Premier League projections and power rankings, Week 22: One step forward

Stu Forster

While Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City just keep winning, the race for fourth place turned in Tottenham's favor a little this week, as both Everton and Liverpool drew winnable games. My projections still love Liverpool, and I take a quick look at why this is still so.

That's what a good win looks like. I've bemoaned poor performances in nearly all of Spurs' recent victories, but against Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur dominated both the scoresheet and the statsheet. Spurs had five SiBoT to just one for Swansea, three of five from the central danger zone. We even had one shot assisted by a through-ball, though Mousa Dembele wasted a perfect chance and put his shot wide of the mark. Tottenham were also credited with four big chances while preventing any from Swansea. My stats suggest 2-1 would probably have been the fairest score based on chances created, if not maybe 2-0, and that plus an own goal is how it finished up.

The first version of this was published in an incomplete version. What follows is now the full article, with bonus pessimism.

Swansea City, even in this diminished state, are one of the better non-elite sides in the Premier League, and my projections had Spurs taking only on average about 1.4 points from this fixture. All three is a very nice boost.

Now, the projections still have Liverpool way ahead. As I did when my projections started showing a big four, I'd like to present the projections first and then some explanatory data (and explanatory explanations) after.

Projections and Power Rankings

Because of rounding, not all the numbers necessarily add up quite right.

Club W D L Pts GD Team+ Top4% ΔT4 Rel% ΔRel Title% ΔTitle 5th
Manchester City 26 5 7 83 +56 158 99% +1 0% 0 55% +0 1%
Arsenal 24 8 6 80 +35 140 93% +1 0% 0 23% +1 5%
Chelsea 24 7 7 79 +35 137 91% +5 0% 0 17% +4 7%
Liverpool 22 8 8 74 +40 149 72% -11 0% 0 4% -6 17%
Tottenham Hotspur 20 9 9 69 +10 121 23% +11 0% 0 0.5% +0.5 29%
Everton 18 13 7 68 +20 122 15% -4 0% 0 0% -0.5 25%
Manchester United 19 8 11 65 +18 124 6% -3 0% 0 0% 0 14%
Newcastle United 17 7 14 58 +3 98 0.5% +0.5 0% 0 0% 0 2%
Southampton 15 11 12 55 +7 109 0% 0 0% 0 0% 0 0.5%
Swansea City 11 11 16 44 -4 100 0% 0 2% +1 0% 0 0%
Aston Villa 11 11 16 44 -10 86 0% 0 2% -1 0% 0 0%
West Bromwich Albion 10 14 14 43 -6 95 0% 0 2% -1 0% 0 0%
Hull City 10 10 18 41 -11 78 0% 0 7% +3 0% 0 0%
Norwich City 10 9 19 39 -26 73 0% 0 14% -10 0% 0 0%
Stoke City 9 11 18 38 -23 69 0% 0 18% +7 0% 0 0%
Crystal Palace 10 6 22 36 -25 74 0% 0 33% -16 0% 0 0%
Sunderland 8 10 20 35 -23 76 0% 0 40% -1 0% 0 0%
West Ham United 7 11 20 32 -23 67 0% 0 61% +15 0% 0 0%
Fulham 9 5 24 33 -39 64 0% 0 57% +3 0% 0 0%
Cardiff City 7 11 20 32 -33 60 0% 0 68% +5 0% 0 0%

Ok, so Spurs' chances of finishing top four nearly doubled. That's pretty good. But there's still a huge 50 percentage point gap between Spurs and Liverpool even though both clubs are currently on 43 points. This requires some explanation.

The short version is that things haven't changed much since I laid out the stats two weeks ago. Liverpool have an elite rate of SiBoT and Danger Zone SiBoT for and against, while Spurs are roughly even. Since the primary basis of my projections is shots on target, adjusted for location, this means I project Liverpool to be a lot better than Spurs (~six points better) over the remaining sixteen matches of the Premier League season.

Here's another way of looking at it. After the disastrous match at White Hart Lane, Spurs were under 15% to make top four, while Liverpool were over 80%. (See post-apocalypse projections here.) I projected Spurs to take about 63 points compared to 74 for Liverpool. In the intervening weeks, Spurs have taken 16 points out of 18 possible, while Liverpool have taken 10 out of 18. Spurs have improved by about six points in points expectation, but Liverpool have remained steady at 74. So my numbers have accounted for the club's recent performance in terms of points, with Spurs gaining precisely the six points they've made up in the real table. It just hasn't been enough.

The reason it hasn't been enough is that our performance in the underlying stats has been mostly blah, occasionally bad. The win this weekend at Swansea was by a good margin the best performance by Spurs under Sherwood. The disconnect here? Shot conversion, full stop. Remember when I had to write thousand-odd-word articles with massively overlong sections on method explaining why Spurs would eventually start finding the back of the net with some of their SiBoT? Those days are past. Now we're wildly overperforming expected goals and converting shots on target at, yup, a totally unsustainable rate.

To compare, these are the simple shot on target stats, separated between SiBoT and SoBoT, for Spurs under Sherwood and Liverpool in the last six game-weeks.

Club SiBoT GiB SoBoT GoB
Tottenham (attack) 18 9 7 2
Liverpool (attack) 26 9 8 2
Tottenham (defense) 14 4 7 1
Liverpool (defense) 13 7 8 3

Spurs have added two own goals and a penalty, while Liverpool have been awarded two pens and benefited from one own goal.

Basically, Spurs are converting shots in the box on target at a very high rate, while Liverpool are conceding a conversion rate even slightly higher. The more granular stats on shot conversion are even worse. 70% of danger zone shots allowed by Liverpool have been assisted by crosses, so their SiBoT allowed are actually of lower average quality than would be expected. Spurs have allowed much higher quality shots, including several assisted by through-balls. Despite this, Hugo Lloris has a slightly above average save percentage compared to the awful 50% number you see for Simon Mignolet.

My feeling with Spurs under Sherwood continues to be that it's way too early to draw any conclusions. 16 points is fantastic, but a barely above average SoT difference is decidedly not. There's basically no reason to expect that Spurs will continue to convert SoT at these rates—even Sir Alex Ferguson's United didn't do that, and the sample here of six matches is tiny. But, at the same time, the sample here of six matches is tiny. Drawing any statistical conclusions from six matches, especially when the indicators are complex, is not usually a good idea.

If you want to be optimistic, you can point to a bunch of positives, from the shellacking of Stoke City to this Sunday at the Liberty, the first 60 minutes at Old Trafford and those good 45 minutes in the second half against Palace. You can note that the suicidal tactics in the miraculous West Brom draw have not re-appeared, and instead a better system seems to be coming into view.

But those are optimistic slicings of the information. My projections are always going to take all of the information. And there is too much in the data that isn't good, or that is just flat-out bad. If Spurs really do build on the positives and start playing well, the stats will catch up. But they're not going to be out in front. And so far, Spurs have not been good enough under Sherwood to earn a boost beyond a dozen or so percentage points.

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