The Bundesliga is approaching its final stage with only 7 rounds remaining to the end of the 2015/2016 season. Similar to recent editions, Bayern Munich is the leader and the favourite to win the title. However, in their last season under the management of Pep Guardiola, their dominance seems to be threatened in relation to their last three seasons, when at this stage of the league, they had a substantial advantage in relation to their direct opponents.
Although, not only the battle for the title seems to be balanced in this season. Looking at the current league table it can be seen a great balance in the fights for the UEFA Champions League and relegation. So, in order to analyse the battles for these significant spots, an analysis was taken in the past 12 seasons to identify the clubs that are current disputing the title, the qualification for the UEFA Champions League, and relegation.
The applied methodology to identify these clubs split the table into four clusters and identified which clubs belongs to each cluster, and according to the past performances of each cluster, the analysis was able to identify which clubs have a favourable and unfavourable fixtures in the remaining rounds of the season. In addition, it also provided a forecast of the end of the season.
The first cluster (Title), is encompassed by clubs which are fighting for the league title. Since the 03/04 season, no clubs fighting for the title diminished the difference in relation to the leader in more than six points at this stage of the season. Thus, this cluster contains clubs which are at a maximum six points for the leader.
Also, this cluster had only 9 clubs in the last 12 seasons. Bayern Munich is constantly appearing in the cluster, the club was not part of the cluster only in the 10/11 season when the club was placed in the fourth position and was 14 points behind the leader (Dortmund). With the exception of the Bavarian club, no clubs had a substantial frequency during this period. Whilst Dortmund (2) and Wolfsburg (1) won the league in all the seasons they were placed in this cluster, Schalke 04 (3), Werder Bremen (2), Hamburg (1), Hertha Berlin (1), and Bayer Leverkusen (1) were not successful in any participation.
The second cluster (UCL) is comprised by clubs which are more than six points behind the leader at this stage of the league and are fighting for the remaining spots to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. The majority of seasons in the sample, the league had only three spots for the UCL. However, Germany overcame Italy in the UEFA Country Ranking and since the 11/12 season the league has four spots for the European competition.
To set the threshold for this cluster, it was identified that a club with a maximum of eight points of the last spot could still be fighting until the last round of the season to qualify for the European league. Hence, this cluster contains clubs which are at a maximum of eight points of the last spot of the UEFA Champions League qualification zone. In addition, this cluster had a total of 16 clubs during the last 12 seasons, it is not significantly higher than the first cluster considering the number of spots for the European competition. However, the clubs from the first cluster are also taking the same spots as the clubs from this cluster.
Looking at the stats of this cluster, the graph below shows that Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke 04 were the clubs that most fought for the UCL spot at this stage. On the other hand, Mainz 05 (3), Stuttgart (2), Hannover 96 (2), Eintracht Frankfurt (2), Hoffenheim (1), Hertha Berlin (1), Freiburg (1), and Augsburg (1) were not successful to achieve a qualification for the UEFA Champions League.
The third cluster (Relegation) is composed of clubs which fight against relegation. This cluster has the same number of spots (3) as most of the UCL Cluster and even fewer spots than the same cluster from the 11/12 season until the current season. Nevertheless, this cluster had almost the double of clubs disputing against relegation (30) than the UCL Cluster in the last 12 years. Thus, it can be said that this cluster is far more competitive in terms of number of clubs than the other clusters.
To define this cluster boundary, it was found that clubs with no more than five points difference of the 16th position finished the league within the last three clubs. Thus, this cluster is composed of clubs with five or fewer points of the 16th club in the league at this stage of the season.
Analysing the stats of this cluster, the graph below shows the frequency of each club in this cluster and also how many times they escape from the last three positions of the league. However, since the 08/09 season, the 16th place is not directly relegated to the 2. Bundesliga. The club that finishes in this position qualifies for a playoff against the 3rd position of the second division, which means that a club that did not escape from the last 3 positions was not necessarily relegated.
The most frequent clubs of this cluster were Cologne and Nuremberg, but none of them had more success to escape from the relegation zone than Wolfsburg and Hannover 96, which fought against relegation at this stage in 4 seasons and finished the league escaping in all occasions. On the contrary, 11 clubs (36.67%) were never successful in escaping from the relegation zone when in risk at this stage of the season.
The last cluster (Quiet), is composed of the remaining clubs of the table when at this stage of the season, they do not have enough points to fight for the title and the UCL and also are “safe” from relegation. It is claimed that these clubs have less motivation in their remaining matches of the season because the club is in a safe zone of the league table, and sometimes some coaches enjoy this situation to do experiences with the team for several reasons. Thus, it can be claimed that playing against these teams at this stage of the league could be an advantage owing to their lack of motivation while playing against teams of the other clusters could be harder due to they are still fighting for a significant position.
This cluster had a considerable number of clubs in the sample (20). Whereas most of them were only once in this cluster, Hannover 96 (6), Borussia Dortmund (5), and Hoffenheim (5) were the clubs with most appearances in the safe zone at this stage of the season.
Splitting the league table into clusters provides a clear view of the current situation of each club of the league. Furthermore, it also demonstrates that the current season is one of the most competitive seasons of Bundesliga since the last 13 seasons. Looking at the current league table below, this season is the second season of the sample with fewer clubs in the Quiet Cluster at the 27th round of the league. In other words, the 15/16 season is the season with the second most competitive balance within the last 13 seasons, placed behind only the 06/07 season, where there were four clubs fighting for the title (the only season where the leader of the league at the 27th round was not the champion), two clubs fighting along with the Title Cluster clubs to qualify for the UCL, and a record in the sample of 11 teams fighting against relegation. Similarly, this season has two clubs fighting for the title, six clubs fighting for the UCL, two clubs at the quiet zone, and eight clubs fighting against relegation. Thus, as Cologne is not facing Ingolstadt until the end of the season, all the rounds will have at least a club disputing for a significant spot in the league.
Once the current season clusters are defined, it can be said that 50% of the clubs disputing the title will win the league, one-third of the clubs fighting for the remaining two spots of the UCL will achieve qualification, and 62.5% of the clubs which are fighting against relegation will escape of the relegation zone. Although, a factor that may influence the positioning of the final league table is the remaining fixtures of the league. Hence, in order to identify which clubs may have an easier or harder schedule, an analysis was taken in the past seasons to identify the performance each cluster had against other cluster playing at home and away.
This analysis provides a better view in what to expect for clubs during the next rounds according to their opponent’s cluster and also if they are playing at home or away. The tables below indicates that:
• The Title Cluster won most of their games playing at home and away. Nonetheless, as expected, they won more games at home than away. Moreover, proportionally this cluster won more games against the Relegation Cluster than the Quiet Cluster when playing at home, but on the contrary, it won a few more games against the Quiet Cluster than the Relegation Cluster while playing away, indicating that playing away against teams that are fighting against relegation might be a bit harder than play against teams that are not fighting for a significant place at this stage of the league. Also, there is a great balance when against clubs for the same cluster, with slight more wins at home;
• The UCL Cluster won most of their games playing at home and away against the Relegation Cluster. However, besides winning half of their games against clubs from the Quiet Cluster at home, the clubs of this cluster lost most of their games playing away against these clubs. In addition, there is a significant competitiveness when playing against clubs from the same cluster;
• With a considerable balance, the clubs from the Relegation Cluster won slightly more games against clubs from the same Cluster and from the Quiet Cluster, indicating that the clubs in the bottom table may have more chances to win matches when playing at home against middle table clubs at this stage of the season rather than top table clubs;
• Interestingly, the Quiet Cluster won more games playing away against clubs from the UCL Cluster and the Relegation Cluster.
Hence, this analysis indicates that there are not a significant advantage on playing against clubs which are not competing for a significant spot. However, in an alternative approach to measuring the performance of the clusters, the table below demonstrates the difference of points ratio before and after the 27th round. It can be seen that playing away provided more points to the Clusters than playing at home. Hence, the home advantage in the last 7 rounds showed not to be as advantageous as in the first 27 rounds of the league. Furthermore, the Relegation Cluster is the only Cluster that achieved more points playing against another Cluster both at home and away, in this case, the Quiet Cluster. In all other cases, a Cluster has an advantage on playing at home and a disadvantage playing away, or vice-versa.
Moreover, comparing the points ratio between the first 27 rounds and the last seven rounds shows that clubs from the Title Cluster achieved fewer points in the second part of the analysis whilst the Relegation Cluster conquered more points in relation to the first 27 rounds. Indicating that clubs fighting against relegation improve performance in the late season and clubs fighting for the title worsen performance.
However, looking at the points ratio only between rounds 27 and 34, it can be seen that the clubs with better performance still achieve more points playing against clubs with poorer performance. The first three clusters achieved more points at home when playing against clubs from the Relegation Cluster while the Quiet Cluster achieved more points at this stage when playing at home against clubs from the same Cluster. When playing away, the last cluster achieved more points playing against clubs from the Relegation Cluster, whilst the Title Cluster won more points against clubs from the Quiet Cluster.
So, In order to picture the effect that the fixtures might have in each club in the following rounds of the current season, an alternative approach to forecasting their final positions was applied based on the performances of each Cluster in the sample. Thus, checking the league fixtures table below, it demonstrates that the fixtures are well distributed within the Clusters, which indicates that some clubs might have a slight advantage comparing to other clubs but not in an extent that the schedule may provide a significant advantage to them in relation to their competitors.
In order to check how the clubs may perform within the next rounds, the number of games to be played of each club against each Cluster at home or away was multiplied by the points ratio found between rounds 27 and 34 in the sample. As a result of the balance of the fixtures, according to this methodology, it is not expected to be a great difference between the current league table and the final league table. Furthermore, looking at the average of points achieved by each position at the late stage of the season and its standard deviation, it can be said that the forecast is in line with the performance of each position in previous seasons. However, this methodology takes into account only the past seasons performance of each position of the league table, and not a particular club past and present performance as well as several other factors that might influence future results (i.e. injured and banned players, playing other competitions, etc…).
Nevertheless, the picture of the final league table might have Bayern Munich winning the league maintaining the current five points difference from Borussia Dortmund. For the last two spots for the UEFA Champions League, Hertha Berlin and Schalke 04 might achieve qualification maintaining their current positions. Apart for the current great level of competition to qualify for the International competition, the league had no change in their first four clubs between rounds 27 and 34 since when the league conquered the right to qualify four clubs to the UCL. On the other side of the table, the fight against the relegation zone might be even more competitive, and it seems that the last three clubs might be defined by other criteria rather than points. In this cluster, Werder Bremen and Hamburg seems to have a slight advantage in their fixtures against their direct competitors while Stuttgart and Hannover 96 seems to have a harder path to the end of the season.
To conclude, the analysis found a small evidence that clubs which are not fighting for a significant position at this stage of the season, hence with no motivation, can be considered an advantage to be played against. However, it was found that the clubs from the Relegation Cluster seems to enjoy a bit more than other clusters the fact that the Quiet Cluster would not have the same motivation to play as the other clusters. Also, clubs fighting against relegation improved their performance in the last seven rounds of the season whilst clubs fighting for the title worsen their performance in the same period. Moreover, it was also identified that the home advantage has less impact in the late season.
In addition, the current season is the most competitive season since the 2006/2007 season owing to the league has 16 out of 18 clubs still fighting for a substantial place, and also all matches of the next fixtures is not only well balanced between the clusters but also will have at least one club which is still on the fight playing.
Looking at the clubs, Bayern Munich is by far the club with a great performance of the sample by the fact that the club was regularly fighting for the title at this stage of the season. Also, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke 04 were the clubs which most fought for the UEFA Champions League qualification. Moreover, Hannover 96, Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim were the clubs which were most placed at the comfort zone. On the other hand, Cologne, Freiburg and Nuremberg were the clubs which caused most concern to their fans at this stage of the league over the last 12 years.