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Analysis: League One's Top Six

It is hard to compare this season to the 2019/20 season, due to last season being cut short and this season seeing teams having played a different number of games because of Covid or weather issues. To try to compare as fairly as possible I have used averages like goals per game and percentage of points won, rather than goals scored and points won. I will compare the current top six and the trio promoted last season on:

  • Key players' performances (KPP)

  • Goal scoring

  • Points against promotion rivals

  • Defending

  • Formations

  • Best player's position relationship with success?


PPG = points won/games played

Rating of 7 = out of 10

What can be taken from this?

  1. Only Sunderland out of the current top six have a points per game average lower than achieved by the three teams promoted last season, based on their average they are on track for 74 points

  2. Lincoln (1st) are the only team so far to have a higher PPG than Coventry, who finished 1st

  3. Peterborough have the most players with an average rating of at least 7, higher than Rotherham - who had the most out of last season's promoted teams

  4. Only Doncaster (2) and Lincoln (3) have less players with an average rating of at least 7 than Wycombe (4) - who had the least out of last season's promoted teams

  5. Number of high performing players does not always correlate to success

How does their attacks compare:

Current top six in black

Last season's promoted teams in red

GPG = goals per game

What does it show?

Sunderland have been heavily dependent on Charlie Wyke’s goals, unlike the three promoted teams last season. All six teams are set to surpass the promoted trio last season on players with four or more goals, only Lincoln have a top scorer with a lower GPG (goals per game) ratio than the promoted trio. Lincoln have the greatest distribution of goals in the team, with Sunderland a polar opposite. The other four teams have 3-4 players with four or more goals, and similar top scorer GPGs.

A look at their performances against each other:

Note: Lincoln's 80% of games = 8 of the 10 games possible & 20% of points is their 5 points from a possible 24 (in 8 games).

What does it show?

Lincoln have had the hardest schedule (playing the most games against the other teams currently in the top six), and Peterborough have had the easiest on paper - just playing 4 games against the current other top six teams. Lincoln and Peterborough are the only teams in the top six to have a worse percentage of points won against the rest of the top six than Rotherham (last season). Hull, Doncaster and Portsmouth sit between Rotherham and Wycombe in the graph, with only Sunderland having a higher percentage than any of the promoted trio.

However, Sunderland have only faced two of the rest of the top six teams away from home, and have played all at home. Yet this shouldn't worry Sunderland as they took four out of six points from the two away games, scoring 5 and just conceding once. Peterborough are yet to face another top six team at home this season, and only have one away game left - a relief considering they only beat Hull away. Portsmouth and Hull both have better away than home records, both have won once at home against the rest of the top six. Although, away from home, Hull are unbeaten and Portsmouth have won all three so far. Lincoln have just five points (one from their home games) out of 8 games, conceding 9 and scoring 2 goals at home. Away from home, their record improves slightly and includes an impressive win at Fratton Park.


CCFC = Coventry

DRFC = Doncaster

LCFC = Lincoln

PBORO = Peterborough

PFC = Portsmouth

RUFC = Rotherham

SAFC = Sunderland

WWFC = Wycombe

Average rating from at least 10 appearances.

  • Only Doncaster have a higher goals conceded per game average than Wycombe last season. This suggests that defensive standards is higher this season than last season. The current top two of Lincoln and Hull have lower averages than Coventry, the champions least season.

  • Although this season’s top six mostly have a lower goals conceded per game average than last season’s promoted trio. The promoted teams are only matched by Doncaster in regards to the rating of their best rated defender. Possible correlation between ‘best’ defender’s rating and success?

Use of different formations:

  • Hull, Lincoln, and Sunderland have both used a 4-3-3 formation most frequently this season - similar to Wycombe and Coventry in 2019/20

  • Portsmouth have used a 4-4-2 formation most frequently this season - similar to Rotherham in 2019/20

  • Peterborough have used a 3-4-1-2 and Doncaster have used a 4-2-3-1 formation most frequently this season

What did the promoted trio's formations have in common? The use of a flat four defence and none of them had a lone striker. Of the current League One top six, only Peterborough do not conform to a flat four defence. Whilst Doncaster is the only team to have a 'lone striker'.

Best player's position: relationship with success.

Wycombe and Rotherham's best players last season (based on average rating) were both defenders, Jacobs and Ihiekwe respectively. Meanwhile, Coventry's best player last season was central midfielder Liam Walsh. Below I will look at whether the current top six's "best players" are in similar positions to last season's promoted teams.

Table requires at least 10 appearances.

This shows a clear pattern of success in the league does not require an attacker to be the "best player" in the team, with only Peterborough having an attacker (Siriki Dembele) as their highest rated player. This season shows a greater emphasis on midfielder's being teams' best players, four of the six teams have followed Coventry's pattern. Whereas, Sean Raggett (a defender) is Portsmouth's highest rated player with over 10 appearances - following Rotherham and Wycombe's pattern.

Data provided by WhoScored and up to date after the round of games on Saturday 13th. Does not include Sunday's League One fixture's data.

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