So…as the open transfer window lets the warm breeze of speculation blow around the room, our thoughts turn to 2013-2014 and what the table might look like in the EPL.
It’s also the time of year where many offices run Premier League sweepstakes. So what better opportunity to combine our skills of geeky data analysis and feminine intuition.
Leaving the top seven for now (more on that later), our starting point for the middle of the table to the relegation zone is last year’s stats. I believe that in terms of single metrics, shots on target is the best indicator of a team’s points – it is more informative than goals scored/conceded, but still simple. We’ve started by looking at (total shots on target) – (total shots on target against) for each team, for the 2012-2013 season. Limitations – it underweights teams with good goalkeepers, and overweights long-shot teams like WHU, STK and those creatures of the 80s-90s, the Wombles. Essentially, it doesn’t take style of play into account, and therefore it’s more of a blunt instrument that we’ve applied to the bunfight going on around and just above the relegation zone, where teams are quite tightly matched. (If we had the data, we would have double-weighted the results for the second half of the season – if you know where to get these, please let us know in the comments)
That gives the following:
|WIG – relegated
|QPR – relegated
|REA – relegated
So, as we can see, the extreme losers, Reading, who were the first confirmed relegators, were real outliers. QPR was in the next bunch of Swansea downwards, and Wigan was much higher, but lost a lot of games by small margins, leading to their relegation despite having a decent team. With the following amendments (mostly for transfer activity), we end up with this bottom two thirds:
Newcastle – weakened vs last year by loss of Ba
West Brom – significantly weakened by loss of a Belgian (Lukaku)
Norwich – up two places for strengthened squad
Swansea – down one place due to Europa League commitments, despite strengthened squad and good pre-season
Cardiff – random insertion of top promoted team amongst bottom 8. No information on goals
Stoke – new manager, not much transfer activity
Hull – random insertion of second promoted team – Steve Bruce’s good transfer record might be enough to keep his team up
Sunderland – Di Canio continues to struggle with indiscipline in the squad, weakened by loss of a Belgian (Mignolet)
Which leaves the all important top 7, four or whom will qualify for the Champions League. The top four will almost certainly be determined by the binary outcomes of three of this summer’s transfers, who have attracted huge amounts of press coverage and almost as much actual cash.
Transfer: Bale to Real Madrid – VERY LIKELY
Real always get their man. With the PFA Player of the Year (and Young Player of the Year), Tottenham, along with Man City, were streets ahead in our stats table. This is likely to change next year as Bale will surely be breaking the £ transfer record as he heads to Spain.
Impact: Tottenham weakened despite other positive transfers.
Transfer: Luis Suarez to Arsenal – LIKELY
Despite Suarez being rightly vilified for both this bark and his bite, Arsene Wenger seems ready to give this dog a new home. And as Suarez continues to handle the delicate situation with his customary grace, it is difficult to envisage him staying and playing nicely at Anfield. The Gunners might need his shots – but if Suarez arrives at the Emirates, they should make sure to be up to date on theirs.
Impact: Liverpool substantially weakened, Arsenal strengthened
Transfer: Wayne Rooney to Chelsea – UNLIKELY
Oh deary dear. Oh Wayne. I understand Coleen not wanting to move overseas, but surely Chelsea would be a (Stamford) bridge too far? We cannot think of any reason why Manchester United would sell to such a close rival, and Rooney’s natural position (in the hole) is not a natural fit with Mourinho’s favoured team structure. Whether Rooney is trying to run away from his rival RVP, his new (old) manager, or his old (but sort of still there) manager, we don’t think Manchester United will cut him loose.
Impact: hopefully none, but if it happens then Chelsea will surely win the league and Mourinho will come up with some unbearably smug epithet for himself. And John Terry will turn up in full kit. If not, then we predict the top seven as follows. And John Terry to turn up in fullMan City kit.
1. Man City – streets ahead in terms of shots on target, although losing Tevez and Balotelli from last year, net transfer activity is roughly neutral. Manuel “the Engineer” Pellegrini will hopefully build morale from last year’s dangerously unsound levels.
2. Chelsea – the return of two Belgians (Lukaku and de Bruyne) will improve the weakest part of their team, the strike force. And Chelsea are propelled up one place from last year’s league position by the fireworks heralding the “Special One” (unless it proves to be a lot of hot air).
3. Manchester United – with heavy but realistic hearts, this pair of Red supporters sadly expect that without SAF the Red Devils will reach a position reflecting the innate strength of the squad.
4. Arsenal – in fact the Two Halves of this blog have strongly debated the possibility of a Suarez-enhanced Arsenal finishing ahead of Manchester United. Whilst there might not be much to choose between Suarez and Van Persie, the difference might come down to Manchester United’s defence which was leaky for the first half of last season and Arsenal’s, which at times seemed to resort to outright sabotage.
5. Tottenham Hotspur – Oh Spurs. Having missed out on Champions League football because of food poisoning (2006), mathematics (2013) and an unbelievably poor quality Champions League win from Chelsea (2012), next year we expect White Hart Lane to be destroyed by a single lightning bolt the night before their crucial game, and the coach taking them to the new venue to get horribly lost and delayed by a runaway herd of sheep, causing the players to collapse on arrival due to chronic pins and needles. The ends of AVB’s moustache will sink low with grief, as they do whenever he thinks of his lost Bale, and Daniel Levy will console himself by swimming in a pool filled with 85 million pound coins.
6. Liverpool – Kop on Kopping on.
7. Everton – As with Manchester United, with the departure of David Moyes, our central prediction is for Everton to stop punching above their weight and start punching at or around their weight. May be weakened further if Fellaini follows Mr Moyes Manchester-ward.
So that leaves us with the following:
Man City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, Everton, Southampton, Newcastle, West Brom, Norwich, Swansea, Cardiff, Stoke, Aston Villa, Fulham, Hull, West Ham, Sunderland, Crystal Palace.
For the work sweepstake though, on the basis that the marginal payoff is higher for unexpected results, we’re going to tweak it slightly so that for the close calls at the top, we’ll switch it round to the less popular views (i.e. favouring less supported teams) to give the following:
Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, Manchester United, Spurs, Liverpool, Everton, Southampton, Newcastle, West Brom, Norwich, Swansea, Cardiff, Stoke, Aston Villa, Fulham, Hull, West Ham, Sunderland, Crystal Palace.