Premier League Power Rankings and Projections, Week 3: It's a Tie!

Clive Mason

I have run the numbers after the horror of the derby, and Spurs are still in reasonably good position for the Champions League places. More interestingly, I am currently projecting something like a five-way tie for second, only a small step behind Manchester City in first.

Tottenham Hotspur lost in the North London Derby 1-0, a score that was either a deserved defeat or a moderately unlucky finish for a club that certainly could have earned a draw. I'd lean more toward the former, as Spurs created very little in the way of chances, but Arsenal did not create all that many superior scoring opportunities. Goals and chances have been tough to come by all year for pretty much everyone, and this last weekend was just terribly drab and boring for anyone who likes attacking football.

You've probably seen the numbers. There were only 13 goals scored in 18 team-matches, a rate of just 0.7 G / Team-Match. The week previous was barely any better with just 0.85 G/Match. Both of these figures are lower than any game-week of last season, when there were only two game-weeks at under 1.0 G/Match, and both of those (weeks 10 and 14) saw 0.9 G/Match.

The goal-scoring problems seem to be significantly a function of a failure to produce good opportunities. This last weekend Opta classified only 13 open-play big chances across 18 team-matches. There was not a single week in the 2012-2013 season in which Opta identified fewer than 20 big chances. The lowest rates of big chances per team-match were again weeks 10 and 14 last year, with 1.35 and 1.3 BC/Match, respectively. This last week saw a pathetic 0.6 BC/Match, and the previous week was 1.0 BC/Match. I am going to be tracking this, especially because it is certainly possible that the highly subjective characterization of big chances could change year-to-year. But for now, the rate of big chances seems to be tracking the rate of goals scored. This suggests that we're not seeing a data issue but rather a real effect where Premier League clubs just aren't creating enough good chances to score goals at the rate we'd usually expect.

I'm sure there are some "goals are overrated" folks who could defend these last two weeks on an aesthetic level. But I'm hoping this is just a two-week fluke. Week 1 was perfectly normal (1.3 and 1.7 G/Match and BC/Match), so it's not necessarily the case that something structural has changed in the Premier League. It's worth watching either way.

Projections and Power Rankings

I am continuing to project a very close race for the top four and still a wide-open race for the title. Conventional wisdom holds that over time, we should expect City, Chelsea and United to pull away from the pack, away from the relatively lower-payroll trio of Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool. As of three weeks, there is little indication in the stats that the former three are a lot better than the latter three. Along with the general conventional wisdom, the Soccernomics-style economic determinism thesis projects a big gap there. (See Zach Slaton's excellent blog at Forbes for a short discussion of the economic projection data.)

I'm not saying I think either the convention wisdom or the economic determinism thesis is wrong. (Though I'm pretty skeptical of the latter is useful to the degree of specificity it's being used there.) I don't know. I think it's interesting that my numbers aren't showing the expected gaps at the top of the table. Subjectively, I am not yet convinced by either Chelsea or United to rate them as obviously superior sides to Spurs, Arsenal or Liverpool. But I'm not terribly confident in my own subjective ratings of the teams. On to the quasi-objective numbers!

As a reminder, I am rounding everything to whole numbers. This causes some infelicities in the numbers, as W/D/L does not necessarily add up to points. But it should all be close enough to be clear.

Club W D L Pts GD Team+ Top4% ΔT4 Rel% ΔRel Title% ΔTitle 5th
Manchester City 23 8 7 76 +38 149 80% 0 0% 0 32% +1 9%
Liverpool 21 9 8 72 +25 133 63% +7 0% 0 16% +4 13%
Manchester United 21 9 8 71 +30 138 60% -6 0% 0 14% -3 14%
Tottenham Hotspur 21 9 8 71 +26 136 59% -6 0% 0 14% -3 14%
Chelsea 20 10 8 71 +26 135 59% -1 0% 0 14% +1 14%
Arsenal 20 9 9 69 +22 132 48% +7 0% 0 9% +3 15%
Everton 17 12 9 62 +16 125 22% -1 0% 0 2% 0 12%
Swansea City 15 9 14 54 +2 104 4% +1 2% -1 0% 0 4%
Southampton 13 11 14 51 -2 99 2% -2 3% +1 0% 0 2%
Aston Villa 12 10 16 46 -7 86 0.5% +.5 9% -3 0% 0 1%
Norwich City 11 11 16 45 -10 85 0.5% +.5 12% -5 0% 0 0.5%
Newcastle 11 11 16 44 -14 84 0% 0 13% -6 0% 0 0.5%
Stoke City 11 10 17 43 -14 77 0% 0 16% -10 0% 0 0%
West Ham United 11 10 17 42 -13 81 0% -.5 18% +7 0% 0 0%
Cardiff City 10 11 17 41 -17 75 0% 0 23% 0 0% 0 0%
Fulham 10 10 18 41 -17 78 0% 0 24% +9 0% 0 0%
West Bromwich Albion 10 10 18 41 -15 82 0% 0 25% +9 0% 0 0%
Sunderland 9 10 19 37 -21 75 0% 0 42% +11 0% 0 0%
Crystal Palace 9 8 21 35 -25 65 0% 0 53% -12 0% 0 0%
Hull City 8 9 21 33 -29 61 0% 0 59% 0 0% 0 0%

  • I am gradually increasing the weighting of this season's team quality as the sample grows every week. Aston Villa have played all of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool tight, and over three weeks rate among the best sides in the league. Villa have 7 SiBoT and 7 BC in these matches, allowing only 6 and 4. If they keep playing at this level, they should at least challenge Swansea and Southampton for the safety places at 8th and 9th. I mean, if they keep outplaying the best sides, they'll be contenders, but I'm assuming that's a bit much to ask.
  • On the other side of the ledger, West Brom and Fulham have been awful so far. West Brom have 3 SiBoT / 1 BC for, 12 SiBoT / 3 BC against, Fulham have 6 SiBoT / 3 BC for, 15 SiBoT / 5 BC against. Both clubs will need to improve, soon, if they're to avoid the drop. West Brom's failed attempt to sign Romelu Lukaku on loan might mark a failed turning point in their season.
  • Everton managed to beat out West Brom for the striker's signature in the final moments of the window, and Lukaku should be exactly what the toffees need. They have struggled badly with finishing over the first three matches of the season, converting only 1 of 12 SiBoT and 1 of 4 big chances. Ross Barkley added an outside-the-box screamer for the club's second goal. Everton's underlying stats are elite, but with Nikica Jelavic leading the line, goals have been few and far between. If Lukaku does nothing more than start converting opportunities at a league average rate, he'll be a massive upgrade for Everton, and I think the big Belgian is capable of much more than that.
  • As I noted above, my projections call the top six race basically a dead heat. I have City slightly ahead of the pack and Arsenal slightly behind, but by margins that could shift easily with just one more good or bad result. If you look at the Top4%, you can see how small the gap is and how quickly it can shift. One could say that Liverpool second or Chelsea fifth is the headline result, but the difference between second and fifth is really just rounding error. I wouldn't make anything of the rankings 2nd through 5th, just look at it as a big ol' tie.
  • I'm not quite ready to commit to the terribleness of Hull City, who have occasionally been not entirely terrible. Crystal Palace's underlying numbers are actually even approaching to good. Plus, "Hull are terrible" doesn't have the euphony of "Reading are terrible." I will need to figure out a tagline here, since obviously I can't go without for too much longer.

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