Stats and Projections for Spurs-Chelsea: Plus, do you have to win the "big games"?

Ian Walton

Tottenham Hotspur are at home, which means we're projected to win a plurality of the time. I also look at the relative value of beating the big boys and beating the little boys.

Tottenham Hotspur welcome rivals Chelsea to White Hart Lane tomorrow in what is being billed, over and over as a "real test" of this Spurs side. Tottenham have played only one match this season against elite-level competition, and we turned in a distinctly unimpressive performance away to Arsenal. Against non-elite league competition, Spurs have taken twelve out of twelve possible points and won their non-league matches by a just-silly combined 15-0 scoreline. Now, it's fair to say that results against true international minnows like Tromsø and Dinamo Tbilisi don't signify much. But it is my hypothesis that Spurs' victories over clubs like Norwich and Swansea are just as meaningful as the loss to Arsenal for projecting the likely quality of this club.

As one quick test of this hypothesis, I collected data from the last four Premier League seasons considering how well the top seven or eight clubs played (a) against lower-table competition and (b) against each other. My general conclusion from this data is that points are points. The top four and title races are as likely to be determined by how many points the clubs take from trips to Stoke City and Sunderland as from big-time tv matches.

The table below lists the title races from 2009-2010 through 2012-2013, broken down by how clubs performed against top competition and how they performed against everyone else.

Vs. Top Vs. Rest Total
Club / Season W D L Pts W D L Pts Pts
Chelsea 2010 7 2 5 23 20 3 1 63 86
Man United 2010 8 1 5 25 19 3 2 60 85
---
Man United 2011 6 3 3 21 17 8 1 59 80
Chelsea 2011 4 2 6 14 17 6 3 57 71
Man City 2011 3 3 6 12 18 5 3 59 71
---
Man City 2012 10 1 3 31 18 4 2 58 89
Man United 2012 7 4 3 25 21 1 2 64 89
---
Man United 2013 6 2 4 20 22 3 1 69 89
Man City 2013 4 5 3 17 19 4 3 61 78

We see both titles won on the strength of performance against top sides (United in 2010-2011) and on the backs of impressive flat-track bullying (United in 2012-2013). In the two closest title races of the last four years, there's no particular pattern as to whether winning your matches against the best clubs is better than beating up the bottom of the table. Obviously four seasons isn't enough to determine anything one way or the other, but I'm not seeing any patterns emerge. How about in the race for that fourth-place trophy? Which is sometimes a race for a third-place trophy, of course. For reasons.

Vs. Top Vs. Rest Total
Club / Season W D L Pts W D L Pts Pts
Tottenham 2010 6 3 5 21 15 4 5 49 70
Man City 2010 4 4 6 16 14 9 1 51 67
---
Arsenal 2011 5 4 3 19 14 7 5 49 68
Tottenham 2011 3 5 4 14 13 9 4 48 62
---
Arsenal 2012 7 2 5 23 14 5 5 47 70
Tottenham 2012 4 4 6 16 16 5 3 53 69
---
Arsenal 2013 2 5 5 11 19 5 2 62 73
Tottenham 2013 4 3 5 15 17 6 3 57 72

We see here three seasons won by the club with the better performance against elite opposition, but 2012-2013 ran directly against trend as Arsenal couldn't buy a win against the best clubs but won fourth place on the back of a consistent and impressive record of flat-track bullying. One more table, this one combined from 2009-2013.

Vs. Top Vs. Rest Total
Club W D L Pts W D L Pts Pts
Tottenham 17 15 20 66 61 24 15 207 273
Liverpool 16 15 21 63 49 24 27 171 234
Everton 16 16 20 64 44 38 18 170 234

The entire reason that Spurs have been competing for Champions League places, while the Merseyside rivals have not, is performance against the bottom twelve or thirteen teams in the table. Moyes' Everton and Liverpool under a collection of managers have stepped up to perform in big matches, but have won far too few of the little matches to be competitive for the important league positions. While Spurs may have needed a handful of better results in big matches in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons, it was our consistent points totals against lower-table opposition that kept Tottenham in contention down the stretch.

I don't mean, exactly, to downplay the meaning of tomorrow's match against Chelsea. Obviously the difference when you play a big club is that you have the opportunity to take points off them directly, as likewise they can to you. So it has more meaning than the average match, perhaps. But at the end of the day, all points are equal. You can win the title or qualify for the Champions League by many different paths. We have seen in the last four seasons just about every one of these different paths taken, sometimes by the same club in back-to-back seasons. It matters if Spurs lose to Chelsea tomorrow, but it's also a test when we host West Ham next week and when we travel to Villa the week after that.

Points matter.

Stats and Projections for Spurs-Chelsea

Ok, enough of that. Here's the numbers for Spurs-Chelsea. I have added one new row, listing the projected game outcomes according to a broad consensus of betting lines. This is not intended as a betting guide, indeed I have no idea whatsoever how my numbers compare to those of the professional bookies. I just think it's something interesting to track.

Outcome TOT W D CHE W
MCofA projection 44% 29% 27%
Bookie projections 37% 30% 33%
---
Tottenham Pts 76 74 72
Chelsea Pts 69 71 74
---
Tottenham Top4% 81% 72% 64%
Chelsea Top4% 50% 60% 70%

These early season matches, as always, can't end anyone's chance. But it's certainly better to be 4-in-5 than 3-in-5, and it'd be nice if Spurs could win.

Also, I have projected goals scored for this match on the low end, roughly 1.5 for Spurs to 1.1 for Chelsea on average. Both clubs have been decidedly stronger defensively this season than in the attack. Either a 1-1 draw or a 2-1 Spurs win appear to be the most likely scorelines tomorrow according to my simulations.

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