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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2 thoughts on “Catching teams on a run of good form

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      I am a little late to the game here, but I only just discovered this post. This question of opposition variability is something I have often thought about at wistful moments in my years of partisan football watching and illustrious championship manager careers.

      The aspect that would be difficult to incorporate is a qualifier concerning the type of results teams have achieved in their recent form. Essentially what is discussed in the penultimate paragraph. I think that there are some other facets to this:

      A lower ranked team that has recently achieved a hard fought DDW against the top three may playing better (i.e. in better form) than the same side getting WLW against other lower ranked teams but maybe doing so unconvincingly. The former description would certainly feel like a more difficult opponent to face – but maybe this overglorifies the “top” teams.

      A possible caveat to the finding that Man Utd and Chelsea face teams in better form: The teams they play may have a boost in form simply from not having had to play Man Utd or Chelsea in the previous 6 matches since Man Utd and Chelsea would be expected to win most games in the Premier League before kick off regardless of form. The Newcastle result seems to go against this – but maybe this is a reflection of the often cited unpredictability of Championship football results.

      I heard it said previously that form in football is somewhat of an illusion and it is difficult to prove that it even exists (in terms of results anyway) over a season because there isn’t enough data for robust statistical analysis. However, is certainly true is that teams can go through more vulnerable perioids – like if key players are simultaneously injured/suspended or in the Portsmouth scenario given.

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