Non-Goal-Friendly Teams: Premier League 2021-22

Is there any way to look across an Excel sheet of numbers and understand which teams create the most non-goals? Can the under-the-surface excellence we celebrate here be quantified in data?


Can data predict Non-Goals? Which teams are most Non-Goal Friendly? We took a look at the data to see if we could find out. Did it work? Kiiiiiind of. Using Premier League data from FBREF.com, we looked at some stats that might indicate which teams are best at non-goal creation.


Gazing into the data seems to confirm one hunch: non-goals are not easily quantifiable in commonly measured stats. As beautiful and transcendent as non-goals are, they're often not recorded events: see Luka Modric's awareness, Delle Ali's negative pass, or Hirving Lozano's one-man show. Moments of non-goal brilliance like ter Stegen's chip or Gio Reyna's no-look split pass make the game the rich spectacle that it is but aren't recorded in the statistical record. So is there any way to look across an Excel sheet of numbers and understand which teams create the most non-goals? Can the under-the-surface excellence we celebrate here be quantified in data?


Hoping to find an indication of teams that create the kind of brilliance we're looking for, we focused on 4 stats: number of pass attempts, pass completion rate, the number of shots that come directly from a pass, and the number of goals that result from a pass. While these stats don't reflect actual non-goals, they seem to be indicative of a style of play that might deliver them on a regular basis: passing, teamwork, control of the ball. This is in no way an exact science, but it's the best we can do without the numbers we need.


In the chart above, we've ranked the teams from low to high in non-goal friendliness. The first thing we see is that Manchester City and Liverpool are indeed very non-goal friendly. Sitting at the bottom of the chart, they complete the most passes at the highest rates and their shots and goals are most likely to come from a pass. This wasn't a surprise, as it's pretty clear these are two of the best and most enjoyable teams to watch in the world at the moment.


At the top of the chart are the teams that don't pass as much, don't complete as many of their attempted passes, and have fewer shots and goals from passes. Sorry, Burnley, you are not non-goal friendly and we wish you luck in your relegation battle. Everton and Newcastle are interesting, as they don't pass all that much but a surprising amount of their shots and goals come from passes.


One team making a big jump is Southampton. Their total passing and completion numbers are fairly low, but their shots and goals from passes numbers are pretty good--we're planning to watch a Southampton game or two before the end of the year to see if they are, in fact, a non-goal sleeper team.


The other big surprise is Brighton. Number four in total passing and above average in shots and goals from passes--the Seagulls might be a secret non-goal factory.


Among the teams at the top of the actual Premier League table, we see data confirm that Chelsea definitely play non-goal friendly football. Even Manchester United, suffering through a turbulent epoch on and off the field, turn in reasonably enjoyable non-goal numbers.


So while these numbers seem rough at best, and while we realize the hypocrisy in including a goal-scoring stat in the non-goal friendliness equation, we do feel like this formula of stats is a passable proxy for non-goal friendliness. And it's possible that we've discovered a few new sources of non-goals in Brighton and Southampton.