Thursday 12 November 2015

Slightly Lucky Leicester.

The final Sunday of the Premier League season has thrown up a potential top verses bottom clash, where points may be vital to secure European football at least for one team or avoid the drop for their opponent.

And despite the unexpected results achieved to date, Leicester's visit to Chelsea on May 15th remains a fixture that may still retain some significance to either end of the table.

Realistically, it is unlikely that the January window will pass without Chelsea securing sufficient new resources for relegation to remain anything more than a distant memory, but will the natural gravitational pull of mid table also drag Leicester into more familiar territory?

Leicester's 25 points from 12 games is the seasonal going rate for a below average Premier League champion and on par for an average runner-up. So at first glance they are on course to remain in contention until the end.

However, 12 matches is likely to be the product of skill and a fair amount of luck, either good or bad, as goals that are opportune and salvage a point or elevate a draw to a win send relatively undeserving sides to greater than usual heights. The record of an atypical title contending side after 12 matches better describes their remaining 26 matches if it is diluted almost 50/50 with a dose of league average achievement.

What you see at the start from surprise upstarts rarely maintains the momentum through to the spring.

Applying goal expectation to the chances a side has created or faced and simulating the possible outcomes in individual matches, not only separates teams who won despite being gravely out-shot, but also identifies a side that has been fortunate enough to win matches by creating a healthy crop of high value opportunities.

It shouldn't be too surprising that Leicester currently has 25 points based on the chances they have faced and created. They win at least that number of points in around 12% of league simulations. But their average points haul is centred around 21 points and fifth position rather than third based on their shot profile after 12 matches.

By modelling individual games, Leicester's attempt heavy mauling at the hands of Arsenal only damages 1/12th of their schedule, but simulated averages that are lower than their actual record still suggests that they have been fortunate in gaining 25 points.

There is little comfort for those hoping that Leicester will maintain their challenge if we breakdown the goal expectation of the near identical number of attempts that the Foxes have made and allowed after 12 games.

Sample sizes are small, but Leicester are dominating in very low quality and relatively high quality chances, leaving their opponents a greater quantity of mid value on target attempts.

The productive blue Leicester bump at the extreme right of the above plot is further enhanced if we include penalties, of which five have been awarded to the Foxes and just two conceded up to early November.

The current third placed side may continue to prosper despite being out-shot in mid quality chances and they may maintain a positive penalty differential from November onwards to remain in title contention,

But it is also likely that their hot start may simply be a means to comfortably secure Premier League football for 2016/17 with a final mid table slot, as their spot kicks dry up and their star striker becomes just a footnote in England's list of capped players.

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