Thursday, February 2, 2012

Evaluating recent team form in the English Premier League

We often hear from soccer pundits that Premier League titles and Champions League positions are won in the winter months when top sides grind out ugly results on pitches badly worn from harsh winter weather. Mathematically, of course, every game is worth 3 points and early fixtures therefore have as much influence on who wins a title as mid season ones. However, I understand the sentiment of these pundits; what they are really saying is Premier League titles are won through consistent results throughout the season. With games coming thick and fast during the mid season fixture list, teams often experience a dip in form due to injuries and players needing rests. Typically it is the teams that are able to avoid a dip in form during the winter months that emerge as title winners and Champions League qualifiers (perhaps it would be more accurate to say titles are lost in the winter months).

The table above ranks teams according to form in their last ten league games going back to early December in order to examine which sides have remained consistent or improved on their early season form and which have experienced a dip in form. Form is defined as points per game. Manchester United top this table with 2.4 points per game from their last 10 fixtures. They have proved to be consistent in their results throughout the season with a difference of only 0.09 between points per game in their last 10 games and their first 13. Though Manchester City sit second on this table with 1.9 points per game from their last 10, they have shown the greatest dip in form from their first 13 games gaining 0.79 fewer points per game than they had early in the season. Many questioned early this season whether City would be able to cope with the marathon Premier League season and be consistent enough to win the title. The table above suggests that they cannot and that we may see United lifting the trophy yet again come early May.

Sunderland's revival under Martin O'Neill is evidenced in the table. The Black Cats have had the biggest improvement in form of all 20 clubs collecting 1.9 points per game in their last 10 compared to just 0.85 in their first 13. Interestingly, the four sides competing for the fourth Champions League spot, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Newcastle, have all experienced a dip in form in the last 10 games. None seem interested in taking advantage of points dropped by the other three.

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