Introducing the Superior 7 and the Threatened 13

Recent Premier League seasons have confirmed the existence of two echelons within the league. Results of matches within and between these groups are very useful for monitoring the important issues within the league and some interesting conclusions can be drawn. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to The Superior 7 and The Threatened 13.

The Superior 7
Last season’s Premier League top seven clubs of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Liverpool are the septet which comprise The Superior 7. Last term they finished 12 points clear of the rest but this group of seven have been established for longer than a single season. Two seasons earlier, these seven clubs also finished above the rest and they currently also occupy the top seven spots. The only exception to this in recent times was the 2011/2012 season in which Newcastle United replaced Liverpool in this elite selection of clubs. However, Newcastle’s performance either side of that season was no reason to promote them into The Superior 7 at Liverpool’s expense. So, this group is now in its fourth successive season as the established elite.

The Threatened 13
The rest of the Premier League survivors and the trio of promoted clubs make up The Threatened 13 at the beginning of each season. Any three of these clubs are relegation threatened because of the efficiency of the Premier League system. It is possible that genuine improvement or random variation could lift them to isolated higher rankings but the best players will constantly leave, financial realities will leave squads short when injury hits and random variation will regress them back to the mean at least. Even when a club appears to be established in the Premier League, they are still relegation threatened when occupying this group. Everton, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have all switched groups in recent seasons for different reasons and the size of the two respective groups is, of course, not set in stone.

The first of these two groups consists of seven clubs which theoretically fight it out for the top seven spots and will not be involved in a relegation battle whilst retaining their place within that elite. Dropping out of the top seven in an isolated season can happen of course but structurally those seven are currently a separate group from the rest of the league.

The second group of 13 clubs can all be relegated but can also occasionally finish in the top seven. The homogeneity of this group potentially makes the term “mid-table team” redundant as there is so little difference between them that the idea of a structural mid-table team has all but disappeared, that is if it ever existed. After all, as @jameswgrayson pointed out to me, clubs are either attempting to get into Europe or they are trying to avoid relegation. No club has the goal of finishing mid-table.

So, what use is all of this? Well, this blog is all about getting away from the idea that league standings and individual results are telling us the whole story. Splitting the league up in this way provides more insight into what is really going on than the Premier League table at this stage of the season. Here are a few highlights after 19 matches which will be expanded upon in subsequent posts on this subject:

- Manchester City are the best of the Superior 7 in matches against fellow members of that elite group. However, their 15 points from six matches are skewed by the fact that five were at home and only one away.

- Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton and Liverpool have all achieved similar points from their matches against the Superior 7, but are averaging between just 1.1 and 1.5 points per match. Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are even worse than this.

- Arsenal are the best of the Superior 7 in matches against the Threatened 13, dropping only 5 points in 13 matches. Manchester City are the worst, taking only 2/3 of the available points from these fixtures.

- Newcastle are the only one of the Threatened 13 to have taken more than a point per match in their fixtures against the Superior 7.

- Fulham are the only one of the Threatened 13 to have not taken a single point from the Superior 7 this season.

- Sunderland are the worst of the Threatened 13 in fixtures against the other 12 clubs in this group, taking just 8 points in 12 matches. However, hope for them lies in the fact that ¾ of these matches were away from home.

There is a great deal more to say on this, both in terms of the current season and historical seasons including why the so-called six pointers at the top are probably not as important as people think. Come back here for much more once the 20th round of Premier League fixtures has been played.

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Don’t shoot, you can’t score: Newcastle’s empty chamber

Voetbalreizen Engeland

Last Saturday, I attended a Premier League match in person for the first time in many years with DFDS taking me from the Netherlands to the fixture between Newcastle United and Norwich City. The home club dominated but still had to undergo a nervy final few minutes with only a single goal lead. Their failure to turn their dominance on the pitch into the same in the scoreline was due primarily to profligate shooting, particularly from one player – Cheick Tioté.

Newcastle had a total of 19 shots against Norwich City according to the Infostrada Sports database. Of those 19, only five were on target but 12 were struck from outside the box with only Shola Ameobi managing to force saves from the goalkeeper from distance. Cheick Tioté hit a remarkable five shots – all from distance – with none hitting the target. One, a volley direct from a corner even went out for a throw-in.

It is becoming better and better known now that shooting from outside the penalty area is a low percentage strategy. A player is more than five times more likely to score from inside the box than outside according to the Infostrada Sports data. However, the chance of scoring is obviously 0 if the ball is not even placed on target.

It is important to stress here that I am not suggesting that long range shooting should be outlawed altogether. In a sport like football, it often takes only a single goal to win the match and there are plenty of situations in which a shot from long range is a perfectly reasonable conclusion to a pattern of play. However, it is also important that the player firing a shot from distance is also as accurate as possible, which was not the case for the majority of Newcastle’s long range shots, and those from Cheick Tioté in particular.

Remember this?

Incredible wasn’t it? It is, however, approaching three years since that happened but this is surely the situation which still goes through Cheick Tioté’s head when the ball falls to him in similar situations. He might be better off remembering last Saturday’s volley which went out for a throw-in as he has scored just one Premier League goal in 84 appearances. His success rate is nicely illustrated in the following tweet, already nearly a year old, from a Newcastle supporter.


So, how bad is Tioté in terms of long range shooting. Looking at the time that Tioté has played in the Premier League, he is one of the 10 least accurate long range shooters to score 0 or 1 goals. The following table of players should probably limit their shooting, or maybe even be fined if they shoot as suggested above, as they are both inaccurate and fail to score:


Tioté is therefore not the worst over the time that he has been in the Premier League. However, his record is even worse when considering his entire career. He had 43 shots from outside the box in his Eredivisie years with Roda JC and FC Twente but failed to score at all.

So, in total, Tioté has managed to score just once from 100 long range shots in his league career. It was a great goal and an important goal but perhaps he should leave it at that and minimise his long range shooting to allow more accurate teammates to try their luck instead.

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Are France bad or just unlucky?

France’s 2-0 defeat in the Ukraine suggests that they will not qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It is therefore likely that France will be the only former World Cup winners absent from the competition but are France a poor team or simply unlucky, a victim of the process of World Cup qualification?


Last year, I wrote about how luck struck twice in the 2014 World Cup qualifying draw – firstly due to the draw itself and secondly because of the timing of the draw, more than a year before the beginning of the qualification tournament in Europe. France were particularly struck by bad luck in the draw itself as the nation was not only the highest ranked team in the pot of second seeds, just missing out on being first seeds to Greece who were 13th to France’s 15th at the time of the draw, but they also drew the top ranked team, Spain.

Compare France’s draw to Greece, who were just above them in the FIFA ranking and were thus seeded. Greece also finished second in their qualification group, but behind Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Greeks were also seeded for this play-off phase and look like qualifying after a 3-1 win against Romania. That two place difference in the FIFA ranking for the original draw in July 2011 has had a big influence on the respective fates of Greece and France.

Having finished second to Spain in Group H, a performance exactly as expected by the rankings, France were the highest ranked team in the unseeded pot, missing out on being seeded by one place as the Ukraine were ranked 20th and France 21st on the FIFA World Rankings at the time. Admittedly, this meant that France drew the lowest ranked seeded opponents but a place amongst the seeds would have provided the opportunity to play against Romania or Iceland, surely much weaker opponents.

The current ELO ranking – arguably a more accurate system – has France in 12th position, nine places higher than their place on the FIFA ranking. If this system had been used to draw the play-offs, France would have been seeded with Portugal, Sweden (another unlucky team perhaps) and Greece. This would not have stopped the French drawing the Ukraine but they would have had a greater chance of playing a much weaker opponent.

Conclusions will be drawn if France fail to overturn the 2-0 deficit in Tuesday’s second leg but these will almost certainly be incorrect. France are not in crisis – their ELO ranking has barely changed over the last two years, fluctuating between 12th and 15th in the world which makes them one of the best eight teams in Europe. The fact is that they have been undone by the vagaries of the draw system and, in the case of the play-offs, the fact that two one-off matches ultimately decide the fate of the runners-up.  When major nations miss out on participation at the World Cup, it is often due to this type of bad luck. Stories about the decline of these teams come afterwards and are subject to outcome bias. They can, of course, also be described as Scoreboard Journalism.

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Is there meaning behind few Premier League goals?

With 40 Premier League matches played, only 78 goals have been scored, an average of under two per match. Whilst it is reasonable to expect this average to increase, I think that I have found potential reasons for the low scoring as this is now happening more frequently in general, and more often at the beginning of the season.

As someone with an extensive background in statistical analysis, my initial reaction to the narratives about this low goalscoring was one which I didn’t spend long enough thinking about. I simply assumed that the 40 matches we have seen so far are a statistical anomaly and regression to the mean will take us back to normal levels of goalscoring.

An article by blogger Mark Taylor in particular forced me to examine my position in more detail though. That analysis included a simulation which estimated the chance of so few goals being scored by this stage at 0.5%. I decided to replicate that but with real data rather than a simulation. Using all of the seasons from 1968/1969 onwards, and splitting the matches up into 40 match blocks, produces the distribution shown in the graphic below.

GoalshistogramRead the rest of this article at the Infostradalive site by clicking here:

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Eredivisie after 6 matches: Above or below expectations

PEC Zwolle are top of the Eredivisie after six matches with Heerenveen a surprise third and Feyenoord still languishing in the bottom three. Are these teams really performing above, or in the case of Feyenoord below, expectations though?

PEC Zwolle lead the Eredivisie after six matches and are clearly performing above expectations currently but by how much? There are three methods which we can use to take a look at this question; the first is something we used last season; simply compare the results this season with the exact same matches last term. We called this the ISG coefficient and it should be familiar to readers of this blog. The other two methods are similar to one another; using the percentage chance of each result from the Euro Club Index or from the bookmakers. In the case of the latter, the odds have to be adjusted so that they add to 100%.

Eredivisie6You can read the rest of this article here:

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Champions League draw: who to avoid, who to wish for

I have previously written about the luck of the draw and how this affected both Manchester City and Chelsea in particular last season. Both clubs went out at the Champions League group stage after being drawn in much tougher groups than would have been the case under a fairer system than the one currently employed to rank the clubs.

UEFA’s coefficients system is relatively easy to understand, awarding points based on matches played in UEFA competitions. It does a pretty good job with most clubs given its simplicity but it is slow to respond to changing circumstances. Clubs who are on the way up are often misclassified due to lack of results in European competition and clubs on the way down can also end up in the wrong draw pots. Such declines can be masked in a system which only takes UEFA matches into account as the sample size of fixtures is too small. This is exacerbated by the fact that the UEFA system takes no account of the relative strengths of teams playing each other, whether they are playing home or away and treats results from five years ago the same as those from more recent times. As the BBC explain in this excellent article, the coefficients are decided purely on the basis of win, draw or loss with extra bonuses for reaching different stages of the competition.

Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund both suffered from this system last year as did Dutch club Ajax. With City in draw pot 3 and Borussia Dortmund in pot 4 despite their domestic championships in England and Germany, there was a potential catastrophe in waiting. That befell Dutch champions Ajax who ended up in Group D  with the champions of Spain, England and Germany. It was the only group with four champions.

The rest of this article, including who to avoid and who to draw, can be found at

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26 Predictions: English Premier League forecasting laid bare

With the help of Constantinos Chappas (follow him on Twitter at @cchappas, I have collected 26 pre-season Premier League predictions together, 13 which are at least partially model based, and 13 from the media. The models select Manchester City as title favourites but the journalists favour Chelsea. Who will come out on top?

Having spent part of the summer reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile, I have become interested in the idea of “skin in the game”. Basically, this concept means that an individual puts his own funds at risk in the pursuit of a goal. He has “skin in the game”. Taleb is basically suggesting that predictors should be putting their money where their mouths are, although he is referring to the predictors of the financial markets. I agree, this applies very well to sports predictors. If someone is running a tipping service for example, I want to see their betting slips. So, how does this relate to this exercise?

Everyone predicts stuff at the beginning of every football season but it is rare that people look back on these predictions to see which came out best? I have only seen James Grayson (@jameswgrayson) do this in order to compare his own models to various benchmarks. With a growing interest in football modelling, it seemed to Constantinos and I that it would be useful to assess these models along with predictions from media experts.  Plus everyone loves to see a prediction so by collecting them all in one place, we are providing a service to our Twitter followers and blog readers.

Anyway, without further ado, here are the predictions. Please click on them to see them full size and thus more readable. They are ordered by the average of each group as measured by the mean. Median has also been included for comparison.

First the models:Model Predictions

Then the experts

Model based predictions come with points so that makes them easy to assess using mean square error or James’s technique of using standard deviations. The media predictions don’t come with points though so to make them ready for assessment, we have calculated the average points per position over the last 18 seasons (20 club era) of the Premier League and applied these to the media predictions. It is a little unfair but this method of assessment is better than just counting how many positions were called exactly right as it provides a more complete picture. All suggestions for alternative assessment methods – using points or positions – are very welcome and can be sent to me via the comments or twitter.

We have tried to use predictions from individuals and individual models where possible but unfortunately The Guardian aggregated its predictions which makes theirs more a “Wisdom of the Guardian” forecast. It would have been better to source the individual forecasts in order to identify who amongst the Guardian football writers is good at forecasting but in this case it wasn’t possible. The Pinnacle Sports prediction represents the betting side and is from one hour before kick-off of last Saturday’s first match. All of these forecasts were published on blogs, websites or on Twitter.

Of course, it is still possible to have luck with a single season prediction so we plan to make this a series which returns to as many of the same people and models as possible next year. This will eventually cancel single season luck out and identify the truly good predictors.

Just looking at the averages for the objective and subjective predictions – “wisdom of the crowd” from the two camps – there are some interesting similarities and differences. As mentioned at the top, Manchester City will be 2013/2014 Premier League champions according to the statistical models but Chelsea will be according to our group of experts. Both groups are in agreement that the same four teams who filled the top four places last season will also do so this term.

I had thought that there would be some major differences between the two “Wisdom” groups when it came to mid-table because it is so competitive and random variation will undoubtedly play a part in the distribution of the final rankings amongst the clubs. This makes the agreement on Swansea City to finish eighth even more remarkable. The two groups are never more than two places away from each other in predicting the finishing position of each team.

Finally relegation. During the Premier League era there has been just one occasion on which all three promoted teams have been relegated but this is what the average of both groups predict. Perhaps remarkably, Hull City AND Crystal Palace are predicted to go down in 25 of the 26 individual predictions. Even that would be above the Premier League average.

The only time all three promoted clubs did go down was 1997/1998. During the summer, a friend provided one of the most memorable – and accurate – predictions that I have ever come across. He suggested that the three relegated clubs would be Barnsley, Bolton and “whoever signs Paul Warhurst”. Warhust subsequently joined Crystal Palace who duly joined the other two in being relegated.

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