the nature of counter-attacking teams that don’t need a ton of possession to score or direct teams that can often give up a little more possession while still playing incredibly fast and grabbing significant goal-scoring chances.

So while it’s not uncommon for managers to say that their team outplayed the other team, even when perhaps they didn’t actually outplay the other team, in this case Bielsa has got a pretty good case. And the data also backs up the idea that Bailey Peacock-Farrell didn’t have a great game and that perhaps Birmingham City got a tad “lucky” in the match to score from the positions that they did. Either way, Leeds played better and good enough to win, or at least draw, but ball didn’t bounce their way last Saturday.

On to the next game.