Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Season That Was: Europe's Top Four Leagues

The European summer transfer window is now well under way. AC Milan have taken massive steps to bolster their squad in several positions and announce their ambition, while Bayern Munich have silently snapped up James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso even as Omer Toprak and Mahmoud Dahoud are getting ready to put on Dortmund's colours. Manchester United's snare of Romelu Lukaku is the biggest signing in the Premier League in a window that has also seen Bernardo Silva, Alexandre Lacazette and Antonio Rudiger arrive in England.

While all of that promises much for 2017/18, let's take a few minutes to look at some of last season's numbers from the top divisions of England, Italy, Spain and Germany.

Odds and results

Everyone's heard or read this at some point: "The Premier League is the most unpredictable league in the world".

Well, not on the face of it. For measuring this, I compared the full-time results of league matches against the result with the shortest odds offered on bet365.

bet365's prediction accuracy for European leagues in 2016/17
When in Rome, do as the bookies do

In the season gone by, the Premier League was the second-most predictable in the top 4 leagues at 61%, as the top 6 comfortably distinguished themselves from the rest. Serie A sees the highest bookmaker accuracy at 62% - tip of the hat to Juventus, who have won their 6th straight Scudetto. bet365's accuracy for full-time results for the Bundesliga was the lowest among these four, at 52%.

Last season's Bundesliga was surprising in a number of respects - the loss of key players in the 2016 summer hit Dortmund's consistency, leading to them winning 6 less games and gathering 14 fewer points. bet365 called 53% of their matches correctly, which is the worst they did for a team in the Premier League (Middlesbrough, 53%). Dortmund still finished just one place lower than the season before - The real surprises in Germany that contributed to this coin-toss accuracy were the performances of Wolfsburg (8th to 16th), Leverkusen (3rd to 12th) and Schalke (5th to 10th) in comparison to 2015/16.

Bayer Leverkusen left back Wendell
Wendell looking unimpressed with a 9-place drop

Note that this type of "accuracy" doesn't mean much in actual gambling, which is about playing the odds for profit and sounds way easier than it is. For example, if you had put $10 on every Bayern Munich 'prediction' by bet365, their 74% full-time result accuracy for this team - much higher than the league-level 52% - would've helped you end up with a $24 loss.

Shots and goals

At an overall level, the story here is one of remarkable similarity. Across leagues, roughly 1 in every 3 shots was on target, and roughly 1 in 3 shots on target ended up in the back of the net.

Barcelona may not have won the Spanish title for a 7th time in 9 years, but they did top the charts across these for leagues for shots on target per game (7), with Italy's AS Roma a close second (6.9).

Barcelona had the highest shots on target in 2016/17
Peppering the opposition

Middlesbrough were the least potent of these teams, with the lowest shots on target per game (2.63) as well as the lowest overall goals scored (27) despite them playing 4 more matches than any Bundesliga side.

The most common scoreline across all four leagues was 1-1, happening in roughly a tenth of the matches across these leagues. As for the distribution of goals, last season bore itself out exactly as Chris Anderson and David Sally alluded to in The Numbers Game - the distribution of goals in a match was almost the same across leagues.

Roughly 6% of matches ended goalless, and matches with 3 goals were the most frequent type, making up around 24% of matches. La Liga recorded a higher percentage of "high-scoring" games than other leagues, with a fifth of its matches seeing 5 or more goals.

Distribution of goals scored in the 2016/17 season across European leagues
Spot the difference

Spain's referees have a reputation of being heavy-handed, and they did very little to defy stereotype last season. The Bundesliga saw 0.73 more fouls per game - It was in fact the league with the highest fouls per game (28.62), but Spain's referees doled out 1.31 more cards per game than their German counterparts, punishing 19% of the league's fouls by brandishing plastic.

Comparison of fouls and cards in European leagues for 2016/17
Sunny Spain gives refs quite the temper

The Premier League stood out, seeing both the lowest fouls (22.72) and the lowest cards (3.74) per game across the top four leagues. The Bundesliga had the most lenient referees in terms of how many fouls were punished with cards (14%), with both the Premier League and Serie A seeing roughly 16% of their fouls translating to a booking/sending off.

The most attritional match in these leagues was a goalless draw between Milan and Atalanta at the San Siro - It ended goalless, but saw the ref blow his whistle 51 times (or once every 105 seconds) and go to his pocket 9 times. Spain's Leganes racked up the highest fouls per game (16.95) in a successful scrap for top division survival.

If there is anything you found interesting and want to know more about, or if you simply have something to say about the post, leave a comment or drop a note and I'll see what I can do!

Data Source:

1 comment:

  1. Great post and analysis!
    Would love to read more.

    A few questions if you are planning to do future posts:
    Most common formations and their effectiveness (Goals per match, CS kept, Chances created, etc the whole gamut)
    Does OOP (Out of Position) play work, and where

    - Aditya


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