Keep those emails coming to firstname.lastname@example.org…
Does the best team always win the league?
With this being a relatively quiet week, I thought I’d raise a discussion in the mailbox. When comparing teams, there is a phrase that is trotted out again and again: “The league table doesn’t lie.” But it does. The best team doesn’t always win the league and the worst 3 teams don’t always get relegated.
I think you can prove this quite quickly. We don’t look at the league table after 10 games and say everyone is now in the correct place, and it’s not because you haven’t played all the teams. We would say it’s not enough time for everything to even itself out. In fact a team of statisticians (or boffins if you like) claimed that you would need around 140 games to truly eliminate the effect randomness has on the game. Football is affected by randomness to a huge degree and this is often overlooked by pundits and fans. Let’s begin with referees.
It goes without saying that referees influence football matches. In any particular game, a team may be lucky or unlucky and this will affect whether they win or lose. We hear that ‘it all evens out’ over the course of a season but statistically this isn’t true. Anything random will be subject to standard distribution, illustrated by a bell curve (you can google the image). Because bad luck with a referee is random, this means that most teams will have a similar number of good and bad decisions but you will have a small number of teams with more good decisions and a small number with more bad decisions.
When you consider that league position is often decided by a point, or even goal difference, one bad decision could be decisive. One team benefiting from one dodgy decision could be the difference between first and second. In reality, some teams will suffer much more than this.
We also have to consider when these bad decisions occur. Having a bad call made against you, be it a red card or a penalty, at 2-1 is a lot worse than having it occur at 4-0. The first will cost you 2 points, and the second will cost you none. So even if teams did have the same number of bad decisions made against them, it wouldn’t affect them in the same way.
Think too about the teams you get these decisions against. Chelsea getting a favorable decision against Spurs is far better for them than getting the same decision against WBA. Again, even if teams did get the same number of lucky breaks, they wouldn’t happen against the same teams, so luck comes into it once more.
Which player it happens against is also a factor. If Spurs have Harry Kane wrongly sent off it’s going to be have more impact than if it was Dele Ali. That might seem small, but if a Champions League place comes down to goal difference, it could be the difference.
Away from referees, injuries is an obvious one. Some teams will have more injuries than others and although this is not always about randomness (there are things some teams do better than others) a lot of the time it is.
The opposition is another factor. Teams do not play at the same level in every game. If you’re unlucky and play a team when they’re having an off day, it gives you an advantage. Again, there is an element of randomness here, which therefore will not be equal.
When you play a team can be hugely important. Those teams that played away at Crystal Palace in the first part of the season had a much easier game than those that play there now. In effect they played a worse team; the 38 games teams play are not always against the same opposition.
The end of the season also comes into play. You’d rather play a team with nothing to play for, or even a team resting players for a cup final, than one scrapping for their lives. Small margins but they can have a big impact.
Of course, there are times when it’s clear who are the best and worse team. Such is the gap, we can say this season that City are comfortably the best team and West Brom are probably the worst. But when the difference between teams come down to a couple of points or fewer and with so much randomness in the league, we can’t say these teams are definitively “better” than those they finished above.
All this is not to say we should start looking to see who was “really” the best team. That’s irrelevant. You play 38 teams and wherever you finish, is where you finish. Sport is a lot about randomness so there’s no point in saying who deserves to win, that’s not the point I’m making. But with so much randomness affecting the game, to say “the league table doesn’t lie” simply isn’t true. It very easily can.
Mike, LFC, Dubai
Do not judge a player on his trophies
I’ve never been a fan of measuring an athlete’s success by how many trophies they’ve won. It seems logical, and it does have some relevance, but as a measure of how good they were, how much they contributed to the game, it’s very limited. A team is both a sum of its parts, the sum of its opponents, the sum of its manager and the sum of circumstances. There’s a lot of sums, and one player can only affect them so much.
As a fan of American sports, having lived out there for a while, I’ve always found their obsession with ‘rings’ irritating. I can see the logic in, say, basketball. It’s much easier for one player to play a huge role on a 5 man team, 12 man squad. Teams are also more capable of rising and falling rapidly because of the draft system and salary caps.
In football it doesn’t work. Teams are larger and money influences the leagues to an incredible degree. We can measure one players performance within a side, whether they performed when their team needed them or not, how they compared to their peers, but to compare trophies between players doesn’t really work. Did Samir Nasri increase in everybody’s estimations, as a player, when he moved to Man City, and subsequently won a trophy? Kyle Walker compared to Danny Rose? Not really.
I can understand a player moving to a better club in order to increase their chance to play at the highest level. That matters. Even more so if they go on to impress. That does effect the perception of a player. It’s the counting of trophies that bothers me. It’s overly simplistic and doesn’t mean near as much as implied, without looking at a players actual performance and contributions.
Empty stadium on Thursday the answer for Arsenal?
Is there another club that troll its fans as much as Arsenal?
A new manager is a ‘genuine option’? – yeah until everyone’s renewed their memberships and Wenger signs a new contract.
Today the Arsenal website is leading with a piece on why we went down to City – it’s no good telling the fans this – try telling the players and Wenger because they continually make the same mistakes game after game.
It’s currently freezing in North London and it looks like this is set to continue until the City game – it’s time for a fan boycott of the game to take the decision on Wenger’s future out of the club’s hands.
Getting to that game is going to be a nightmare whether you’re traversing the icy concourses or trying to get into Finsbury Park on a rail system that just can’t cope with snow. Do yourself a favour and stay in and watch Eastenders.
Maybe when Kroenke sees an empty stadium he’ll finally get the message.
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London
Can we really believe that Wenger may leave?
The main reason why Wenger hasn’t been fired yet is that while he can be behind heaven defeats and bad runs, he has this strange ability to bring out hope back.
This is one such example as he is right now in a very much “Wenger Out” week where he is under huge pressure to be fired but like a pendulum, he will turn it around and score some impressive win in the near future or put in a good run if form – enough as a stay of execution but nowhere near enough for the long term ambition. That is the Wenger Cycle and in this season alone there’s already been a few of it.
Aside from his historical contributions to the club, this is what keeps him there. When the guillotine is about to fall, he does something to delay it and buy time and puts in enough of a spark of hope before that hope inevitably gets extinguish again later on.
So yeah I suspect he’ll be in Arsenal for quite a while.
Shut up Jack
Just heard and saw on social media the Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere said there are three decisions which cost us the defeat against Man City on Sunday. A foul, offside goal and a Man City player should have been sent off. Well he is wrong on all counts.
We were outclassed, outplayed and they had more desire to win then our team. When you lose a game as comprehensively as we did on Sunday stop finding excuses: applaud their quality, footballing skill, class of other team and then promise to work harder, defend better and make the fans proud once again.
It pains me to write this about my club Arsenal. Any team can lose a game but if we lose at least accept it with a touch class.
Tony Laforce, Hackney
Play Pogba as a left winger in a 4-4-2
United’s squad seems too imbalanced and this is something that Mourinho must resolve over the summer. However, with all the hullabaloo over Pogba and Sanchez, I wonder if a 4-4-2 system might not be the panacea United are looking for:
– Regardless of the system, the defensive issues will remain. Bailly’s return will add solidity but the rest of the defense needs strengthening. This can only be done in the summer.
– Both Sanchez and Lukaku have given their best performances at the front. So a front two of both of them makes perfect sense and could really terrorize defenses particularly on the counter attack.
– Martial and Rashford too prefer to play the striker rather than on the wing. So they could be brought on as subs as well as start against lesser opposition. The competition for places would be insane and make everyone step up their game.
– Having four in midfield instead of three could provide the much needed control. Throughout the season, United have failed to dominate the midfield even against smaller opposition. This leaves their defense prone and failure to launch attacks. A CM pairing of Matic and McTominay will provide protection to the defense and help retain possession.
– This leaves Pogba to play on the left in a more attacking role and free to roam up and down the pitch. The position on the right would then be up for grabs between Lingard, Herrera, Mata or whatever midfielder Mourinho purchases in the summer.
What is Allardyce playing at?
January 21: Big Sam identifies the problem, says Rooney and Sigurdsson cannot play in the same team.
In Everton’s four league games since:
Rooney: 154 minutes
Sigurdsson: 154 minutes
Minutes Rooney on pitch without Sigurdsson: 0
Minutes Sigurdsson on pitch without Rooney: 0
He’s started both and substituted them in the same minute (82) twice(!), left both on the bench one game and played both for 90 minutes. Saturday against Watford he subbed both when 1-0 down with ten minutes to go!
Andrew (Big Sam Out), Somewhere near Oz
The nonsense of passing on ‘experience’
I guess I should not be amazed by the usual tripe, the uneducated, ill-thought through comments of the average pundit. But recent comments regarding the possible choices for England goalkeeper show how it has pervaded almost everyone, including even those working on Opta stats.
Over the last 3 days there were several radio shows, podcasts and papers asking which goalie should make the squad and without exception they all said Joe Hart should make the squad to pass on his tournament ‘experience.’
Now I have no bones to pick with Joe Hart the person but as the player he has clearly deteriorated over the last 3 years or so. He has not responded well to being moved out from City, playing badly in Italy and ultimately being pushed into second place by Adrian at West Ham.
He hasn’t learned, he is still making the same mistakes, he is still doing the same bravado, manic “look how I am so pumped up” gestured when he does start. He is still unsettling his defence, he still forces them to defend deeply.
So how will this experience help the others? Why would they have much respect for a goalkeeper that seriously under performed at the Euros (or perhaps that just was his best.) He hasn’t won a tournament, he hasn’t done well at one. Heck, the England under 20s has more tournament experience – at least of a positive kind.
I really hope Southgate is as smart as he seems to be and just like with Rooney, does not pick players like Hart that are completely out of form.
Why players cover their mouths
Tim, London, asks a good question that I actually know something about. This is rare so I shall bask in it.
Football players and staff originally started covering their mouths due to gambling. In certain parts of the world you can wager incredible sums on who the next substitute will be so lip readers are employed to get ahead of the bet, by the time the player is off the bench the market’s closed so seeing the manager say the name was the trick. This goes for many other parts of the game, you could see the corner taker say to another player “I’m not beating the first man, you take the next one” and wager a 100k that the next corner will be taken by player X.
Then the next revolution happened, the media. You only need to read how out of context simple interviews are reported these days to understand that it became necessary for players to protect themselves from being misrepresented in the press even more than they already are.
I also use this trick at work to avoid having to commit to any of my opinions and decisions.
This summer is going to be mad
To emphasize Peter, London’s point from yesterday’s mailbox: this years transfer deadline day is set for August 9th and with the World Cup final taking place on 15th July, a new Arsenal manager appointed in the summer would have 3 weeks to rebuild an entire squad!
Billz, LFC (proud Kopite but secretly in love with Arsenal Fan TV), Nairobi
Planet Sport quiz: Test your knowledge on the Davis Cup. (Tennis365)