Why Barcelona Won’t Miss Lionel Messi (too much)

Article at Washington Post:

To estimate how much losing Messi might hurt, I ran some simulations and compared the expected points for Real Madrid and Barcelona over their next seven matches. … At full strength, Real is favored to take about one more point than Barcelona in the next seven matches — Real has slightly better stats and a slightly easier schedule. If losing Messi makes Barcelona’s attack about 30 percent worse, then the gap jumps to about four points. If Messi makes them 20 percent worse, Real should take about three more points over the next two months, and at 10 percent the gap would be two points.

This helps explain why it is so hard to identify Messi’s value from the time he is off the pitch. Because La Liga is so unequal and Barcelona so good, Barca remains strongly favored in most of its matches even if the club is significantly weakened. The expected point gaps can be measured on the fingers of one hand, even in scenarios where Messi’s effect on his team’s quality is legitimately massive. Unless the loss of Messi causes an unexpected, utter disaster, Barcelona should be easily within striking distance of the title when its superstar returns.

The Premier League’s Mid-Table and Why It May Be Here to Stay

Published at SB Nation.

Why West Ham and Southampton Can Stay in the Race:

This year, the expected goals table shows these non-traditional powers in strong positions. So far, the underlying statistics are more impressed with Southampton, West Ham, Newcastle and Stoke than with Spurs, Liverpool, Everton or even United. West Ham have attempted 96 shots from the danger zone this season, the fourth best in the league, while Southampton are second with 99. These numbers lap those of the traditional clubs they’ve displaced. Only Manchester United is within 20 danger zone shot attempts of West Ham (they have 77) while the other sit below 70. In multiple key statistical measures, these unlikely teams have been outplaying their moneyed competitors.

This change affects the competitive ecology of the Premier League. It has been common for the league to have a glut of below average sides making up a desultory mid-table. These teams have no meaningful chance of contending for European qualification, but they should stay in the top division by taking enough lucky points off the top seven and beating up the bottom five. These sides would typically put up expected goals ratios between 0.450 and 0.500. They were below average but not so bad that they became interesting.

Why Manchester United’s Win Streak Won’t Last

Published at the Washington Post.

Manchester United Is Winning, But That Won’t Last:

In fact, over these six matches, Manchester United has conceded overall better quality chances than it has created. There was a run of time between the Southampton and Liverpool matches when United had scored four of its last five shot on target. The following graphic shows the chances created and conceded by United. Black boxes mark goals. The array of quality chances (six from inside the six-yard box) which United’s opponents have failed to put away is spectacular.

Wage Bills in the English Premier League

Published at the Washington Post.

How Wage Bills Predict Outcomes and Who Does Best with their Money:

But even within a stratified system, better- and worse-run clubs stand out. I did a quick regression based on points and inflation-adjusted payroll to find the expected points for a club based on its total payroll. This does not include transfer spending, but for most clubs transfer spending tracks with wage bill reasonably well. The results can be seen at the end of the article. A few top clubs stand out. In the scatter plot below, I have marked a few clubs in particular. At the top end, you can see the impressive numbers of Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and David Moyes’s Everton teams. At the bottom end, Newcastle United shows up as a consistent underperformer regardless of who has been in charge.

On Payroll and Depth during the Holiday Fixtures

Published at ESPN.

How Payroll Predicts Holiday Outcomes in the EPL:

Clubs with wage bills among the top four in the league tend to do very well no matter the circumstance, but particularly at the New Year. They average about 2.0 points per match over most of the season; during the holidays, that rate jumps 10 percent to 2.2 points per match. This means that every festive period, one of the four richest clubs wins a match they otherwise would have drawn or lost. Given that the title and fourth place races are often decided by a point or two, those extra points at the holiday can make all the difference.

At the same time, not every high-payroll club sees the benefits of depth every year. If a high-payroll club like Manchester United or Arsenal goes on a run through the winter fixtures, it should not be surprising, but such a run is in no way guaranteed.

World Cup Projections

(Note: these didn’t turn out so great.)

Published at SB Nation.

2014 World Cup Projections:

The hardest part of building an international football ranking system is dealing with strength of schedule. By raw goals ratio, the three best teams in the world over the last several years are Brazil, Spain and Germany. That sounds good, but fourth is… Iran. Without accounting for schedule, there is no way to do this sort of analysis.

The Entirely Predictable Newcastle Turnaround

Published at SB Nation.

Newcastle’s 2014 Comeback Was Predicted By the Stats:

So Newcastle’s turnaround is not unusual. Clubs that massively underperform their expected goals early in the season typically click back into form and start winning matches at a respectable rate. These teams started out the season with only about four points on average, but they averaged about 41 points over the remainder of the season. So if Newcastle follow the averages, they should end up easily safe with a mid-40s points haul.