February 10, 2016

Variety is the spice of life and the Premier League title race – Wednesday 10th February by @EveryTeam_Mark

Suddenly, it’s a four-horse title race. Leicester’s win against Manchester City has finally injected true belief of the masses to their cause; City themselves, along with Arsenal, will never truly cease to be contenders until they well and truly fall away; and lowly Spurs are a lilywhite dark horse, making their way up the field along the outside. But has the belief in Leicester peaked too soon?

With 13 games to go, a whole third of a season, there is still plenty of time for an awful lot to happen at the top of the table. Statsbomb’s James Yorke recently wrote an article detailing several things that have gone right for Leicester this season which, especially when combined, give something of the air of luck.

As James notes in the piece, their conversion rate is still at a high level, over 14% of all of their shots are going in (the league average is just under 10%). They’re also conceding very few goals from the number of shots they concede, their ‘opposition conversion rate’ is a tiny bit under 8%. Now, it’s not unusual for the teams at the top to have conversion rates in their favour. Part of this is because they should create better shots (that are more likely to go in) and keep opponents to worse quality shots. Another part of it is that if they are getting the rub of the green slightly, then that will be helping them up the table. Table 1

Leicester certainly seem to be having a good time of things. They have the best difference between the percentage of their shots they score and the percentage of their opponents’ that they concede. On a very unsophisticated level then, for every 100 shots that are involved in Leicester matches (and there’s around 25 shots in an average match, by the way), they benefit from 6 goals, purely through their conversion difference. As said before, part of this will be due to skill, part due to other factors.

Just because they currently have conversion levels in their favour doesn’t necessarily mean that they will revert back to a more average level, however. In the top 4s of the past 3 seasons, 2 teams managed to finish the whole season with a higher conversion difference (although both in the same season, Manchester United (7.05%) and Chelsea (6.77%) in 2012-13). Each title winner in those three seasons finished with a conversion difference of at least 4.6% (United 7.05% in 12-13; Manchester City 4.62% in 13-14; Chelsea 5.5% in 14-15), though a high conversion difference doesn’t guarantee the title.

Leicester’s conversion rates could stay at these levels then, and it’s hard to tell if they’ll change or not, and to what extent they will if it does. Even with Manchester City, an outlier at the other end of the top 4 spectrum, it’s hard to tell.

The lowest season-ending conversion difference in the top 4 for the past 3 seasons is 1.95%, by Manchester United last year. However, while that’s the lowest for the top 4, 5th place in those seasons has brought a -0.06% last year for Spurs and a -2.87% in 2012-13, again for Spurs (although that season saw Andres Villas-Boas’ trigger happy team tactics, which will have brought their own conversion rate down a little).

It seems like City’s conversion rates could either improve, and bring them a few extra points in the title race, or stay the same level, in which case they may have to be looking over their shoulder. Unfortunately for City fans (and bettors) it also seems difficult to say which it will be.

By @EveryTeam_Mark

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