Following a weekend packed full of crucial matches at both the top and the bottom of the Premier League, what impact have the results had on our AI model predictions for the end of 2021-22?
The Title Race
Sunday’s clash at the Etihad Stadium was labelled as the Premier League title decider, but it did anything but decide the destination of the 2021-22 trophy.
Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Manchester City kept up the suspense to ensure that the Premier League title race will likely go right down to the wire. The point won in Manchester has increased Liverpool’s chances of winning the title by a measly 0.4%, but the key was to not fall four points behind their rivals with seven games remaining – they didn’t, and the title race is very much still alive.
Our prediction model still heavily favours Manchester City for the Premier League title, at 65.2% over Liverpool’s 34.8%, and based on the quality of opposition left to play, this makes sense.
Of the 20 Premier League teams, only Crystal Palace have an easier run-in than Pep Guardiola’s side based on the points per game averages of their remaining opponents.
City’s last seven fixtures see their opponents’ average PPG at just 0.97, below Palace’s 0.87 average. Liverpool, in comparison, must play opponents with an average of 1.13 points per game – the 12th hardest run-in, including games at Anfield against arch-rivals Manchester United and Antonio Conte’s rapidly improving Tottenham Hotspur.
Regardless of who eventually wins the title, we’ve undoubtedly seen two of the best-ever Premier League sides battle it out in 2021-22.
The only previous Premier League season to see both of the top two teams post a higher points per game average than City (2.39) and Liverpool (2.35) this season was in 2018-19, when Liverpool averaged 2.55 points per game – the fourth best rate in Premier League history – but still missed out on the title to Manchester City by a single point (2.58 ppg average, the third best in Premier League history).
Even if Man City win every one of their remaining seven games, they won’t be able to reach the points tally of both Liverpool (97) and themselves (98) in that almost flawless title race of 2018-19.
The Top Four Battle
Meanwhile Arsenal’s hopes of playing Champions League football for the first time in six years have taken a huge dent this week. A 2-1 home defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday followed a 3-0 schooling at Crystal Palace last Monday, while rivals Spurs capitalized with successive thrashings of Newcastle and Aston Villa.
Following Spurs’ 1-0 away defeat to struggling Burnley on 23rd February, Arsenal enjoyed a 2-1 home win over Wolves the following night. At that stage, Arsenal found themselves six points ahead of Spurs and only a point off Manchester United with two games in hand on them.
But since then, Spurs have won 18 points from seven games – five more than any other team in the Premier League. Arsenal have won half the tally of points in this period (9), albeit from a game less, while Manchester United have once again hit the self-destruct button, taking only five points from five games.
Spurs have the fifth-easiest run-in based on the points per game averages of their remaining opponent (1.08), with both Arsenal (1.18) and Manchester United (1.23) having tougher games left to play.
This is a big factor behind Spurs’ top four chances being at 62% compared to Arsenal’s 36.9% in our season projections, but it’s far from over. Arsenal still have a game in hand on their north London rivals and the two sides meet at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium 10 days before the season finale.
Following a disastrous 1-0 defeat at lowly Everton on Saturday, Manchester United are near certainties to be out of the running for the Champions League for next season via a top four finish. Of 10,000 simulations of the remainder of the Premier League season, just 100 saw them finish in the top four (1%). They might even miss out on Europa League football (9.3% chance) or even the Europa Conference League (62.7%) for 2022-23, though they might not be too disappointed with that as they prepare for yet another reset season in 2022-23.
Since sacking Ole Gunnar Solskjær in November, Man Utd have averaged 1.79 points per game in the Premier League – that’s quite a bit above their average under the Norwegian in 2021-22 (1.42), but still not enough.
Great weekend: Everton and Leeds
Terrible weekend: Watford and Burnley
Much has been said about Everton’s tricky finale to the Premier League season. The first hurdle was cleared following a 1-0 victory at home to Manchester United on Saturday, and while they have the fourth toughest run-in to the season based on opponents points per game average (1.27), the reality is that they may have already done enough to remain in the top-flight following Watford and Burnley’s bad results across the weekend.
Everton’s chances of relegation reduced from 49.4% to 34.6% following that win at Goodison Park, while the weekend’s other big winners in the battle for the drop were Leeds United.
Saturday’s game at Vicarage Road was an archetypal six-pointer, with Watford having a game in hand on Leeds and knowing a win would take them to within five points of the Yorkshire club.
Unfortunately for the Hornets, Leeds were in the mood and they were not – losing 3-0 and finding themselves six points from safety and 11 points behind Leeds. This mean that their chances of relegation increased from 81.9% to 94.9% following the weekend, and Roy Hodgson looks to have sealed his first-ever Premier League relegation.
Only one team has ever been able to avoid relegation from the Premier League having won fewer than 24 points from 31 matches in a season – that was Hodgson’s Fulham in 2007-08 (23 points from 31 games). Fulham won 13 points from their last seven games that season, with 12 of those coming in the final five matches – if Watford were to somehow beat the drop this season, it would eclipse even that monumental effort.
Burnley would have been confident of a victory at bottom club Norwich on Sunday, following a 3-2 win against Everton in midweek, but all their good work on Wednesday was undone by their 2-0 loss at Carrow Road. This result increased their chance of relegation to 66.1% from 53.2% before the matchday.
Burnley and Everton still have to travel to play Watford at Vicarage Road this season, but with Watford just one home defeat off equaling the all-time English top-flight run record of 10 successive home defeats in a single season set by Birmingham City in 1985-86, it’s hardly a trip that will scare them.
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