The open secret

The fact that Slot was the man that the Liverpool hierarchy had identified was an open secret in the media and amongst the fans. Liverpool have, of course, built a reputation in recent years for the extensive use of data in their player recruitment processes. (Rockborne, 2023) The club’s data science and analysis departments extended their use of data to the search for a new coach. They identified coaches from around Europe who met specific criteria set by the club. As a football data provider, we thought it would be interesting to delve deeper and see if we could find a data-driven reason for Slot to be the chosen one. In cooperation with Total Football Analysis, we’ve delved into the xG data of Feyenoord under Arne Slot.

Expected Goals (xG) and Slot’s Appeal

Without having inside knowledge of these criteria and the selection and filtering process, we can make an educated guess that expected goals (xG) played a significant role in deciding which coaches were worth taking a deeper look into. Using xG ourselves we can examine the specific attacking outputs and performances from some Feyenoord matches over the last few weeks of the season with a view to both explaining why Slot was so attractive and what Liverpool fans can expect to see under their new Dutch coach.

Examining Feyenoord’s xG Data

In the first instance, we need to examine the xG data from our Football API for Feyenoord in the matches that we have selected.

14/04/24Fortuna Sittard1.99
25/04/24Go Ahead Eagles1.32
05/05/24PEC Zwolle4.82


In each of these matches, Feyenoord came out as the winners, but at times, they underperformed their xG notably. In the match against Fortuna Sittard, for example, they finished 1-0 winners when we would have expected a bigger margin of victory. In other matches, they overperformed their xG as was the case against Go Ahead Eagles where they generated 1.32xG but won the match 3-1.

Breaking Down xG: Set Plays vs Open Play

The key thing to remember is that their xG was generally consistently positive in the Eredivisie. However, this was combined with an attacking style of play that was possession-dominant, which enabled them to dominate matches and play, for the most part, in the opposition’s final third.

We can drill further down into the xG data in order to build a more complete picture of the way that Feyenoord dominated games and created chances against the opposition by breaking the overall xG figure down into expected goals from set plays (xGSP) and expected goals from open play (xGOP).

14/04/24Fortuna Sittard0.751.23
25/04/24Go Ahead Eagles0.101.21
05/05/24PEC Zwolle2.402.42

As you can see, other than the match against PEC Zwolle, which ended 5-0 to Feyenoord, there was a clear difference in terms of xGSP and xGOP with the majority of the threat and chances created through open play. As a possession-dominant team who typically play high and occupy the final third of the pitch effectively as Feyenoord did under Slot, they progress the ball and create chances through their ability to break lines and break into the opposition area either centrally or through the half-spaces.

Let’s examine this in more detail by isolating the penetrating carries from Feyenoord from the matches we have selected from our data set.