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Zamalek – Potential 2014-15 Egyptian Premier League Champions?

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Posted on October 29, 2014

Zamalek announce squad

Zamalek have been the best team in so far according to most statistics—and it’s not even close. With the news that Al Ahly & star has been ruled out for the season with an ACL tear, Zamalek have a legitimate opportunity to capture their first title since ’04.

With six game-weeks gone in the , the top of the table makes for odd reading. Haras El-Hodood are on top, Misr El-Maqassa are second, and Dakhleya & Tala’a El-Gaish make up the rest of the top four. With Ismaily having six points deducted from FIFA, the common names of Zamalek, Al Ahly , Ismaily and even Smouha are 7th, 14th, 16th and 11th respectively!

Part of the reason is that Zamalek (five games) and Al Ahly (four games) have played fewer games than the teams on top. But both of the heavyweights have struggled so far, with Al Ahly losing to Al-Ragaa and drawing with Ismaily, and Zamalek drawing three straight scoreless games. Zamalek have nine points from five games and Al Ahly have five points off four games. However, points are a poor indicator of performance so early in the season.

So which team has performed better?

To answer the question, we turn to some underlying stats:

Expected Goals is the underlying statistic that is best at predicting the future when it comes to league points. Expected Goals for and against a team are calculated by assigning a probability of scoring (based on historical data and location) to to each shot a team takes and concedes, and then adding up the total. Expected goals are the best predictor of previous goals and future goals!

For visualization:

xG-Visualized

A shot right in front of goal is scored 60% of time, a shot outside of the penalty area 3%. (This graph is taken from here)

Actual Goal Rate = (Goals for)/(Goals for + Goals Against)

Expected Goal Rate= (Expected Goals for)/(Expected Goals for + Expected Goals against)

If Zamalek take one shot from right in front of goal (worth 0.6 in the chart above and one shot from way outside the area (0.03) their expected goal for total is 0.63. Opposite for defensively.

So which team has been the most impressive so far?

All stats from TalataBont as of 10/28

xGR-Luck EPL

Luck = Actual Goal Rate – Expected Goal Rate

Zamalek have been absolutely dominant. An Expected Goal Rate of 0.78 is ridiculous. The dominant Pep Guardiola side of a couple of years ago posted the highest xGR of around 0.7. Bayern last year, while running away with the Bundesliga posted a 0.7 as well. In their first 5 games, Zamalek have been absolutely dominant and are extremely unlucky to come out with only 9 points. However, Zamalek’s ‘luck’ has been average because their goal rate is also an extremely strong 0.88 (8 goals for / 8 + 1 goal concede). The only reason they have done poorly in points is because the goals have come in 2 matches.

As for Al Ahly, they are the 2nd best team in the country, but the gap between them and Zamalek isn’t even close right now. Assuming Zamalek come down to earth a little bit (there is 0% chance they finish the year with an xGR of 0.78) Al Ahly are still pretty far away.

The best news for Zamalek? Last year they lost the title due to their porous defense. So far this year, their defense is the best unit in the league in just about everything:

AHL-ZAMDef

As for Al Ahly:

Well, the good news is they’re still the second best team in the country. The bad news? Their defense has looked nothing like last year’s historic unit (see above). Last year they led the league by far in Expected Goals Against, this year they’ve been average.

Looking at their attacking numbers:

AHL-ZAMAtt

Zamalek are still the best team in the league; Al Ahly are still second, just like last year.

Worst of all for Al Ahly is that the difference in xGR doesn’t seem to come from a tough schedule. Al Ahly have dropped points to two of the worst four teams according to xGR, while Zamalek have played three decent matchups and a bad one.

Zamalek schedule so far : vs. 12th, 13th, 11th, 19th, 7th best teams. Average opposing rank is 12th.

Ahly schedule so far: vs.17th, 13th, 10th, 18th best teams. Average opposing rank is 15th.

So Zamalek have had a tougher schedule than Al Ahly while posting significantly better numbers.

The big problem for Al Ahly is they’ve just lost their best attacker for the season (Gamal) and their second best attacker for four games after a red card (Soliman). How important are their contributions?

GamalContribution

49% of all Al Ahly Expected Goals have been generated by one of Amr Gamal (39%) or Walid Soliman (10%). Half of their chances have fallen to these two, and although their replacements could be fine, its doubtful they could replace their impact, especially Gamal’s.

56% of Al Ahly’s shots have been taken by Gamal & Soliman:

GamalContr2

The good news for Al Ahly is that Soliman (23%) is more important in total shots than Gamal (21%) and he is only out for 4 games.

The bad news? Gamal is much more dangerous than Soliman with 39% of Expected Goals coming from Gamal. Gamal leads the league in Expected Goals/Game.

Conclusion:

Overall, assuming managerial stability (a very dangerous assumption with Mr. Mortada involved) & excluding the possibility that Zamalek somehow self-implodes (also unlikely), Zamalek are far & away the favorites for the title this year so far, especially with Amr Gamal’s injury. They are by far the best team in Egypt so far, and have played an average schedule, as opposed to an easy one. Although they have already dropped six meaningless points when dominating, their strikers should find their shooting boots soon, and if they do, the rest of the league should watch out.

The biggest concern has got to be the mental block they’ve come up against in recent years in head-to-head matches against Al Ahly. With Ismaily struggling with the FIFA sanctions and a young (but improving) Smouha team losing their best player from last year (Hamoudi), the path is finally clear for Zamalek to undo the 8-year long curse and win the title for their tortured fan base! Will their strikers do enough? Or will Al Ahly adjust well to life without Gamal and start performing better?

Zamalek have a pretty big test on Thursday against the 3rd ranked (by Expected Goal Rate) and really unlucky so far Itihad. Let’s see if they can dominate the way the numbers think they can.

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