Data Munching | English Premier League 2023-24: A historic race to the finish - Hindustan Times

Data Munching | English Premier League 2023-24: A historic race to the finish

Mar 29, 2024 03:20 PM IST

As the League enters its business end, Arsenal, currently at the top of the league with 64 points, are tied with Liverpool, but are ahead on goal difference.

With just 10 games left in the English Premier League (EPL), three teams — Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City — are separated by a single point in the race for the title. And for each of the three contenders, a taste of Premier League silverware would mean more than just a trophy. Arsenal, reinvigorated under Mikel Arteta’s dynamic stewardship, is looking to end a 20-year title drought. Liverpool is fighting for a perfect farewell for Jurgen Klopp. City, under Pep Guardiola, is looking to make history to become the first time to win the title four times on a trot. Here are some charts that explain why this is set to be a historic title race.

Arsenal's German midfielder #29 Kai Havertz celebrates scoring the team's second goal during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Brentford at the Emirates Stadium in London on March 9, 2024. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (AFP) PREMIUM
Arsenal's German midfielder #29 Kai Havertz celebrates scoring the team's second goal during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Brentford at the Emirates Stadium in London on March 9, 2024. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (AFP)

The closest top 3 contest in PL history

As the league enters its business end, Arsenal, currently top of the league with 64 points, are tied with Liverpool for points but are ahead on goal difference. Manchester City are breathing down both their necks, just one point behind them.

While it’s apparent that the top three are playing in a league of their own, it begs the question of how rare such a contest is. Data shows that of the 32 seasons of the Premier League in its current format, this is the smallest gap ever between the top three with 10 game weeks to go. The closest other season was the 2009-10 season where the first-placed Manchester United were only two points ahead of the third-placed Arsenal. The next closest battle took place when the top three were separated by four points in six seasons.

At the other end of the spectrum, the 2019-20 season saw the top three spread out by the biggest gap ever seen in PL history — Liverpool were 29 points ahead of Leicester City with 10 games to go. Interestingly, the previous season (2022-23) had the third largest gap between the top three with 10 games to go — Arsenal led Newcastle United by 18 points.

Another interesting takeaway is that a team has never won the Premier League when they were outside the top two with 10 games to go. But being just a single point behind Arsenal and Liverpool, City will definitely look to rewrite some history here.

The clear standout performers this season

A deeper analysis of the attacking and defensive prowess of teams using a concept called the “xG philosophy” lends a better idea at how far apart from the pack the top three are.

Under the xG philosophy, or expected goal philosophy, statisticians measure the probability of goalscoring chances created, as opposed to what is actually scored. In such an exercise, it becomes possible to analyse which side played better offensively or defensively — rather than just looking at which side scored more. Under it, a shot that measures 0.50 xG suggests it would be expected that such a goalscoring opportunity would lead to a goal in 50 out of 100 instances.

Liverpool, with an xG of 62.6 (translating to them creating more than 62 clear goals in total this season) are easily the best-attacking side. On the second spot, are Arsenal and Manchester, tied at an xG of 56.6. Meanwhile, Arsenal comfortably have the best defence in the league, having conceded fewer than 20 goalscoring opportunities (xGA of 19.4) throughout the season. City and Liverpool are a distant second and third defensively with xGA of 27.6 and 34.5 respectively.

Other sides that have decent defences have all struggled to match their performance in attack — Brighton, for instance, are fourth defensively (xGA of 38.7), but are eighth in terms of xG (45.5). Similarly, Everton has delivered the fifth-strongest defensive performance but has only managed the 12th-strongest attack.

Who is overperforming, and who is underperforming?

Another analysis possible with the xG/xGA data is that it enables us to understand who is currently over- or under-delivering. For this, if we look at what the team’s actual goal difference is (how many goals they have scored against how many conceded) and compare it to what it should have been (xGD, or expected goal difference).

In such an analysis, Tottenham Hotspurs appear to be the most over-performing side in the league, having an xGD 14 more than their goal difference. At the other end of the spectrum are the newly promoted side Sheffield United, with an xGD of -31.9, around 18 fewer than their GD of -50.

Among the top three, all appear to be over-performing. Liverpool is on the second spot in the league — they have a GD of 39, and an xGD of around 28. Arsenal is in the fifth spot in the league with a GD of 46 (highest in the league) compared to an xGD of 37.2 — a gap of 8.8. City is in the ninth spot overall, achieving a GD of 35 compared to their xGD of 29 — a gap of 6.

Momentum going into the last 10 games

A look at the five-game average of their xG difference (the gap between their expected goals scored and expected goals conceded) for the top three gives us an idea of the forms they are in. On the back of a stellar run in 2024, Arsenal appear to be the best in form of the top three despite a tepid start to the 2023-24 season. Liverpool have the second-best run-in of form going into the final 10 games, followed closely by City. Interesting to note here is that Liverpool and City have both survived a mid-season slump, while Arsenal have been more consistent through the season.

Other factors leading to the run-in, however, are more intangible. City under Pep has shown not only a recent history of dominance in the league — winning five of the last seasons, particularly on the back of a stellar run post-Christmas. For Liverpool, this title run assumes even more significance as it is the final season of legendary manager Klopp — a factor that is expected to galvanise the players. For Arteta’s Arsenal, who have not won the PL title in 20 years, it is a chance at redemption and revenge — having missed out last year’s title by a whisker.

Jamie Mullick, HT News Editor, analyses a data set to put forth an in-depth analysis of news that matters

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    Jamie Mullick works as a chief content producer at Hindustan Times. He uses data and graphics to tell his stories.

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