The current English Premier League season has been one of the most atypical seasons since its inaugural season in 1992 for several facts. In the beginning of the season, Leicester City was the last unbeaten club of the league until the 7th round. Later in the 13th round, the club astonished everyone by taking the lead and after a few ups and downs in the league table, the club took the lead again in the 23th round and since then the club only widened its advantage in relation to the second place. Some experts have been comparing this surprising campaign with Blackburn’s league title in 1994/1995. This comparison can be made in an extent that both clubs are not frequently fighting for the EPL title or even playing the league. However, Leicester’s current campaign is by far dissimilar than Blackburn’s campaigns in the 1990’s due to the fact that, so far, it was found a strong negative correlation between the final table position and a club’s wages expenditure, which means that the clubs that most spend on player’s wage are more likely to figure between the top positions of the EPL. However, looking back in the 1990’s, Blackburn Rovers had a massive investment to buy and pay huge wages to the best players in the market at that time, which allowed the club to fight for the title, as the correlation indicates. On the other hand, Leicester City has not bought the best players in the market and also has one of the lowest wage expenditure in the league. Indicating that Leicester’s current campaign is by far different than the previous champions of the EPL.
The major threat of Leicester’s feat is also performing a surprising campaign. One of the most traditional clubs in England, Tottenham Hotspur, had never won and had never finished between the top 3 positions of the Premier League. Moreover, the club qualified only once for the UEFA Champions League. Indicating that the current season is heading to be the best of the club’s history in the EPL.
Another fact that makes this season interesting is that Chelsea has been performing the worst defending title campaign in the history of the EPL. So far, the club is in the 10th position, being placed behind the 7th place of Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United in the 1995/1996 and 2013/2014 seasons respectively.
Also, Bournemouth is one of the few English clubs that debuts in the 1st Tier of English Football playing the EPL. The other clubs are Swindon Town (1992/1993), Barnsley (1997/1998), Wigan Athletic (2005/2006), Reading (2006/2007), and Hull City (2008/2009). However, none of them lasted long in the EPL and Bournemouth still has a chance of being relegated, but the current gap of possible eight points between Bournemouth and the 18th place should be enough to assure the club in the English Premier League.
Another unusual fact that is occurring this season is the high threat of relegation of Aston Villa. The club has been finishing the league placed in the bottom half of the table since the 2011/2012 season and the fact that makes this situation distinctive is that the club is one of the seven clubs which have played all the EPL seasons along with Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur. The last time that a club which played the inaugural season of the Premier League and was relegated after never being relegated was more than 10 years ago with Southampton being relegated in the 2004/2005 season.
Nevertheless, there are still a considerable number of games to go and for most of the clubs, there are seven rounds to play until the end of the season. In addition, none of the facts listed above are defined yet. Hence, in order to check if these interesting facts may happen in the end of the current season. A similar approach made on the Bundesliga fixtures was taken to analyse the behaviour of each position in the league during the past 12 years and also forecast how the season may finish according to the past seasons.
This analysis measures how the motivation of clubs for being fighting for a significant position in the league (Title, UEFA Champions League, and against Relegation) might affect the level of difficulty of the next fixtures of the league, comparing to those clubs which are not fighting for a substantial position anymore. For instance, playing against a club which is fighting against relegation is harder than play against a mid-table club which is stronger but has less motivation to achieve a significant spot? And how this can affect the final table position?
Thus, in order to measure the performance of these clubs which are highly motivated with those which are less motivated, an analysis in the past 12 seasons identified how many points a club usually is ahead (Relegation) or behind (Title and UCL) in each of the seven remaining rounds of the season to still have a condition to fight for one of these three objectives until the last round of the championship.
The analysis found that in the fight for the title, the maximum difference of points that the 1st place had in relation to the 2nd place in the 31st round of the season which both clubs were disputing the title until the last round was eight points.
With more spots available to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, the fight for this spots seems to be tighter than the fight for the title in the 31st round of the season, perhaps due to there are usually more clubs fighting for these spots. However, as the number of spots available diminish in throughout the rounds, the fight for UCL seems to loosen compared the fight for the title, with three points of difference between the 4th and the 5th place in the last round compared to two points difference in the title fight
Similarly, it was found that in the fight against relegation, there is a related pattern than the UCL fight in terms of points difference in the remaining rounds of the season
Thus, once the thresholds of competition of each significant spot were identified, the analysis split the league objectives into clusters:
1. Title: Clubs that are fighting for the title, and are highly motivated to win matches;
2. UCL: Clubs that are fighting to qualify for UEFA Champions League, and are highly motivated to win matches;
3. Relegation: Clubs that are fighting against relegation, and are highly motivated to win matches;
4. Quiet: Clubs that are not fighting for a significant position in the league, and perhaps have less motivation to win matches than the first three clusters. However, this cluster in encompassed by clubs in the middle table only;
5. Champion: This cluster is composed of the club which wins the league before the last round, and perhaps has less motivation to win matches than the first three clusters;
6. Qualified UCL: This cluster is composed of clubs which achieve the qualification for UCL before the end of the season and also have no chance to win the title, and perhaps have less motivation to win matches than the first three clusters;
7. Relegated: This cluster is composed of clubs that are relegated before the end of the season, and perhaps have less motivation to win matches than the first three clusters.
Looking at these clusters in the past 12 seasons, most of the clusters faced each other in the last seven rounds of the seasons. While some of the clusters faced each other several times, some other clusters did not play against each other. However, looking at the table below the analysis can conclude that:
• Title cluster: Indeed won more games against most of the clusters with the exception of playing away against clubs of the same cluster and the UCL Cluster, which can be considered the toughest opponents;
• UCL Cluster: When playing at home, won most of their games against most of the clusters, with the exception of games against Qualified UCL. However, the sample is small comparing to other samples and it might be expected to follow the same logic as the other clusters with a greater sample. When playing away, the clubs from this sample lost most of their games against clubs from the Title Cluster and the same cluster, which van be considered the toughest opponents, whilst won most of their games against clubs from a lower performance cluster or less motivation;
• Relegation Cluster: When playing at home, lost most of their games against the Title Cluster and Qualified UCL, and also won and lost the same number of games against the UCL Cluster, indicating a balance within both clusters in this situation. In addition, this cluster won most of their home matches against clubs from clusters with lower motivation. When playing away, their performance drop, and against clusters with a significant sample size, it lost most of their games against all clusters;
• Quiet Cluster: When playing at home, this cluster lost most of their games against clubs with a better performance and higher motivation. Also, had a balanced performance against the Qualified UCL clubs. Furthermore, when playing away, just won most of their games against clubs already relegated;
• Champion Cluster: All samples are small and it is hard to make a conclusion. However, looking at their points ratio before (74.7%) and after (59.8%) winning the championship, it indicates that a club after winning the league decreases performance;
• Qualified UCL: Apart from its outstanding performance against the Quiet Cluster when playing at home, the clubs from this cluster performs well when playing away against clubs with lower performance and higher motivation;
• Relegated: The clubs from this cluster are the clubs of the sample with poorer performance and lesser motivation, which resulted in the cluster losing most of their games in any situation against all other clusters
This analysis shows the probability (table below) of each result to happen during the last 7 rounds of an EPL season. Thus, applying these probabilities in the following rounds might provide an accurate forecast of how the current season might finish.
As there are balanced probabilities in some cases, there will be two forecasts to check how the season might end. The first considers the highest probability in all cases and is called “Best Case Scenario”. The second forecast is called “Worst Case Scenario” and considers the highest probability when the probability is not balanced, and the second highest probability when the probability is balanced. Both forecasts follow a chronological order of the remaining rounds of the season due to some of the rounds are anticipated while some others are postponed. Both scenarios began with the current league table below with the defined clusters.
1. Best Case Scenario
In this scenario, in order to analyse which club might have an advantage or disadvantage in the next rounds, it was considered only the most probable results to happen according to the past performance analysis, and when the probability is balanced, the best result for the home team is considered in this case. Looking at this scenario round by round it is expected that the league fixtures might finish (Round by round simulation in Appendix 1):
• Leicester might win the league in the 36th round with seven points ahead of Tottenham Hotspur. However, at the end of the season, this gap might shrink to four points. Also, The Spurs might have its best campaign by finishing the league in 2nd and qualifying for UCL in the 35th round.
• The fight for the last two spots for the UCL might remain thrilling until the last round. Manchester City may overcome Arsenal in the 37th round and finish the league in the 3rd position, whilst Arsenal possibly will finish the league with only one point ahead West Ham. Manchester United may possibly fight until the match against West Ham between rounds 37 and 38 playing the postponed game from the 35th round;
• The fight against relegation is expected to be exciting apart for the Aston Villa’s relegation in the 34th round. Newcastle and Sunderland have a favourable schedule and they might shrink their gap in relation to Norwich and Crystal Palace which seem to have a disadvantage in the league fixtures. However, both may not escape from relegation. On the other hand, Norwich may escape in the 37th round and Crystal Palace in the last round;
• Chelsea might end the season in the 9th position alongside Everton and Stoke City. In addition, Bournemouth might have a considerable campaign finishing in the 12th position, but still not enough to overcome the best rookie campaign of the EPL achieved by Reading in 2006/2007 season when the club finished the league in the 8th position with 55 points.
2. Worst Case Scenario
In this scenario, in order to analyse which club might have an advantage or disadvantage in the next rounds, it was considered the second most probable result to happen when the probabilities were balanced, and the most probable result when the probabilities were unbalanced according to the past performance analysis. Looking at this scenario round by round it is expected that the league might finish (Round by round simulation in Appendix 2):
• Leicester might win the league in the 36th round with 10 points ahead of Arsenal, which may take the second position from Tottenham in the 34th round and remain in second until the end of the season. Also, Both clubs might qualify for UCL in the 36th round;
• The last spot of the UCL might be filled by Manchester City in the 37th round. In the same round, Chelsea might achieve the 5th position and finish the season at this position and save a negative record of having the worst campaign defending the title;
• In the relegation zone, the bottom three clubs may not show enough strength to reach Norwich. Aston Villa might be relegated in the 34th round and Newcastle United and Sunderland may be relegated in the 37th round. The points difference between them and the 17th place might be wider at the end of the season than the current gap;
• Manchester United may possibly repeat its worth campaign in the EPL and finish in 7th whilst the rookie Bournemouth might not achieve the best rookie campaign in the history of the EPL.
Looking at both scenarios, Leicester City has a great chance to be the champion of this season achieving more than 80 points. Also, the current top 4 clubs might finish in the top 4 positions with Tottenham in front of Arsenal and Manchester City in the first scenario and Arsenal in front of Tottenham and Manchester City in the second scenario. In both cases, Tottenham seems to have its best EPL campaign in this season. On the other side of the table, both scenarios point that the current 3 bottom clubs will be relegated. However, in the first case scenario, the fight to escape from relegation might be very exciting whereas in the second scenario it might not be as excited as the first scenario. In addition, it seems hard to Bournemouth achieve the best rookie campaign of the season while at the same time the club apparently has no risks of being relegated. Last, Chelsea has a good chance of finishing the season within the top 7 clubs due to most of the club’s following games might be played against clubs from the Quiet Cluster, and save the club for achieving a negative record of having the worst campaign of a defending title club.
Although, in order to check which club might have the easiest and the harder path until the end of the season. The tables below show the expected points per round that each club might achieve in both scenarios.
In the Best Case Scenario, from the Title Cluster, Tottenham seems to have an easier schedule than Leicester, but still not good enough to take the current seven points gap between them. In the UCL Cluster, Manchester City and West Ham are the luckiest clubs of the league while. Manchester United is the 6th luckiest club of the league. In the Relegation Cluster, Newcastle United are the luckiest club, followed by Norwich, Sunderland, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace.
In the Worst Case Scenario, Leicester is the second club with the easier fixtures of the league, while Tottenham is the 6th place in this ranking. In the UCL Cluster, Arsenal is the luckiest of the clubs followed by Manchester City, West Ham and Manchester United. Also, in the Relegation Cluster, Norwich is the luckiest followed by Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Aston Villa.
Both scenarios demonstrate only two outcomes probabilities of the league within several other possibilities, both calculated the same outcomes for each cluster encounter and did not take into account several other factors that might influence a match outcome such as clubs, squad strength, streak, injuries, etc… Nevertheless, this analysis provides an overview on how the motivation of achieving a significant position influences the level of difficulty of the games in the last rounds of the season comparing to the other rounds.