Analytics: Sterling boosts City’s aging squad

There are plenty of new faces in new places in the Barclays Premier League this season—from foreign stars who have joined the league, to top players switching teams and clubs making coaching changes.

Manchester City’s 2014-15 Premier League campaign was seen as a disappointing one as the Blues finished in a distant second place. However, by almost every team statistic they were just as good as—and in some cases better than—champions Chelsea.

Manchester City’s goal difference of +45 was the best in the Premier League, and they also had the strongest attack with 83 goals scored compared to Chelsea’s 73. In terms of shots Manchester City finished with a Total Shots Ratio (TSR)—the ratio of shots a team concedes to the number of shots they both take and concede—of 0.633, again the best in the league.

Even if we look at the more advanced metric of Expected Goals (ExpG), Manchester City was on par with Chelsea.

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Expected Goals calculate the probability that any given shot will be converted into a goal while taking into account factors such as distance to the goal, angle to the goal, speed of attack and part of the body. For example if a shot has a 30 percent chance of being scored it is worth 0.3 ExpG. Manchester City finished with an ExpG difference of +31.0 almost identical to Chelsea’s ExpG difference of +31.4.

Despite these impressive statistics Manchester City failed to mount any sort of meaningful title challenge. Which raises the question what went wrong and will Manchester City be a legitimate contender this season?

The answer to what went wrong last season is twofold.

First, it’s important to remember that contrary to the popular expression sometimes the table does lie. These impressive metrics seem to suggest that was at least partly the case with Manchester City last season and that they were a little unlucky. In the end City probably weren’t as good as Chelsea, but they also probably weren’t eight points worse than Chelsea.

However, Manchester City clearly still have problems to fix going into this new campaign and if we look at what their weaknesses were last season a lot comes down to squad composition. City relied on a significantly older squad than Chelsea and unlike Chelsea they didn’t have nearly as many promising young players ready to make the jump to the first team.

Yaya Toure, 32, was the focal point of Manchester City’s attack during both their title winning seasons, but the Ivorian had a disappointing 2014-15 campaign. The oft maligned and now 34-year-old centre back Martin Demichelis was called onto to play over 30 Premier League games. Frank Lampard—who was signed on loan as a utility player—ended up playing 38 games.

These are all signs of a squad in desperate need of upgrades, but so far City have only made one major off-season acquisition, the signing of Raheem Sterling from Liverpool. Which leads to the next part of the question, are Manchester City in a better position to challenge for the title this time around?

That all depends on how far away you think City were from the title in 2014-15. If you think that City’s positive metrics meant they were unlucky to miss out on a serious title challenge than Sterling’s arrival probably makes City look like one of the best sides in the Premier League. If you think City’s squad composition problems run deeper than that then the addition of a 20-old forward probably won’t be enough.

Regardless Sterling represents a very intriguing signing for Manchester City.

He’s received lots of criticism already because of the massive 49 million pound price tag attached to him along with his rather acrimonious exit from Liverpool. However, despite Sterling’s well-documented troubles in front of goal last season, his chance creation numbers were quite impressive.

Sterling averaged 2.5 shots per 90 minutes and 2.2 key passes—passes that lead to a shot—per 90 minutes. This gave Sterling a Weighted Chances Created Plus (WCCP) rating—a statistic that measures a player’s relative contributions to his team’s attack—of 119, meaning he contributes about 20 percent more than the Premier League average forward to his team’s attack. This was also the highest WCCP score for any player under 20 years old.

Looking at these numbers it’s clear that on top of their impressive attacking form last season Manchester City have now added a young forward with superstar potential, something the aging City squad seemed be sorely lacking.

So is City going to mount another title challenge?

It’s hard to say at this point, especially with almost a whole month remaining in the transfer rumour, but the Sterling signing does seem to indicate clear intent on City’s behalf. Manuel Pellegrini has recognized that his squad was too reliant on aging players last season and he is already on the lookout for the next young superstar.

Data courtesy of Opta

Sam Gregory is soccer analytics writer based in Montreal. Follow him on Twitter

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