With the first half (190 games) of the 2013-14 English Premier League season in the books and 190 more games scheduled to unfold over the next 4 1/2 months, it seems the right time to start up my EPL simulation model. Please, contain your excitement.
The model was an outgrowth of a teaching tool developed in 2008 for a simulation class taught at the Alberta School of Business. That model – originally designed by Armann Ingolfsson – was used to track the last half of the NHL season, and specifically to determine whether the Edmonton Oilers would make the playoffs. It’s necessary to mention here that by the 2008 and 2009 all star break – when the simulation model started – the chances of the Oilers making the playoffs was slightly more than the current snowball’s chance in hell.
(For more information on the history and methodology, click here.)
My model uses a fairly simplistic equation to determine the probability of each game’s outcome, then repeats this process 9,999 more times to develop a sense of the probability of each team’s final table position after all 38 gameweeks are finished. Every week I update the data in the model with the most recent matches played and re-run the model.
So here’s where we are on December 31, immediately before the New Year’s Day fixtures (click to embiggen):
The title race is not a lock – and frankly, it shouldn’t be this early into the season or things would get really boring – but it’s much more wide open than I’ve seen in previous years. By Gameweek 21 in the 2012-13 season, for example, Man U’s chances of winning the title were better than 80%. However, in 2014 we see Arsenal with “only” a 44% chance, and both Man City and Chelsea in with a hope. Man U’s chances at this point are on par with Spurs. (Both of these facts delight me as an Arsenal fan, I should mention). It will be interesting to see how much these change over the next few weeks.
The race for the top is very apparent when looking at European prospects. There are no surprises about Arsenal, Chelsea, and Man City each having a better than 70% chance of a top-4 finish at the end of the season, but the ~50% chances of the two Merseyside sides are surely a pleasant change for Reds fans and an exciting prospect for their Toffee bretheren. Somewhat more dispiriting is the 20.7% chance for Robin van Persie et al to see Champions League action in 2014-15, a likelihood roughly equal to Tottenham.
And finally there is relegation. The roller coaster ride of the Hammers and their fans sees no likelihood of a slowdown, with relegation a 59% likelihood based on their play in the first half of the season. It’s even worse for Gus Poyet’s Sunderland side, whose 70% probability of relegation threatens our chance to watch the legendary Tyne-Wear derby. The 39.4% relegation probability for Crystal Palace belies their current 15th place position, as the three teams below them – Norwich, West Brom, and Cardiff – all have a lower likelihood of returning to the Championship come summer.
Above are the raw numbers that lead to the analysis above (click the pic to make it bigger). The numbers show how often, over 10,000 iterations, that a team reaches a given placement in the table. The figure in red is the most likely result for each team. The distributions for each team show the real story behind the averages. For example, Southampton has a 37% chance of a 9th place finish, but could do better. There’s even a chance of a 4th-place finish for the Saints.