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Could Glover's dropping, or reinvention, be the key to City rediscovering its 20/21 form faster?

If you believed what was being touted by some sections of the Melbourne City supporter base after our 1-0 loss to Western United, you'd have thought our title defence was already over.


Whilst the majority of online discussion was the type of baseless criticism we see year in, year out from early-season naysayers, there was one key moment in that game that actually was worth fixating on.


Dylan Wenzel-Halls' 20th-minute goal - United's only shot on target for the entire game - came from an unfriendly angle and only just inside the area, yet despite significant pressure from Nuno Reis, the youngster's strike somehow found its way into the bottom corner. Whilst credit needs to be given to Wenzel-Halls for the finish under pressure, the shot, in theory, did seem to be in that 'saveable' category.


Whilst Nick D'Agostino's near-identical goal for Victory's equaliser in the Melbourne Derby didn't inspire this article - in fact, this only came about after looking through stats for an FFA Cup preview - Glover's failure to get a stronger hand to the shot was an immediate call-back to Wenzel-Hall's winner in Round 3.


What trawling through the stats did reveal was not only that the post-Round 3 critics look like being severely wrong about their team, but also that, already, this current City outfit is better in some regards than their 2020/21 double-winning past-selves - and in an area that they're drastically underperforming in.


This is a statistical deep-dive with an optimistic tilt, not a headhunting exercise at Glover's expense, so prepare to re-evaluate some of your perceptions around City's early-season form.


Source: Andrew Wiseman // @wisemansports

 

You've heard it before, but we do have more points now than we did at the same stage last season - and that line is important to trot out again for two reasons.


Firstly, whilst our mixed results have seen us only into fifth at the moment, the stats suggest that our performances have deserved much better.


According to data from FBref.com, Melbourne City have recorded the most shots per 90 minutes (19.00) and conceded the fewest (10.40). Let's just start with the fact that when you're recording nine more shots than your opposition per game, you're in a pretty good position to collect some points.


For those with a soft spot for Expected Goals (xG) and Goals Against (xGA) data, FootyStats.org supports the contention of the stats from above; City also possess the best xG per 90 (1.94) and xGA (0.83) - we're expected to score a goal more than our opposition per game.


City's issue, unfortunately, is the man entrusted to keep out the shots that our opposition actually do get away: Tom Glover.


You see, based on the first five rounds, no keeper in the league performs worse when facing shots on target than City's #1. At the moment, opposition teams are scoring at a rate of one in every three shots on target - a league-worst figure (0.35). This explains why City have conceded two more goals than their expected xGA of 4.15 (and when you consider we've had three results that could have been different with even one less opposition goal...).


By contrast, the league's top two teams, Macarthur FC and Western United, concede league-leading values of just 0.04 and 0.06 goals per shot on target, thanks to goalkeepers Filip Kurto and Jamie Young respectively.


Source: Andrew Wiseman // @wisemansports

This leads to my next point: whilst the stats suggest that the current league leaders' form should be unsustainable, the City boys look like they're on the verge of hitting their peak.


This is where the 'eight points from five games' line holds value: we've got a better foundation to build from if we can hit a similar vein of form to last season.


Whilst we still need to get Mathew Leckie firing, both Jamie Maclaren and Andrew Nabbout rank in the top four for shots per 90, and the latter actually leads the competition for shots on target per 90.


In midfield, Florin Berenguer is having his best season in City colours so far, so if Manuel Pucciarelli is somehow better than him then we're spoiled for attacking midfielders. Connor Metcalfe continues his upward trajectory as one of the competition's best young midfielders, whilst Aiden O'Neill ranks in the top 10 for both tackles and interceptions as he goes quietly about his business.


As for our defence, on paper it's already better than last season, conceding fewer shots and shots on target (and, accordingly, lower xGA) per 90 than our double-winning backline of 2020/21. We just need to sort out that goalkeeping dilemma - whether by giving Matt Sutton a chance or Glover rediscovering his best form.


(It's at this point that I'll skip over whether former-goalkeeping coach Neil Young's departure may have had any impact in this regard - no point speculating).


Five games into a season might be a bit premature for looking into the stats, which may not have fleshed themselves out yet in such a small sample size, but if this is enough to reassure some of the early-season naysayers then it will have been worth it.


It's a despised cliche, but for now, PK might be right; just trust the process.

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