It's time for Champions League Matchday 5. Before the action gets underway Tuesday (all which you can catch on CBS All Access), let's take a look at four numbers which will tell the tale of the major matches this week
1. 286 players have scored more frequently than Messi
It's a staggering number. Among players in Europe's big five leagues who have played at least 300 minutes this season, a full 268 have a higher non-penalty goals scored per 90 minutes rate than Messi's 0.24. Including penalties in the tally roughly doubles Messi's rate to 0.47, which is still only 121st in Europe's big five. Messi is clearly experiencing a finishing slump as his expected goals are somewhat better than his actual goals scored, clocking in at 0.60 per 90. The good news is that figure suggests Messi will score at a higher rate going forward, expected goals predict future performance better than goals themselves, the bad news is that even 0.60 xG per 90 is only 46th in Europe's big five leagues.
That's where Messi's scoring is right now. If you squint at the numbers and poke them and massage them and tilt them this way and that you can just about argue that Messi is one of the top 50 scorers in Europe's top five leagues. The same, by the way, can be said of his passing. His expected assist numbers, so the number of assists he'd have on average given the passes he's played, stands at 0.27 per 90, 50th in the big five. That's a far cry from the Messi we all know and love. Maybe this is just a dip in form and his numbers will improve as the season goes on. But eventually, at 33 years old, the world may have to get used to the idea that Messi, great as he was, is no longer the best in the world.
2. 76% of Monchengladbach's shots are inside the box
Across Europe's big five leagues nobody takes a higher percentage of their shots from inside the box than Gladbach. Sometimes a number as high as 76% can indicate that a team is fairly unimaginative and relies heavily on lumping crosses in and taking contested headers. You can see that in the numbers of more mediocre teams across Europe like Fiorentina or West Ham who combine high shots in the box, 72.8% and 73.6% with the third and fourth highest percentage of headed shots taken, at 28.7% and 28.1%. Gladbach, however, only take a more modest 21.1%
Looking at the math another way, we can just look at what percent of shots in the box are headers. For Gladbach, 27.7% of their shots in the box are headers, which is exactly average for a team in the big five leagues. Put it all together and you have a team that is taking a lot of non-headers from close range. And those are the best kinds of shots to get. In other news they're currently dominating a group with Real Madrid and Inter Milan and with a result this week can punch their ticket to the knockout stage.
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3. Mahrez has added 2.06 expected goals with his finishing
Expected goals and finishing skill needs to come with a big bold warning that past performance doesn't guarantee future results. Most players eventually score in the neighborhood of what xG predicts they will, and even the best in the world only manage to increase their haul around 20% of the course of their career. However, while these fancy stats aren't particularly predictive of who will outscore their xG, they can help explain who has been hitting the corners with aplomb recently. Here's how it works. Take xG, a measure of shots that tells us how likely a shot is to become a goal at the point it is struck, then take post-shot xG which is a measure of how likely a shot is to become a goal after we already know it's trajectory (so, for example, a shot that's off target will have a post-shot xG value of 0). The difference between the two measures is how well sweetly a player has been striking the ball.
This year, across Europe's big five leagues, among players who have taken at least 10 shots, the sharpest finisher is not actually playing in the Champions League. That's Tottenham Hotspur's Heung-Min Son, who is plying his trade in the Europa League on Thursday nights and has added 2.29 non-penalty goals to his xG total by way of hot finishing. But just behind him is Riyad Mahrez of City who has added 2.07. Right behind Mahrez? Well that would be Robert Lewandowski with 1.84 and Luis Suarez with 1.77 who just so happen to face off on Tuesday.
4. Dortmund concede only 7.33 shots per match
Dortmund are perhaps the most swashbuckling team in the world. They've got impossibly young attackers across their front line with none of Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho or Gio Reyna older than 20 while Jude Bellingham is also impossibly young in midfield. What's underrated about Dortmund is just how impressive their defense has been. Only two teams across Europe's top five leagues -- Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao -- concede fewer shots per match,.
Dortmund accomplish the feat of being both a walking highlight reel and a defensive fortress by using one weird trick. They keep the ball, and pass it around a lot. Nobody plays more passes than Dortmund's 691 passes per match or completes more than their 603. And despite all that possession they're "only" ninth across Europe's big five leagues for shots taken per match at 16.11. There's a lot of work that goes into creating those highlight moments of Haaland, Sancho and Reyna streaking toward goal. A lot of that work involves keeping the ball and moving it around the midfield and wingbacks, patiently waiting for opposing defenses to crack before breaking through them at speed.
One of the ancillary benefits of keeping the ball and patiently probing the way Dortmund can is that the other team just can't score when they don't have the ball. Thus, the great defensive numbers. One thing to watch for when Dortmund host Lazio on Wednesday, however, is that Lazio are a side perfectly comfortable playing without the ball. In the reverse fixture, Lazio despite being the home side were perfectly happy to concede possession, completing only 301 passes to Dortmund's 621. Despite the possession difference, Lazio still managed 11 shots to Dortmund's 14, and crucially 1.75 xG to Dortmund's 1.35 while winning the match 3-1. Dortmund might be the best in the world at using the ball, but Lazio will be still be happy to let them have it and exploit them quickly on the counter.