We give you an update on the 2023-24 Championship table based on Opta’s expected points model, rather than points won in real life – you know, the ones that actually count.

Back in December, we pondered whether the real-life Championship table was lying to us. At that point – after 20 matchdays – Opta’s expected points model had Leeds United as the best-performing team in the second tier ahead of league-leaders Leicester City.

Now, 13 matchdays on and ahead of a mouth-watering clash between the two sides at Elland Road on Friday night, it feels like a logical time to check in on what the latest version of the Opta expected points table is telling us.

Of course, points are won and lost whether the teams deserve the eventual outcome in matches or not. But this is where our Opta expected points model can help tell the real story of those matches. What would the Championship table look like so far in 2023-24 had games ended as the underlying data suggests they should have?

Our expected points model simulates the number of goals scored by each side in each match based on the expected goals (xG) value of every shot taken. It then uses the simulated number of goals to determine the match outcome (win/draw/loss). Each match is then simulated 10,000 times. The expected points for each team in each match can then be calculated based on the proportion of simulations they win/draw/lose.

This is of course not an exact science, as expected goals data doesn’t include a lot of factors, such as game state and dangerous periods of possession that don’t lead to shots. Nevertheless, it’s still a decent barometer for how teams are performing at this advanced stage of the 2023-24 campaign.

Opta Expected Points Championship Table

The best place to start is probably the top four. In a perfect marriage of the data and the eye test, Leeds, Leicester City, Southampton and Ipswich Town make up the top four places in the expected points table, as they do in the real Championship table. It’s quite clear that these four teams are the best in the league this season – and arguably have been for some time – so it’s going to be a gut punch for at least one of those sides to miss out on promotion to the Premier League at the end of the campaign.

Before this season, just 15 of the 600 teams to take part in a second-tier campaign since 1999-00 had managed to win at least 67 points from their opening 33 matches. In 2023-24, those four aforementioned teams have all done it. Based on three points for a win, no second-tier season in English Football League history has seen as many as four teams win this tally of points by this stage. We’re witnessing a historic battle for promotion to the top flight.

Enzo Maresca’s Leicester City side sit top of the league with 78 points, which is the second-highest points tally at this stage of a second-tier season in the post-WWII era behind only Reading in 2005-06 (82 after 33 games). While they currently have a nine-point cushion at the top, that could be reduced to six if Leeds beat them on Friday night.

In fact, it is Leeds who sit top of the Opta expected points table, although oddly that’s more down to Leicester’s real-life overperformance than how Leeds have performed in the underlying data metrics.

Leeds’ expected points tally of 67.4 is below their actual tally of 69, but their difference of +1.6 is nothing compared to the gap of +12.9 between Leicester’s real points tally (78) and their expected points tally (65.1). The only team in the Championship to overperform more than the Foxes are Preston North End (+13.5).

Expected Points Championship Table Opta

Is it down to quality or luck? The fact that both Southampton (+6.9) and Ipswich (+10.5) are also outperforming their expected points totals this season would suggest it’s down to quality at both ends of the pitch more than consistently getting lucky.

As things stand, the Opta supercomputer (which takes expected points data into consideration) still sees Leicester as the most likely champions (88.3%) across its current 10,000 season simulations. That will certainly fall if Leeds win on Friday, while it would drop even further if Ipswich and Southampton were to have successful weekends, too.

Leeds are currently second favourites for automatic promotion (58.8%) ahead of Ipswich (24.6%) and Southampton (18.5%), whose hopes were dashed by unexpected midweek defeats to Bristol City and Hull City either side of a home win over West Brom.

Who will win the Championship

When we last checked in on the Championship season projections on 29 December, Ipswich were second favourites at 57.7% and Leeds were at 21.6%. However, Daniel Farke’s side have won five points more than any other Championship team since then (24 in nine games) and eight more than Kieran McKenna’s Ipswich (16).

Interestingly, Sunderland (currently 10th) and Middlesbrough (13th) should be occupying the final two play-off spots in the Championship table based on the expected points data. Both clubs have underperformed pre-season expectations after a 2022-23 campaign which saw them lose in the playoff semi-finals, with Sunderland on their third manager of the season already. Sunderland’s points tally is 7.3 lower than their expected value, while Boro’s is 10.0 under.

Cardiff City are just three points behind Middlesbrough in the Championship table ahead of this weekend’s fixtures, but the Opta expected points model suggests that’s not entirely a true reflection of their quality on the pitch. Only Plymouth (33.8) and Rotherham (23.6) have a lower expected points total than the Welsh club this season (34.1).

The only team to have a bigger negative difference between their expected points tally and their real-life total are Sheffield Wednesday.

The Owls have won 29 points this season and sit second from bottom, four points from safety. Their expected points total is 39.5 though, which would place them 16th. Thatcould give fans some hope of survival.

Are Rotherham the worst team in the Championship this season? Yes, according to both the real table and the expected points table – by some distance. The less said on them, the better.

Of course, the final league table will be based on those points won in reality, not those based on expected performance. However, with 13 matchdays left to play in this Championship campaign, looking at the underlying data to see where teams could be placed right now with a mixture of some luck, better quality defending and more consistency in front of goal offers an insight into how the season could finish. It promises to be another rollercoaster ride.

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