Tuesday, 14 July 2015

38 Games is Not Enough.

The appointment of Roberto Martinez as Everton boss in 2013/14 appeared designed to build on the consistent over achievement characterized by David Moyes' time in charge at the Merseyside club.

Martinez' ability to keep Wigan in the Premier League, on a limited budget seemed ideal to push Everton from the dead ground that exists between the bottom half of the table and Champions League qualification to become consistent top four challengers.

That ambition was nearly reached in his first season in charge. They harried Arsenal for fourth spot, before falling seven points shy. And in a season where titles were perceived to have been lost rather than won, it was enough to get Martinez honourable mentions in the press for manager of the season.

Everton's 72 points exceeded the informed and weekly updated expectation of the bookmaking industry by around 16%. A figure bettered only by Mark Hughes (23%) at Stoke (an unthinkable award winning combination) and Crystal Palace, (31%) who were overseen for the majority of the season by the previously maligned, but deserving winner, Tony Pulis.

Hopes therefore were high that 2014/15 would be the season that Everton moved to a different level. Unfortunately, Everton ended the season in 11th, having spent much of the season looking anxiously down rather than upwards towards the highs of 2013/14.

There were possible mitigation for such a disappointing campaign, although they are most likely overstated. The Thursday to Sunday grind of the Europa League and an injury list that deprived Everton of nearly a weighted quarter of their squad value, the worst attrition rate in the Premier League, for example.

But one ubiquitous presence may have raised expectations and Matintez' stock in 2013/14 giving it potentially further to fall in 2014/15. Namely random variation over a meager 38 matches.

Football teams aren't predictable coin flips, but the well resourced and financially vested interest of the bookmaking industry is likely to produce consistently accurate assessments of a sides individual match outcomes.

And just as coins sometimes run hot or cold in the short term, imbuing them with non existent causation, the same may be partially true in football.

Wigan flip Martinez & he comes down heads to the delight of one brave Latics fan.
The average points expectation based on seasonal individual match odds for a team is just that and we should be wary of assigning managerial excellence as the sole reason for any deviation from this average until we know the extent that actual and expected totals may vary purely through chance over a particular number of matches.

Highest & Lowest Positions in Premier League Simulations Using Match Odds, 2014/15.
38 Games High Low Actual Position Expected Position
Chelsea 1 7 1 1
Man City 1 9 2 2
Arsenal 1 13 3 3
Man Utd 1 12 4 4
Liverpool 1 14 6 5
Southampton 1 19 7 6
Tottenham 1 19 5 7
Everton 1 19 11 8
Swansea 3 20 8 9
Stoke 4 20 9 10
West Ham 2 20 12 11
Newcastle 3 20 15 12
West Brom 4 20 13 13
Leicester 5 20 14 14
C Palace 5 20 10 15
Hull 4 20 18 16
Sunderland 6 20 16 17
Aston Villa 5 20 17 18
Burnley 7 20 19 19
QPR 7 20 20 20

The table above shows the best and worst finishing positions of each Premier League team in simulations of the 2014/15 season using the intertwined odds for every one of the 380 matches.

Everton were graded as the 8th best side in the league in the view of the betting odds and as such were one of the select few who may have ended their 38 game season as Champions, although the likelihood was minute. 

They were also part of a larger group of sides who could, if enough hot or cold streaks coincided, find themselves relegated in one of the three lowest positions.

Even with a most likely odds based 8th place finish in Martinez' second season there was a 14% likelihood that his side could have simply got lucky and at least emulated the previous year by placing 5th or better. 

Similarly, a team who might in the long term prove themselves to be the 8th best in the league could expect to do as badly or worse than Everton's 11th place in 2014/15 in 18% of 38 game simulations.

Each of these extremes of finishing positions were achieved without recourse to a Martinez factor, either for good or bad.

So while managerial input, injuries, fatigue and persistent under or over rating by bookmakers may each play a part when a side fails to perform as widely expected, random variation is an ever present that is often ignored entirely in end of term reports.

If the season were doubled in length to 76 matches per side, fewer good teams are able to take advantage of good luck for them and poorer luck for their rivals and finish the extended double season on top of the table. 

But it is only when the season runs for four normal campaigns and 152 matches, that the title is won only by one of the traditional big four. Nominally the best side also only then becomes more likely than not to be crowned Champions and the very poorest find themselves outside of the top half of the table in all simulations.

Highs & Lows When Simulating a Four Year, 152 Match Season Using 2014/15 Game Odds.

152 Game Season High Low
Chelsea 1 4
Man City 1 5
Arsenal 1 6
Man Utd 1 7
Liverpool 2 8
Southampton 3 11
Tottenham 4 11
Everton 5 15
Swansea 7 18
Stoke 7 19
West Ham 7 20
Newcastle 7 20
West Brom 8 20
Leicester 8 20
C Palace 8 20
Hull 9 20
Sunderland 9 20
Aston Villa 9 20
Burnley 11 20
QPR 11 20

A 152 game season would guarantee Chelsea, 2014/15's best team in the view of the bookmakers, a Champions League spot and all but do the same for Manchester City and Arsenal. While such is the clustering of ability in the lower half of the table, that still over half of the Premier League teams could find themselves relegated, despite having a core ability that might be greater than many rivals.

The logistics of having a 152 game season is of course untenable, as is perhaps the desirability of ensuring a side is more likely to finish were their talent dictates they should. But judging a manager on a single season, while understandable is also incomplete without at least hinting that chance, as well as skill may have been a factor in a single, Pulis like over achievement.  

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