Nov 28, 2018
Nov 28, 2018

How much does the Premier League change after Christmas?

What can bettors learn from the midway point of a season?

How to use past data to inform your soccer betting

Is it possible to determine league winners at Christmas?

Is it possible to determine who’ll get relegated at Christmas?

How much does the Premier League change after Christmas?

Analysing league standings half way through a season could prove beneficial to bettors, especially those interested in outright betting. However, if you leave it too late the available markets may be all but settled and there might be no value on offer. How much does the Premier League change after Christmas? Read on to find out.

For many fans and media pundits alike, huge significance is placed on what the Premier League table looks like on Christmas Day. In most cases, it’s used as a firm indicator on how things will finish at the end of the season.

Common wisdom states that the team ‘top at Christmas’ will win the title, while the team at the bottom are certain to be relegated. But how much does the Premier League table actually change after Christmas?

While not actually halfway through the season, the 17th game week of 38 is usually the last before December 25, Christmas Day is viewed by many as the midway point of the Premier League campaign.

Not just a culturally significant period, Boxing Day soccer has been a UK tradition for over 100 years, the festive season also represents the most congested period of Premier League soccer – with teams expected to play four games between December 23 and January 1.

West Brom are fondly remembered for their ‘great escape’ of 2004/05, where they became the first team in Premier League history to avoid relegation despite being bottom at Christmas. The Newcastle team of 1995/96 are less favourably known for blowing a 10-point Christmas Day lead at the top of the table

Ironically, however, it’s one of the few days that doesn’t have any fixtures whatsoever that seems to hold the most significance.

The common held theory states that there is a big correlation between what position a team finds itself in on Christmas Day and where they’ll eventually finish – with special emphasis placed on the top of the table, the Champions League positions and the relegation zone.

Using data to inform your betting

On face value, there seems to be enough anecdotal evidence to back this up as a credible theory – as exceptions to the rule often earn a place in the collective memory of soccer fans around the globe.

West Brom are fondly remembered for their ‘great escape’ of 2004/05, where they became the first team in Premier League history to avoid relegation despite being bottom at Christmas. The Newcastle team of 1995/96 are less favourably known for blowing a 10-point Christmas Day lead at the top of the table - to eventually finish second behind Manchester United.

But what does the actual data say? Let’s compare the past five seasons and find out.

Below is data from the past five Premier League seasons which shows the average points per game (PPG) picked up by each team up until Christmas Day. This is then compared to the teams’ PPG at the end of the season (38 games) and the final league table

2013/14 Premier League season

2013/14 Premier League season

2013/14 Premier League season

inarticle-1-epl-after-christmas.jpg

2014/15 Premier League season

2014/15 Premier League season

2014/15 Premier League season

inarticle-2-epl-after-christmas.jpg

2015/16 Premier League season

2015/16 Premier League season

2015/16 Premier League season

inarticle-3-epl-after-christmas.jpg

2016/17 Premier League season

2016/17 Premier League season

2016/17 Premier League season

inarticle-4-epl-after-christmas.jpg

2017/18 Premier League season

2017/18 Premier League season

2017/18 Premier League season

inarticle-5-epl-after-christmas.jpg

Are league positions really decided by Christmas?

Looking at the top position in the Premier League, we can immediately see not an awful lot changes between Christmas Day and the end of the season.

Just once in the past five seasons has the team top of the league on Christmas Day failed to go on and actually win the title – with Liverpool finishing second, two points behind Manchester City, in 2013/14, despite being joint top with Arsenal on December 25, 2013.

In terms of the top four and Champions League qualification spots, just three teams over the past five seasons found themselves in the top four on Christmas Day only to drop out by the end of the final game.

Not once in the past five seasons has the bottom three remained the same from Christmas to the end of the season – with at least one team in the relegation zone on Christmas Day managing to avoid the drop and retain Premier League status for another year at least

West Ham (4th) in 2014/15, Arsenal (4th) in 2016/17 and Chelsea (3rd) in 2017/18, were all on course to qualify for the Champions League before Arsenal took West Ham’s spot in 2014/15 and Tottenham replaced both Arsenal and Chelsea in the top four in 2016/17 and 2017/18 respectively.

Winning only three games in the remainder of their season, the Hammers dropped from 4th on Christmas Day to finish in 12th. Arsenal had a less spectacular fall, finishing 5th just one point off Liverpool in 4th, while Chelsea dropped two places to finish 5th – five points adrift of Liverpool.

At the other end of the table, however, change is more frequent.

Not once in the past five seasons has the bottom three remained the same from Christmas to the end of the season – with at least one team in the relegation zone on Christmas Day managing to avoid the drop and retain Premier League status for another year at least.

In 2013/14, both Sunderland and Crystal Palace were in the bottom three on Christmas Day yet managed to avoid the drop – Sunderland repeating West Brom’s famous feat of being bottom on December 25 but eventually finishing outside the relegation zone.

The Black Cats rallied to a 14th place finish – while Palace were a midtable team by the end of May, ending up in 11th.

The following season, in 2014/15, Leicester City completed another, supposedly rare, ‘great escape’ by finding themselves bottom at Christmas but climbing to finish safely in 14th. In Christmas 2015, Swansea and Sunderland found themselves 18th and 19th respectively, but were replaced by Norwich and Newcastle by the time the season ended.

It’s interesting to note that this was the second time in just five years that two teams in the relegation zone at Christmas actually managed to retain their Premier League status.

Finally, in 2016/17 and 2017/18, Swansea and Bournemouth were in the bottom three at respective Christmases – but finished 15th and 12th.

How can bettors use this data to their advantage?

Having analysed actual data, as opposed to relying solely on perception, we can see that while plenty of evidence exists to suggest the title and top four spots won’t alter a great deal after the festive period – the relegation zone is actually subject to quite a lot of change and variation.

As a result, bettors can use the Premier League rankings on Christmas Day to gauge what teams are likely to win the league or finish in one of the coveted Champions League positions – and assess whether these teams still offer value in outright markets.

Alternatively, bettors can exploit the commonly-held perception that teams who spend Christmas Day in the bottom three are doomed to relegation by looking for value on odds for their eventual survival.

One way bettors may look to exploit value in the outright relegation markets is to identify which teams are likely to move out of the relegation zone between Christmas and the end of the season through analysis of underlying performance stats such as expected goals.

Let’s use Crystal Palace in the 2017/18 season as an example. Although they were 16th on Christmas Day, Crystal Palace were just two points above the drop zone and were heavily fancied to get relegated having won just four games all season in the league, drawing six.

The Premier League table told of a team that were struggling in front of goal, and letting in too many at the other end. However, their underlying performances and statistics were telling a different story. Their results up until Christmas were actually worse than their performances had suggested.

Having only scored 16 goals all season, the Eagles’ had an xG of 27.40 meaning they had been expected to score 11 more goals than they actually had with the chances they’d created. Eleven goals that would have been worth an extra 10 points, had they gone in.

Similarly, Palace had conceded 29 goals by December 25, but only had an xGA of 27.07 showing that they had been unlucky at both ends of the pitch. Anyone looking beyond the league table would have known this was a team that would surely improve soon.

And as the expected stats suggested, they did. Winning seven and drawing five after Christmas Day – they eventually finished in a very respectable 11th position.

While it’s easy to look back retrospectively and say Palace were always certain to stay up, predicting such a revival in advance is naturally more difficult – though is possible if bettors pay close attention to underlying performance stats.

A more simple approach might be to assess how influential home field advantage might have been in the current standings by Christmas Day. Each team will have played almost every other team in the league once by this point (however, the strength of schedule from home and away could be dramatically different).

By looking at the relegation threatened teams around Christmas and identifying which of them have the majority of their home games remaining against teams of a similar level could help determine who is likely to benefit from a points swing towards the bottom of the league.

Similarly, bettors could by benefit by determining a game’s importance to both teams towards the end of the season. For example, a game against Manchester City in May might seem a daunting prospect for a team threatened by relegation. However, if Manchester City have already won the title by the time the fixture comes around, then the chances of them securing a result may improve due to factors such as squad rotation.

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