xG AND THE MYTH OF BEING “FM’D”

We’ve all been there. Dominant for 90 minutes, creating chance after chance, but their goalkeeper is having the game of his life; it’s still goalless. Cue the inevitable counter-attack, and a crushing, soul-destroying 1-0 defeat.

You’ve been “FM’d”, there’s no shame, it’s happened to all of us.

Dig a little deeper though; do the FM gods really have it out for you? Or is there a reason why your side didn’t make that breakthrough?

With the release of Football Manager 2021, Sports Interactive introduced a new statistic to help analyse your performances – xG. In this post, I’ll take a look at what xG is, how you can use it to see where it all went wrong, and whether “being FM’d” is truly a thing – or if we can bust the myth once and for all.

Step aside gents – I’ve got this one!

WHAT IS xG?

xG, shorthand for ‘Expected Goals’, is a statistic used to measure the quality of any given chance that has been created. Based on a number of different factors, it can determine whether a player should be converting more of the chances they’re being presented with, or whether they’re being put into difficult positions and doing well to convert any at all. The key factors that affect the xG value of a shot are:

Distance from goal – Long range shots generally carry a lower xG
Angle the shot is taken from – Shots from between the width of the posts will have higher xG values
Shot type – Headers, stronger foot and weaker foot shots all affect the value differently
Assist type – Crosses, through balls and set-pieces will all create differing quality of chances
Defensive Performance – How many opposition players are around who could make a block or a tackle? Is the goalkeeper well positioned to make a save?

xG analyses every shot based on these factors and assigns a decimal value between 0 and 1. 0 would only be given to a shot that is literally impossible to score, and likewise 1 could only be assigned to a shot that was impossible to miss; therefore, you’ll never see those figures assigned to an individual shot. As an example of how to apply decimal values in a more real-world fashion, a player should expect to score from a shot with an xG value of 0.5 once in every two attempts, or 50% of the time. A common situation where a shot has an above average chance of hitting the net is from a penalty. As the distance and angle are pre-determined, the xG value is always the same for a penalty, set at 0.76. This value comes from the fact that on average around 75% of all penalties are converted.

Although xG assigns value to individual shots, this data can be collated in different ways. It can be used to analyse an individual player, be that in a one off game or over a longer period of time, and can also assess a team as a whole, as every player’s xG value can be added together and compared to the number of goals scored in that time. xG can also be turned into a per 90 metric, which gives a more fair assessment to players and teams who have played varying amounts of football. For example, Player A with 7.25 xG looks a more threatening player than Player B with 5 xG. However, if Player A has played 10 matches and Player B has only played 5, then Player B is averaging a higher xG per 90, showing him to be the bigger goal threat.

xG IN FOOTBALL MANAGER

Far from it’s humble origins, xG is now a widely used and fairly mainstream metric. It is open to adaptation though, and although Opta provide the most commonly used xG model, there are others around, and anyone with enough know-how and data can create their own. When Sports Interactive decided they wanted to include xG in Football Manager, they felt that none of the already existing xG models would work in harmony with their match engine, so they enlisted the help of football data specialists SciSports to create a custom built xG model.

The xG system in-game can be seen before, during and after matches; can be used to aid recruitment through the player search and analyst reports; and is also available as part of a more thorough team report tab.

HOW TO ANALYSE xG

It’s all very well being able to find and look at the xG data available in game, but without understanding how to read it and use it to your advantage, it’s nothing more than numbers and graphs.

PLAYER ANALYSIS

xG information is available for players in any outfield position, assuming they’ve had a shot, but more often than not it’s the strikers who are going to be scrutinised to try and gain an advantage. The standalone xG value can be added to your chosen view in the Squad screen, and is also available in the Season Stats section of a player’s profile.

In the profile page under Reports > Coach Report there is a handy octagonal graphic showing the key attacking metrics, including xG/90. As mentioned above, per 90 metrics give are more useful when making comparisons, as they level the player field between varying amounts of game time.

In this example, my striker Ramiro Centurión is bang on the league’s average for xG/90, but only has 2 goals from 12 league starts. His xG/90 leads me to believe he is getting into some decent goal-scoring positions, which we can confirm in the Analysis tab, by having a look at his shot maps from recent matches.

Only one shot from outside the area in the last 3 games and all of his shots from within the width of the 6 yard box show that he is indeed getting into good goal-scoring positions, which means his lack of goals is either down to a lack of shots or an inability to finish. We can see from the other metrics on the graph that he is having an above average of shots/90 at 3.69, but only getting less than half on target, and shockingly only converting 2.6% of them! Some finishing training is in order for Ramiro!

TEAM ANALYSIS

As well as being able to pin point issues with any one player, xG can also be used to assess the team as a whole. By going to the sidebar and selecting Team Report > Analyst Report > Scoring we can see a shot map from recent matches and an Attacking Efficiency chart that will help to analyse our recent attacking exploits.

As well as showing every shot taken in the last 5 games, the shot map also gives the outcome of that shot, plus assigns a value to it, meaning that we can see whether our best chances are being scored, being saved, or just being wasted and missing the target. It also provides the type of shot being taken to help decisions about playing styles. For example, if the team’s xG over the last few games has been higher than usual and the majority of shots have been headers, it may be worth floating more crosses into the box for players to attack.

The Attacking Efficiency chart is a great way to instantly compare your side’s clinical edge compared to the other sides in your division. You’ll receive one of these, plus it’s defensive counterpart, in your monthly Analyst report – assuming you have a Performance Analyst to provide one. It can be accessed at any time though, again in the Team Report > Analyst Report > Scoring section. The general rule of thumb with these charts is the closer to the top right corner you are, the better you’re performing, which Football Manager does a great job of highlighting with subtle, but helpfully colour coded labels. As you can see in the example above, our side are having the second highest shots per game in the division, but also have the second lowest conversion rate, which backs up the previous conclusion that our strikers can’t hit a barn door this season!

MATCH ANALYSIS

As part of the match day experience, xG was added to the match stats information, meaning you can keep up to date and track the chance quality of each shot as it happens if you so wish. This is also accentuated by a shot map for each side which updates in real time, and an xG Match Story, which not only highlights the best chances of the game, but when they occurred, giving more of an insight into factors such as tired legs towards the end of each half.

THE MYTH OF BEING “FM’D”

The joy of Football Manager, at least in my opinion, is that although it can never be 100% realistic, it is based on a sport where amazing and unexpected things can, and do, happen. As you can’t ever fully predict what will happen in football, the outlandish and gut wrenching things we sometimes see in-game marry well with some of the sport’s most memorable moments. This is where I believe the myth of being FM’d starts to look a bit shaky; as frustrating as it is, it isn’t just a Football Manager occurrence.

Back in November 2012, Celtic produced one of the Champions League’s greatest ever shocks, recording a 2-1 win over a Barcelona side that had gained a reputation as one of the greatest club sides ever in their previous four years under Pep Guardiola. Although xG wasn’t a commonly recorded metric back in 2012, it’s clear to see from the below match stats that Celtic were absolutely outplayed and performed a textbook ‘Smash and Grab’ – the type of game that would leave avid FM players heading to the forums!

Imagine Tito Vilanova’s team talk after this!

Not only can sides dominate the ball, create chances and still lose the game in one-off shock results, but it can also be part of a deeper rooted problem. The most notable example of this at the moment is surely Brighton, who have been a big talking point in the current Premier League season due to their inability to finish the chances that they’re creating.

The most damning analysis of their performance comes from the below graphic, where an Expected Points metric has been created by comparing the xG performance of sides in every fixture played so far in the Premier League. This has then been used to create an alternate league table to show how the sides would rank if everyone was performing to their xG. Staggeringly, Brighton would be sat 5th in an Expected Points table, as opposed to the 17th place they currently occupy. Although manager Graham Potter hasn’t completely escaped the blame, it’s clear to see that his finishers are letting him down when it comes to converting chances, and they find themselves in a relegation battle they could have avoided because of it.

IN SUMMARY

Clearly, teams being dominant and losing games isn’t a scenario exclusive to Football Manager, but still claims of being FM’d are banded about. I’m as guilty as many, I often exclaim that the game has it out for me when I watch another 90th minute winner slip past my goalkeeper. The truth is though, that it’s a representation of the sport we all love, sometimes no matter what you try, your team just can’t make the breakthrough. There are many ways to try and affect the match with substitutions and tactical changes – but they’re far too situational to try and cover here. Taking a step back, looking at how the match has shaped up so far, how the opposition are set up, and what you have available to change the game can all make a difference, whether positive or negative. Sometimes though, it won’t make much of a difference at all, it’s just one of those days. Call it bad luck, call it destiny, call your strikers your expletive of choice – one thing you shouldn’t call it though, is being FM’d.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s time to declare this myth busted.

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