Season Analysis: When the league table lies

Football is all about winning or? Not if you wish to continue winning
By Mads Davidsen in cooperation with 21st Club (

A huge misunderstanding in football is that the league table never lies. It lies for sure. Several teams can in periods be lucky or ‘over-perform’ with for example a striker scoring more goals in a few matches than he will do through out the entire season averagely. Or a team can gain a higher league position purely because other teams are under-achieving.

As a pro coach and analyst, I try to analyze the data and stats in a way, so we as a club know not only where to improve and where to progress, but also if our performance can go on, so to speak. Not just looking at the table, but looking at if we can continue maintaining our position in the table – using data as the main tool.

Because if every game is 50/50, it’s possible to go on random streaks of losses, draws and wins.

An example from this years Premier League (2014/15) is Swansea, who had a good season finishing 8th on 56 points. But 21st club has done a very interesting season analysis looking behind the numbers showing the performances and chances for & against. And Swansea should statistically only have achieved 44 points - meaning a position as number 16 in the league table.

So statistically Swansea can’t ‘copy’ this season. If they perform like this next season – they could be very near the relegation zone. They have simply over-achieved.

21st Club have found that analyzing performance in this way is a more accurate predictor of future results and league table position.

Don’t trust your luck
Therefore it’s all about measuring your performance for example looking at the amount of chances created. I split my analysis up in three type of chances; A, B and C-chances. Then I compare these data with the opponent’s chances to find out if we controlled the game, created enough chances to score (and win) by giving away fewer A-chances than we created ourselves.

I sometimes hear coaches in the press conference being satisfied with for example a 1-0 victory giving positive feedback to the backline for keeping a clean sheet. But if we analyze the opponents chances in the 1-0 win; they had several A-chances, maybe hit the post twice, missed a 1v1 with the keeper, and in general created bigger occasions than the winning team.

That’s for me called luck and I don’t like to be addicted to luck. Therefore we need to create a concept where we over time not only win more games than we loose, but also statistically are better than the opponents. That will increase our chance to win not on any given Sunday, but every Sunday.

During the World Cup 2014, I showed with my own analysis already in the group stage that the teams creating most A-chances inside the penalty box statistically by far won most games. So with this method you could see which teams would go far in the tournament IF they would continue being better on creating A-chances inside the penalty box than the opponent.

A team like England in the WC 2014 was for example not good at coming into the box, but over all they had a lot of shots on target, so their basic stats looked good.

The ‘problem’ was that England finished a lot outside the box, which statistically takes more than 40 attempts before you actually score a goal. So data can also lie if we are not detailed enough in our use of it. And shots on target does not show anything. A team like Bayer Leverkusen also ‘won’ the shots on target in the German Bundesliga, but they also shoot on anything from anywhere.

A controllable season target
We often hear a team setting a top 3 or a top 6 in the league as a main goal for the season. That’s fair enough and relatively easy to measure. My concern is that it’s not controllable. What if 6 other teams in that season particularly over-performs and all get a record high amount of points.

Our team are 7th then and the season goal is not achieved. But maybe the performances and points statistically would give us a top 6 spot in 9 out of 10 seasons – just not this season. So is it a bad season?

Two examples from this season in Europe: Ajax Amsterdam lost their Championship to PSV Eindhoven with 17 points in Holland. The first impression is that Ajax most have had a horrible season, but actually Ajax gained the same amount of points as when they were champions.

The big difference is PSV having their best season (almost) ever. Ajax won the Dutch league in 2013/2014 with 71 points – exactly the same amount of points as gave them a 2rd place this season.

In Spain the club Seville came 5th with 76 points. Their goal was to claim a spot in the Champions League (I’m aware that they qualified via the Europe League) meaning a 1-4 position in La Liga in Spain, so Seville did not reach their season goal.

Looking at their 76 points though – statistically it’s by far enough to be in the top 4 in Spain. Last season it only took 70 points to be number 4 (Athletic Bilbao) and in 2012/2013 Real Sociedad came 4th with only 66 points.

So actually if Seville has achieved the 76 points via performances and for example more A-chances created and they are able to maintain this level in the next season – a top 4 spot is very realistic and they should be massive proud of their season performance.

Source: 21st Club (