By Tony Attwood
One of the problems with the football predictions that we see in the media is that they are by and large based on what has already happened in the season thus far happening throughout the rest of the season. And that doesn’t always happen.
So when Arsenal lost their first three league matches last season, it was suggested that the club would continue in that style. When Arsenal finished fifth last season it was (in virtually all the media) suggested that fifth was where Arsenal would finish up this season. Manchester City won the league last season so would do so again. And so on and so on.
This obviously is all gibberish on the part of journalists who like nothing more than creating a story which has already been written before, as it means more time in the pub. But let’s see what really happened last season
One year ago after 16 games, the table showed three clubs striding ahead and then a further three battling for fourth place…
|4||West Ham United||16||8||4||4||28||19||9||28|
And this table raises the question just how much what we see after 16 games can tell us about the end of the season.
So in the table below we have taken the situation after 16 games last season for the top six clubs at that moment. The fourth column then shows Expected Points (XPts) which simply takes the points per game so far and sees what that gives by the end of the season if it continued at the same rate.
Now when we first started to discuss this idea the general thought was “it never does stay the same”. In short teams that fire ahead at the start of the league then slip back, while others that started poorly, can make up the gap.
But in fact, the top three last season stayed the top three by the end of the season. However, the difference between the expected points (that is the number of points we would have seen if the clubs had kept up the same standard of play throughout the season) was considerable.
Three clubs in the top six at the end of last season had differences of between +3 and +6 points – meaning they won one or two games more than expected. Thus Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool last season, across the last 22 games of the season, performed exactly as expected, save for the fact they won one or two games more.
To emphasise that, the variation was just one or two games not going as expected. Nothing else.
|Pos after 16||Team||Pts at 16||xPts||End Pts||Gain or loss||end pos|
|4||West Ham United||28||67||56||-11||7|
But as the figures show, two teams slipped away badly in this little group of six – the top six after 16 games. Chelsea and West Ham each got 11 points fewer than expected. In the case of Chelsea it was a 17% decline.
As for Arsenal, the club improved significantly getting ten points more than expected. Both changes gave a clue (for those with eyes to see) what would happen this season. (It’s a shame most football journalists appear to be blind).
|Team||Pts||xPts||End Pts||end pos|
|4||West Ham United||28||67||56||7|
So what does this suggest? That the clubs that are doing very well after 16 games, might well be expected to steam ahead and continue their good form. However, those that are scrabbling around to get the precious fourth place seem more likely to move around slightly in the remaining 58% of the season.
There was incidentally also little change at the foot of the league last season. The bottom three after 16 games were Burnley, Newcastle and Norwich. Two of them went down, and the third was bought by Saudi Arabia.
So after 16 games last season it wasn’t exactly all over bar the shouting, but the top three remained the top three, and two of the bottom three went down.
Obviously, this is not a story that the media want to push since they have an interest in suggesting it is still all up for grabs. But the fact is that clubs can change position between game 16 and the end of the season, but probably less than we think.
If you want to predict which one of the bottom three won’t go down, you might care to look at Nottingham Forest, who in a league table of the last six games are actually 12th in the league.
As for the top of the league, the last six games table reads
That might give a clue as to what will happen next.
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