The maths that shows that football can’t be predicted.
By David Sumpter, Professor of Applied Mathematics and author of Soccermatics
With assistance from Simon Gleave, author of the Scoreboard Journalism blog
The Premier League has been turned upside down this season. Leicester City, relegation battlers from last year are have pulled off the impossible and won the league. Chelsea, unassailable last season, have fallen, winning only six of their first 21 matches of this season. West Ham United have beaten all six of England’s richest clubs; Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool (twice) and Tottenham Hotspur. Manchester United seem to have lost their way, with Spurs taking their place as the team with home-grown youngsters playing exciting football.
The competition is now closed but you can still order David’s book and get a 25% discount with the link in this article.
Around a year ago I met, in a virtual sense, David Sumpter, a professor of mathematics at the University of Uppsala in Sweden and a football nut like myself. He was writing a book called Soccermatics, which combined his work in the field of animal behaviour and his love of football, which he generously allowed me to read and comment upon. He also used my Premier League prediction data in chapter 11 of his book and his publisher has kindly allowed me to reproduce the relevant passages at the link below. I can also offer a copy of David’s book to the winners of a competition which I have set further down this article and, if you would like to order a copy anyway, there is also a discount code below which you can use.
Just like last year, a Scoreboard Journalism team convened to publish a prediction for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. This forecast not only selected the correct top-3 nations again but also the bottom-3. The associated blog suggested that Ukraine had a better chance than the odds suggested due to shortcomings in Russia’s song, and it correctly predicted that Poland’s chance was a lot better than its odds. One of the people who helped with this work advised his friends and followers to back Bulgaria to finish in the top-5. Bulgaria was fourth. So, all in all a pretty successful evening, at least it would be if we left our conclusions to cherry picking as many others do but was it the full story?
Well, there is nothing like predicting the 1-2-3 of something in the correct order to put the pressure on the next time you have to forecast the same thing. However, last year’s Eurovision Song Contest projection included the use of the bookmakers’ odds which I regard as at least partial cheating. So, this year I wanted to avoid bookmakers and use a number of objective methods. These methods, as you can see if you read on, give us a 1-2-3 this evening of Russia, Ukraine and Australia.
For most of us, it is a familiar pattern dating back many years or even decades. England’s footballers pull off an impressive result in a friendly or qualification before a major tournament and the hype begins. Famous figures are quoted saying that England can win the <insert next major competition here> and the media becomes more and more frenzied in its excitement. This year is no different after England’s 3-2 win in Germany and a familiar cycle will now begin, culminating in an analysis of what is wrong with England after their almost inevitable defeat in France this summer. The only really predictable thing about England’s participation at a major tournament is the news cycle which occurs around it.
This post is a collaboration between Scoreboard Journalism and Show Legend. The data is sourced from Transfermarkt.com.
The Chinese Super League begins this weekend and, as we showed here, Chinese clubs have become a major force on the international transfer market this winter with a net transfer spend of €322 million. Comparing countries across full seasons rather than a single transfer window, China has now become the second biggest net spending nation on football players, behind England which has dominated international transfers for the last decade. Continue reading
The most immediately eye-catching result of this year’s FA Cup fifth round has to be Reading’s 3-1 defeat of Premier League West Bromwich Albion. Reading are languishing in 16th position in the Championship while West Brom look all but safe for another season in the Premier League. Take a closer look though and we find that Reading were the favourites to win this tie despite being 22 places lower in the league. Not only that but this is the third time in the last eight seasons that West Brom have gone out of the FA Cup to a Championship team who were the bookies’ favourites against them. Continue reading