Four defending champions
A title defence is regarded as one of football’s toughest feats, and across European football we’re seeing different teams approach the challenge with varying levels of success.
It can often be easy to get swept up in overly simplistic narratives that exaggerate or conceal the need for change. “Winning ugly”, “suffering from complacency”, “lacking motivation” are all stock phrases associated with defending champions.
Germany’s Bundesliga, Denmark’s Superliga, Italy’s Serie A and England’s Premier League are all witnessing four very different title defences. While some narratives hold true, others are skewed by football’s propensity for outliers, and results can often be better explained by quantifiable measures. Below we use 21st Club’s Performance League to estimate the true strength of the four defending champions.
In Germany and England, Bayern and Chelsea’s seasons have taken opposing courses thanks to clearly contrasting performance levels. In Denmark and Italy, however, last seasons’ champions have not quite gotten what their performances on the pitch have deserved.
Juventus’ underlying defensive numbers – fewer than 9 shots against per game, most from unfavourable positions – mean that 21st Club estimate that they still have a 16% chance of overhauling a nine-point deficit to become champions again. FC Midtjylland, meanwhile, are only a point off the pace in Denmark – a margin that belies their rivals’ true ascendancy in underlying metrics.
These explanations needn’t just apply to teams competing at the sharp end of the league, they apply to all teams attempting to reach or exceed the benchmarks set last season. Using predictive metrics alongside the league table can help contextualise the outlook for the rest of the season.