It is possible for a manager to be relegated from the Premier League but enhance their reputation. Alan Curbishley and Sean Dyche stayed for the rebuild and bounced back with Charlton and Burnley. Daniel Farke is on his way to doing likewise with Norwich. Roberto Martinez landed the Everton job after Wigan Athletic were relegated but won the FA Cup in 2013. Gareth Southgate was relegated with Middlesborough in 2009 – whatever happened to him?
Scott Parker is also a candidate for this slightly hollow accolade. Fulham could be seven points adrift with six games remaining by the time they kick off at Arsenal on Sunday, but have been far more competitive than most judges expected them to be at the start of the season, certainly since a raft of successful new signings arrived. Whatever their fate, Parker deserves to stay. Fulham may even face a battle to keep him.
Much has been written about Brighton’s impressive football and apparent misfortune in front of goal, but Fulham have actually suffered the biggest underperformance relative to expected goals in the league. The difference between their 35.9 expected goals, just behind Everton, and their 24 goals scored is the biggest in the division. Fulham’s shot conversion rate of 6.4 per cent is also the lowest in the league. Their expected goals conceded tally is also safely lower mid-table.
This will come as no surprise to Fulham fans who have cursed the lack of a reliable goalscorer. The same is true of Sheffield United and Brighton who are the league’s second and third biggest underpeformers relative to expectation.
At this point it is common to hear the argument: is this not the problem with expected goals? That it fails to take account of the quality of individual players. That the reason Manchester United, Leicester and Tottenham are the league’s big overperformers is not luck but the calibre of their strikers. Should we not expect relegation-threatened teams with Championship-grade forwards to miss more chances?
There is some truth to these claims when small samples are analysed, but expected goals benefits from the law of large numbers because most models are based on hundreds of thousands of shots on goal. This gives a strong indication of the true probability of a chance going in. Regardless of whether you have Harry Kane or Jamie Vardy, it is extremely difficult and improbable to sustain significant overperformance across a long period, as Tottenham’s faltering title challenge and Leicester’s dip last season attest.
So there is no contradiction in saying Fulham lack quality but have also been unfortunate. They could well be relegated before any positive return to the mean can take place. Their performance levels though, suggest Parker is the right man to bring them back up.