Data points to surprises at the weekend: Birmingham, Cosenza and Gothenburg could surprise favourites
Norwich v Birmingham (Saturday, 16.00pm)
In the ninth-round match of the Championship, tenth-placed Birmingham will visit the home ground of eighth-placed Norwich and it will be a very important game for both teams. As usual in this competition, the table is extremely balanced. There is a gap of just three points between the teams in fourth and tenth place, with Birmingham just one point behind their opponents on Saturday. Neither team is in a moment of brilliant form and a win would be good for both.
Norwich have had to manage three defeats in their last four games, including a six-goal defeat to newly promoted Plymouth. Birmingham picked up just two points in the same period. However, both teams confirm that position in the table can be misleading at the start of the season. The expected points metric, which takes into account the quality of scoring opportunities created and allowed, and then calculates the probability with which a team should have scored, puts Birmingham in fifth place and Norwich two places above.
So, even as an outsider of the bookmakers, visitors have a good chance of surprising and scoring away. Their undisputed advantage is the excellent defence, which, despite Ethan Laird’s five-game absence last season, has only surpassed seven times so far, which is the third lowest number behind leaders Leicester and third-placed Preston. Their quality is also confirmed by the pattern of expected goals allowed, according to which the team even faced the fewest volume of dangerous opportunities in the entire Championship.
Analysis of the data shows that the team does not have any visible positional weakness and, for example, is the one that best defends the central spaces near its area, along with Coventry. It is Norwich who have completely different concerns at the back and, after the last round, have the 16th worst defence.
He is indeed more offensively dominant than his opponents (1.8 against 1.3 expected goals per game), but he has a big challenge this time around. As for Birmingham’s attack, although it is quite poor so far, it can count on the vulnerability of the opponent in counterattacks and especially in set-piece situations. Norwich are the worst in the entire league to defend them, while only five other teams define them better than Birmingham.
Pisa – Cosenza (Saturday, 14:00)
In the eighth round of the Italian Serie B, Pisa and Cosenza, two neighbours in 12th and 13th places in the table, respectively, mdem forces. And although the home side are considered the big favourites, their position in the table does not match their performance so far. The aforementioned expected points metric is again a good guide: so far, Pisa is averaging 0.83 expected points per game, the lowest in the league.
While the team’s below-average defense has also contributed to this, the main reason is problems on offense. The managers of coach Alberto Aquilani, former Italian international and midfielder of Liverpool, Juventus and AC Milan, and who also went through Sporting, have only very sporadically obtained good shooting opportunities and their expected 0.7 goals per game are, once again, the lowest number in Serie B.
Their two most active forwards, Stefano Moreo and Alessandro Arena, have scored just one goal, with the former in particular looking lost in the tactical system this season. Pisa managed to score five goals, with five different players scoring. This search for a reliable goalscorer will play in Cosenza’s favour. The Calabria team is universally poor on all important metrics, which may still be enough for Pisa given its current state of mind.
Hammarby – Gothenburg (Sunday, 17:30)
Hammarby played excellent football in the Allsvenskan last season and, as one of the leading contenders for the title, finished third in the table. However, it has been far less successful this season following the departure of a number of key players.
From the current fifth place, it is already nine points from the Cup positions and, according to the analytical models, should be more in the middle of the table, that is, at the level of this weekend’s rival, Gothenburg. In fact, the situation could not be more balanced as both teams should have added the same 30 points based on their performances so far. And while Gothenburg have 29 points, Hammarby are eight points higher than expected.
According to the main data models, which assess the quality of defenses and attacks, the intensity or success of pressure, aerial play, the danger of counterattacks or even the gains of balls recovered in different parts of the field, the two teams are extremely similar. The main difference between them is that while Hammarby’s style is based on possession and collective play, Gothenburg’s is more direct and tries to go up much faster after winning the ball.
The outcome of the game will therefore probably be a matter of state of mind. Gothenburg have four wins from their last five games, plus an away draw with leaders Malmö. Therefore, the team does not fail to have chances of success in Sunday’s confrontation.