Stupid football statistics
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A common narrative during the closing stages of football seasons is the importance of matches between the sides at the bottom of the table. I thought I’d take a statistical look at those claims. I’ve done this by taking a look at the record of clubs in the Premier League over the last fifteen years who have finished in 17th and 18th position. I have examined where each of the clubs have picked up points; this analysis effectively shows us where survival is secured.
Most pundits will continually re-iterate the importance of “beating those sides around you” as being the key to staying up, but that doesn’t appear to be true. To take an example, in the games between the bottom five sides in the Premier League the team that finishes 18th has picked up an average of 11.3 points against the other four sides, whilst the team in 17th picked up a less impressive 11.2 points. If it really were these games between the five bottom sides that decided relegation then we’d expect the side in 17th to be comfortably ahead of the team in 18th in this measure. They are not.
The above bar chart shows the side that survived (17th) in blue with the relegated side (18th) in pink. As you can see the relegated side managed to pick up a better average over other relegated sides than the team in 17th. The team in 18th on average picks up higher scores against sides in the bottom five of the table (those in the “relegation battle”).
It’s only when you start looking at results against the bottom half/top half and Champions League places that you start to see the difference with the team in 17th on average having a much better record against top half sides than the side relegated in 18th.
In summary, it does appear that the relegation battle is not won or lost in “six pointers” between relegation strugglers, instead it’s the teams near the bottom of the table who can pick up a scrappy draw at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge who ultimately survive.
As always I welcome any comments. These sorts of statistics shouldn’t really be looked at in isolation. After all, it includes seasons where the team in 17th isn’t in a relegation battle with the team in 18th at all, or where an already relegated side goes on a good run of form near the end of the season in meaningless games and finishes 18th. Nevertheless I feel it still worthwhile to show the results to see what you make of them.