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Certainties and crapshoots: the top 6 in England’s top divisions

9 July 2013

The absurd unpredictability of the Championship last season can be summarised by the difference between 6th and 22nd; the play offs and relegation. Just 14 points separated these teams – 0.30 points per game – effectively equal to the gap between Arsenal (4th) and Liverpool (7th) in the Premier League.

Fans of Championship clubs often talk about preferring to be in the tiers below the top flight for the sake of enjoyment, and the bookmakers’ odds for the upcoming season help us understand this argument. The table below tells us the probability of each team in the Premier League, Championship and League One have of finishing in their league’s top six next season.

Probability of a top 6 finish

The Premier League’s top four are near-certainties for the top six; Arsenal’s equivalents in the next two divisions have only a 43% chance of making the play offs. Remarkably, all of the teams in League One lie between Liverpool and Newcastle in terms of probability of making the top six, such is the distribution of talent.

In the Premier League, no ‘average’ team truly exists; in the two leagues below, few teams are distinguishable from the average.

Bookmakers’ odds are unadjusted for over-rounds.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 July 2013 10:42 pm

    Apologies, but I have to disagree with the statement that “The table below tells us the probability of each team in the Premier League, Championship and League One have of finishing in their league’s top six next season.”

    The percentages tell us the probability of you winning a bet on any of those teams finishing in the top 6. That’s very different. Bookies setup the odds to ensure that they are not liable to big losses and so that essentially, they win.

    Here’s the example:

    If you bet £10 on each of the top 6 Championship teams in your list to finish in Top 6, that’s £60 spent. The potential return is £130 if ALL of those make the Top 6 (they won’t).
    If you average the percentages of the top 6 (QPR, Reading, Bolton, Forest, Leicester, Brighton) in your list, you have a 47.76% chance of turning £60 into £130.

    Anyone who knows anything about football knows that it is extremely unlikely, that those 6 will ALL finish in the Top 6. Let’s say, Leicester & Brighton don’t make it into Top 6 (i’ve chosen the lowest percentage teams) then you have a 33.9% chance of turning £60 into £130.

    To put this in perspective, if you go to a roulette table at a Casino and bet on red to come up next, you have a 47.37% chance of winning (it’s not 50% because it could fall on Zero).

    What does this mean? It means that you are more likely to be able to make a profit from predicting whether red or black will come in on a roulette table, than making a profit on the Top 6 finishers in the Championship using the percentages that you have mentioned.

    In a nutshell, the betting odds (and your percentages) are not a guide on who will finish in the Top 6. They have no relation to football. They are related to a system that ensures that bookies WILL NOT lose money on ‘Who will finish in the Top 6’.

    Data is a great thing, but it can be manipulated and his has been here. My opinion – you’ve got as much chance guessing on whether a roulette wheel will fall on red or black, as you have on trusting these statistics on whether a team will finish in the Top 6.

    • 9 July 2013 11:01 pm

      Cheers Colin. I take your point on the probabilities, but I’m not sure I understand the ‘no relation to football’ line? Surely the odds reflect some truth as to the relative strengths and therefore unpredictability of the three leagues?

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