Why have Everton struggled at home?

With the 2015/16 English Premier League season approaching its final third, two teams’ impressive away records stand out among the crowd: Tottenham, who are staking a refreshing claim for the league title, and Everton, who are enduring a far more underwhelming campaign stuck in mid-table.

I took a further look to see just why two clubs who have suffered just a solitary loss away from home have such different records. To be more specific, I wanted to find out what has been holding them back and making them easier to play against at Goodison Park. With six of their seven defeats this term coming at home, it is fairly easy to see that their problems lie on Merseyside.

This has prompted understandable frustration from those fans who were expecting to see their side competing for the European spots, especially in such a tumultuous season. Whilst this is still not out of the question, addressing their home form is now paramount if they are to finish anywhere near the top six.

So what happens in these home matches to make them more vulnerable than when they play away?

Everton remain a possession-based side predominantly, with only six teams in the league having more of the ball on average. However, one thing that can hold Roberto Martinez’ men back is slow build-up speed. They are patient in their approach, giving opponents the time to get men behind the ball and form a defensive screen. As a result, this sees Everton push more men forward, which inevitably leaves space to expose on the counter.

It is worth noting that throughout the season, no side have conceded more than the 23 goals let in by Everton at their home stadium. They do compensate for this with a potent attacking line up though, boasting the second strongest scoring record at home in the division, with just Man City hitting the net more in front of their own supporters.

One key finding is that Everton often find themselves going behind at Goodison. They have conceded the first goal in 9/14 home games and have failed to win any of these. With opponents able to get ahead, it makes Everton’s game plan of patient build up harder to execute as their visitors sit even deeper and soak up more pressure.

What is interesting is that when Everton have scored the opening goal, they are unbeaten, winning 4/5. A lead gives them a far greater ability to dictate matches with long spells of possession and leaves opponents struggling to hit back without leaving themselves heavily exposed. When visiting teams do push forward, Everton have proven to be ruthless in attack, scoring at least three in each of their home wins:

Everton 1

Surely the opening goal cannot be the only thing to blame for their struggles, though?

When looking at their away fixtures, where it is important to remember that they have lost just once all season, the trend does continue and Martinez’ men have only fallen behind three times. They have shown more ability to overturn results on their travels, however, achieving four points from losing positions.

With opponents more naturally inclined to be proactive at home and push men forward, this would appear to suit Everton. They often display more defensive discipline on their travels too, with the full-backs not being as adventurous and ultimately leaving them looking much more organised. Indeed, they boast the second strongest defensive record in the league when on the road, conceding just one goal per game on average and earning clean sheets in half of their twelve matches.

Everton 2

One other interesting observation is the vast difference in the number of shots taken when at home compared to when away.

While there is actually very little difference in the amount of Great and Good Chances generated home and away, the number of Attempts taken is almost double at home. This points to the fact that Everton are more inclined to take on poor shooting opportunities, often because sides are positioned much deeper and make the route to goal harder. When away they appear to be more ruthless in their approach, most likely because they have more space to exploit on the counter attack:

Everton 3

Does this indicate that the team’s playing style is wrong?

Not totally, but it does suggest that they struggle to adapt their approach depending on the game state. Often Everton find it hard to turn over games with their slow build up and opposition teams are comfortable knowing that if they can get ahead a defensive shell will stand a good chance of holding up. Martinez tends to be reluctant to change his side’s tactical approach too, rarely throwing on additional forwards or taking a more direct approach, which can see them become one-dimensional and compounds the issue.

Away from home, where they can be a more counter-attack based side, they are far more effective. The side typically uses the pace of their forward players to good effect to gain a lead, before using their ability to keep the ball and consolidate effectively from there.

It is a finer balance at Goodison though, where fans are expecting them to dominate the ball and play attractive football. However, this often comes at the cost of defensive security.

If Everton seriously have any chance of making the top six come the end of the season, then being less open and keeping things tighter at the back is vital. This is especially true early on in games, as it is now six times in all that they have been behind in the opening half hour of home matches.

Of course the mental aspect of the game also needs to be considered.

Martinez and his players will surely feel a sense of growing pressure with each passing home game, due to the expectation on them to pick up points. If they open up and take risks to achieve this then there is naturally a greater chance of them scoring the first goal and going on to control the game. However, there is just as much chance that they are exploited on the counter and fall behind. Every time the latter happens, the pressure rises and visiting teams gain a significant edge.

When playing away from home, there is less of that initial pressure on the squad, with the players and staff able to go into matches knowing teams will not set up too defensively against them. Picking up wins is also less of a mental obstacle for the side, with a draw often considered a decent return from an away game in the Premier League. Draws have been a staple of their away results, which does give the side a bit of momentum and confidence. However, it also increases the need for wins at home just that little bit more and further adds to the pressure they feel at Goodison.

Overall on current form it looks difficult for Everton to mount a serious challenge for the top six if their approach does not change. However, if they are able to tighten up at home and keep themselves at 0-0 for longer, their chances will improve greatly, especially with their attacking threat. Their away form is already steady enough to rely on, but losing games at home is continually holding them back.

This season’s table is so tight that turning a few defeats into draws could make a big difference before all is said and done. A late tilt at the European places could still be on the cards, but would that be enough to put Roberto Martinez back in the good graces of the majority of club’s supporters?

For more in-depth team analysis, trading ideas, statistical modelling, proprietary data and unrivalled trading tools/execution, start your 30-day free trial of StrataBet today. 

Alec Payne (@Payney3)

What has gone wrong at Celtic?

This may seem like an odd question.

After all, Celtic are three points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership with a game in hand. They are also well placed in the Scottish Cup; with a quarter-final against mid-table Championship side Greenock Morton to come. Indeed, they might have progressed to the final of the League Cup too but for an early red card in the semi, yet Ronny Deila is under severe pressure.

Celtic have seemed to underperform constantly. The perceived difference in quality between them and the rest of Scottish football means that many people expect them to win the league at a canter, triumph in both cups and most importantly make at least the group stage of the Champions League every season.

The main issue for Deila appears to be the improvement of Aberdeen. In fact in 2014/15 Aberdeen actually had a better record against the other 10 teams in the Scottish Premiership before the title was won:

Celtic1

It is common to hear that since Rangers’ demotion Celtic do not have any genuine competition. However, this is clearly not true at the moment, with Aberdeen capable of taking points off Deila’s side as well as the others in the division. Already this season they have taken six points from Celtic and if they can replicate their form from the rest of 2014/15 against the other clubs they would have a great chance of pushing the Glasgow giants all the way.

One of the main issues for Celtic this term has been their apparent inability to compete in Europe.

Their catastrophic exit from the Champions League at the hands of Malmo in the final qualifying round saw them drop down into the Europa League. Here they faced a tough group composition in Ajax, Fenerbahçe and Molde, but failed to pick up a single victory, losing three and drawing three to finish bottom. In fact in all European games going back to November 2014 they have won just four of seventeen, with two of those coming against Icelandic part-timers Stjarnan. This is simply not good enough and is a clear reason why Deila is feeling the pressure.

Add to this Celtic’s spending power, which is another reason that many feel they really should be the dominant force in Scottish football. As a case in point, the January signing of Erik Sviatchenko for £1.75m was almost double what the other eleven Premiership teams have spent combined in the last five years!

Celtic2

So why have Celtic struggled so badly this season?

One thing the fans grumble about is Ronny Deila’s insistence on a 4-2-3-1 formation.

When used correctly this can be one of the more dominant tactics and is the standard for many of the top teams in Europe. However, many of the best often transition into a more fluid 4-3-3 when attacking, which is something Celtic rarely do.

Deila often relies on Leigh Griffiths to lead the line, but he is often an isolated figure and it is only his incredible recent form which has allowed him to hit 30 goals already this season (22 in the league). In comparison, Celtic’s second top scorer Tom Rogić has just six league goals.

The issue with Celtic’s domination of the ball is that it often allows the opposition time to drop into a defensive shell, giving very little space around the box and making it hard for The Hoops to break them down.

Most of the other teams in the Premiership – with the exception of Aberdeen and Hearts – tend to approach playing Celtic like a lower league team playing a higher division team in the cup would. This means they want to stay in the game as long as possible by allowing no space for them to break into. Celtic then typically resort to more direct balls into the box in the hope that Griffiths can get on the end of them.

As a result, Deila’s side do not have the same level of dominance you would expect for a team in their position, especially when at home. They have only scored more than three goals on four occasions at Parkhead this season (see some of the other top teams in Europe for comparative purposes below):

Celtic3

This shows that though Celtic are winning the vast majority of their home games they are still struggling to break teams down effectively.

They often experience a lot of stagnant possession as they keep the ball for the sake of it in unthreatening areas, which vastly inflates their %. However, this is not a true reflection of dominance or quality, as the opposition will very rarely press until Celtic reach their defensive third.

Having two holding midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 formation (usually Nir Bitton and Scott Brown) is largely to blame for this and also means they lose an extra attacking option higher up the pitch. Indeed, the abundance of attacking midfielders within the Celtic squad also has the potential to cause issues too. While Deila always plays at least three of these types, they have ten who can operate in these positions. Even with the team likely to play a lot of games over the season this could lead to several unhappy players if they do not rotate and it can impact on cohesion if they do.

Despite the unpopular formation, it looks hard to criticise Celtic for their defensive work.

Following the home defeat to Hamilton in October 2014 they went on to concede just 12 goals in the next 28 home Premiership games at Celtic Park. This is perhaps to be expected, with very few teams actively attacking them in Glasgow and most being ecstatic to leave with a 0-0 draw.

The issue seems to come when teams do attack them, though.

As Celtic rely on their full-backs to push very high by making overlapping runs on a constant basis they look for one of the central midfielders to drop into the space between the centre-backs. This makes a third man and one that can pick up and distribute the ball from deep.

However this rarely happens and instead if Celtic lose the ball they can get caught with eight of their men ahead of play. This isolates the central defenders; usually Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic, and can lead to problems against a solitary striker with pace. Simunovic has taken some time to settle and Boyata is error-prone, he has contributed either directly or indirectly to a number of opposition goals this season. It is a far cry from 14/15, when Celtic had Jason Denayer and Virgil van Dijk playing on a regular basis and when Craig Gordon had every right to feel safe in goal.

Deila expects his defenders to be comfortable on the ball and van Dijk often burst out of defence to start attacks when at the club, with the opposition not knowing who was supposed to be picking him up. Simunovic has the potential to do this, but Boyata is poor with the ball at his feet and tends to put his team in trouble when playing out from the back, often relying on his pace to recover his position and/or the ball after losing it.

Despite struggling to break teams down as much as would be expected and conceding cheap goals, the graph below shows Celtic’s over-performance in terms of goal difference. Using metrics from StrataBet we can see that Celtic should have scored just 52 goals from the shots they have taken, but in fact they have actually scored 66. Likewise they should have conceded 25 goals, but have only let in 21:

Celtic4

This level of over-performance is likely to be unsustainable and looks inflated due to the number of Attempts they have scored. This is further boosted by Celtic’s ratio at actually converting these Attempts. A conversion rate of 5.2% is not too outstanding, but the sheer volume of Attempts they have puts this into perspective:

Celtic5

So while Celtic have converted a large amount of chances that we would not normally expect them to, the number of Attempts they have sees this rate at a level which is not statistically significant (typically we would expect a conversion average of around 2.5%).

The fact that Deila’s team have registered so many Attempts is again perhaps to do with how other teams set up against them.

They have a lot of shots from areas that are not conducive to scoring goals, mainly due to not being able to get into better positions because of the number of defensive bodies ahead of them. They have still made the highest number of Great and Good chances combined at 198 (Aberdeen follow on 160) but the table below shows the ratio of Great and Good chances compared to Attempts:

Celtic6

If Celtic continue to shoot from range, they are likely to see a dip in conversion at some point.

Another issue for Deila this season has been his goalkeeper. Gordon has been left exposed continually and after picking up several honours last year his performances have seen him criticised quite severely in the press, with the general feeling being that his indecisiveness has cost Celtic on several occasions.

In defence of Gordon, though, we earlier suggested that we would have expected Celtic to have conceded around 5 goals more than they have. Part of this must be attributed to the goalkeeper, so we can also look at his save % as a rough measure:

Celtic7

This table shows the Celtic stopper behind only Neil Alexander of Hearts and Danny Ward/Scott Brown of Aberdeen (Ward was considered the best goalkeeper in Scotland during his loan spell until the middle of January). Gordon has made a high number of saves compared to the number of shots on target he has faced, with a league average of ~71%.

So where does this leave Celtic and what options are there for traders during the rest of the season?

In the short term it appears that there is actually very little wrong with Celtic on a fundamental level. They have over-performed in the league both offensively and defensively, but weak individual performances in important games have cost them.

They still need to find a way to draw the opposition out in order to be able to play the way they want, instead of having to play through nine or ten players camped inside of the final third.

Are they still likely to win the league?

The “smart money” seems to say so, yes.

Their best title odds are still as low as 1.08 in most places (meaning the bookmakers give them around 92.5% probability of winning the title). Aberdeen now sit three points further back after defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Monday, but are around 9.00 (~11% probability).

Aberdeen seem incredibly good value given their recent improvement against their title rivals, though when they meet again it will be at Parkhead. Celtic’s over-performance could see them slip slightly, while Aberdeen’s ability to concentrate on the league after exiting both cups should also be taken into consideration.

If Aberdeen continue to play to their capabilities we could see the champions of Scotland coming from outside of Glasgow for the first time since 1985.

Dave Willoughby (@donceno)

Does seasonality exist in corners?

In my recent blog Does seasonality exist in football? I looked into goal scoring rates by calendar month in the top four European leagues.

My conclusions were that there was evidence of seasonality, despite the modern day improvement in pitch conditions throughout the winter months, and that goals are scored at varying but repeatable rates throughout the season.

Taking this further, I investigated whether seasonality was also prevalent in corner kick production.

In this piece, I will look into the possibility of seasonality in corners and also investigate the relationship between corner kicks and goals scored.

The following graphic shows monthly corner rates compared to the league average in the top four European leagues over a period of five years, ten years and the current season so far.

For example, if the average corners per match in the English Premier League was 10.5 and the average figure for the month of April over the same period was 10.5, then this is 100% (exactly average):

Monthly Corner Rates

Although each league seems to follow its own pattern over both the five and ten year time periods, this seems to be league specific rather than similar across all four competitions. This leads me to conclude that generic catchall seasonality does not exist for corner kicks.

So if seasonality is not a factor in corner kick production, is there a relationship between corner kicks and goals scored?

If we think of goals scored and corner kicks as two possible outcomes of an attack, then I would think on a basic level there should be a relationship between the two.

There are obviously other eventualities of an attack that do not result in a goal or a corner, such as shots being blocked, defended or saved. Of course attacks can also break down without any shot output, with players being tackled or a poor final pass giving the ball back to the opposition.

If the outcome of an attack is a goal being scored then there cannot be a corner kick as well, so on one hand I would expect high scoring matches to produce lower than average corner kicks. Alternatively, if a match is producing a higher than normal amount of total attacks – perhaps in an open and free-flowing contest – then there is more scope for corners to be won, irrespective of how many goals are scored.

Tactics and style of play must also be a factor in corner kick production.

If a team sets out with natural wingers who are instructed to get to the by-line into crossing positions whenever they receive the ball, then they are naturally in better positions to win corners. With the introduction of StrataData, we are now collecting this type of information and beginning to understand how corners are won and which players are winning them.

The next graphic shows goals versus average and corners versus average numbers for the same four leagues over the same time period:

Goals v Corners

Looking at this graphic, the Bundesliga 1 plot shows no sign at all of a steady relationship between goals and corners, but there is some consensus in the other three leagues at least.

In the Spanish Primera and Italian Serie A there does appear to be a relationship, with the trends for both mirroring each other quite well. This would possibly suggest that when the league is going through a strong period of attacking play, then there are more goals and corners produced than average.

The English Premier League also shows some sign of this relationship too, with the corner rate rising above average during high goal spells from 2007/08 until 2011/12.

A possible explanation for corner kick production not mirroring the number of total goals being scored is the idea of Game State.

Game State reflects the position of each team in a match, with Game State 0 being when the game is level, -1 when a team is losing by a goal and +1 when a team is winning by a goal, etc.

The interesting thing here is that teams have unique corner and goal production rates within each state.

As one recent example, in Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-0 home defeat to Leicester City on January 13th in the English Premier League there were 24 corners, more than double the league average.

Tottenham produced 16 of these corners with the match at 0-0, with Leicester scoring their winning goal in the 83rd minute. This is one such occasion where corner production does not align with goal production, highlighting the varying factors at play.

In conclusion, and unlike with goals scored, I have not seen any evidence to suggest seasonality exists in corner kick production. It is my belief that there are too many factors involved in generating corner kicks and that they often conflict.

However, I still believe a relationship must exist between corners and goals and as a result this is an area that I will investigate further in my next blog.

Mark McAfee

Is there any hope for Aston Villa?

Aston Villa sit eight points adrift of safety at the foot of the table heading into the final three months of the season. The club opted against supporting manager Remi Garde by making new signings in the January transfer window, while all of their relegation rivals entered the market at least three times each.

So do this proud club, who have never been relegated from the English Premier League, stand any chance of survival in the remaining thirteen matches?

A quick glance at the table tells a very brief story of Villa’s struggles and one very notable thing stands out: their lack of goals. They have scored just 20 times in 25 league games, comfortably lower than any other side in the division. Indeed, only three other teams average less than a goal per game and it is no surprise that they are also embroiled in the relegation battle.

Is the problem poor finishing or a lack of creativity in the first place?

In terms of chances created, Aston Villa find themselves at the bottom of the pile once more. They have fashioned just 19 Great Chances all season. Naturally, the fewer chances you make the harder it is to score, but this figure is alarmingly low compared to the four sides directly above them, who all carve out Great Chances with significantly more regularity:

1

This lack of creativity immediately raises a red flag about their already slim chances of avoiding the drop. Another danger sign is that of these same five teams, they also find themselves with fewest Good Chances created. Unfortunately this is unlikely to change anytime soon, with no new signings arriving to raise creativity.

Even when Villa do create chances their conversion rate is poor, with 3.2 openings typically required to put the ball in the net. Of the same clutch of teams only Newcastle are finishing chances at a lower rate. Steve McClaren’s side are now far more creative, though, so can afford to be a bit less ruthless:

2

So far all things point towards relegation, but is there any cause for hope at all?

The short answer at this stage would be “not much”.

Since Garde took over in November the club’s form has improved, with the Frenchman losing just six of fourteen games. He might have only won twice, but it is important to remember that this was a squad who had lost seven in a row when he took over. So this is encouraging, especially with other teams at the bottom still going through poor patches of form.

Villa have improved defensively as well, with three of the four teams directly above them in the league having conceded more goals.

By tightening up, they have ensured that they remain in games, giving their forward players an opportunity to earn maximum points with a single goal at the other end. Clean sheets remain a rarity, though, which is an issue for a shot-shy team. They have secured just five all season, but with three secured in their last five matches they are noticeably harder to break down under the new manager.

It is also worth stating that they do a better job of preventing chances from being created in the first place compared to those around them, which is definitely cause for some optimism:

3

Another major thing that goes against Villa in the remaining fixtures is that complete lack of investment in the playing squad in the January transfer window that we discussed earlier.This may be encouraging, but it is not enough on its own to suggest that they have a genuine chance of staying up. The eight-point gap remains the key issue with just a third of the season remaining. Although it does not look insurmountable on paper, no team has ever clawed back such a margin to survive at this stage of the season.

All four of the sides above them spent money to strengthen their options, but Garde finds himself with the same squad that started the season. The only “new” arrival is Aly Cissokho, who was recalled from loan and has featured regularly since returning to Villa Park.

On the plus side they will not have to spend time bedding in new players, but if the squad was struggling before, there is only a small chance of them improving enough through training and tactical adjustments alone.

Their schedule for the rest of the season is fairly arduous too, although they do have crucial home matches against Bournemouth and Newcastle to look forward to:

4

In comparison to the others around them it appears that the already bleak outlook for Aston Villa shows no sign of changing, with a late run to avoid the drop increasingly unlikely with every passing week.

It seems that the slight upturn in form under Remi Garde may just be delaying the inevitable, with the club still destined for life in the English Championship next season based on their current metrics. Villa’s inefficiency in front of goal remains the most prominent signal of their impending drop and outweighs their recent defensive improvement significantly.

So, after all of this, is there any hope for Aston Villa?

It seems not…

Alec Payne

How important is the first chance in football?

If you are a regular reader of StrataBlog then you will be very familiar with our concept of chances when discussing data collection in football.

In previous pieces we have explained what our definitions of chances are and how we record them, while also demonstrating the various conversion rates of the different categories.

We currently display three of these categories in StrataBet, but actually collect fifteen different levels of chance in-house. The three categories are broken down as follows:

Great Chances are situations that players would be expected to score from.

Good Chances are situations that players could score from but would not necessarily be expected to.

Attempts are situations that players would not typically be expected to score from.

A recent trend our analysts had picked up on was that the first goal scored results from the first chance of note in the contest.

This means that they had seen the first Great Chance or Good Chance in a game typically leading to the first goal. Attempts have an average conversion rate of just 2% and accordingly we do not consider them as noteworthy.

The observation appeared a worthwhile one to investigate from a trading perspective, though it seemed implausible that the first chance in a match would have a higher conversion rate of any that followed:

1

Using data collected on this season’s Premier League it is clear that the conversion rate of Great Chances/Good Chances is actually lower for the first and second chances in a game than for those that follow. Indeed, conversion rates increase as you progress through the first five chances in a game. This could be explained by the fact that players settle into their stride as a game unfolds, but there are undoubtedly numerous other factors to consider as well.

Unsurprisingly, reducing the scope of investigation to just Great Chances yields similar results:

2

Although we are dealing with progressively fewer events here, the relatively poor conversion rate of early chances remains and the fifth Great Chance in a match is converted to a goal 9% more than the first on average (compared to 8% more when considering Good Chances as well).

Given that these were relatively disappointing (and indeed potentially blog-stopping) findings, we thought we should take the investigation a little further to see if we could find any valuable information relating to the first chance in a game.

The next step is to see if having the first Great/Good Chance in a match impacts upon a Premier League teams’ probability of winning:

4

The importance of having the first chance in a game is very clear: home teams who have the first chance go on to win 48.7% of the time and avoid defeat 81.3% of the time.

Furthermore, away teams who have the first chance go on to win 45.1% of the time and avoid defeat 70.8% of the time.

There is an expected drop in the numbers from home to away here, which is repeated when we look at Great Chances on their own:

3

If a home team has the first Great Chance in a match they go on to win an enormous 54.5% of matches and avoid defeat 80.4% of the time, while an away team goes on to win 48.1% of matches and avoid defeat 76.9% of the time in the same scenario.

Given that the conversion rate of Great Chances alone jumps to an average of 44.8% compared to 27.4% for Great/Good Chances combined, it is no real surprise to see this increase in win probability, as many of these instances will lead to a team taking a 1-0 lead.

Similarly, when there is no Great Chance in a match it is not surprising that a draw becomes much more likely, with 50% of such games ending in stalemate. We must acknowledge here that the sample size is significantly smaller, but the finding is interesting nonetheless.

At the most basic level this gives you something other than goals to look out for when trading football and could explain why the market can spike off the back of chances alone, regardless of their outcome.

When using first chances instead of first goals as an indicator of match outcome, there remains the potential of bias in the findings due to team strength. A natural assumption would be that the better teams have the first Great/Good Chances more often than not and would inherently have a higher chance of winning anyway.

This is the case to some degree, but by no means as clear-cut as you might expect:

5

Astoundingly tenth-placed Stoke City are comfortable leaders in this table, having the first chance in a game an enormous 74% of the time and typically creating it within the first fifteen-minute segment.

Fourth-placed Arsenal are less surprising runners-up, though Liverpool ranking alongside Manchester City and Crystal Palace matching Leicester City have to rank as minor shocks.

Looking further down it is also a little jarring to see Tottenham Hotspur in mid-table, despite Mauricio Pochettino’s men having now made a case to be considered as genuine title contenders.

Other teams who look to be out of position in a quick eye test are AFC Bournemouth, Sunderland, West Ham United and Chelsea.

Things become a little more as we might expect when we narrow the focus down to Great Chances alone, with title favourites Manchester City leading the way:

6

There are still some surprises here too, though: Stoke remain impressively high and Watford jump nine places to match Tottenham and Southampton in creating the first Great Chance in a game 57% of the time.

At the opposite end of the table the quartet of teams who look significantly out of place are Manchester United, West Ham United, Crystal Palace and Everton.

These final two tables can give some good cues for trading in the first team to score, time of first goal and first goalscorer markets. In the context of this piece, though, they primarily indicate that the first chance in a football game remains significant to the outcome, regardless of the teams involved.

In the near future we will dive deeper into the importance of first chances for trading, taking a close look at the players who tend to have them and exploring their individual conversion rates.

Rich Huggan

How unpredictable is the English Championship?

The English Championship has a reputation for being a very competitive league where it is particularly difficult to predict the correct scores of games.

There is generally quite a lot of parity across the board and while you of course still get favourites and underdogs the gap is rarely as large as it is in the top divisions of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

As an example, Middlesbrough were heavily backed for promotion in pre-season and have performed well, even going on an impressive nine-game run where they did not concede a solitary goal. This run was surprisingly broken by Bristol City, a team sitting third-bottom at the time. City actually managed to complete the double over Aitor Karanka’s high-flyers in the process.

The Championship has been like this for some years now and in 2012/13 the gap between relegated Peterborough and promoted Hull City was just 25 points. To compare, even this strangest of Premier League seasons already sees the gap between Newcastle United (third-bottom) and Leicester City (top) at 26 points.

To expand on this we can estimate some level of supremacy by looking at the Asian Handicap lines in the Championship.

In only 22 of 340 games played so far has the AH line been at least -1 or +1, which is just 6.5% of the time. The Premier League has already seen the same level of supremacy in 54 of 223 games, which is a relatively enormous 24% of the time in comparison.

Using the Brier Score method, I am now going to look at how many “shocks” have occurred in the Championship this season. The Brier Score uses a function that observes the accuracy of probabilistic predictions.

One example would be Middlesbrough’s recent game against Nottingham Forest.

Here Middlesbrough were backed to win at 1.67, the draw was 3.80 and Nottingham Forest were at 6.00. This gives probabilities of 58.53% for Middlesbrough, 25.72% for the draw and 16.29% for Nottingham Forest when we remove the over round from the equation.

Forest actually won the match 1-0, giving a Brier Score of 0.58532 + 0.25722 + (1 – 0.1629)2 = 1.109.

The Brier Score can range from anywhere between 0 and 2 with 0.667 as the average – anything above this is considered as a surprise result. Indeed, Forest winning at Middlesbrough actually ranks as the second most surprising result of the season, behind Birmingham City’s 3-0 win away at Derby County.

Using this I have created the table below to draw some conclusions about certain teams:

BrierScores-2

The first thing to note is that only two teams have an overall score of over 0.70, namely Birmingham City and Leeds United.

Birmingham are now one of the strongest away teams due to being one of the most difficult to break down. Gary Rowett has done an outstanding job of organising them, so far as to have them challenging for a play-off place. The odds often do not favour Brum but they have a better away record than every team in the division other than Hull City and Ipswich Town.

The interesting thing about Leeds is that the majority of their score comes from them not winning home games in which they are favourites. To highlight just how bad they have been at home, between the beginning of March and end of October, Blackburn Rovers actually had more wins at Elland Road than Leeds did. They won both of their visits there while Leeds only managed one solitary win during that entire period.

Brighton & Hove Albion also have a high Brier Score for their away record. This is mainly due to the surprise factor they had at the start of the season when they came from nowhere to go on a 21-match unbeaten run. Though they have stuttered a little bit since then they remain third in the table.

Another notable figure in the table is Rotherham United’s low 0.471 when away from home. They are rarely expected to pick up points in such circumstances and having lost 10/14 on the road this is consistent with few shock results. The same can be applied to Bolton Wanderers, Charlton Athletic and MK Dons.

Unsurprisingly the lowest score is attributed to Hull City for their home form, with Steve Bruce’s side earning just a 0.428. They have won 11 of their 14 home games, losing just once, and will almost always be favourites at the KC Stadium. However, of the aforementioned 22 occasions when one team had Asian Handicap supremacy of -1/+1 or more, Hull at home accounted for just two of these (Middlesbrough at home made up nine).

In conclusion, using the Brier Score we can see that the English Championship is not quite the mystery it used to be and that “shock results” do not happen on such a frequent basis these days. Perhaps it is becoming more predictable?

Dave Willoughby