A temperature check
If you wanted to go somewhere warm on holiday, which city would you choose: New York or Sydney?
While Sydney is 6 degrees hotter on average over a year, no one would buy flights to Australia on this information alone. New York City is warmer from May to September, and Sydney warmer for the rest of the year – that much is obvious.
In football if we’re asked whether Team A is better than Team B, we invariably look at the league table for an answer. The problem is for many leagues this average is fixed between August and May, and therefore disguises the variation in ‘temperatures’ for each team.
Tottenham Hotspur have been particular victims of this. They won fewer points than Leicester in the period between August 2015 and May 2016, fewer than Chelsea between August 2016 and May 2017, and fewer than Man City between August 2017 and today. In other words, they’ve won fewer points than three other teams in three distinct August to May (or November) periods.
If you dig a bit deeper though, Spurs were the ‘hottest’ team in England for parts of the last 30 months. Rather than just judging seasons as ending in May, Spurs had won more points over 38 games than any other team in England at multiple points last season. While fixture balance may have played a part in this, our World Super League model estimates that they were actually the best team in the country for an even more significant part of last season, and have been the country’s best team in the calendar year of 2017.
It’s fair to ask why this matters – after all, it’s the final league table that determines who is champions and who is relegated. However, we also make a lot of decisions based on the league table that is printed in newspapers every week. We decide who to buy, who to sell, whether to change the manager, promote a young player, and so on. Many clubs in Spurs’ position might have decided they needed more leaders in the squad because they had fallen short in May twice, when really it was just that the calendar hadn’t quite aligned for the team. We just took their temperature at the wrong time.
Sophisticated tools like our World Super League – or even a simple perspective like the one above – can help us plan that little bit better than clubs that are slaves to the league table.