Hull City v Sunderland
There is a little bit more in the prices between these two in this match than I had expected. The Liam Rosenior effect have something to do with that, and there is no doubt that The Tigers did really well to grind out a point at Vicarage Road last weekend, but there is enough in the Sunderland away performances in particular to encourage me to think that their price is a bit too big.
Sunderland have been yet another mightly inconsistent Championship club. Tony Mowbray has been in charge for a short while now but has been slightly hamstrung by the lack of forward options throughout his tenure so far. Thankfully for him and the Black Cats, Amad Diallo has begun to show the reasons why Manchester United paid so much money for him two seasons ago. Diallo, with Ellis Simms back to full fitness and Ross Stewart close to a full return, has a fellow forward to play off now and is reaping the benefits. No doubt Rosenior will have planned for Diallo but he is proving tough to stop at the moment.
Sunderland have picked up more away points than home so far this season, a fact which also applies to Hull. Therefore the built in home advantage for the Tigers might not be totally relevant here and distorts the price somewhat. This Sunderland line-up tends to be very adept on the counter-attack with the likes of Alex Pritchard and Dan Neil enabling Jack Clarke & Amad to break opposition lines. This is probably the primary reason why Sunderland’s record on the road is better than at the Stadium of Light.
Though Hull got a creditable point last week, there hasn’t been a vast improvement under Rosenior. Hull lost to Reading just before the break at home and they continue to struggle for goals. They have created less than 1xG per game over the course of the season so far and only Oscar Estupinan manages a shot on target per game, albeit his scoring has totally dried up. The poor goal conversion from other more frequent shooters such as Ryan Longman, Regan Slater and Ozan Tufan tells its own story, chances are often not good enough.
Sunderland welcome Bailey Wright back into the squad for this one after his exploits in Qatar with Australia. That adds more depth to the defence for Sunderland, and they also add another pacey attacker in Costa Rica’s Jewison Bennette, who could give Hull difficulties in the last quarter of the game.
Bristol City v Stoke City
Bristol City came out firing against Rotherham last week, as predicted in this column. Stoke, despite Alex Neil’s reputation, have been fairly open and these two are in the bottom seven in terms of chances created against them in the Championship so far this season.
Having had time to spend preparing the team for a return to action it seems as though Nigel Pearson has formulated a way to embrace the attacking potential of his side. Whilst both may struggle defensively at times, both teams are also top half for total xG created over the season. Nakhi Wells and Andreas Weimann, who looks to have recovered from a knock against Rotherham, have the experience and good movement to gel the attack together with a sprinkle of energy and desire from Tommy Conway and Antoine Semenyo, recently returned from World Cup duty.
Another man recently returned from World Cup duty is Stoke’s Harry Souttar. This should help improve Stoke’s defence but also provides them with a much bigger set-piece threat as well. Neil appears to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 formation for the moment with Liam Delap leading the line. The Man City product is improving with experience at this level and provides a good foil for Tyrese Campbell and also Tarique Fosu, who has been impressive on his loan spell. The return of Nick Powell is going to be a big boost for Stoke as well as he provides a genuine goal threat in behind Delap when fully fit.
It was a surprise to find that over 2.5 goals was the slight outsider of the market here. This may be because of Stoke’s 0-0 last week and the return of Souttar. However, Bristol City create and concede over 1xG per game at Ashton Gate, and whilst their record of goals conceded at home is slightly better than those chances suggest, I think there is reason to believe that Pearson will have the Robins set up to attack this game and it could be an entertaining one.
Preston North End v QPR
The trajectories that these clubs are on are completely contrasting. Preston’s beginning to the season was famous for its’ freakish nature, hardly any goals being scored or conceded. QPR started really well under Mick Beale, hitting the top of the table, but have since faded very quickly, and now Beale has gone as well, so that long term plan has had to change.
In contrast, Ryan Lowe celebrated his 50th game in charge at Deepdale against Blackburn last Saturday and his team crowned the occasion with a statement performance. Despite missing some first team players Preston were exceptionally well prepared and got their gameplan spot on by pressing Rovers high and turning the ball over on multiple occasions. The difference now compared to the beginning of the season was that the chances created from the tactics were finished confidently.
Confidence is the key word coming into this match. Neil Critchley has been announced as QPR manager this week so we have to be wary of a new manager bounce, but Rangers looked all at sea against Burnley at times last weekend. That home defeat made it four in a row and so there is a big contrast between the two sets of players in confidence right now.
Looking at performance data over the opening 22 matches there is nothing between the teams, with QPR creating more chances than Preston, but also conceding more as well. QPR under Beale would be a team that would rather play from the back but not as slowly as Blackburn, and, depending on how much time Critchley has had to work with them, his Blackpool side tended to play quickly and more direct. Preston therefore will need a change of tactics from last weekend but will no doubt be prepared.
Ched Evans looks to be in great form at the moment and with able supply in the form of Daniel Johnson with a really solid and physical shape behind them I think that Preston are reliable to put in a good performance and I’m surprised that their price for the win here is so big.
West Bromwich Albion v Rotherham United
Carlos Corberan looks like he’s made the positive impact that Baggies fans would’ve hoped for since his arrival. One would argue that this West Brom side have very much been punching below its weight for a while but also that the underlying numbers still pointed towards a team that was one of the best in the division. The problem for them was that they had somehow forgotten how to win matches and confidence had gradually slipped away.
That is no longer the case. Four wins in a row in the league has the Baggies upwardly mobile and with those underlying numbers, an expected goal difference of +6.8 would make West Brom comfortably a top six side at this stage, it is hard to say that this run of form in unsustainable. Indeed, they are welcoming the poorest side in the division in terms of the performance data.
Rotherham carry an expected goal difference of -14.2, which is -0.65 per game. From a performance perspective they are giving teams over half a goal head start in games. This didn’t quite play out on the park though as the players were better in both boxes than the numbers would suggest.
If the trends continue it seems likely that Rotherham will give up over 1.5xG to West Brom in this game. Rotherham’s away record, despite memorable encouraging performances at the likes of Burnley, is a big cause for concern with an xGD of -1.4 per game. This means that they are barely creating chances alongside their leaky defence. With forward options limited to Conor Washington and the talented, but inconsistent, Cheo Ogbene, it is difficult to find a source of goals. Set pieces have been a Rotherham calling card for many a season but Richie Barker, who took responsibility for those, left alongside Paul Warne for Derby.
One massive difference in this match could be the return of Daryl Dike for West Brom. The World Cup break allowed the American to complete his rehabilitation from his injury under less pressure and although one cannot draw sweeping conclusions from one match, he had a big impact in West Brom’s comeback win at Sunderland last weekend. His goals and presence could prove a big difference in the second half of the season.
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