I have written about Manchester City’s Champions League campaign before here but twitter discussions today brought the subject back to me, not least this tweet:
So, to attempt to answer Douglas’s question, I would like to refer to Michael Mauboussin’s book The Success Equation and particularly his calculation of luck during a Premier League season which turns out to be 31%. So, according to Mauboussin, 69% of what happens over a Premier League season is due to talent and 31% luck. To minimise luck and thus be more certain that the Premier League teams are ranked in the correct order of talent, there would need to be a lot more than 38 matches but at least it isn’t a coin toss.
To look at Mancini in the Champions League, let’s begin with this season. As I explained here, the real problem for City was the strength of the group which was basically equivalent to playing six matches against Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. On the basis of relative team strength at the time, City were expected to finish second or third in the group but against that level of opposition, there was obviously a chance of finishing last. What is probably less obvious to people is that City were the underdogs in all three away matches which is what one would expect if their Champions League opponents were replaced by their rough Premier League equivalents listed above.
OK, what about last season? That group contained Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal. Again, not exactly a simple task. On the basis of relative team strength, City were expected to finish second but missed out on that by a point. The 10 points City managed from that group is almost always sufficient for progress but not on this occasion.
Not only did luck almost certainly outweigh talent over those 12 City matches, not least because the groups have been much more homogenous than the teams in the Premier League, but Manchester City have also had staggeringly bad luck with the draw.
English teams are almost always in pot one but City have entered the competition in pots three and two respectively. The two teams that Manchester City drew from the bottom pot of seedings were Napoli and Borussia Dortmund. The latter were ranked as the second best team in the weakest group of seeds this season, behind Celtic. So, City suffered the double whammy in both seasons of drawing a top seed who were of (much) better quality and a very strong team from pot four. Mauboussin also refers to the paradox of skill in his book which, if we refer to football, means that luck plays an even greater part when the differences in relative quality of teams competing against one another becomes smaller. That idea is clearly of relevance here.
So, hasn’t Mancini just been unlucky? Twelve Champions League matches are nowhere near enough to make a judgement on the Italian’s managerial quality, particularly given the overly high standard of their opposition. City lost half of their 12 matches and avoided defeat in the other half. After two seasons of bad luck, Mancini needs some good but will he still be there next season to get it?