England, here we go again

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.

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China joins England as biggest annual transfer spenders

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

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West Brom underdogs in “giantkilling” for third time

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

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Introducing logic into title-race predictions

During my trip to London this week, I picked up a copy of The Times and discovered that the newspaper’s resident stats man Bill Edgar had predicted the remaining 13 matches of the Premier League season for the current top-five using a simple model. From this process, he named Manchester City as this season’s champions, ahead of Leicester City on goal difference. Comparing his projection to a number of other models, both simple and complex, reveals a number of interesting differences. Bill’s approach is more logical than most media predictions but can he do better than these models? Continue reading

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What wins: Expert intuition or statistical analysis?

This is a guest post by Chad Murphy (@soccermetric)

Most readers of this blog probably already know, but Simon Gleave (@SimonGleave) and Steve Lawrence (@SteveLawrence_) have been running a competition, comparing the accuracy of pre-season EPL predictions for a variety of people. The competition includes over 90 fans, prominent members of the media, and statistical modellers, and the results have really been interesting. I wanted to look at one aspect in particular: what types of predictions have been the most successful? Put another way, do statistical models beat intuition of experts?

Philip Tetlock, a Psychology Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, made news with his book Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? In his work he tracked more than 80,000 predictions over 20 years, and found that when experts predicted various world events, they barely outperformed undergraduates and were only slightly better than random chance. The idea that the “experts” are barely able to beat smart undergraduates was fairly surprising, so I wanted to use Simon’s competition data to re-test Tetlock’s theory with the Premier League. And what better way to do it than to see if members of the media are truly experts?

Below I present a violin plot, comparing the three groups showing the correlation between the pre-season predictions and the table after Week 24. This shows the general distributions of each of the different groups, where each of the individual predictions are and where they tend to cluster. The vertical line shows the correlation between the simplest possible model and this year’s results: everything is exactly the same as last season. Even in a difficult season to predict like this one, the goal would be to improve over a simple cut and paste of last year’s table.


It turns out that the experts are well behind the statistical modellers, and are statistically tied with fans[1. An unbalanced t-test between fans and media shows the two groups are indistinguishable statistically, while modelers score significantly higher than both groups at p < 0.05]. This is despite the fact that the very worst individual predictions are all from statistical models.

Additionally, the plot shows that only 27 people made predictions that are currently an improvement on “everything is the same as last year.” Of the 27 predictions beating the simple model, 24 were statistical models, 2 were fans, and only 1 was a member of the media. The moral of the story is this: the experts are well behind the statistical modellers in this unpredictable season: if you want to predict the future, rely on analytics rather than intuition.

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Why Chelsea are not (and have never been) relegation candidates

Posting odds on relegation to Twitter is guaranteed to elicit responses like “where are Chelsea?” or “what no Chelsea”. However Chelsea are not, and have never been close to being, relegation candidates this season. This is because, despite Chelsea being low in the Premier League table, it would take an incredibly unlikely set of circumstances for them to go down.

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China and England the two big winter transfer window players

This post is a collaboration between Scoreboard Journalism and Show Legend, a data visualisation blog which provided the idea and the graphs and plots. You can click on these for the full interactive version. The data is sourced from Transfermarkt.com. All data is up to date as of 2 February 2016 and includes Jackson Martinez’s big money move to Guangzhou which makes China the biggest net spenders ever in a winter transfer window.

The winter transfer window has now closed in most countries and China’s net spend of €156.12 million is not only the highest of all countries in this window but also breaks the record for a winter transfer window of €106.82 million, set by all English clubs back in 2008. This is not the end of the story though as Chinese clubs from all divisions still have nearly three weeks to go before their window closes and their current net spend this winter could still grow further. Chinese clubs have become the first to have the highest net spend in three successive winter transfer windows. Continue reading

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