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Tigres unlucky, Cruz Azul overrated in Liga MX based on expected goals metric

Tigres are currently ninth in the table but based on expected goals would be top of the table.
Tigres are currently ninth in the table but the expected goals model would have them first.

There are two outstanding statistics a neutral would immediately find when scouring the Liga MX 2018 Apertura table after seven rounds of matches of the season. And both involve the number zero.

The first is Cruz Azul's undefeated start to the season; the other is Atlas' inability to score even a single goal.

But, as a little bit of midseason entertainment, what if we used expected goals to work out the result of each of the 63 games so far in the Apertura? How would it change our outlook on what we've seen from Cruz Azul, Atlas and the rest of the Liga MX field?

Of course, some will say it is a completely meaningless experiment and it certainly isn't an exact science. It's a bit of fun for fans, but can give another perspective to clubs on big decisions, such as firing a manager.

Each team's expected goals for each game were rounded to the nearest whole number, which isn't ideal and obviously produces many more draws than in real life because of soccer's nature as a low-scoring sport.

But the table highlights a number of differences compared to the actual Liga MX standings and it is worth scratching beyond the surface of the results ...

Tigres top by a distance

Using this method, no team would be undefeated, but Tigres would be top of the league by three points.

Tigres tend to hog possession (62.4 percent average per game), naturally starving the opposition of it and meaning the northern university team only conceded four goals in this model.

Two errors leading directly to goals -- more than any other team -- drop Tigres' place in the actual Liga MX table to ninth, lower than should be expected, with the two penalty misses in the loss against Santos Laguna not helping, either.

It hasn't been vintage Tigres this season, but Ricardo Ferretti's team still tends to do enough to dominate most games it plays and has made the fewest defensive touches in the league so far with 294.

Cruz Azul outside the playoffs

La Maquina is overachieving according to the model.

The suspicion here, however, is that the way the expected goals data is programed perhaps goes against current Liga MX leader Cruz Azul. The Mexico City team has had less possession per game (44.4 percent) than any side apart from Leon and no team has had fewer touches of the ball than La Maquina.

On the defensive side, superb goalkeeping performances from Jesus Corona -- who made two fine saves in the draw against Santos Laguna last Sunday -- and the back four have perhaps contributed to only two goals being conceded, when the expected goals model suggests Cruz Azul would've conceded seven and actually lost three of their seven matches.

Cruz Azul remain unbeaten but has luck played a major part in their hot start?
Cruz Azul have been a huge surprise but has luck played a major role in their unbeaten start?

Portuguese manager Pedro Caixinha would surely fire back by arguing that his team's counter-attacking style is effective and that sometimes ceding possession can actually be a form of controlling games.

Atlas score!

Atlas fans may wonder why coach Gerardo Espinoza is still in a job, given his team hasn't scored in 809 minutes of Liga MX play stretching back to last season.

But Atlas haven't actually been as bad as their goal and point totals suggest. The Guadalajara team only lost one game in this model by more than one goal -- a 2-0 loss to Club America in week two -- and actually scored in all of the other six games. In other words, Atlas are creating enough during a game to score goals and are not being dominated; they just aren't finishing chances right now.

The issue for Atlas in the near future is that turning it around in September could prove difficult, with Los Rojinegros facing Tigres, Tijuana, Cruz Azul and Toluca.

Veracruz should be bottom

Veracruz has some well-documented problems off the pitch and considerable deficiencies on it so far this season.

A 1-0 win on Saturday against Club Tijuana was a welcome boost in terms of actual results, but the expected goals model shows Veracruz without a single win all Apertura, with four goals for and 13 against.

It's no real surprise given the relative quality of the squad and it shouldn't be a shock if Veracruz end up relegated at the end of this season.

The expected goals model has Veracruz as the worst side in Liga MX by a full four points.
Veracruz's lack of attacking talent means they do not score highly in terms of the expected goals model.

Pumas benefiting from easy schedule

Aside from Cruz Azul and Atlas, perhaps the next most surprising team in the expected goals model is Pumas. The Mexico City club sits in second place on 12 points in the model, but is actually -- at least according to the Mexican press -- in a little bit of a crisis at present, having gone four games without a win and having drawn 2-2 against nine-man Club America.

The slightly elevated position is probably because Pumas opened the season against Veracruz, Necaxa and Atlas, three of Liga MX's easier games, with Pumas taking advantage by winning all nine points. Since then, Pumas have picked up three ties and a loss in this model, which is actually better than the two losses and two draws in real life.

Full Liga MX 2018 Apertura table based on expected goals (actual points and league position in parentheses) 

1. Tigres: 14 points (10pts, 9th)

2. Pumas: 12 points (11 pts, 6th)

3. America: 11 points (11 pts, 5th)

4. Tijuana: 11 points (6 pts, 16th)

5. Chivas: 11 points (10 pts,10th)

6. Toluca: 11 points (10 pts, 8th)

7. Leon: 11 points (10 pts, 11th)

8. Santos Laguna: 11 points (14 pts, 3rd)

9. Pachuca: 10 points (8 pts, 12th)

10. Monterrey: 10 points  (16 pts, 2nd)

11. Morelia: 9 points (12 pts, 4th)

12. Cruz Azul: 8 points (17 pts, 1st)

13. Atlas: 8 points (2 pts, 18th)

14. Necaxa: 7 points (8 pts, 13th)

15. Lobos BUAP: 7 points (4 pts, 17th)

16. Queretaro: 6 points (11 pts, 7th)

17. Puebla: 6 points (7 pts, 14th)

18. Veracruz: 2 points (7 pts, 15th)

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