Analytics: Examining the race for 3rd in La Liga


Antoine Griezmann, centre right, in action for Atletico Madrid. (AP/Andres Kudacki)

The race for third in La Liga typically provides more twists and turns than the title race itself, which over the past few seasons—with one notable blip—has been exclusively fought between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Last season was no exception as Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla finished third, fourth and fifth respectively separated by only two points. Unless one of these teams can put together a miraculous season—like Atleti did in 2013-14 en route to winning the title—it looks like they will have to content themselves with fighting for third again.

Since the end of last season a lot has changed for all three clubs, but it is worth looking back to see if the underlying numbers between these teams were as close as their final positions in the table.

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Looking at the teams’ Total Shots Ratio (TSR) gives a better indicator of their relative dominance throughout the season. TSR is the ratio of shots a team takes relative to the number of shots they both take and concede. Any TSR above 0.5 means the team is outshooting their opponents and anything less than that means they are being outshot.

Atletico had a TSR of 0.57 last season, the third highest in the league behind Barcelona and Real Madrid. Valencia’s TSR of 0.52 was only the eighth best in La Liga and Sevilla ranked tenth at 0.49.

Sevilla’s TSR really stands out as it is quite rare to see a team finish as high in the table as they did despite being outshot by their opponents on a regular basis. The main issue for Sevilla seems to have been defensive where they allowed 12.7 shots per game, the seventh most in La Liga. This translated to 45 goals conceded, the most among the top eight teams in the final standings.

Given their defensive troubles it’s unsurprising that Sevilla picked up a few defenders in the transfer market this summer. That being said the move that spurred the most discussion was forward Ciro Immobile’s loan from Borussia Dortmund.

Immobile only arrived at Borussia Dortmund from Torino the previous season. With the Italian side Immobile had a goal scoring record of 0.8 goals per 90 minutes. At Dortmund he was limited to just under 1000 minutes of palying time and only managed 0.3 goals per 90 minutes. Despite the decline in goal scoring there are plenty of reasons to think that getting Immobile might prove to be a shrewd move on Sevilla’s part.

Immobile actually increased his shooting numbers while at Dortmund. At Torino he averaged 3.5 shots per 90 minutes, but at Dortmund he averaged an impressive 4.0 shots. His shots from inside the penalty area also increased from 2.4 per 90 minutes at Torino to 2.7 at Dortmund. Given these shooting numbers it may be that Immobile’s struggles at Dortmund had more to do with his limited playing time and spotty luck than any actual drop-off, a promising sign for Sevilla.

Valencia’s two major off-season moves were less about adding to last year’s squad than solidifying it. They made permanent the loans of Alvaro Negrado from Manchester City and Rodrigo Moreno from Benfica. Both are important if not eye-catching moves.

Atletico Madrid meanwhile come into the season in the same way they seem to start every campaign, on the back of losing another one of their star players. This time it was Arda Turan who left for Barcelona. However, Atletico have also made a significant addition signing possibly the most promising young attacker in La Liga in 21-year-old Luciano Vietto.

The young Argentine striker arrives from Villarreal on the back of a season where he averaged 0.57 goals on 3.7 shots per 90 minutes. His overall attacking contribution was even more impressive.

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One tool to evaluate an attacker’s overall contribution to their team’s attack is using a statistic called Weighted Chances Created Plus (wCC+). A player’s wCC+ looks at the number of chances a player creates in terms of shots and key passes per 90 minutes then weights these chances by how many of them actually turn into goals and assists. The statistic is adjusted for the league average so that the average attacker in any league has a wCC+ of 100.

Vietto’s wCC+ score of 141.3 means he averaged contributing 41 percent more to his team’s attack than the average striker. This was the ninth best score among La Liga attackers with more than 1000 minutes played, and the best among players under the age of 22.

On top of the Vietto signing Atletico added Jackson Martinez from Porto, Stefan Savic from Fiorentina and Yannick Carrasco from Monaco. Felipe Luis is also returning from Chelsea after a disappointing season at Chelsea. Despite losing Turan, it’s hard to argue that among these three teams Atletico didn’t have the best transfer window.

Going into this season Atletico seem to be in the strongest position to finish third again and potentially give Barcelona and Real Madrid a challenge. That being said there are plenty of storylines to follow in the race for third and Immobile’s signing for Sevilla will be one of the most interesting to watch.

Stats courtesy of Opta

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

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