Who Are The Luckiest Football Teams?

Luck plays a huge part in sport. But there’s only so far good fortune will carry a football team over the long-run. In time, weak teams will be found out.

There’s a simple way to determine just how lucky (or unlucky) a team has been over a period of time (e.g. a season). This gives you an idea of what to expect from their results in the future.

 

The Premier League Expected Points Table

Take a look back at the final 2017/18 Premier League table in order of ‘Expected Points’ (taken from Understat). The leftmost column lists the team’s real finishing position.


Who Are The Luckiest Football Teams? (Lucky Clubs, Jammy Teams, Jammy Clubs, Unlucky Football Clubs)


The table confirms that Manchester City deserved to win the title… by a long shot. No surprises there. However, they were expected to notch only 91.09 points — which is 8.91 less than their glamorous 100. So they still over-performed, based on Understat’s Expected Goal estimates.

I’ve highlighted all significant outliers in yellow. These teams obtained significantly more, or less, points than they were expected to. Using this simple technique you can identify both lucky (and unlucky) teams for any of the major top flight leagues.

 

The Premier League’s Luckiest Teams


1. Manchester United

  • Expected: 62.33
  • Achieved: 81

Achieving +18.67 points over Understat’s estimate is enormous.

Some Man United fans may have felt disappointed they didn’t close the gap on local rivals, City. Yet perhaps they should have been content with a 2nd place finish, considering the Expected Points table ranks them 6th. 

Given that the other top clubs achieved points tallies so closely aligned with Expected Points, it’s reasonable to think that United need to improve if they’re aim is to replicate, or better, last season’s achievement.


2. Burnley

  • Expected: 41
  • Achieved: 54

Burnley have built a reputation for ‘organisation’ and ‘resilience’. But will it last?

No doubt, they should be commended for their achievement last season. Given their resources, pound for pound, I think they achieved the most of any Premier League club in the 2017-18 season.

Yet despite their impressive season, I believe there’s tough times ahead for Burnley. They’re going to need to raise their game, and adapt, if they want to replicate a similar finish again. +13 points over the Expected Points is a significant deviation.

I don’t believe Burnley will continue to overachieve, to this extent, for another season.

 

The Premier League’s Unluckiest Teams


1. Crystal Palace

  • Expected: 58.03
  • Achieved: 44

It looks as if mid-table Palace were short-changed by the end of the season. Expected Points placed them 7th.

Expect a solid finish for Palace this season, without a serious relegation scare.


2. Southampton

  • Expected: 48.72
  • Achieved: 36

Performances suggest Southampton didn’t deserve to be in a relegation battle.

They ought to remain fairly comfortable this season, with a view to finish mid-table.


3. West Bromwich Albion

  • Expected: 42.96
  • Achieved: 31

Relegated West Brom should’ve been well clear of the bottom three according to their Expected Points tally. It placed them 13th.

We can’t use their Premier League performance to estimate West Brom’s chances in the Championship — it’s a different competition.

 

*2019 Update*: How Did The Following Season Go?

On reflection, I’d say that the Expected Points system made some bold — and generally accurate — predictions for the coming season.

In particular, the Burnley and Man United predictions proved to be extremely precise, and wouldn’t have been an obvious guess for the average football punter:

  • Man United: plummeted to 6th place, precisely where the Expected Points table placed them in the previous season.
  • Burnley: secured safety in the Premier League — but only managed a 15th place spot. Just one place lower than expected points placed them in the previous season. It’s an impressive estimate.
  • Crystal Palace: finished 12th. Not quite the 7th place finish Expected Points gave, but well clear from relegation, and comfortably mid table.
  • Southampton: finished 16th, just shy of relegation. The Expected Points placed them 9th the previous season. That prediction proved to be too ambitious.

 

Will Using Expected Points Improve Your Betting?


It’s Just a Guideline

There’s no guarantee that ‘jammy’ teams will get their comeuppance, or unlucky teams will improve their win ratio in the future. You can’t assume that deviations in (any of your) estimations will always even out over time.

After all, football matches are largely independent of one another. It’s like how spinning black on roulette 10 times in a row doesn’t increase the chances of spinning red on your next turn.


The Expected Points table merely highlights that, in some cases, our perceptions of a team’s performance and ability are inaccurate.


Importantly though, if odds are formed based on results rather than actual performance, then plus EV opportunities will arise in the betting markets.

Read more on Expected Points from my post on how Expected Goals (xG) will change the way we bet on football.


Opinions… The Game Is Full of Them

Football is a game of opinions. A lot of unsubstantiated opinions.

Fans and the media tend to care only about the points on the board — not “who ought to have points on the board”. Football teams are credited, or criticised, on their results — irrespective of what they really deserved.

Here’s an example:


An underdog gets hammered for 90 minutes, and defies all odds by keeping a clean sheet. Then, during injury time, they get a fortunate penalty decision — and score it to win the game.


Just imagine the narrative for that game.

Pundits will almost certainly label this performance as “resilient” and claim the players showed “true character” and “mental strength”. The losing favourite will be condemned — despite doing everything right (apart from winning, of course). Minor imperfections in their game/formation will be highlighted, and dwelled upon, over and over.

But is reducing football down to cliques really the most accurate way to assess teams and make future predictions?

Points come from good performances. Therefore performance is crucial to a team’s long-term success. So you really ought to look beyond historical results when measuring teams against one another.

Expected Goals isn’t all encompassing. It fixates on, and quantifies, the most significant moments in games — the goal scoring opportunities. But it’s a great starting point for football analysis.


You May Also Want to Look into…

  • The Luck Index. These models incorporate various statistics (not only xG). The ESPN Luck Index (in collaboration with the University of Bath) concurs that Manchester United, followed by Burnley were the most fortune teams in 2017-18 campaign.
  • Other football stats. I’ve created a list of recommended free football statistics sites. These will also enable you to quantify performance.
  • Premier League betting advice. My Guide to Premier League Betting suggests various simplistic methods for analysing games, and improving your bet selections in pursuit of an ‘edge’.
  • Football betting models. I’ve written a guide to Creating a Football Prediction Model. Those of you looking to take sports betting seriously should read this.
  • Football tipsters. There’s a lot of dodgy Tipsters out there; most won’t earn you money. The most transparent Tipster Services are provided by Tipstrr and Betting Gods.

 

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I see the Expected points as a measure of a team’s game quality.

Since they derive from the expected goals, they represent the ability to create better scoring opportunities and to concede the worst.

Consequently, the actual points indeed tell us if the team has overperformed or underperformed and it is equally true that they tell us about the quality of the players involved.

I mean, between two teams with the same expected points, there will be one with more or less points than the other because the quality of his players is higher or lower than the average.