Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Relegation blues

With relegation very much in the forefront of the mind, I came across this interesting piece last week on the Betting Expert website by Mark Taylor.

January heralds the start of a new year and is also a convenient waypoint for the Premiership campaign. Just over half of the league matches have been played, so sides have played all of their rivals at least once, with the third round of the FA Cup proving either a pleasant or an unwelcome respite from the frenetic Christmas and New Year fixture list.
The upcoming transfer window also gives a final opportunity for teams to strengthen squads and foresighted chairman have usually already dispensed with the services of, what in their eyes have been substandard managerial appointments. For example, West Ham, alone of the current bottom five has retained the manager with which they started the 2013/14 season.
Unusually, the top of the Premiership is proving numerically more competitive than usual, where affluent sides such as Manchester City and Chelsea are engaged in close combat with older, established winners such as Arsenal and Liverpool. Whilst Manchester United’s continued struggles to adapt to a new manager continues to amuse or frustrate, depending upon your allegiance.

Busy At The Bottom

However, it is the bottom of the table where the greatest team involvement always lies. 52 points is the average number of points gained by a Premiership side in the history of the 20 team league and with 40 points universally regarded as the pre-season target for survival, few sides outside of the elite can consider themselves safe, even with over half of the season elapsed.
The competitive balance throughout the Premiership over the years has made identifying the leaders and the strugglers a relatively simple task and the league positions occupied by sides once Premiership hostilities resume after the FA cup break offer a strong indicator of where a side will finish in May.
We can demonstrate the predictive quality of a January league position by testing the historical strength of the correlation between a side’s league ranking now and their ultimate finishing position. If the league position of every side in January were to be repeated in May, the value of the correlation coefficient would be exactly one and while this obviously hasn’t been the case historically, the average January to May coefficient is very nearly 0.9. By comparison, league positions after just five matches have coefficients of around 0.7 when compared to final finishing places.
So for the majority, a team’s place in the pecking order becomes apparent relatively quickly, strengthens, and by January each side is going to finish relatively close to the position they occupied at the turning of the year.

Projecting Finishing Positions

Historically, eleven out of the eighteen sides which were bottom in terms of points accrued per game after the New Year’s Day matches, ended up occupying the same position after 38 matches and only three managed to claw their way out of the three relegation places. The escape rate for teams becalmed in 19th at near midway improves very slightly, with teams such as the 2010 Fulham side even climbing all the way into the top half of the table. If we move one place higher, more teams than not gain another Premiership season despite occupying 18th at the start of the year.
League position is a fairly unrefined indicator of a side’s performance so far and their likely course over the remaining five months of the season, so for it to be a decent indicator of finishing position is fairly encouraging. The historical rate of survival for sides increases the further up the table they find themselves in January.
However, an obvious improvement would be to quantify how close these teams which currently occupy the relegation spots are to their immediate rivals, as well as how many others side are closely within reach. A tightly packing field is likely to see more movement than one that is strung out affording the strugglers few realistic targets to catch.
The most “impressive” 20th placed side after a New Year’s Day was the Wolves team in 2010/11, which propped up the table with 18 points, but was just four points adrift of 13th placed Everton. By contrast, 1995/96’s Bolton team had just 10 points, had played more games than others at the foot of the table and were a dispiriting eight points adrift of 19th spot. Clearly the opportunity for Wolves to survive was likely to be greater than the chances enjoyed by Bolton and so it proved. Ultimately the latter were relegated by a ten point margin and Wolves survived, for one more season at least, by a single point. The close New Year proximity of numerous similarly limited teams proved a lifeline for the team from the West Midlands and the absence of any lingering rivals an insurmountable obstacle to the Trotters.

Grading Teams By Standard Scores

This grading of the quality of teams occupying the lower reaches of the Premiership can be reasonably quantified by converting their January points total or points per game rate into standard scores. A standard score reveals how far from the average a measurement lies, expressed in terms of the standard deviation or dispersal of that measurement.
In the case of escapologists, Wolves, the average Premiership side had gained 1.35 points per game up to the end of December 2010, and the league as a whole had a fairly typical standard deviation of 0.38 points per game. Wolves themselves had gained just 0.9 points per game. Or 0.45 points per game below the average, which equates to 1.18 standard deviations below the mean.
Bolton (10 points from 22 games for 0.45 ppg) in a season where the average ppg was running at 1.37 with a standard deviation of 0.44, by contrast earned a parlous standard score of 2.09 standard deviations below average, from (0.45-1.37)/0.44.
A standard score is a decent proxy to compare the relative achievements of sides from different competitions and despite both occupying 20th position in their respective editions of the Premiership, Wolves’ standard score indicated and quantified that they were probably much closer to a lifeline of 17th spot than Bolton had been fifteen years earlier.
Therefore, if instead of using simply raw position we now look at the historical performance of teams with differing standard scores, we can extend the already useful correlation between tables formed in January and completed in May.
The best and worst performing 19th placed sides were both relegated, although those that did survive clustered towards the top of that particular standard score table. The trend for higher standard scores to correspond with better survival rates continued in 18th spot. A January 18th place, Stoke City, boasting a standard score of -0.85 in 2008/09 saw them finish 12th, but Sunderland’s minus 1.48 score from the same 18th position in 2002/03 led to relegation.

Assessing The Relegation Candidates Of 2014

So although no account is made for any activity in the January transfer window or factors such as returning injured players, league position at the start of the year does appear to capture a fair amount of the likely outcome in May, especially if we include how close or otherwise sides are from the relative safety of mid table by using standard scores.
TeamPosition On January 2ndPPG expressed as a Standard ScoreAssessed Probability Of Relegation
Hull 10th -0.45 5.5%
A Villa 11th -0.45 5.5%
Stoke 12th -0.54 8.3%
Swansea 13th -0.64 12.0%
WBA 14th -0.64 12.0%
Norwich 15th -0.73 17.2%
Fulham 16th -0.83 24.4%
Cardiff 17th -0.93 32.3%
C Palace 18th -1.03 41.7%
West Ham 19th -1.22 62.5%
Sunderland 20th -1.31 71.4%
In the table above I’ve listed the current point totals expressed as standard scores for the bottom ten Premiership sides going into the 3rd round FA Cup weekend. Using the historical experiences of sides with similar point gathering profiles over first half of the season during the 18 seasons when the Premiership contained 20 teams, I’ve further expressed the chances of each side falling back into the Championship.

Let's Look At The Odds

Compared to the available odds, for the current bottom five, this model is slightly more optimistic about the chances of Fulham, Cardiff and Crystal Palace, while West Ham and Sunderland are considered slightly more likely to slip down a division in May than their currently available odds would suggest.
TeamProbability Of RelegationBest OddsBookmaker
Hull 5.5% 7.50
A Villa 5.5% 11.00
Stoke 8.3% 11.00
Swansea 12.0% 21.00
WBA 12.0% 11.00
Norwich 17.2% 4.00
Fulham 24.4% 3.00
Cardiff 32.3% 2.75
C Palace 41.7% 1.57
West Ham 62.5% 2.62
Sunderland 71.4% 1.67
The generated odds illustrate that few teams outside of the top six are free from the threat of relegation, even after 20 or more matches. Teams such as Villa and Hull currently top the bottom half of the table, but decimal odds for relegation, implying a probability of around 6% would hardly constitute a major upset if they occasionally occurred.
Blackpool in 2010/11 are the only side so far that have posted a positive and therefore, above average standard score based on points per game at the start of January and then been relegated. They tumbled from 7th to finish 19th, which at least provides a small crumb of comfort for Manchester United, whom currently occupy that same 7th spot, but with a much superior standard score compared to Blackpool’s three years earlier. Standard scores of 0.1 for Blackpool in the first week of 2011, compared to 0.6 for David Moyes’ team today, see the current champion’s odds of relegation at well over 4,000/1.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

New kit - new sponsor

Kit is a bit, meh and the new sponsor Marathonbet (big Russian bookmaker) is an interesting one.

Fulham Football Club is delighted to welcome Marathonbet as its Main Team Sponsor.  The deal, which is the biggest in the Club’s history, will see the Marathonbet logo displayed on the playing shirts worn by the Club’s First Team and its U21s for the next two seasons, with an option on a third year. Today’s announcement is also the first time the Club’s new adidas home kit has been revealed to fans.

Established in 1997, Marathonbet offers great odds and great prices, and is fast becoming the global sports-book of choice. Marathonbet.co.uk offers customers a wide range of live sport betting, with an unrivalled number of in-play markets to choose from.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Fulham safe - relegation impossible.

A dismal run of one point out a possible 21 means Fulham should still be in with a very real chance of relegation. While the fixture list hasn't been exactly kind in this final leg of the season, with traditionally tricky games, it's almost a scandalous position to be in, the nadir being the home loss to an already relegated Reading. Reading who are crash bottom of the away performances league.
On the flip side of the coin, the fixture list has been kind. Because Wigan and Aston Villa play each other on the last day of the season, one of those teams will definitely finish below Fulham. The likelihood is it will be the People's Wigan Athletic, who need to win twice to avoid relegation and one game is at Arsenal who are top of the form table.
With Sunderland facing a trip to White Hart Lane, it is unlikely that the Black Cats will get the point they need to jump Fulham, but not unfeasible. And given the dismal run of form Fulham are in, is there any expectation of them getting anything from the last game at Swansea?
Therefore a 17th place finish is a very real prospect. Conversely, a good enough win and results going in their favour, could see Fulham finish in the top half.

So- on the outcome of one round of matches Fulham can finish anywhere between 10th and 17th. Can any judgement be made on finishing positions from this situation? Probably not. It does appear to have been an underwhelming season at Craven Cottage though. The question is has Jol done enough to keep his job? There was a strange rush of bets on him to be sacked in January. But when was the last time Mo sacked a manager in the summer?

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

When do clashing shirts not clash?

A week or so ago, I felt compelled to write to the Premier League with a bit of a whinge. I tried watching the QPR v Stoke City game on Match of the Day and found it very difficult to differentiate between the two strips from the distance of the TV camera gantry.
As a still picture, it is obviously easier to differentiate between red and white stripes and blue and white hoops, but in motion it really isn't so simple. Check it here.
This happens surprisingly often. The week before, the black and white stripes of Newcastle United met the red and white stripes of local rivals Sunderland which was again painful to watch. In the return match earlier this season, Newcastle felt compelled to wear their away kit, so why didn't Sunderland for the exact same clash? Sunderland wore their stripes away from home against West Brom, Wigan (although Wigan's kit is predominantly blue with two white stripes on the front), QPR and Reading. Most of these, while irritating, were not an insurmountable problem for watching on TV. But when the two opposing teams are ALSO wearing the same colour shorts, then things get a bit silly. Certainly for me it makes it almost impossible to follow the match. There's no need for it.
What I don't understand is the rule that the Premier League has sent to me regarding shorts.
Where the colour of the shorts worn by two teams is identical, the Rules currently give the away team the choice of either changing to a different colour or keeping the same colour.

This Rule has been existence since the Premier League began in 1992 when it was felt that it was important to supporters that they were able to see their team play in their traditional colours as often as possible.
Why is it so important to allow supporters to see their team play in traditional coloured shorts? In the early 90s I remember Man United playing in black shorts almost as often as white. Didn't make any difference to me. And gave the Red Devils another merchandise line. Given the PL makes more money from TV than attending fans, you would have though that a simple rule to stop shorts clashing (why is it clashing? two identical colours can't clash - you actually want a clash) would solve a problem. If you really want to do something for the fans PL, why not more 3pm kick offs please?

Monday, 18 March 2013

Goodi boo hoos - EVE 2 - 0 MCY

Despite a recent new addition to the household (my son James is now 6 weeks old), I was able to accept a kind offer from the Football Pools and attend Everton's home match against champions Man City. I've always had a soft spot for Everton because they are not Liverpool (I remember willing on Stuart McCall in the 1989 FA Cup Final). Despite now being the main competition for Man United, I also don't mind City. I've been to see the blues a few times both back in the Maine Road days and at COMstad - after all they are a Manchester team, although, like United, they don't quite feel like it these days.
Still I was firmly behind the Toffees for this game, understandably, but was pessimistic about the team's chances after the previous week's four minute capitulation against Wigan. However Everton are very much City's bogey team.
I've since read that City started the game with three at the back, but that didn't seem readily apparent. Certainly there was no early pattern to the game apart from one of petulance, sparked by Edin Dzeko's bizarre reluctance to approach the ref for a talking to. The ref ended up having to call the captain Zabaleta from full back just to bring the forward to him. This attitude seeped into the game in general with Everton players picking up niggly yellow cards - Pienaar in particular picked one up after shouting in the ref's face after being pienaar-lised for a foul.
The first bit of real goal mouth action occurred when Mirallis brought down a ball in the area and immediately SPANKED it into the corner of the goal, but this was called offside. A very marginal call as it happened. After that City got their act together a little and had one or two half chances, one after a particularly good bit of close control from Dzeko. However they were all gobbled up quite easily by Mucha in goal.He didn't quite look the part Mucha, I think because we're used to seeing the Everton keeper jersey filled out by the ripped Tim Howard. However Mucha is of a far slighter build and the shirt just kind of hung off him.
City were well policing Baines at left back, but it seemed that the focus on that side of the park opened up space for Seamus Coleman on the opposite side and he was exploiting it. It was his square pass that found Leon Osman, who hit a sweet curling effort that bamboozled Hart at the last minute, and nestled in the goal to the roar of the crowd.
The needle on the pitch had translated into a buzzing atmosphere in the stands and the needle twitched even further when Pienaar tangled with Garcia. It was a late tackle with studs, so Pienaar could be lucky he didn't get a straight red rather than a second yellow, but Garcia's Ronaldo impression on the floor provided the crowd with a sense of injustice. Performance levels did improve after the red card, but only in the crowd. City played with the same lack of intensity, but the extra space on the pitch did allow them to be more incisive; there seeming to be an extra man on their right side on several occasions, leading the maligned Mucha to make a handful of impressive and important stops.
During this pressure, City should have had a penalty when Fellaini blocked a shot with his hand above his shoulder. But the linesman and referee gave a free kick outside the area. In fairness to the ref, everyone in our box, including the City fan, assumed it was the right call in real time, so it was a bit of a surprise to see that the Belgian was so far inside his box when the infringement occurred. Given he had earlier been denied a penalty himself when being held back in the City area, it was karmically evened up.
Everton's best player, marginally, was Darren Gibson. He stepped up when Everton were down to ten men and appeared everywhere. Even Anichebe had a good game; full of selfless running. Kolo Toure panicked every time the striker bore down on him. But it was his replacement that brought the house down.
Injury time and the ball breaks to Fellaini with City overcommitted. We were cheering the attack like a horse at Cheltenham and the ball made its way to Jelavic whose shot looped in over Hart and sent Mancini down the tunnel to stew. It wouldn't have made much difference anyway as the angry Italian only seemed to watch two thirds of the play anyway. In contrast Moyes was like an exasperated father, moaning to the bench whenever Baines went over to take a corner despite Everton being down to 10. But the Scot on his 11th anniversary as Everton boss had got the upper hand on Bobby once again.
I'm not sure if it's a song they play at the end of every match, but Goodison Park rang out at the tune of 'Baby, Give it up' after full time. A point being made to the visitors' title challenge, perhaps?

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