Tuesday night sees the Championship playoff final at Wembley, as Brentford and Fulham go head-to-head for a place in the Premier League. Jake Osgathorpe uses expected goals (xG) to preview the game...
"Brentford have been the best defensive team in the Championship this season based on xG, allowing just 0.83 xGA per game."
Brentford v Fulham
Tuesday August 4, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports
A West London derby in the play-off final is all we could have wished for after an unprecedented and extremely long 19/20 season, with two of the Championship's best footballing teams going head to head for a place in the Premier League.
Semi Final recap
Brentford overturned a one goal deficit from their first leg against Swansea, eventually running out 3-2 winners on aggregate after a 3-1 win in their final game at Griffin Park (xG: BRE 1.57 - 0.65 SWA).
The Bees put in an almost perfect performance, with Pontus Jansson's error that led to Rhian Brewster's goal the only blot on the copy book of a strong display. Thomas Frank's pre-match confidence seemingly seeped into his players, and continues to do so given Emiliano Marcondes comments of 'Fulham are fearing us'.
Scott Parker's side had a nervy ending to their tie with Cardiff, losing the game at Craven Cottage 2-1, as they failed to create any chances of note throughout the game, and witnessed Nathaniel Mendez-Laing miss a huge opportunity to make it 3-3 on aggregate in the 72nd minute (66%).
That loss ended their eight-match unbeaten run, and although they were poor in the second leg, let's not forget about their excellent display in Wales, and the fact that Championship top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic has missed both play-off games so far.
Bees have been buzzing all season
It has been said many times over the course of the season by Infogol, and perhaps mentioned a few times on the Football...Only Bettor podcast; Brentford have been excellent once again from a data stand point.
The Bees have ranked as the second-best team in the Championship according to expected goals data, behind only Leeds in terms of expected points (xPoints), behind only Leeds and West Brom in expected goals for (xGF) and ranking as the best team in expected goals against (xGA).
That last one may come as a surprise, but Brentford have been the best defensive team in the Championship this season based on xG, allowing just 0.83 xGA per game.
We know all about them from and attacking stand point, with the famed BMW strike force contributing to Thomas Frank's side being the third best attacking team in the league, generating an average of 1.61 xGF per game.
To put this all into perspective, Brentford's underlying process (1.61 xGF, 0.83 xGA per game) of +0.78 xGD per game, is marginally better than Wolves' when they won the Championship in 17/18 (1.69 xGF, 0.92 xGA per game = +0.77 xGD per game).
That sensational team is the company that this Brentford side are keeping based on expected goals, so they are rightly strong favourites to win at Wembley on Tuesday.
Fulham's defensive issues remain
Fulham's Championship campaign has been an up and down one, with good bursts of form followed by mini winless runs.
They missed out on automatic promotion, and based on the squad Scott Parker has at his disposal, you could argue that was an under-performance, though when we look at their underlying numbers, fourth place was an over-performance.
Based on xPoints, the Cottagers ranked as the seventh best team in the league this season, and that is because they 'won' the xG battle in only 23 of their 46 games, and very few of those 'xG wins' were dominant ones.
Their matches tend to be tight from a chance creation perspective, and that is what their xG process suggests, averaging 1.43 xGF per game while allowing 1.30 xGA per game.
That defensive number (1.30) is a concern heading into this game, with the Cottagers having only the 10th best defensive process in the league this season, behind the likes of Stoke, Blackburn, Wigan and Huddersfield.
While they have gained plenty of plaudits post-break after picking up 17 points from nine games (6th best record), and rallying from back-to-back defeats after the restart, Parker's side picked up the 14th most xPoints, generating an average of just 1.07 xGF per game.
That continued in the play-offs (1.27 xGF first leg, 1.18 second), which doesn't bode well against the best defence in the Championship, but let's not forget the individual quality that Fulham have at their disposal, who could win a game with a moment of magic.
Brentford to reach promised land
Based on expected goals, Brentford are head and shoulders the better of the two teams in this Championship play-off final.
They have done the double of the Cottagers in the league season, winning 1-0 at Griffin Park after a dominant display (xG: BRE 2.69 - 0.75 FUL) and coming out 2-0 victors at Craven Cottage in the first game after the restart (xG: FUL 0.60 - 1.31 BRE).
What is worth pointing out from those two games is just how little Fulham created against this Brentford side over two league games (a combined 1.35 xGF).
We could see something similar here, with Brentford limiting Fulham, but given the way both teams play, don't expect too much goal mouth action.
To me, at the prices, Brentford represent a value bet. The Bees seem to have Fulham's number this season, and have really excelled in defence this season, while maintaining their excellent attacking output.
Thomas Frank's side can be backed at [2.2] (45%) to win at Wembley, so given the Infogol model gives them a 52% (1.92) chance of winning in 90 minutes, that is a value play.
Both teams to score 'no' looks a serious runner at [1.91] (52%) given the defensive stability of Brentford, with the model calculating a 53% (1.89) chance of one or both teams failing to notch, but there is minimal value on offer.
I'm happy to throw a dart at a marginally bigger price given Fulham's issues in attack and Brentford's stubborn defence.
The model calculates a 33% (3.0) chance of Brentford winning this one to nil, so the [3.4] (29%) available on the Betfair Sportsbook (no liquidity in Exchange market at time of writing) is a bigger priced value play.
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Back Brentford to win @ [2.2]
Back Brentford to win to nil @ [3.4]