What the PFA SPFL Premiership Team of the Year Got Wrong

Hate hate hate hate hate hate

The PFA released their SPFL Premiership team of the year today as following:

Scott Bain

Shay Logan, Alim Ozturk, Andrew Davies, Kiernan Tierney

Johnny Hayes, Kenny McClean, Graeme Shinnie

Kane Hemmings, Leigh Griffiths, Greg Stewart

First, props to the PFA for overthrowing the “YOU MUST PLAY TWO UP FRONT” overlords that currently rule Scotland, we stand united in this fight! Despite our unity in the fight again two striker systems, I have a few problems with the team that the players put together. I have no issue with Leigh Griffiths and Kane Hemmings inclusion in the team of the year, as I have been banging the drum for both and their fine campaigns this season. I must take issue with Greg Stewart’s inclusion both here and in the player of the year nomination the Dundee forward received.

Sheet 2

Above we see the 20 players with the highest xG this season in the SPFL Premiership over their goals scored, with the size of their circle based on their xG per 90 minutes. Leigh Griffiths and Kane Hemmings position on the chart shows they are clearly deserving of this honor, but when we look down the chart we see that there are more deserving forwards for that third team of the year spot than Greg Stewart. Adam Rooney has missed the last portion of the season due to injury (and Milton Keys loanee Simon Church has done well to fill the Irishman’s shoes for the Dons), yet Rooney still is 3rd in the non-penalty goals scored and 4th in the league in total xG. For much of the year, Aberdeen were hot on the heels of Celtic for the title (heck they were above Celtic for a few weeks), and Rooney was a major factor for that (I also saw that Johnny Hayes won the Aberdeen Player of the Year, which isn’t a choice I have too much issue with, though I certainly think you could make the same argument for Rooney to win the Dons’ Player of the Year award). Louis Moult is also a worthy candidate, helping Motherwell earn a top 6 spot after being at the foot of the table at the beginning of the season and is 4th is non-penalty goals and 3rd in xG. Even Liam Boyce, who has seen his form drop a bit since a red-hot start to the season has a higher xG and goals scored than Stewart.

While one could make an argument for Adam Rooney’s inclusion in the team of the year, Aberdeen’s Kenny McLean was a choice that perplexed me. Like Stewart, McLean is a very good player who is young and I think has a bright future. However, I think there are more deserving midfielders who the PFA overlooked, perhaps even on McLean’s own team.

G+A Leaders-14

Sheet 2-3

I have put Kenny McLean in the Goals and Assists per 90 minutes table I publish weekly, as he is nowhere close to being in the top 10. No. Where. Close. I’ve also added McLean to a chart of the top 10 G+A p 90 over minutes played. To be fair to McLean, most of the table and chart is made up of strikers, which stands to reason. Strikers score a lot. Strikers are around the box a lot and pass to players who are also in the box and then score. However, there are two midfielders who are amongst the top 10 in Goals and Assists per 90 minutes in the SPFL, namely Tom Rogic and McLean’s teammate Niall McGinn. In the chart, the size of each player’s circle is based on goals scored and the color based on the number of assists. We see Rogic in the middle of the pack of the league leaders in both goals and assists, which is an impressive place to be amongst out and out strikers, while playing amongst the fewest minutes in the league in the leaders in Goals and Assists. Niall McGinn has scored even more goals and assists than Rogic, leading the league in assists thus far this season, and far surpassing his teammate McLean in both categories and the combined metric. McLean has logged a lot of minutes for Aberdeen this season, appearing in every match for the Dons and has had a fine season with 5 goals and 3 assists this season, however McGinn and Rogic seem to be better choices for the team of year this season.

I understand this team is chosen by the players and they certainly have their finger on the pulse about the skill level of their colleagues. I also understand trying to explain some of these metrics to footballers might not be possible for some players (shout out to Kane Hemmings, Louis Moult, and Liam Boyce for the likes on twitter and the retweets), however metrics like expected goals and per 90 measurements help us quantify and visualize the contributions certain players are making to their clubs.

The SPFL Premiership Split Graph Extravaganza

If you don’t closely follow the SPFL Premiership, you may wonder why games past this weekend were yet to be scheduled. With only 12 clubs in the top flight of Scotland, the powers at be needed to come up with a process to get 38 games each season for each club. In true SFA fashion, they came up with a confusing¬†process of splitting the league in two when there are five games remaining. The top six clubs in the table play five more matches against each other, while the bottom six clubs do the same. Theoretically, it can lead to some exciting matches with the top clubs playing each other for the title or European spots, while the bottom clubs battle to avoid relegation. However, Celtic has developed an eight point gap over 2nd place Aberdeen, while Kilmarnock has built an eight point lead as well over bottom of the table Dundee United. Furthermore, with the table so close like it was this season, you develop the chance of the 7th place club finishing with more points than the 6th place club. Never the less, the format of the league being what it is, the final matches before this split took place (Hearts and Inverness Caley Thistle’s cancelled match to be made up from last week not withstanding, as both’s post split fate are sealed despite the result of the match) this past weekend, so it seemed as good as an excuse to fire back up some updated graphs and tables that I’ve put on the site thus far, with data updated through 33 matches (32 for Hearts and Caley), as well as some individual player graphs. Batter in.

Top 20 Individual Expected Goals versus Goals Scored


Top 20 Individual Expected Goals over Shots


Top 20 Individual Expected Goals per 90 minutes over Goals per 90 minutes


Leigh Griffiths has continued his superb season. Despite not scoring in 3 of the last 4 matches, Griffiths is mostly over-performing expectations in Goals per 90 based on his xG per 90. Kane Hemmings has continued to also perform well this season, as we see his scoring more often than what we would expect based on his expected goals total.

Expected Goals per 90 minutes over Shots on Target Percentage

xG p 90_SOT %

Expected Goals over Shots on Target Percentage

xG_SOT %

Goals over Shots on Target Percentage


As the season progressed, we continued to see successful strikers in the SPFL Premiership get a high number of their shots on target. It is no surprise that the likes of Leigh Griffiths, Adam Rooney, Kane Hemmings, and Liam Boyce all have at least half of their shots on target. It also makes sense that these players have a high expected goals and expected goals per 90 minutes and are able to get so many shots on target. These guys are getting shots off in positions that have a higher probability of scoring, and thus are able to get more shots on target.

Expected Goals Differential over Points

xG Diff_Points-3

Expected Goals Total over Points

xG Total_Points

As I tweeted when I updated the Team Table, as we head to split of the SPFL table the 6 clubs with the best expected goal difference are the clubs that make up the top 6 of the league. Pretty Good.¬†Yet we see that Dundee has a higher expected goals total than both Motherwell and St. Johnstone, yet the Dees will be “slumming it” in the bottom 6 to end the season. Clearly, the Well and Saints did something to edge out Dundee for the top 6 on the defensive end (that is what they call in the “biz” a transition!)

Shots on Target Average per Game over Goals Against Average per Game

SOT Con Avg_GA Avg-2

Expected Goals Average per Game/ Goals Conceded Average Per Game

xG Conceded Avg_Goals Conceded

Continuing to look at the clubs that were battling for the last few top 6 spots, Dundee and Motherwell conceded the same amount of goals per game, while Saint Johnstone conceded more. However, Saint Johnstone conceded fewer shots on target per match than those two. In addition, both Saint Johnstone and Motherwell concede lower expected goals per match this season. They were able to better limit the higher scoring opportunities than Dundee was, and thus have a spot in the Top 6.

Ross County needed a last day victory, while Partick Thistle and Dundee to lose to sneak into the top 6. The Staggies had one of the higher goals against per game this season, yet had one of the best expected goals against per match, shots conceded per match and expected goal differential. With those type of numbers and the worst save rate in the Premier League at 59.56%, it would not be unfair to think that County’s keeper can shoulder some of the blame for the high amount of goals they have conceded. Scott Fox did miss a portion of the season through injury, but still has the majority of the minutes for Ross County this season. While the club is very much a small club and has overachieved to reach this spot in the table, County should think of upgrading their keeper this off-season. If they can improve between the sticks and keep much of their young core, they could realistically dream of finishing better than their assured top 6 finish this year. However, they should look to their Highland neighbors Inverness Caley Thistle as a warning if they stagnate over the off-season after Caley won the Scottish Cup and qualified for Europe last season and now face a bottom 6 finish.