February 23, 2018

Football Data Analysis: The Best League in the World – Friday 23rd February

The Best League In The World is English, but it’s not the Premier League

With Premier League teams performing well in the Champions League after a prolonged spell of being lightweights in that competition, there’s a re-found confidence in the claims that England’s top tier might actually be the best league in the world. Whatever that means.
Everyone knows it’s an empty statement whose definition can change depending on what’s needed, but that’s part of the fun of it. It’s a bar argument, not an objective standard.
Anyway, the Premier League is over-talked about in an over-saturated market. Let’s talk about the real Best League In The World, the Championship.
This is a truly competitive league, as it always is, not far off a competently organised crapshoot. This is the league organised by the difference between the number of shots on target they take and concede per game. The colour and size is the difference between the rate at which they score and concede shots (light and big = on fire), but we’ll touch on that later.

There’s some separation amongst the league here, of course, although the ‘play-off breakaway’ and the ‘midtable peloton’ are concentrated together quite closely.

But if we compare that to the same graph for the Premier League:

We do, of course, have a clumping of about half of the twenty teams, but the league is far more stretched at the top end than in England’s second tier. (And, yes, you’re seeing that right, Manchester United’s numbers are that mediocre).

Alright, in terms of stories, the Championship shapes up similarly to its bigger sibling. The title is probably not up for grabs, Wolves eleven points clear of second-place with a big pack chasing the second automatic promotion spot and the play-offs, and another pack fighting to avoid relegation.

The immediate fight for second looks to be between Cardiff, Aston Villa, Derby, and (possibly) Fulham.

You may remember from the first graph that Derby and Fulham weren’t in the leading pack for teams based on their shots in the box difference. Looking at this cumulatively over the course of the season makes for interesting reading. 

On this metric, Fulham have pulled away from Derby in the past month or so, while Cardiff and Aston Villa were stagnant for a good ten games or so after good starts.

There’s been some talk about Aston Villa being the form team of the Championship at the moment, and looking at their rolling conversion difference we can see that there was a recent streak where they were scoring at a rate twenty percentage points higher than their opponents, and managed to sustain that average for at least three games in a row.

It’s since dipped down into a normal range, but that will be a strong part of their recent winning streak. Also of interest is Derby…

Derby’s average conversion difference is around five percentage points higher than their opponents, which is a similar level to a couple of other teams at the top of the league, Wolves and Villa.

(Sidenote: Ipswich also have this level of conversion difference, which is lucky for them considering they’re conceding, on average 2.5 more shots in the box than they’re taking every game.)

It’s interesting, on the Derby front, that the prolonged peak around games 7-15 coincides with a slump in the cumulative shots in the box before they levelled out.

Results in this period were mediocre during the shots slump but they put on a run of four wins in a row from games 11 to 14, so it seems likely that this conversion spurt gained them a few points during that period which they may or may not have been fortunate to get.

The Rams had a second run of four back-to-back victories from games 20 to 23, and, surprise surprise, this is when the biggest conversion peak took place.

Long story short, I wouldn’t be wholly surprised if Derby dropped away significantly from the second place running.

There’s a lot more that could be said about the Championship this season, but as time is limited, let’s just spare a thought for Birmingham City, the team who are scoring just under 6% of their shots. The general average is 10-11%.

Their conversion rate graph is just sad.

Good luck, Birmingham.

By @EveryTeam_Mark

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