Friday 30 September 2016

The Biggest Liar in Football.

In a week during which many fresh contenders emerged, the league table remains one of the least trustworthy sources in football.

2-0 leads being the "most dangerous in football" made a welcome reappearance courtesy of James Richardson on the BT European Goals Show and was warmly greeted by the assembled hacks, but "the table never lies" still reigns supreme.

Small sample size, luck laden outcomes, random variation, strength of schedule, red cards, injury counts, new improved/useless players and managers, dodgy, but well intentioned interpretation of the laws, patchily applied, all conspire to produce a transient ranking that broadly sifts the very best from the very worst, but rarely manages to fully reward the bulk of closely matched sides with their just deserts.

Reinterpreting the mass of shots, saves and passes into a better reflection of the past and a less knee jerk projection of the future can be done by simulation of past and future games to generate the now familiar heat maps. These show the range of points a side might have/may well accumulate and the range of potential positions occupied.

This approach admirably illustrates the probabilistic breadth of outcomes that can befall a side given their core achievements, but nothing beats the implied certainty of a singular league position, with as much of the unsustainable luck stripped away.

The backbone of the table above, produced by Tom @UTVilla is the current position occupied by the team in the Premier League.

The expected position to the left is the most likely position occupied by each side based on an expected goals simulation of each match played in the season to date. So Hull are flattered somewhat by their current position, while Stoke should perhaps be a couple of places higher.

The right hand axis uses the actual number of points, ill gotten or otherwise and adds the simulated outcome of each team's remaining fixtures based on their core statistical achievements over the recent past. It includes the season to date, but not exclusively so.

This forecast position grants teams the luck they have enjoyed or endured to date, but denies them the extremes in the up coming months.

Tom's tube map to each side's ultimate potential May destination brilliantly illustrates the likely upwardly mobile or downward spiralling trajectories which may await...except possibly for Pep's Manchester City revolution.

The more mature Championship table, with four more sides compared to the Premier League and six new entries each season perhaps offers a more interesting chart and La Liga completes this initial trio of leagues.

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