Goiás’ Gravity-Defying Season | Soccermetrics Research, LLC

Goiás Esporte Clube, located in the interior of Brazil, are one of the elevator clubs of Brazilian football. Along with Sport Recife, Vitória, and Santa Cruz, they are tied for the second-most relegations from Brazil’s Série A to Série B. América Mineiro and Coritiba have been relegated the most — six times — from the Brazilian championship. I claim that if you look at Goiás’ basic and advanced statistical performance, they should have joined América and Coritiba atop the relegation list.

But instead of relegation, Goiás are safe in Série A and will play the Copa Sudamericana in 2023. How?

Goiás, the overachiever

The actual and expected league table tells much of the story about Goiás’ performance.

Final actual and expected league table of 2022 Brasileirão Série A. Delta column represents difference between actual and expected point totals. Match data supplied by DataFactory Latinoaméricano.

Goiás’ line stood out because of its expected goal differential. Their expected goals created was the worst in the league, and their expected goals allowed the second-worst. In just three matches did O Verdão have a clear advantage in total xG, and in eight more matches was the xG differential within the threshold most correlated with a draw. Such a performance maps to a team finishing bottom of the league. And other quantitative football websites confirmed these observations.

Yet, Goiás’ actual performance was significantly different from their peers. The figure below shows the exponential moving points average of Goiás, Avaí, and Juventude — three clubs with similar xG statistics. Juventude sank into the depths of relegation and never resurfaced, Avaí declined precipitously after an early high, but Goiás steadily improved and hit a late surge that ensured their survival.

Exponential moving points average of Goiás, Juventude, and Avaí in the 2022 Brasileirão Série A competition. Match data supplied by DataFactory Latinoaméricano.

One can also observe the breakdown of matches in which teams were expected to win, lose, or draw from their match xG. The figure below shows the actual win/draw/loss record from the three groups of matches. It’s expected that a team will win most of their points from winning xG positions with declining proportions for matches that they’re expected to draw or lose. (For example, champions Palmeiras won 67 points from the 28 matches in which they had a significant xG advantage, and 14 points from the 10 matches in which they did not.) In Goiás’ situation, they had a significant xG disadvantage 27 times yet won 25 points. Other than Santos, no other team earned a higher percentage of points from losing xG positions. By comparison, Avaí and Juventude earned just 9 and 8 points from 23 matches, respectively, in which they had an xG disadvantage.

Breakdown of actual league records of matches that a team was expected to win, draw, or lose based on xG differential, Brasileirão Série A after Round 38 (final). Match data from DataFactory Latinoaméricano.

Pedro Raul: the most valuable player

The reason why Goiás will be playing in Brazil’s top flight and in CONMEBOL’s second club competition came down to one man and one man alone: Pedro Raul.

Pedro Raul scored 19 goals in the Brasileirão, second most in the competition. He accounted for almost half of Goiás’ 40 goals in the league. But what stands out about his goals is that almost all of them strongly influenced Goiás’ results in the championship. Seventeen of his 19 goals were scored with the match either tied or O Verdão trailing by a goal.

Eight of Pedro Raul’s goals were equalizers in seven matches, four of which ended in draws. In all four of those matches, Goiás were dominated in the xG figures.

Matchday Opponent Result
10 Fortaleza (away) 1-1
11 Ceará (home) 1-1
19 Sao Paulo (away) 3-3
27 Red Bull Bragantino (away) 1-1

Nine of Pedro Raul’s goals gave Goiás the lead in eight matches. In seven of those matches, his goal was the match-winner:

Matchday Opponent Result
9 Botafogo (away) 2-1
14 Cuiabá (home) 1-0
16 Athletico Paranaense (home) 2-1
20 Coritiba (home) 1-0
23 Atlético Mineiro (away) 1-0
25 Santos (away) 2-1
33 Cuiabá (away) 2-1

So not only did Pedro Raul account for half of Goiás’ goals, his goals were directly responsible for 25 of Goiás’ 46 points. I doubt that any other player in Brasileirão has that kind of record. Take away his goals, and Goiás would be a Série B side next April. His departure, long rumored but confirmed a few days agomakes Verdão‘s chances of surviving in 2023 are much more difficult.

I’m not sure if there is an American-style “Most Valuable Player” prize in Brazil, but if there were, I can’t imagine how it would go to anyone other than Pedro Raul.

The metrics used in this post were derived from match data supplied by DataFactory Latinoaméricano.

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