How football clubs change over time
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By Tony Attwood
Of course the headline today is a bit of a tricky question, and before it is answered it raises other issues – such as “how do we measure improvement?”
We have gone for one simple approach – which clubs are in a higher position in the league now compared with where they finished in 2021/2, and then again to 2020/21.
Rather obviously 17 clubs have played in the Premier League both last season and this season (the other three of course being relegated and replaced by new teams). So we are comparing those 17 clubs with the clubs that played in the League the season before.
And to get the answer as to which clubs have done well and badly over the last couple of seasons the answer is in the final column, in the table below. But to save you going through all the data – although it is there if you want it, here is a list of winners and losers.
This list takes the position of the club in the league now, and where it finished in the league in 2020/1. Obviously, a + sign means the club has risen between the end of 2020/1 and now. A minus sign means the club has slipped. The number is the rise or fall in the number of places between the end of 2020/1 and now.
Looking at the final table at the end which shows all the workings out we can see that most improved club across almost two seasons is… Brighton and Hove Albion, who are currently nine places higher than they were at the end of the 2020/1 season. Second come Newcastle United (not surprising with their new wealth), eight places higher, third is Arsenal, seven places up, and fourth is Aston Villa, with a five place improvement.
Now of course a table such as this is weighted against the teams at the top – Manchester City can’t get a plus positional number since they won the league last year. But then we already know all about Manchester City. What this table shows us are which other teams have improved over two seasons.
And of course it also shows us the opposite – which clubs are in decline.
The biggest decline is the most obvious – that of Leicester City who pulled three tricks to get themselves up the league (spending more money than they should and being able to get away with it over several years, putting in a much larger number of tackles without fouls being called or yellow cards shown than any other team, and so many penalties in their favour that they were on track to beat all records through the history of the league).
The problem with such trickery is that once it is pointed out and referees and their masters in the PGMO know that someone is watching and counting, they back off allowing the tackles and giving penalties for pulling the same trick over and over again in the opposition penalty area. And so the club falls down the league – which is exactly what happened.
The full details of Leicester’s approach, and their fall from grace can be found on this site. If you are interested you might like “How a club can commit the most fouls, but get the fewest yellow cards” with a follow up article “What is the relationship between fouls, tackles and yellow cards?” For penalties “Leicester heading for all-time record number of penalties” is a good place to start.
Now here is the table showing how season by season clubs have risen and fallen in the league.
|Post 2020/1||Pos 2021/2||Now||Team||Diff now to 2021/2||Diff Now to 2020/1|
|16||9||7||Brighton and Hove Albion||+2||+9|
|6||7||15||West Ham United||-8||-9|
The point about this is that most commentators on football focus on the last couple of games – and there is a lot of information to be gained through that – although runs a little longer than two are more helpful. Indeed we often publish league tables based on the last six or 10 games. And at the start of this season we were talking a lot about the last 35 games of the 2021/2 season, which showed Arsenal in third place.
We also focussed on the fact that Arsenal had several times last season got into a run of poor results, rather than just having one bad result – and that dragged them down. So we’ll be focussing on that again, given the last few results. But for now we can see that Arsenal are the third most improved club in the league – which isn’t too bad at all.
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