Last week the Guardian ran an article entitled “Premier League the most competitive in the world? You must be joking” describing what they considered as the poor state of excitement in the World’s most popular league.
The article started with a statistic that caught my attention: “The top five clubs have played the bottom five 19 times this season and won every one.” Last weekend’s matches might be said to have reinforced that picture, with Liverpool beating Fulham 2-0 and Tottenham winning 1-0 away against Crystal Palace.
There is however a big problem with a statistic like this: it confuses causation and correlation. The teams at the top of the league are top because they have won and the teams that are bottom are bottom because they have lost. While 21 wins and 0 losses might sound like a lot, by picking the top five and bottom five, we have already decided to look at extremes.
A better measure of competitiveness would be to look at all the teams in the table. Below is a league table based on expected goals, measuring the chances the teams have created and conceded thus far in the league. We create this table by simulating matches repeatedly, running ‘what-if’ scenarios of if chances were converted in to goals. This gives a feeling for how competitive matches have been.
Here we see a much more well-balanced league.
The distance between Crystal Palace in 15th place and Bournemouth in 6th place in this league is 6.9 expected points: slightly more than two wins separate the top and bottom teams.
Another way of breaking down competitiveness is to look at the quantity and quality of the chances teams are creating.
Here, Liverpool and Wolves are similar. Spurs, Manchester United and Arsenal lie in a cluster near Watford, Cardiff and West Ham. And 17th placed Southampton are on a par with Leicester and Everton. In short, a large number of teams are bunched together in the middle, creating similar amount of danger for their opponents during the match.
The same is true for defence, or chances conceded.
Wolves and Watford are conceding fewer and lower quality shots than Arsenal and Spurs. And again, there is a cluster of teams, including Palace, Cardiff, Southampton, West Ham and Bournemouth that are all at a similar level defensively. All in all, there is no real evidence that matches are not competitive in the Premier League. Most teams are creating and conceding a fair share of chances.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. Burnley, Brighton, Fulham are all in trouble in both defence and attack, and Huddersfield, although conceding fewer chances at the back, have created very little going forward.
The big exception, though, is Manchester City. They have had better chances than their opponents in every match so far.
Per minute played, three City players (David Silva, Aguero and Raheen Sterling) can be found in the top five players.
Since the team which won the league last season looks like running away with it this season, then there are certainly grounds to complain about a lack of competitiveness in the title race.
But a typical match on a typical Saturday or Sunday in the Premier League is very likely to be an exciting affair with a good number of chances at both ends. And there will be plenty of that to look forward to after the international break.