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Week 31 stat preview: Tottenham-Swansea (and more!)

A statistical projection and preview of the weekend's games

Michael Regan

Our long (inter)national nightmare is over, and less than a day from now, the most recent Tottenham game won't have been the disasterpiece against Fulham. There's good news percolating out of Spurs Lodge about the health of Aaron Lennon, whose absence seemed particularly glaring in the Fulham game. That's important, because this weekend's match in Wales is one of those annoying games that's going to be difficult to win, but at the same time really has to be won.

I have projected chances of winning and projected goals scored for Spurs, but I decided to expand this piece a little and also include stat previews for the other leading top 4 competitors, Chelsea and Arsenal. (Presuming the Manchester big boys are locks at this point.) Arsenal face Reading. Reading are terrible. Arsenal should win by many goals, and if they don't get three points, it's a big blow. Chelsea, I'll have more to say about that in a moment.

Club xG xGA %W %D %L
Chelsea (@SOT) 1.7 1.3 46% 23% 31%
Tottenham Hotspur (@SWA) 1.7 1.2 46% 24% 30%
Arsenal (RDG) 2.8 0.8 79% 13% 8%

Chelsea and Tottenham both face away games against the toughest sides in the middle of the table. I think I want to sound a slight, suggestive note of optimism here. Swansea have taken the results you'd expect based on their underlying stats, while Southampton have underperformed so much that they face a still significant risk of relegation. The pessimistic take, here, would be that Swansea are actually just better than Southampton and the limited numbers we have are hardly enough to determine team quality. This is fair in general, though in the case of Southampton my observation is that this is a darn good Premier League side.

It's possible that Southampton's place is the table makes them a more dangerous opponent. The traditional cliche is that you don't want to face a club in the midst of a relegation battle, which I've always found badly oversimplistic. Give me Reading every day instead of West Brom or, I don't know, Fulham. You want to face the worse team, not the better one. There is some evidence, though, that mid-table clubs start to underperform once they're reached safety. Chris Glover put together a suggestive study last weekend which found that mid-table clubs are moderately more likely to slow down and play worse toward the end of the season. His study isn't definitive, and the effect isn't huge, but it's worth noting.

For Chelsea and Tottenham, I'd say that the moment the cliche holds true is when you have two sides of true mid-table quality, but one of them is safely ensconced in the top ten while the other is still fighting to remain in the top flight. In that scenario, I'll take the mid-table opponent just about every time.

Moving on from my continuing series of "jinx jinx jinx" statistical arguments, here are the projected effects of different game outcomes on each club's top four hopes. So, under each club is listed their projected chance of making the top four based on the possible outcomes of their week 31 matches.

W 88% 71% 54%
D 79% 53% 36%
L 70% 42% 28%

In each of these cases, the projected top four percentage doesn't include consideration of the outcomes of the other games. If they all win, all will have somewhat lower top four chances than listed here, for instance.

And for y'all in the projection league, most likely scores for Tottenham-Swansea:

1-1 (11%), 2-1 (9%), 1-0 (9%), 1-2 (7%), 2-0 (7%), 0-1 (7%)