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Premier League Projections, Week 21: Zero Sum

The top and bottom of the English Premier League are separating themselves. Wins by all of the top seven sides in the Premier League mean that the odds of an underdog finishing top four are roughly zero. And because this is a zero sum competition, it means that taking three points home to Palace wasn't enough to move Spurs up the table.

Julian Finney

There are currently seven teams in contention for four Champions League positions from the English Premier League, and this weekend all seven of those sides won. Any individual loss would have been an upset, but the odds of no upset at all were significantly lower. This was the first time all season that none of the top seven clubs in the league dropped points. Given the zero-sum nature of the competition, this means that none of the clubs in the chasing pack got any real value from their wins. And the leaders continued to pull ahead slightly.

On top of that for Tottenham Hotspur, the club's 2-0 defeat of Crystal Palace did not register particularly positively in my database. In the first half, Spurs produced basically nothing while allowing several huge chances to the opposition. We have for Spurs:

  • Nabil Bentaleb's two long-range efforts, one on target and mostly routine, one a screamer that just glanced off the post and away.
  • Kyle Walker's easily blocked free kick.
  • Aaron Lennon's blocked shot from the center of the box.
  • And Roberto Soldado's wild half-volley in added time that I had completely forgotten would count as a shot. I guess it wasn't something else.

There's maybe a fractional goal there, and Bentaleb's quality made the two shots from outside the box slightly higher value than you'd expect. Compare for Crystal Palace.

  • Three long-range efforts, two by Jason Puncheon and one by Cameron Jerome, which did not particularly trouble Hugo Lloris. Jerome did put his on target.
  • A blocked attempt into traffic from wide by Jonathan Parr.
  • A free header for Marouane Chamakh only a couple yards out, center of the box. This is about as good as headers off crosses get, and luckily Chamakh knocked it harmlessly over the bar.
  • A shot by Mile Jedinak at an open net from the center of the six-yard box which was fortuitously blocked by his own teammate,
  • Oh, and a penalty too.

To go back to Jedinak's shot, there have been 85 non-headed shots this season in the Premier League taken from the center of the six-yard box which were not assisted by a cross. 42 of them have been converted for goals. Only eight have been blocked. I think it's fair to say that Jedinak was far more likely there to score than to have his shot stopped, and it was dumb luck that prevented Spurs from conceding. I like to avoid using the word "luck" in discussing statistics because most times a miss or a goal isn't exactly lucky, it's a complex combination of factors. In this case, however, Spurs were saved by little else than random good fortune.

Now, it was as they say a game of two halves. Spurs produced three high-quality shots in the second half and scored two. Christian Eriksen couldn't maneuver away from the defense early in the second half and had his shot from the center of the box blocked, but he did not miss when presented with a clear-cut chance a few minutes later off a knock-down from Emmanuel Adebayor. Jermain Defoe got off a couple good shots after coming on for Soldado, including his goal, again from the center of the box, lifted over the approaching keeper.

Those are good, and count for something, but they don't even out Palace's two big chances and one penalty in the first half. And then in the waning moments of the second half, Spurs' defense broke down again. Between the 90th and 95th minutes Palace took four shots from inside the box assisted by cross (two from corners). Mile Jedinak and Marouane Chamakh both failed to hit the target with two pretty much opportunities, and another excellent chance on a cross fell to Chamakh, who headed softly right at Hugo Lloris, who palmed the shot over the bar for another corner.. Chamakh hit from such close range that anything harder, or aimed at the corner, would probably have been a goal, but again Spurs could take advantage of his poor execution.

I don't usually got into this much depth on every chance logged in my database, but it seemed like it might be instructive here. Spurs had the better of the match in the second half, but overall Palace took four shots from the six-yard box central. With better execution by Puncheon and Chamakh, and Jedinak's shot not being blocked by a teammate's calf, that could easily have been two or three goals conceded.

There were good things in the match, and those 45 minutes between the beginning of the second-half and the extra-time breakdown were excellent. The optimist can say that in those 45 minutes we saw the combination of effort, tactics and creativity that this Spurs side can produce more regularly over the next few months. But in a home match against a relegation battling opponent, winning 45 minutes but losing the other 50 adds up to an overall negative performance statistically. The hopeful fan can throw out the first half and focus on the positive, but my projections won't.

And in the context of the rest of the Premier League this weekend, an unimpressive three points is not enough to make up ground on the leaders. Everyone got three points, and although Spurs weren't the only side unimpressive in victory, clubs like Arsenal have a buffer to deal with blah performances that Tottenham lack.

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 +56 160 98% +0 0% 0 55% +3 1%
Arsenal 24 7 7 80 +25 142 92% +0 0% 0 22% -2 6%
Chelsea 23 9 6 78 +33 138 86% +2 0% 0 13% +0 9%
Liverpool 23 7 8 77 +43 154 83% +1 0% 0 10% -0 11%
Everton 19 12 7 68 +21 123 19% -3 0% 0 0.5% -0 30%
Tottenham Hotspur 20 8 10 67 +7 119 12% -2 0% 0 0% -0.5 22%
Manchester United 19 9 10 66 +19 125 9% +2 0% 0 0% +0 19%
Newcastle United 16 8 14 56 +1 94 0% -0.5 0% 0 0% 0 1%
Southampton 15 11 12 56 +7 110 0% +0 0% 0 0% 0 1%
Swansea City 12 10 16 46 +1 103 0% 0 1% +0.5 0% 0 0%
West Bromwich Albion 10 14 14 43 -7 93 0% 0 3% +1 0% 0 0%
Aston Villa 11 10 17 43 -12 83 0% 0 3% -0 0% 0 0%
Hull City 11 10 17 42 -10 78 0% 0 4% +1 0% 0 0%
Stoke City 9 12 17 40 -21 71 0% 0 11% +2 0% 0 0%
Norwich City 9 10 19 37 -27 72 0% 0 24% +0 0% 0 0%
Sunderland 8 10 20 35 -24 75 0% 0 41% -14 0% 0 0%
West Ham United 8 10 20 34 -21 68 0% 0 46% -14 0% 0 0%
Crystal Palace 9 7 22 34 -27 70 0% 0 49% +3 0% 0 0%
Fulham 10 4 27 33 -39 62 0% 0 54% +12 0% 0 0%
Cardiff City 7 11 20 32 -33 58 0% 0 63% +9 0% 0 0%
  • As I mentioned above, Arsenal were just as unimpressive in victory on Monday as Spurs had been on Saturday. Both Arsenal and Villa took four shots from the danger zone, putting two on target. Villa added three shots on target from outside the box to Arsenal's one. I have the xG score around 0.8-0.9 very slightly in favor of Arsenal, as more of Villa's chances were assisted by crosses, but basically it was an even match.
  • The other thing going on in the numbers is that with every week, I increase the weight on 2013-2014 numbers and decrease the weight on earlier stats. So with Liverpool, although they were not hugely better than Stoke City, they gain in expectation as their far superior overall 2013-2014 stats get weighted a little more heavily.
  • As I mentioned in my piece on benchmarks yesterday, the bottom of the table is just a total mess. I still find it very unlikely that any of Swansea City, West Brom, Aston Villa or Hull City will be relegated. All have played well enough to deserve to be out of the bottom already, and with so many mostly crap teams below them, it won't take more than a point per match to save them from the drop.
  • But everyone else, you got me. Fulham were perhaps a little unfortunate to lose so badly to Sunderland in a match in which they outshot the Black Cats. Fulham had seven danger zone shots, three on target, compared to four and two for Sunderland. But Adam Johnson had the best shooting day of his life, Philippe Senderos attempted a physics experiment to see how far in the air he could launch Jozy Altidore using his knee and carefully applied pressure, and Sunderland won going away. It was a win that had been coming for Sunderland, who massively outshot Cardiff City in an unfortunate December draw and generally have been much improved under Gus Poyet.
  • Really, anyone from Stoke City on down in the projected table could finish 18th and I wouldn't be in the least way surprised. There is a lot of potential for end-of-season excitement in the EPL right now.