Ranking every Premier League team by how unlucky they were in 2021-22

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Crystal Palace's Patrick Vieira during the Premier League match against Burnley at Turf Moor, Burnley. November 2021.

Anyone who tells you luck evens itself out over the course of the season is talking out of their backside. When it comes to a 38-game campaign, fortune plays a massive role, so we’ve had a look at which Premier League teams had the best and worst luck of 2021-22.

You know when watching your team if they’ve been unlucky. You know when they’ve played brilliantly and created loads of chances, but, for one reason or another, the ball just will not go in.

Then, inevitably, the opposition goes up the other end and their left-back pings one into the top corner from 35 yards out and at an acute angle. We’ve all been there, and for some, that sort of bad luck seems to repeat itself more often than for others.

With the advent of more advanced football metrics like expected goals, we now have the ability to measure that sort of (mis)fortune.

The ‘expected goals’ stat measures the quality of chances a team creates and tells us, on average, how many goals a team would score from those chances. And using this, we can work out which team is more likely to win any given game, which we can convert into expected points. Simple, right?

Of course, in reality, expected points don’t always convert perfectly into actual points on the board – like with anything that relies on averages, there are outlying results. That’s where the luck comes in. And by comparing a team’s actual points total to their expected points total, we can measure that luck.

If a team has a lot more actual points than expected points, then you can assume that they scored an unusual number of goals from very low-quality chances. In other words, the footballing gods were on their side. The same is true in reverse.

So, using this metric, which Premier League teams were the luckiest this season? We’ve had a look using numbers from Understat.

For the teams at the top end of the actual points table, we can see that Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal got the rub of the green a little more often than Manchester City or Chelsea. But none of the top five would have finished in a different position had they accumulated their expected points total rather than their actual points total.

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Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min celebrates scoring against Norwich City at Carrow Road, Norwich, May 2022.

READ: Every 2021-22 PL club’s top scorer, creator, dribbler, tackler & more

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Manchester United, however, would have finished down in eighth if every chance created in this Premier League season had been converted as expected based on the Understat model.

Surprisingly, both Brentford and Crystal Palace would have finished above them had they converted and conceded their xG and xGA – and Palace and Brentford make up two of our unlucky-team top three. Both of them can look forward to the coming season. With a bit of luck, they’ll be challenging for Europe.

The losers in the luck stakes, however, were Watford, who would have been expected to accumulate around 12 more points than they actually managed based on the opportunities they fashioned throughout the campaign. Yes, the Hornets were bad – but not as bad as some results might suggest.

At the other end of the scale are Wolves, Leicester and Newcastle, who all exceeded their expected points total considerably, suggesting that they’ll need to perform better next season if they want to maintain the league position they managed this term.

What about the rest? Well, here are the 20 2021-22 Premier League teams listed from the largest negative difference between actual points and expected points (xP) and the largest positive difference between actual points to expected points. Or, in plain English, from the unluckiest to the luckiest.

20. Watford – 23pts, 35.45xP, -12.45 difference between expected points and actual points total
19. Crystal Palace – 48pts, 58.15xP, -10.15 difference
18. Brentford – 46pts, 56xP, -10 difference
17. Leeds – 38pts, 43.86xP, -5.86 difference
16. Everton – 39pts, 43.54xP, -4.54 difference
15. Southampton – 40pts, 43.45xP, -3.45 difference
14. Brighton – 51pts, 54.16xP, -3.18 difference
13. Burnley – 35pts, 38.10 xP, -3.10 difference
12. Norwich – 22 pts, 25.04xP, -3.04 difference
11. Aston Villa – 45pts, 46.2xP, -1.2 difference
10. Chelsea – 74pts, 73.38xP, +0.62 difference
9. Manchester City – 93pts, 91.88xP, +1.12 difference
8. West Ham – 56pts, 53.56xP, +2.44 difference
7. Manchester United – 58pts, 54.53xP, +3.48 difference
6. Arsenal – 69pts, 64.76xP, +4.24 difference
5. Tottenham – 71pts, 66.09xP, +4.91 difference
4. Liverpool – 92pts, 86.56xP, +5.44 difference
3. Newcastle – 49 pts, 41.53xP, +7.47difference
2. Leicester – 52pts, 42.31xP, +9.69 difference
1.Wolves – 51pts, 40.54xP, +10.46 difference

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