Catching teams on a run of good form

Over the years I’ve heard many fans bemoaning the fact that their club appear to play teams just as they come into a good run of form. Conversely it’s also good to catch clubs whilst they are on a poor run of form. I think many clubs in the Championship took advantage of a Portsmouth side in turmoil earlier this season as they got to grips with the division. Playing Portsmouth in mid-August rather than in October/November was always going to be preferable for Championship clubs.

With this in mind I thought it would be interesting to take a look at which clubs in last year’s Premier League and Championship tended to play clubs whilst on good (or bad) runs of form. In order to do this I calculated the form of each club that each team faced throughout the season (form was calculated based on the team’s last six matches). The following table displays the average points of their opponents throughout the season. To give it some context:

  • 9 points – WWWLLL or WWDDDL
  • 8 points – WWDDLL
  • 7 points – WWDLLL

Premier League (2009/2010)

Team Av. Pos
Manchester United 8.969 2
Chelsea 8.813 1
Blackburn Rovers 8.625 10
Wolverhampton Wanderers 8.625 15
West Ham United 8.594 17
Bolton Wanderers 8.545 14
Arsenal 8.344 3
Aston Villa 8.313 6
Everton 8.303 8
Birmingham City 8.226 9
Liverpool 8.219 7
Tottenham Hotspur 8.156 4
Stoke City 8.156 11
Manchester City 8.063 5
Hull City 8.031 19
Portsmouth 7.968 20
Wigan Athletic 7.750 16
Sunderland 7.625 13
Burnley 7.375 18
Fulham 7.281 12

It’s interesting to see that it’s the top two of last season Manchester United and Chelsea who appeared to hit teams whilst on a good run of form. The other notable result from above is Fulham’s. Whilst Manchester United’s opposition were on average on a run of form of WWDDDL, Fulham’s opposition were generally on a run of form of WWDLLL. Perhaps Fulham (and by association Roy Hodgson) had such an excellent season last year due to the fact they often played teams whilst they were at a low ebb.

Championship (2009/2010)

Team Av. Pos
Nottingham Forest 8.725 3
Sheffield Wednesday 8.700 22
Derby County 8.625 14
Coventry City 8.575 19
West Bromwich Albion 8.525 2
Crystal Palace 8.500 21
Bristol City 8.450 10
Middlesbrough 8.400 11
Reading 8.375 9
Blackpool 8.350 6
Swansea City 8.300 7
Doncaster Rovers 8.300 12
Scunthorpe United 8.225 20
Queens Park Rangers 8.175 13
Cardiff City 8.075 4
Leicester City 8.025 5
Preston North End 7.975 17
Plymouth Argyle 7.950 23
Newcastle United 7.750 1
Peterborough United 7.650 24
Ipswich Town 7.625 15
Barnsley 7.550 18
Watford 7.500 16
Sheffield United 7.400 8

The above shows that both Peterborough and Plymouth had awful seasons, both being relegated despite playing sides whilst they were on poor runs of form. Sheffield Wednesday were also relegated, but did so whilst playing clubs who were on decent runs of form at the time.

Champions Newcastle United took advantage of the clubs they played and ultimately ran away with the division, and perhaps Sheffield United’s poor start to this season can be explained by the fact that last season they tended to play clubs on poor runs of form.

Ultimately I think the above results are inconclusive. Whilst it’s true that some clubs are unlucky and catch other sides whilst they are on good runs of form it does appear that this evens itself up over a season. The difference between gaining an extra point or so in the last six games or not isn’t that great. There are also plenty of other factors that come into play, it may be that your opposition have only scored a good run of form recently because they’ve played sides near the bottom of the table – or perhaps they’ve been lucky enough to play sides on poor runs of form.

I still believe that a League table is almost certainly the best way to rate or rank clubs at the end of a season, however there are so many other variables involved such as a change of managers, change of personnel, condition of pitch, distance travelled etc. that it’s difficult to say that a league is totally “fair”, but it certainly the fairest system we’ve got.

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