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1 Stat That Explains Why Atletico Are Fine

The Alaves draw is basically a fluke.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Deportivo Alaves - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

This might be everything you need to know about our disappointing 1-1 season-opening draw against Alaves:

How do expected goals work?

If you aren’t familiar with expected goals, here’s the basic idea: Expected goals methods are (currently) based on a simple idea: Let’s look at every single shot and give it a score between zero and one. Shots taken with a player’s strong foot score higher. Shots taken closer to goal score higher. Shots that come off a through ball or defensive error score higher than shots coming off a cross.

If you want more information, Caley has provided tons of documentation on how his system works:

To sum up, shots that are valued closer to zero are shots with a very, very low chance of going in.

You know, chances like this:


Chances with a higher probability of being a goal are given a higher value. If you need an example, here’s a good one:


NOTE: The totally improbable, unlikely, fluke goal shown above is from Alaves. The totally improbable, unlikely, fluke missed chance above is from Atletico.

What does this mean for Atletico Madrid?

In other words, there isn’t any reason to get worried yet. Yes, it’s a frustrating result. It’s especially bad since it has us two points off Barça and Real Madrid after opening weekend and has us down two points on a weekend where we had, by some distance, the easiest fixture. That’s all really bad.

That said, many folks on Twitter, the estimable Euan McTear among them, said that this fixture was an example of how Atletico struggles to break down teams that park the bus against them:

When I first saw Euan’s tweet, I agreed with him. But the more I think about this game, and especially after seeing Caley’s expected goals map, the more I think that this game is less a commentary on Atletico’s attacking problems and is more simply a bizarre, fluke of a result that cannot be taken as any sort of broad commentary on Atletico’s attacking quality. It’s a weird, strange result that says very little about how Simeone’s men will break down packed defenses.

If you hit 2.7 on expected goals plus win a penalty and you only concede .05 expected goals against, you get the three points from the game 99 times out of 100. Unfortunately, even a 99% chance at success leaves a 1% chance of failure. This weekend was the 1% result. But if you produce 2.7 expected goals against a team determined to park the bus, you’re doing very well.

It’s still an infuriating result. It could still cost us big at season’s end. But it isn’t a commentary on our ability to unlock a packed defense nor is it symptomatic of broader problems in the Atletico attack. In the big picture, we’re (probably) fine. We’ll need to see how this Saturday’s visit to another promoted side, Levanes, goes. For now, don’t worry too much.