Things can only get better

Pablo Machín surely knows the scale of the task ahead of him as he attempts to turn around Espanyol’s disastrous start to the season, but we have tried to quantify it for you anyway.

Method

We used data from FiveThirtyEight’s pre-season predictions to rank the 20 sides of La Liga:

Team Difficulty
Barcelona20
Real Madrid19
Atlético18
Valencia17
Sevilla16
Real Sociedad15
Getafe14
Eibar13
Athletic12
Betis11
Villarreal10
Espanyol9
Leganés8
Celta7
Levante6
Alavés5
Osasuna4
Valladolid3
Granada2
Mallorca1
AVERAGE10.5

This allowed us to work out the average difficulty of opponent that each La Liga side has faced in their opening eight fixtures this season. To take Espanyol as an example:

ESPANYOLSevillaAlavésGranadaEibarSociedadCeltaValladolidMallorcaAVERAGE
Difficulty165213157317.75

It seems that Espanyol have faced easier fixtures than they might have expected. However, we wanted to allow for the increased difficulty of away matches. To this end, we looked at last year’s La Liga table, and worked out that, on average, each team earned 1.616 points per home game, and 1.095 per away game. Using this ratio, we can surmise that an away match is about 1.5 times more difficult than a home match against the same opponent. This would imply that, for example, a home match against Barça is about the same difficulty as playing away to Getafe (in terms of the chance of winning points). This system is far from perfect as it implies that the difference between each side is equal, when in reality their is usually bigger points gaps nearer the top of the table and a lot of congestion in the middle. To give us a rough idea of the challenge each side has faced, however, it will suffice.

Multiplying the difficulty of the away matches by this coefficient yields, for Espanyol:

EspanyolSevillaAlavésGranadaEibarSociedadCeltaValladolidMallorcaAVERAGE
Difficulty H/A167.5219.51510.531.59.375

On the new scale, the average difficulty of Espanyol’s opening eight matches was 9.375, with an average of 13.2.

We followed the same process for every team, and plotted the results:

The red lines represent the average difficulty (13.2), and the average number of points won per team (10.9).

Conclusions

Using the four quadrants as a guide, we could say the following:

  • Despite enjoying the easiest run of matches in the whole division, Espanyol have gained only five points and sit 19th. Fellow strugglers Leganés, Mallorca and Alavés have all faced tougher fixtures.
  • Getafe and Celta Vigo have been dealt the most difficult starts, which puts their unspectacular performances into context. On the other hand, Betis and Eibar fans may have cause for concern given that things are only going to get more difficult in the coming weeks.
  • At the top of the table, Real Madrid, Atlético and FC Barcelona have all taken advantage of a kind fixture list. Fans of Real Sociedad, Sevilla and surprise package Granada will have enjoyed the international break after their sides came through a daunting run of games unscathed.

This is a complicated way of saying that Espanyol have had some easy games (cliches about there being no easy games aside), and have royally mucked it up. They are on relegation form if any side has ever been on relegation form. A huge turnaround is needed, and the realistic aim in the next three weeks is to make sure they are still in the race by the time the next international break comes around.

Hope that cheered you up. See you on Sunday for a preview of the Villarreal game i.e. The Beginning. Cheers!

One thought on “Things can only get better

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