An analysis of English Premier League results
In ‘Soccer Corner’ I will briefly analyze the EPL results each week and over the previous seven weeks to see if any meaningful trends have emerged.
I am particularly interested in the psychology behind possession, which has become an obsession with some managers. And yet the statistics suggest that too much possession can take the edge of a team’s concentration. It seems that a kind of malaise sweeps over these teams and results in them passing the ball around in their own half like a bunch of Under 9s. This is soooo boring for spectators.
For example: if an English Premier League team has 70% or more ball possession in a game it is not unreasonable to expect that team to score at least three times more goals than its opponent (based on a rough ratio of 3:1 ball possession i.e. 75%)
OK…lets see if that argument holds up… All statistics are extrapolated from the excellent BBC website.
Wrap of 2017 - 2018 Season Results
There are no major surprises in the statistics below. Throughout the season, Man City have consistently been the best team and are top of seven of the nine categories, while they are also second or third in the other two.
(The red squares show the top five teams in each category, while the black shows the bottom one – except for the “times boring” column where the worst five are in black and the least boring (Leicester) is in red.)
Two teams tied for being (statistically) the most entertaining teams during the season: Liverpool and Arsenal.
Of the top six, only Man United and Chelsea had an average possession per game of less than 60% (being 55% and 56% respectively). The only other teams to achieve 50% or more were Watford (50% - 14 pos) and Southampton (52% - 17 pos).
The most boring game of the season (statistically) was in Week 37 when Man City had a mammoth 79% possession against Huddersfield in a goalless draw. Can you believe that? City held the ball for four out of every five minutes, and yet they couldn’t manage one goal! Not surprisingly, the entertainment score for that game was a miserable 5.3 and so they share the Biggest-Yawn-of-the-Season prize!
Huddersfield also featured in the second most boring game of the season. In Week 30 they had an incredible 81% possession against Swansea, yet it was also a goalless draw. The entertainment score for that game was 7.0.
At the other end of the entertainment spectrum, the most entertaining game came right at the end of the season. Tottenham had 65% possession against Leicester in a 5-4 thriller that earned an entertainment score of 415.4 and so these two teams share the Thunder Award for the biggest clap of the season.
In second place was a game in Week 20 in which Tottenham again featured, this time against Southampton. The score was 5-2 to the Spurs who had 57% possession, and the entertainment score was 393.0.
So, what can we learn from these stats?
At the beginning of the season I berated teams, particularly Man City, for being too possession fixated. I said that even Under 9 teams can pass the ball around in their own half. I will now qualify that by adding: if they are not challenged. And that is the important point. If the opposition is intent on ball watching, they will lose concentration; they will fall asleep; they will become zombies; and they will get hammered or, at the very least, lose the game.
It is up to the opposition to put teams like Man City under pressure and force them to make mistakes. What have they got to lose? It they stay rooted in their own half, they will lose anyway.
The World Cup 2018
Enjoy the World Cup! My tip...
Outsiders? Yes, but they are taking a tip from Vladimir: they are taking jars of vegemite to spread on the door knobs of the opposition. Can’t fail!
Results for Week 38
Note: a goal difference of (2) represents a score of 0-2 or 1-3 or 2-4 etc, while a difference of 0 represents a draw whatever the score.
Results for Week 37
Results for Week 36
Results for Week 35
Results for Week 34
Results for Week 33
Results for Week 32
Results for Week 31
Note: a goal difference of (2) represents a score of 0-2 or 1-3 or 2-4 etc, while a difference of 0 represents a draw whatever the score.
Results for Week 30
Results for Week 29
So far this season, no less than 37 times in 29 weeks one team has held possession for 70% or more of a game and yet, in total, those teams have only scored 65 goals between them; that is 1.76 goals per game. Surely, it is reasonable to expect that any team that keeps possession for nearly three-quarters of a game should score at least 3 goals? If they don't, then they must be passing the ball around just to prevent the other team from scoring - that is negative and BORING! And it will eventual turn people away from the beautiful game.
Results for Week 28
Results for Week 27
At last! Man City lived up to their potential by scoring a number of goals that matched the amount of possession they regularly manage to achieve. Good work, keep it up, lads!
Everton and Chelsea also performed better than, or up to, their potential.
At the other end of the scale, Swansea (11 times boring) and Burnley (14) produced yet another (statistically) boring match.
Results for Week 26
Results for Week 25
Wow! Wouldn't you love to have been a bookie this week? I'm not inferring anything here, just making a comment on a very topsy-turvy week in which 70% of the teams with the most possession did not win! Statistically, there wasn't an entertaining match to be seen - of course, statistics can lie. But what is becoming clear, if it hasn't been for some years now, the top five teams should be in a full-time European league - Brexit notwithstanding.
Results for Week 24
Last week Liverpool beat league leader's Man City in a great game. What a difference a week makes! 72% possession, 21 shots vs 3 and they lose to the bottom club!!!! Questions must be asked...I mean, asked!
Chelsea, Arsenal, Leicester, West Ham and, of course, Swansea, exceeded expectations. But, as you can see above, there were no great games this week and only one that statistically qualified as entertaining.
Results for Week 23
In a great game, Liverpool ended Man City's winning run despite only having 36% of the possession! When will City learn that just hanging on to the ball isn't enough regardless of how talented the team is?
As for Chelsea, well, they continue to disappoint, while Tottenham, Southampton, Man United, West Brom and West Ham all exceeded their statistical potential.
Results for Week 22
Results for Week 21
Well, wasn't this a Christmas week to forget! Only one team, Chelsea performed up to, in fact, better than could reasonably be expected. And there were at least 4 boring games. This can only be because of the overcrowded calendar at this time of the year. Look at Spurs! 71% possession, 31 shots at goal (West Ham only managed 3), and yet they only drew 1-1.
And Man City (again!) had 74% possession but could not find the net...I know...I know...they are unbeaten and walking away with the title, but are they entertaining? Are they value for money? Is it just too easy for them?
Results (Mid-Week) Round 20
I hate to sound like a broken record, but Man City had 78% possession but could only manage one goal!
What about your fans, Man City?
How much are they paying for their tickets?
Surely they deserve more effort than this?
Results for Week 19
Results for Week 18
For the second time in a week, Man City again exceeded its potential and with only 53% possession. The only other team to exceed, or even equal, its statistical potential was Liverpool. As far as most of the others are concerned, the bookies must have had a field day! (And I am not inferring anything by that remark!)
Results for Week 17 (mid-week)
Isn't it great to see the brilliant Man City side live up to its potential? 78% possession and four goals! That is how it should be.
Liverpool and Arsenal both underperformed, while Chelsea were on the ball and Leicester exceeded all expectations.
Results vs Potential Week 16
Ok...so you've noticed the change from 'prediction' to 'potential', and you're thinking "is this a bit of CYA because the 'predictions' haven't been too great recently?" Well, maybe, but the real reason is that it more accurately reflects what the statistics mean, and that is whether or not a team is performing up to its true potential.
For example, let us look at the Southampton v Arsenal game. Statistically, Arsenal should have won this game by two clear goals, yet it could only draw despite having 67% possession against its average for the season to date of 62%. In other words, it underperformed on the day; it didn't play to its potential. And it fell foul of the fatal 'too much possession malaise'! The same could be said of Chelsea (69%)(L) and Liverpool (79%)(D).
On the other hand, Tottenham outperformed its 'potential' yardstick by scoring 5 goals with 71% possession. And that is exactly what teams that have that much possession should be doing! But it happens all too rarely.
Results vs Projections Week 15
Top five compared after week 15
Results vs Projections Week 14 (mid-week)
Doesn't look good, does it? Only 10% of goal difference projections were correct. However, what this really means is that in 5 games (50%) the statistical favourites underperformed (Brighton (D), Tottenham (L), Bournemouth (L), Chelsea (W) and Man City (W)), while 4 teams (40%) (Man United, Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool), who all won, exceeded their statistical expectations.
Only two teams had more than 70% possession in this round: Arsenal (71%) who scored five goals in their win over Huddersfield, and Man City (again!) (74%) but only managed two goals from 26 shots in their 2-1 win.
Results vs predictions for Week 13
Not a good week for goal difference or results predictions. But this is what happens when teams like Man City have 79% possession yet only manage to score 2 goals. While Spurs, with 73%, only scored once and didn't even win! Yet they weren't the most boring games, statistically speaking. That dubious honour went to the goalless encounter between Swansea and Bournemouth where possession was almost equally shared (compare that with last week when Bournemouth only had 39% possession, yet scored 4 goals!), and the Burnley (36%) v Arsenal (64%) game, which only produced one goal.
Possession isn't everything, and it doesn't necessarily create excitement or enjoyment for the crowds unless goals are scored.
Results vs predictions for Week 12
Results vs predictions for Week 11
Ok...so predictions not great, but it is early days.
Statistically, Swansea are the most boring team so far this season closely followed by Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Southampton, while Liverpool lead in excitement.
Week 10 - 28/30 October 2017
Week 9 - 20/22 October 2017
Based on statistics taking into account (i) the ratio of possession (1.0 being 50/50 possession) and lower is better (ii) the total shots at goal by both sides (iii) the number of shots per goal scored, and of course, (iv) goals scored… the two most exciting games in Week 9 were:
Chelsea v Watford 4 - 2
(i) 1.1 (ii) 30 (iii) 5.0 (iv) 6 - Excitement index 154.6
Everton v Arsenal 2 - 5
(i) 2.0 (ii) 38 (iii) 5.4 (iv) 7 - Excitement index 125.6
And Goals matter! But you know that.
Statistically, the most boring games of the week were:
Newcastle v Crystal Palace 1 - 0
(i) 1.2 (ii) 17 (iii) 17 (iv) 1 - Excitement Index -3.1
Southampton v West Brom 1 - 0
(i) 1.9 (ii) 27 (iii) 27 (iv) 1 - Excitement Index -13.1
This week (9), two teams recorded an amazing 78% possession. Yep, you’v guessed it: the two Manchester clubs. However, despite having 78% possession, United managed to lose 2-1 to Huddersfield in the third most boring game of the week, according to the excitement figures.
City, with 78% possession, beat Burnley 3-0 (although it must be said that one goal was a rather dodgy penalty, which cried out for a TMO or TV replay…why is the FA so frightened by technology?) I did see some of the City game on TV, and they are a class act, for sure. The big difference between City and the other teams that have massive possession is that when a City player makes a pass he does not usually sit back and watch what happens next. No, he keeps running and by so doing draws opposition players out of position or is available for a return pass. City are a delight to watch, a connoisseur’s team, but not necessarily exciting, if that is all you want.
So far this season, taking the net of most exciting and most boring results for each club, we have:
Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham.
West Brom and West ham
It is interesting to note that the average number of goals scored per game over the nine weeks was 2.6 whereas the average goals per game scored by teams that had 70% or more possession was only 2.0 per game and even that was distorted by Man City’s 5 against Crystal Palace and 7 against Stoke! Take those two results and games out of the equation and the goals per game for the over 70% club becomes a mere 1.2 over 13 games (against an adjusted 2.5 across all teams).
Possession is not the be all and end all; possession has to be used productively and intelligently - watch Man City and learn!
Week 8 - 14/16 October 2017
This week, Man City thumped Stoke 7 - 2…yep, a nine goal game. Given the 3:1 ratio above this scoreline is about right given that Man City had 79% possession (no that is not a typo…MC held the ball for four-fifths of the game!) But did that make it an exciting game? You tell me; I didn’t see it. However, going on statistics alone this match probably only ranked 3rd in excitement because of the one sided nature of the game.
Do not misunderstand me. Man City are undoubtedly the best team in the EPL so far this season…yet were they exciting to watch this week? Skillful maybe, but exciting?
Based on statistics taking into account (i) the ratio of possession (1.0 being 50/50 possession) and lower is better (ii) the total shots at goal by both sides (iii) the number of shots per goal scored, and of course, (iv) goals scored… the two most exciting games in Week 8 were:
Southampton v Newcastle 2 - 2
(i) 1.6 (ii) 31 (iii) 7.8 (iv) 4 - Excitement index 68.3
Crystal Palace v Chelsea 2 - 1
(i) 1.3 (ii) 29 (iii) 7.0 (iv) 3 - Excitement index 58.6
In case you are wondering, the Man City game scored 57.0
In fairness, we should also consider the most boring games of the week using the same criteria, and they were:
Tottenham v Bournemouth 1 - 0
(i) 2.7 (ii) 23 (iii) 18 (iv) 1 - Excitement Index -9.5
Liverpool v Man Utd 0 - 0
(i) 1.6 (ii) 25 (iii) n/a (iv) 0 - Excitement Index 2.8
Tottenham had 73% of the possession, while Bournemouth could only manage 5 shots at goal. Too one-sided and low scoring to be exciting, surely.
In the other boring game, Man Utd could only manage 6 shots at goal in a goalless game.
Despite this, both Man Utd and Tottenham have featured in more of the most exciting games so far this season, while Swansea are statistically (and I emphasize "statistically") still the most boring team to watch.
So there you have it. Another week when possession is not everything.
Oh dear! As you can see, in the first seven weeks of the season, ten matches (out of the 70 played) or 14.3% (ok…so I have a think about percentages!) had one side with 70% or more of the possession. And of those ten, only one scored three or more goals than its opponent (Man City thumped Crystal Palace 5-0 ), while three failed to score and three others actual lost! Yes, that’s right! 30% of teams who held the ball for 70% or more of the game failed to win, while 40% failed to win and/or failed to score. How boring were those games? If you were there, let me know.
Right, so how do the teams at the top of the league compare with those at the bottom?
No surprises with the top three.
The optimal level of possession appears to be mid 50% to mid 60%.
The one team in the top five that is underperforming is Chelsea. Its average possession for wins is only 51%, while its ‘average minutes between shots’ is greatly exceeded by two of the bottom three clubs - although in fairness to Chelsea, both Everton and Bournemouth have only won once. Even so, shooting practice, please, Chelsea or a final position in the top 5 will be in extreme danger.
So, how does this compare with the bottom 5 clubs?
Crystal Palace has yet to win, draw or even score a goal after seven games, and it will require a herculean effort for them to avoid the dreaded drop. Even so, there is the faintest glimmer of hope for them because their ‘average minutes between shots’ is the best of the bottom five and only marginally behind Chelsea as is their average possession when losing (46% against Chelsea’s 50%). Like Chelsea, more shooting practice, please, Palace!
As for the others in the bottom five, Everton and Bournemouth have good winning possession (albeit from only one win) and reasonable time between shots which augurs well for the rest of the season.
Predictions after only week 7:
Top three: no change -
Man City, Man Utd and Tottenham in that order.
As for the cellar dwellers, it is early days but, based purely on the above, my three relegation candidates are:
Crystal Palace, Swansea and Leicester.
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