Pythagorean observations at three-quarter mark of 2012-13 European season

It’s the last international break of the 2012-13 European season, so it’s a good time to look at the major European leagues and observe which clubs have been over- or under-performing this season.

I don’t need to tell you that the Big Five European leagues are pretty much decided, and have been decided for a while.  English Premier League, Spanish Primera, and German 1.Bundesliga are dead, dead, dead.  Serie A and Ligue 1 are still alive, but Juventus have pulled away and PSG are starting to do the same.  There is one exception, though, and it’s outside the Big Five: the Dutch Eredivisie.  Make that two exceptions — Turkey’s Süper Lig is tightening up as well.

So what are we seeing in the Pythagorean records of the Big 5 leagues?  I think it can be distilled in a few observations:

  • England and Spain should be closer than they are.  If you look at the difference in expected points between Barcelona and Manchester United and their closest challengers, only two or three points separate them from second place.  In fact, both sides are playing at 10 and 14 points, respectively, above their statistical expectations — numbers we have not seen in a league-winning side since FC Twente in 2010. Neither side’s defense has been outstanding by their own high standards; Manchester United has the third-best scoring defense in the Premier League while Barcelona ranks fourth.  The difference in United’s case is that a number of challengers aren’t playing at a high level this season, while Barcelona’s offensive exploits (and especially Lionel Messi’s) more than compensate for its defense.
  • PSG are ahead in Ligue 1, pretty much as expected.  PSG have been a perennially underachieving side for several years but thanks to Qatari billions they have a serious chance of winning Ligue 1.  Their -3 Pythagorean residual is within the range of uncertainty of the Pythagorean expectation.
  • Juventus and Bayern Munich are the truly dominant sides in domestic competition.  Not only are both sides leading by large margins (Juventus by nine points, and Bayern by 20), their performances are also in line with their statistical expectations.  Their low Pythagorean residuals are the result of their defensive records; Bayern’s residual was 0 or +1 for much of the season thanks to their streak of clean sheets and high scoring.
  • Eredivisie is a three-way race, but it shouldn’t be.  The Dutch top flight is going to be a fight between the Big Three teams (PSV, Ajax, Feyenoord) for the title, but if you’re going by goal statistics and expectations, PSV should be well in front.  They aren’t because of a significant difference in home and away performance and a strong performance by Feyenoord.
  • Goal difference is a proxy for expected points.  The nice thing about the ResultsPage app is that one can observe the relationship between goal difference and expected points quite easily.  In almost all cases, sorting on goal difference would yield a league table in the same order as the Pythagorean table.

So who are the overachievers at this point of the season, on the basis of Pythagorean expectation?  In addition to Manchester United and Barcelona, I would include Marseille (+10), Feyenoord (+8), Stuttgart (+8*), Hamburg (+7), Olympiacos (+7), Lazio (+6), Getafe (+8), and Rayo Vallecano (+7).  The asterisk is attached to Stuttgart because their expected point total would put them in the relegation zone yet they are performing well enough to be safe.  The same applies to Bastia (+5) in Ligue 1.

Who are the biggest underachievers at this point of the season?  They would be Liverpool (-7), Saint-Étienne (-6), Troyes (-7), Eskişehirspor (-7), Mersin (-7*), AZ Alkmaar (-7), Roda JC (-5*), and Orduspor (-5*).  I attach the asterisks to Roda, Mersin and Orduspor because their expected point total would place them in a safe position yet because of their underperformance they are in the relegation zone.

And of course, you can check all of this out yourself at ResultsPage, our league results and table application (and guinea pig).

CORRECTION: There was an error in the database in which the names of Sochaux and Saint-Étienne were swapped.  I’ve corrected the database and the text above.


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