Comparing our Caltex Socceroos' leagues in the race for a place at AFC Asian Cup 2019

While the carnival of football that is the FIFA World Cup 2018 barely seems like yesterday, Caltex Socceroos around the world are already locking their focus on their next challenge – as the countdown to the AFC Asian Cup 2019 begins.

For Australian football, a new era is upon us. Three-time Hyundai A-League Premier and two-time champion coach, Graham Arnold is now in the big chair. For the first time in 14 years, going back to an age before the Caltex Socceroos embarked on the adventure of appearing at three straight FIFA World Cups, a dynamic front-man named Timothy Cahill is not available for selection.

A new era brings new opportunity. In only five months’ time, the new head coach will lead Australia on to the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium pitch to face Jordan and kick off our defence of the AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

For many, the battle for a place in Arnold’s first competitive starting line-up begins this weekend as domestic leagues around the world fire up their 2018-19 seasons.

But how will Arnold and his scouting team assess and compare players that are scattered across continents, in competitions with different strengths and qualities? Here we unpack how the leagues of our Caltex Socceroos shape up when compared against each other.

Keeping them out

Caltex Socceroos number one Mat Ryan made 91 saves as newly-promoted Brighton and Hove Albion survived in the English Premier League last season. Ryan was the goalkeeper with the fifth most saves in a division which averages 5.7 saves per game.  

In comparison, Brad Jones may be a busy man in 2018-19 after switching Feyenoord in the Netherlands for Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Professional League saw goalkeepers averaging a whopping 6.8 saves per game in 2017-18, while Danny Vukovic can expect to be involved in games which average 6.3 saves per game in the Belgian First Division for KRC Genk.

Competition Games Saves per game Save %
Dutch Eredivisie 312 7.1 69.7%
Saudi Pro League 182 6.8 69.9%
Belgian First Division 270 6.3 69.3%
German Bundesliga 306 6.2 69.3%
Hyundai A-League 140 5.9 66.3%
English Premier League 380 5.7 68.4%
Japanese J-League 306 5.5 68.4%

Staying tight at the back

Out of all the leagues where Australian players are represented, the Hyundai A-League (3.0 goals per game) is has the joint third highest goals per game and the fewest goalless draws (3% of games).

Jiangsu Suning’s Trent Sainsbury is the only Caltex Socceroos defender turning out in a higher scoring division. In the Chinese Super League, goals exceed expected goals by a staggering 97 goals per season.

At the other end of the scale, James Meredith of Millwall and Bailey Wright of Bristol City are playing in a league of stingy defences, where goals fall short of expected goals by 26 per season in the English Championship. The next closest league where defences are on top is where Al-Ittihad’s Matthew Jurman defends, the Saudi Pro League, with nine fewer goals than the xG reading predicts.

Competition Games Goals xG (Expected goals) Performance v xG
Chinese Super League 240 732 635 +97
English Premier League 380 1018 958 +60
Turkish Süper Lig 306 906 878 +28
Hyundai A-League 140 422 409 +13
German Bundesliga 306 855 849 +6
German 2.Bundesliga 306 843 851 -8
Saudi Pro League 182 542 551 -9
English Championship 557 1414 1440 -26

Goal, goals, goals

The Hyundai A-League stat line of 3.0 goals per game and 3% goalless draws exactly mirrors the Swiss Super League, where Tomi Juric wil be searching to make his mark for FC Luzern. The Bundesliga and 2.Bungesliga in Germany both average slightly fewer goals per game, 2.8, and see 7% of their games end nil-all. Goals and assists for Matthew Leckie at Hertha BSC, Robbie Kruse at VfL Bochum and Jamie Maclaren at Darmstadt 98 are statistically harder to come by.

The English Premier League brings an average of 2.7 goals per game. Although Huddersfield Town scored only 28 times in 38 games in 2017-18, with Aaron Mooy involved in 25% of those goals.  Andrew Nabbout has some mean J-League defences to unlock when hunting for goals for Urawa Red Diamonds. Goals arrive at 2.6 per game in Japan’s top flight, which is the same as the Israeli Premier League where Nikita Rukavytsya piles his trade for Maccabi Haifa.

Massimo Luongo, Mile Jedinak and Jackson Irvine have an even tougher task in the English Championship for Queen’s Park Rangers, Aston Villa and Hull City respectively. With only 2.5 goals per game scored, Luongo’s six goals and three assists in 2017-18 is all the more impressive.

Competition Games Goals per game 0-0 draw %
Dutch Eredivisie 312 3.2 4%
Chinese Super League 240 3.1 6%
Hyundai A-League 140 3.0 3%
Swiss Super League 180 3.0 3%
German Bundesliga 306 2.8 7%
German 2.Bundesliga  306 2.8 7%
English Premier League 380 2.7 8%
Japanese J-League 306 2.6 6%
Israeli Premier League 240 2.6 6%
English Championship 557 2.5 9%

*All Opta data is from the 2017-18 season

READ: Scottish Premiership season preview: can anyone stop Rogic and Celtic?

READ: Championship season preview: Aussies set to shine