If you’ve been following Stoke City this season, you may be wondering why Stoke City are not scoring enough goals. Throughout this season, Stoke City have been up and down match-to-match with their attack.
In certain matches The Potters have looked ultra creative and dangerous. Other matches, the club has looked toothless and very uninventive. So how does Alex Neil and The Potters find more consistency with their attack? The answer could lie somewhere between the team’s shot creation and shot selections.
Stoke City’s Struggle With Taking Good Shots Towards Goal
Over the past month, we’ve hit on a lot of reasons why Stoke City have had good matches in possession and also inconsistent ones as well. Most of those reasons have stemmed from tactics all the way to player decision making.
Which, all of the above still rings very true and will continue to ring true. Tactics and decision making are always going to be at the heart of a good attacking team or a poor one. But a big objective of tactics and decision making is also better shot creation and shot selections.
Without great chances at goal, a club can of course not score. Or at the very least, they will struggle to be consistent at finding the back of the net. Both of those scenarios is something that Stoke City have struggled with at times this season, especially failing as of late to score in back-to-back matches.
So how do you diagnose the cause of these issues and fix the problem moving forward? The answers could be in the advanced analytical data.
What The Data Says About Stoke City’s Shot Selections
Per FBref.com, Stoke City’s non-penalty expected goals per shot (or npxG/sh) sits at the bottom of the Championship. The Potters, as of right now, rank tied last in the league with 0.08 npxG/sh. The only other clubs with the same numbers are Blackburn, Cardiff City, Sunderland, and West Brom.
The leaders in the Championship right now when it comes to npxG/sh sit at 0.11. Those clubs are Bristol City, Middlesbrough, and Rotherham United. Other clubs such as Burnley and QPR sit at 0.10 with the same data category.
Why Taking Better Shots Matters
So what does this all mean? First off, non-penalty expected goals per shot (npxG/sh) are not the end all be all for a team to have success. For instance, Blackburn sits near the top of the table and also sit at the same number with Stoke City. Then you have clubs like Middlesbrough who have struggled this season on the table, but have a higher number.
npxG/sh is just a baseline indicator on average of what a team’s expected goals would have been per shot. Having a low or high number doesn’t matter at the end of the day if you can’t defend or if you can’t find enough shots per match.
However, this data does tell a deeper story and can spell trouble or even speak of possible progression based on what number you have in attack. In Stoke City’s case, it tells a story of a team that isn’t finding or choosing enough high quality shots.
Basically, Stoke City need to either be able to create better shots and also choose to take better shots to find more goals.
The Root Issue for Stoke City’s Substandard Shots
Before fully solving any issue, you have to fully diagnose the root cause of it. In this instance for Stoke City, the issue with their low npxG/sh involves two important factors in attack – that Stoke City both need to create better shots and also choose better shots.
Sometimes for a club it can be one or the other that can be the difference between a low npxG/sh or a high one. Based off of shot charts and the “eye test” through watching each match, it’s evident that Stoke City needs to create better shots all around as well as individually choose better shots.
The data backs up both of these points: per FBref Stoke City sit at third in the Championship with 222 total attempts so far this season. So The Potters are shooting the ball plenty, but those shot creations and following decisions just haven’t been good enough.
What do data analytics tell us about shot attempts in today’s game?
What data analytics tell us in today’s game is that more shots do not always equal more goals. It’s about finding quality attempts over quantity. It is often better to shoot the ball eight times with six great attempts than it is to shoot the ball sixteen times with three great attempts.
A team’s low npxG/sh can also spell a story of a club that generally shoots the ball from too far out from goal. Again, analytics say the closer to the goal you are, the more likely you are to score. However, this doesn’t appear to be the main problem for Stoke City.
While Stoke City have elected to shoot from too far out from goal at times in recent weeks, Stoke City per FBref have an average distance of 17.3 yards per attempt. That’s not a perfect number, but it still puts Stoke City in the middle of the Championship.
Therefore, Stoke’s issue isn’t shooting the ball from too far out. The problem with Stoke City’s attempts can be narrowed down to just needing to be a bit better on the ball in possession.
How Stoke Improves Their Shots
The good news is Stoke City are finding a lot of attempts this season. That can sometimes be the hardest piece of the puzzle. For Stoke City it’s just about focusing on those attempts and making them better.
Manager Alex Neil and company will need to continue to tinker with tactics to put Stoke City in better positions to create chances. And then on the back end of that, the players themselves will need to elect to take better shots.
Whether it be passing up a shot to find another pass or being more selfish to shoot the ball instead of passing, it’s on the players to choose correctly to create chances. If Stoke City can do that, their low npxG/sh number will get higher and so will their goal count.
If it doesn’t, the club will continue to struggle to attack consistently and will need to add players that can choose the proper attempts to score goals.