The English Premier League 2020/21 season will commence on September 12. Andrew Beasley takes a look at what the stats from last season suggest about the leading title contenders. Who will win the Premier League? Read on to inform your EPL champion and top four predictions.
2020/21 English Premier League title predictions
As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic causing a three-month hiatus during last season, the break between the 2019/20 and forthcoming 2020/21 English Premier League seasons will be far shorter than usual. Teams will have notably less time to make improvements to their squad before the latter begins (although the transfer window will remain open until October 5) and arrange pre-season matches in which to try tactical changes.
It therefore seems reasonable to assume that proceedings will likely resume in the same vein as the end of last season, meaning we can use data from it to predict who will do well and badly in the upcoming campaign. Here’s a look at the race for the top end of the Premier League.
Who are the 20/21 Premier League title favourites?
As far as the bookmakers are concerned, the race for the title should once again be a two-horse race. Manchester United may have finished last season in good form and Chelsea have invested heavily in the likes of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech, but the odds suggest there will be an inevitable tussle between Manchester City and Liverpool once again.
Manchester City need to respond more effectively from losing positions than they did last season.
The market implies that City and defending champions Liverpool have approximately a 44% and 35% chance respectively of being crowned champions next May, with no other team presently sporting a likelihood of over 10%.
On the face of it, the expected goal (xG) statistics favour Pep Guardiola’s team. According to FiveThirtyEight’s data, their xG difference across the season was 24 better than Liverpool’s. On the basis of assigning a win in a match when a team has at least 0.5 expected goals more than their opponent, they would have earned eight more points than Liverpool and won the league.
However, there are pertinent truths hidden in their overall figures for the season. City would frequently run up big goal tallies (both expected and actual) against teams once the contest was already clearly over. They are the masters of piling on pressure when already leading by a couple of goals.
At the same time, they were not so great when they were behind. According to Understat, their expected goal difference when losing by one goal was only 0.82 per 90 minutes, suggesting they were often not dominant enough to recover a game when losing.
Conversely, this was Liverpool’s great strength in 2019/20, particularly prior to when they were confirmed as champions with seven games to spare. Their underlying stats were similar irrespective of whether they were ahead, level or trailing in a match, offering them an advantage over their title rivals.
This was reflected in their results too; Liverpool went behind in ten Premier League matches and recovered to win six of them last season, whereas City only emerged victorious from three of the 13 games in which they trailed at any point.
The shots on target statistics also favoured Jurgen Klopp’s side. Liverpool had more attempts on target than their opponents in 34 of their 38 matches, while City only achieved that feat in 31. City were also outshot on six occasions to Liverpool’s three.
Therefore, while City are worthy favourites in light of their largely unstoppable attacking prowess, if they don’t respond more effectively from losing positions than they did in 2019/20, Liverpool should be well set to retain their title.
If you’re looking for an outsider value bet in this market, then the statistics suggest that Chelsea are a more promising pick than the actual third favourites Manchester United.
The Blues were the better of the two sides in both the aforementioned xG and shots on target measures and arguably should have comfortably finished third last season if they were not undone by finishing at both ends of the pitch.
Werner’s arrival should help with that, as he scored nine more goals than expected across his four years with RB Leipzig, per Understat. Therefore, a lot will rest on whether Kepa Arrizabalaga can improve his performances in goal or Frank Lampard secures the services of a better keeper. Either way, their underlying statistics means they look a better bet than United.
2020/21 English Premier League top four predictions
Naturally, the teams mentioned thus far are the logical favourites to assume the top four spots, so is there any hope for the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal or anybody else?
Based on last season's stats, Leicester look the best bet to overhaul one of the traditional 'Big Six'.
The two sides from north London are more difficult to judge based on last season’s figures, as they both switched their managers during the 2019/20 campaign. For the period Jose Mourinho was in charge, Tottenham had the fourth best record in the division, while Arsenal performed better than several of their fierce rivals during Mikel Arteta’s stint.
However, there’s no escaping the fact that both clubs had dismal underlying numbers last season, both with or without their current bosses. Their xG figures imply that both teams should have endured mid-table finishes, which falls to even lower when analysing their respective shots on target stats.
Therefore, while the odds might portray Leicester and Wolves as the best of the rest beyond the traditional ‘Big Six’, their stats were actually more encouraging than both Tottenham and Arsenal during 2019/20.
Much was made of Leicester’s poor second half to the season – indeed, they ranked in the bottom half of the table for the final 19 games. However, their xG stats remained fairly strong throughout the campaign and their chances of success depend largely on Brendan Rodgers’ ability to steer the team around on the results front.
Meanwhile, Wolves experienced a lot of tight games last season and will no doubt do so again, meaning they will be relying on the small margins rolling in their favour. They will also need to recover physically from what became a 13-month long competitive campaign in 2019/20.
Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea lead this market and it’s hard to make a case that they won’t be the top four come the end of the season. Based on last season’s associated numbers, Leicester look the best bet to overhaul one of them.
Read Andrew's preview of the 2020/21 Premier League relegation contenders here.