New 'xT' metric suggests Curtis Jones is a star-in-the-making


New 'xT' metric suggests Curtis Jones is a star-in-the-making

A new metric known as ‘Expected Threat’ (xT) suggests Curtis Jones is a star in the making. The Liverpool youngster is reflected wonderfully well.

The Athletic’s Tom Worville debuted a new metric on Friday – Expected Threat. ‘xT’ measures how dangerous a player is, using the areas of the pitch he exploits.

That could be by carrying the ball into dangerous areas or passing it there. The metric then uses years of data to show the likelihood of a goal happening in a possession once the ball has been in that area.

For instance, carrying the ball inside your own half carries almost zero threat. The likelihood of the possession resulting in a goal is about 0.008.

But having the ball in front of goal in the six-yard box? That’s worth 0.33. In other words, you can expect a goal every three possessions by getting the ball there.

It’s a fairly complex metric and one that we don’t yet know how useful it’ll prove to be. But you can usually tell how viable it is by looking at the players who score well – are they who you’d expect?

In this case, yes. Jack Grealish is the ‘most threatening’ player in the league, with Mohamed Salah second.

One name that stands out to us, though, is Curtis Jones.

xT looks good for Jones

As soon as we heard about the Athletic’s work on this, we were on the lookout for Jones. This stuff is exactly what he’s good at and we think he’s massively underrated.

We actually went over it all recently as we believe he’s destined to be a star for England in a few years. Jones carries and passes the ball at an elite level.

The 20-year-old was 5th in the Premier League for carrying the ball per 90 last season. He was 6th for carrying it at least five yards forward and 5th for carrying the ball into the final third.

Jones also made the 8th-most passes into the final third per game. It’s all quite remarkable for a young player in his first full season.

So it stands out to us that Jones is on par with the likes of Phil Foden, Jordan Henderson and Mason Mount in the xT metric. He’s only marginally behind Thiago and Sadio Mane.

But it looks better the more advanced you get. The Athletic posted stats for ‘medium actions’, which is a way of eliminating those who merely do lots of little passes or carries.

This focus on those who consistently do above average progressive actions. Jones sits 14th in the league, tucked between Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan.

The last chart they looked at was who adds the most xT. Or to put it another way, which players consistently unlock opposition defences and perform actions that get teammates into dangerous positions?

Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Think of a pass that finds an overlapping full-back who can then put in a better cross. Or a dribble that takes a defender out of a game and suddenly puts the striker in a strong position to score.

Kevin De Bruyne tops this one, to absolutely no surprise. Martin Odegaard is second, with Bruno Fernandes third. Then it’s Rodri, Thiago and Jones.

So, sixth for the Scouser and he’s not far behind the others.

Yes, this is a new metric that needs evaluating next season but it’s encouraging that Jones places pretty much exactly where we thought he would. If this proves to be correct, it’s clear that Liverpool have someone very special on their hands.

Because Jones is far, far less experienced than the players he’s competing with here. We’re mentioning him alongside Thiago, who has been around for over a decade and can barely fit all his medals in the draw.

Jones has one full season to his name and is still developing. And if we’re right about what we’re seeing, he’s going to develop into a sensational player.

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