|Yup... it's squeaky bum time!|
The Title Race
While the title race wasn't included in the post two weeks ago, it is now worth a look as United has continued their superior end-of-season form. The three graphs below present the same views as the post from two weeks ago - 4-match running averages for PPM and table position and then an overall running average of PPM.
The 4-match running average PPM chart provides some interesting contrast to the same chart below for clubs battling it out for European qualification. Save for a single week at the beginning of the year, Manchester United has not dropped below the 1.5 PPM barrier on a 4-match basis. They did have another dip in form around mid-season, but they have subsequently recovered. On the other hand, Manchester City never dropped below the 1.5 PPM barrier until just recently. This has led some to say it's City's late season swoon that is costing them the title (see second graph for table position by match), but the 4-match PPM graph suggests otherwise. Look at the graph starting at Match 13 and notice the number of times the black line (Manchester United) is above the gray line (Manchester City), which indicates when Manchester United's 4-match average PPM is greater than Manchester City's. In the twenty one matches from Match 13 to Match 33, United has earned a greater 4-match average PPM over 14 of the 21 matches. The gap between the two teams' table position hasn't been closing over the last month - it's been closing since November 27th!
The next question to answer is if this gap has been closing simply because of United improving or City faltering? Look at the third graph that shows cumulative PPM over the season and the answer becomes fairly clear. Manchester United has bounced between a PPM of 2.25 and 2.5 since Match 9. Incidentally, Match 9 is also where City had their biggest lead of the season at 5 points. They would maintain the five point lead until Match 13, where they'd begin to falter. Excluding the always misleading first few matches of the season, City's high point came in Match 12 where they were averaging 2.83 PPM. Since then their overall point accumulation rate has fallen by .021 PPM over 21 matches in a remarkably consistent manner (R-squared of 0.78). It seems that just as many people, myself included, were declaring the title race all-but over was the point where it started to become competitive again. Certainly Manchester United has done everything possible to put themselves in a competitive position as the season has worn on by being far more consistent that City, but they've also benefited from a slow-and-steady decay at their crosstown rivals.
While Manchester City got a favorable result out of the Match 33 action, they're still a long shot for the title. Statto.com has Manchester United's odds of winning the title more than 4.5 times higher than City's, which would put United's chances of winning at around 82%. As of Match 32, the Euro Club Index had United's odds at 99% and City's odds at 1%, which means they'll likely come back down to a 90%/10% split after the latest matches are factored in. SportsClubStats.com has factored in the Match 33 results, and has United's odds of winning their 20th top flight title at 81%. The numbers suggest this will be an uphill battle for City, but it's not impossible. City will host United on April 30th in what may be an epic, title deciding match. If City are able to keep things close until that match (5 points or less at that point) and come out of it with a win, they would set up a final two matches of the season that will be the definition of "squeaky bum time" for Sir Alex Ferguson and the Red Devils.
Updated 5:30 AM PST April 13, 2012: Odds of Manchester United winning title only dropped to 93% according to the Euro Club Index.
An Update on the Race for European Qualification
As the title race is a two-club affair, there's an equal amount of drama to be found for those not living in Manchester via the race for European qualification. Seven points separate the four teams competing for two Champions League positions and a sport in the Europa League. The graphs below have been updated based upon the action over the last three matches, with commentary located below.
The first thing that immediately jumps out of the first graph is Newcastle's late season surge that has put them into contention for a spot in the Champions League. By mid-season Newcastle was a solid seventh in the league after falling back in the pack after a hot start. It seems as if they've found their legs again, and are creating a run that rivals Arsenal's in terms of how far they've improved over such a short period of time. They've given Tottenham another club to worry about, although it seems as if Spurs have reversed their downward trend that I wrote about in my last post. Chelsea has also continued to improve, going back up to the 2.0 4-match PPM average for the first time since Match 23. Liverpool will be looking to get a win against West Bromwich Albion on April 22nd and head back to the right side of 1.0 PPM for the first time since Match 24. Arsenal will need to keep winning to stay in front of Tottenham and Newcastle, with two more wins required to move them off of the 2.25 PPM average that they've earned the last two matches.
When it comes to table positions, only Newcastle and Arsenal have headed in the right direction over the last three weeks. Tottenham, Chelsea, and Liverpool have all headed the opposite direction, with Liverpool's slide into eighth and a four-match average table position of 7.75 being too much for Fenway Sports Group. They announced the departure of Damien Comolli this morning, with rumors flying that more front office departures may be coming. Coming only days before the FA Cup semifinal, such action may prove to be a distraction to the club.
On a cumulative PPM basis, one could say that Newcastle and Chelsea seem to have now settled into their longer-term trends of bouncing between 1.6 and 1.9 PPM throughout the latter half of the season. Liverpool and Spurs continue their downhill trends, although recent performances have certainly produced a slight uptick for both clubs. Meanwhile, Arsenal's stumble against QPR only slowed their upward ascent back to a 2.0 PPM average.
So what impact has this all had on the odds of clubs finishing in certain table positions come mid-May? The table below represents the latest snapshot of just such data from SportsClubStats.com. Given that Liverpool has fallen to 8th in the table, I've also included the current 7th place team (Everton) in the table even though they're not included in the graphs above.
While the odds of Arsenal making the Champions League for a 15th straight season have only gone up 1% over three matches, their likelihood of avoiding a play-in by finishing third have gone from 68% three matches ago up to 86% now. Meanwhile, Tottenham's odds of claiming a Champions League spot have gone down by 20 points in three matches. This is mainly due to Newcastle's resurgence, with their odds of claiming a Champions League spot up by 14 points from three matches ago. Meanwhile, Sports Club Stats does give a slight edge to Chelsea over Newcastle when the remainder of fixtures is considered for both clubs. The battle for fourth will certainly be interesting, with some arguing it would be good to see Newcastle claim the position at season's end. Liverpool's late season form has continued to dim the outlook on their finish position, with no chance of finishing higher than 7th and now a growing likelihood of finishing 8th or lower. It's no surprise that their ownership has begun to clean house, as this is not what anyone would have expected out of the club after last year's very different finish.
Updated 5:30 AM PST April 13, 2012: Euro Club Index odds of Top Four finish are Arsenal 99%, Tottenham 72%. Chelsea 28%, and Newcastle 2%.
No matter where one's favorite club stands, there is something worth fighting for in the final five matches of the season. Enjoy this weekend's soccer in England, whether you're watching league action or the FA Cup semifinals!