Charlton's Unbeaten Start Belies the Early Season Shot Data

Charlton Athletic were the joint pre-season favorites for relegation ahead of the 2019-2020 Championship campaign, yet the Addicks have made a blistering start and sit second in the table after six games. Despite this lofty position, Lee Bowyer's side have taken the fewest shots in the division so far and are continuing to defy the data. They're proving ruthlessly efficient with their finishing, and look set to continue to fly in the face of statistics over the coming months.

Increased popularity of statistics

The use of statistics in football betting has become increasingly prevalent over the last five years, with providers such as Opta using advanced metrics such as xG (expected goals) and xA (expected assists) to help pundits and bettors gain a greater understanding of the game. The BBC have recently begun to display xG ratings during Match of the Day on a Saturday night, and this enables viewers to plot the patterns of the game according to the quality of opportunities created.

This could be used to highlight teams who are struggling to carve out clear-cut chances, or it could help pick out potentially high-scoring matches between two sides who are creating a flurry of goal-scoring opportunities each weekend.

XG is open to interpretation, and it does not account for the occasional moment of serendipity. However, in the Premier League, the introduction of VAR does have the potential to ever-so-slightly skew these statistics, although it is still far too soon to judge. This additional insight provides a deeper analysis of any given game and sits alongside other useful numbers such as shot data and passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA).

Charlton's underwhelming data

The Addicks are one of just three sides who went into the first international break of the campaign unbeaten, with the men from North Greenwich taking 14 points from a possible 18 throughout August. Despite this impressive form, Charlton have had fewer shots than any other side in the second tier.

According to Footstats, Bowyer's men have taken just 51 shots across their opening six matches, which is six fewer than second-bottom Huddersfield, and ten fewer than struggling Wigan. They are averaging around 8.5 shots per game, which is half the total taken by Leeds United, who sit a place below them in the table.

The bookmakers have been forced to re-think their position on Charlton this season, although the majority are still opting to take a cautious approach. As of September 12th 2019, Betway have them at 5/1 to finish in the play-offs, although data-driven bettors could be deterred by their lack of efforts on goal. However, they've scored eleven times so far, and only four sides can boast a better defensive record over their first six outings, with only half of their games seeing more than a total of two goals.

Has luck played a part?

Every side will have a fair share of fortune across the course of a 46-game campaign, and Charlton did require a late Lyle Taylor penalty to snatch a point at Oakwell in mid-August. Jonathon Leko's heavily deflected strike also helped give them the lead against Reading at the Madejski, before another spot kick helped settle the game in Berkshire.

The xG statistics heavily favored Brentford when the Bees made their way across the capital on August 24th, although this same data suggests that Charlton have been the better side in each of their three away games so far.

They were exceptional against Nottingham Forest, yet somehow only came away with a point. There is the widely-held belief that luck evens itself out over the course of the season, but the Addicks haven't just relied upon favorable refereeing decisions and helpful ricochets. They have been able to largely control games, and they've been impressively clinical when it's mattered.

Other teams who have defied the data

It isn't just Charlton Athletic who are bucking the trend and giving statisticians sleepless nights. In League Two, Forest Green have taken the fewest shots so far, yet they still sit comfortably inside the play-off positions. Six of their first seven games have contained fewer than three goals, and each of their four victories this season have finished 1-0. They've had eight fewer shots-on-target than hapless Scunthorpe, who sit rock-bottom of the fourth tier.

In League One, Sunderland sit just outside the play-off places and have scored nine times from just 18 shots-on-target. Portsmouth have faced the fewest shots in the division, yet somehow sit 18th, having won just one of their first five matches. This is largely owing to their costly mistakes at the back.

The increased use of statistics in the modern game is undoubtedly positive, and it helps analysts determine a side's style of play. It also allows bettors to get a deeper understanding and potentially spot teams who have been underperforming in their first few games. However, Charlton's eye-catching start proves that not every side requires countless shots and a plethora of goalscoring chances in order to succeed. For every table of statistics, there will always be an exception to the rule, and the Addicks' superb run of form is undoubtedly belying the early-season data.