EFL

Championship Review: Late winners boost West Brom & Leeds

By Sports Desk November 23, 2019
Hal Robson-Kanu Hal Robson-Kanu

West Brom and Leeds United benefited from late winners as they took full advantage of a defeat for Preston North End in the Championship.

Leaders West Brom defeated Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 at home on Saturday, while Marcelo Bielsa's men won by the same scoreline away to Luton Town.

Preston fell to a 1-0 defeat away to Derby County, meaning Leeds moved above them into second place, two points behind the Baggies, who have only suffered one defeat in 17 league games.

Blackburn Rovers, Brentford, Stoke City and Millwall were the other winners in Saturday's action.

BAGGIES AND LEEDS LAND LATE BLOWS

West Brom and Leeds looked like they were heading for draws that would have stalled their promotion bids before late interventions.

Charlie Austin netted a penalty with two minutes remaining for the Baggies after goalkeeper Keiren Westwood brought down Matheus Pereira in the box.

Steven Fletcher had previously scored from the spot at the other end to level the match after Hal Robson-Kanu's first-half opener, but Wednesday were left frustrated and saw Liam Palmer sent off in stoppage time.

Leeds' winner came even later, Matty Pearson's last-minute own goal gifting them victory as Luton suffered a fifth consecutive defeat. Patrick Bamford and James Collins had exchanged strikes earlier in the second half.

PRESTON & SWANS SLIP UP

Preston fell to Derby, who have now won five consecutive home games. 

Derby substitute Martyn Waghorn, only just on for the injured Mason Bennett, scored a close-range effort after 33 minutes which proved decisive.

Swansea also lost 1-0, their first defeat in four coming courtesy of an excellent free-kick from Millwall's Jed Wallace with 25 minutes left at the Liberty Stadium.

DIOUF CAPS STOKE COMEBACK AS DACK DENIES STRUBER

Only goal difference separates Stoke from fourth-bottom Luton after Mame Biram Diouf's strike in the third minute of added time earned a 2-1 win over Wigan Athletic.

Michael O'Neill's first home game in charge had appeared to be heading for a draw when Danny Batth levelled the contest following Sam Morsy's opener, but Diouf ensured the new Stoke boss secured a second victory from as many matches.

Bradley Dack scored twice, including the winner with four minutes left, as Blackburn earned a thrilling 3-2 triumph over bottom-of-the-table Barnsley, who were being managed by Gerhard Struber for the first time.

Elsewhere, Cardiff City came from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw at Charlton Athletic in Neil Harris' opening game in charge, while Bristol City and Nottingham Forest, who had Ryan Yates sent off, played out a goalless draw.

A late Marc Roberts equaliser, the defender's first goal since April 2018, gave Birmingham City a 1-1 draw at Huddersfield Town, while Brentford are two points off the play-off places after Ollie Watkins' 11th league goal of the season earned a 1-0 home win over Reading.

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    Four rounds remaining, four teams involved, and just six points to separate them.

    The end of the LaLiga title race looks to be the most gripping to any of the top five European leagues this term, and almost certainly the least predictable finish in Spain since 2006-07.

    Back then, there were three teams in with a chance of taking home the title on the final day of the season: Real Madrid and Barcelona, of course, plus Juande Ramos' Sevilla.

    As it was, Madrid and Barca won on the last day whereas Sevilla – who needed a win and for the other two to lose – lost at home to Villarreal.

    Madrid finished top by virtue of a better head-to-head record over Barca, who were essentially denied the title by their local rivals Espanyol, slumping to a 2-2 draw with them on the penultimate day to hand Los Blancos the initiative.

    For the first time since then, Sevilla are again in with a shout of upsetting established order – albeit they trail the leaders by six points – though on this occasion Atletico Madrid are most prominently in the mix.

    Diego Simeone's side looked certainties for the title not too long ago: at the start of February, they were 11 points clear, but they've won only seven of their 15 league games since, including a defeat to Sevilla in early April.

    Yet, remarkably, it's still in Atletico's hands thanks to Barca's surprise loss at home to Granada last week.

     

    What made that defeat even more incredible was the fact Granada had just 18 per cent of the ball and scored twice from an xG (expected goals) value of just 0.69. This means they netted more than two times as many as they should have, which speaks to how stunningly clinical they were.

    Interestingly – or, infuriatingly, if you're a fan – it was Barcelona's second-highest share of the ball in a league game this season, behind only 82.1 per cent against Cadiz. They lost both games.

    It's all shaping up for potentially decisive blows to be struck across May 8 and 9, when the top four all play each other – Barca host Atletico on Saturday, with Sevilla going to Madrid the next day.

    But what does our prediction model say about the most likely outcome in the title race?

    How does the predictor work?

    The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality. Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

    The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly. All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

    The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

    Let's say how the model now predicts the final league table will look...

     

    Atletico take the crown

    Atletico Madrid are now given a 40.6 per cent probability of winning the title, up from 38 per cent a week ago.

    It essentially looks like it will come down to their showdown with Barca. Atletico hold a slight advantage, having beaten the Catalans 1-0 in Madrid in the reverse fixture, and our predictor seemingly doesn't expect Ronald Koeman's men to overturn that at Camp Nou, as the model sees Atletico winning the title by virtue of their head-to-head record.

    Barcelona's chances have increased from 32.6 per cent to 35.1, with that surprise defeat to Granada preventing any bigger jump despite their 3-2 win at Valencia.

    After drawing 0-0 twice in three games, Madrid's chances dropped from 34.4 per cent to 26.6 per cent last week, and they now sit at 24.3 per cent despite their most recent 2-0 win over Osasuna.

    Sevilla, who conceded an injury-time winner to Athletic Bilbao last time out, remain distant outsiders. Our prediction model only gives them a 0.1 per cent probability of winning their first league title since 1946.

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    Lionel Messi will remain at Barcelona until the end of his career after president Joan Laporta's efforts in revitalising the club.

    That is the view of former Barca full-back Gianluca Zambrotta, who believes the Messi transfer saga will be laid to rest once and for all.

    It had looked likely Messi would leave, probably for Manchester City, at the start of this campaign but a dispute over the terms of his contract at Camp Nou proved a stumbling block too far.

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    And Zambrotta, who played for the club between 2006 and 2008, feels Barca now represent a more attractive proposition for Messi since Laporta's election as president for a second time in March.

    "They won already an important title in Spain and this is already something," the former Italy international told Stats Perform.

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    "I think he will stay at Barcelona until the end of his career."

  • Koeman: Touchline ban is about something personal Koeman: Touchline ban is about something personal

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    Barca go into the match at Camp Nou two points behind leaders Atletico, with Real Madrid also trailing Diego Simeone's men by that margin in a thrilling title race.

    Ahead of the crunch clash, Barca confirmed Ansu Fati's injury comeback has hit another setback, as the Spain forward had to undergo another knee operation, his fourth procedure.

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    The 18-year-old was initially forecast to return in March, but his long spell on the sidelines and problems with his injury had even led some to question whether Fati would be able to have a long career in the game.

    "Poor kid," said Koeman. "I have not yet spoken with Ansu. I did speak with him before his trip to Porto [for the operation].

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    Koeman knows the stakes are high in the title race and Barcelona have a good record against their opponents, losing just one of their 21 previous LaLiga games against Atletico, winning 14.

    "I have not changed my mind; if we win every game we will be champions," he said of the four remaining league fixtures.

    "I don't think it [this result] is decisive because there will be three games left, but of course it is important. It is not decisive.

    "They are both very good teams and we are fighting with two more teams as well [Real Madrid and Sevilla]. 

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    Barca are looking to avoid losing home and away in the league against Atleti for the first time since 2005-06, Simeone's men having won 1-0 in the last meeting in November.

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    Lionel Messi has scored 20 goals (excluding penalties) in LaLiga in 2021, vastly outperforming an expected goals figure of 11.

    Opta data shows he has the biggest positive differential (nine) for any player in the top five European leagues since the start of year.

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