Data Visualization

Is There Hope for the Underdogs in European Football this Year? What the Data Tells Us

Everyone loves an underdog story. Whether it’s Leicester winning the Premier League in 2016 or Japan dumping World Champions Germany out of the 2018 World Cup, upsets tend to be big news. With domestic leagues back in action after the international break, we take a look what the data tells us about potential surprises in Europe’s top divisions.

At MicroStrategy, we’ve been using data supplied by Opta to create an interactive dashboard of interesting player and team stats from Europe’s big five football leagues: the Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy), Bundesliga (Germany), and Ligue 1 (France).

A brief glance across the European leagues suggests that we won’t be seeing anything to rival the exploits of Leicester two years ago. The stats show that the three highest performing teams so far are Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), Manchester City, and Barcelona. Let’s start in France. PSG has scored 46 goals in an incredible 14-match winning streak to open the season. Les Rouge-et-Bleu average a staggering 3.3 goals a game and Ligue 1 now looks like a procession.

PSG boasts a pass completion rate of 88.8 percent; only Manchester City has bettered that (89.5%). PSG also has the joint-leading scorer in Europe’s top five leagues in Kylian Mbappé. Let’s see what the data in MicroStrategy tells us:

Moving on to Italy. Is there any hope for underdogs this year? This year’s Serie A is unsurprisingly dominated by Juventus. The club has won the last seven scudetti, and with 12 wins and one draw, they look set to emulate PSG in France by strolling to another title.

Of the likely challengers, second-placed Napoli has created 77 shots on target, just eight short of Juve, as has AC Milan, although the Rossoneri are down in fifth, 15 points off the pace. It would take a spectacular run from Napoli or third-placed Inter to prevent Juventus winning an eighth straight title, but both currently lack the consistency to put enough of a run together to make up the points difference.

What about the Premier League? The top four has a very familiar ring to it since the wheels came off Bournemouth and Watford’s form in recent weeks, so we’re unlikely to see another Leicester-like run from anyone this year.

Manchester City is passing everyone off the pitch with 70% possession and has scored 38 goals, 29% more than second highest scorer, Liverpool. Despite being bottom of the table, Fulham has two players in the top 14 of the season’s most-valuable players (MVP) in Aleksandar Mitrović and André Schurrle.

Down in Spain, something of a surprise could be brewing. Sevilla, despite its recent dominance in the Europa League with five wins since 2006, has only won a single La Liga title in its long history, way back in 1946. The Andalucians have reached the summit of the table as FC Barcelona’s form stalled, although the Catalans dominate games a lot more, with 10% more possession on average. Sevilla has three players in the top 11 in La Liga and, surprisingly, Celta de Vigo (currently two places above the relegation zone) also has two players in the top ten, including Spain international Iago Aspas and Uruguayan Maxi Gómez.

However, it’s Basque side Alavés that’s providing the biggest surprise, currently lying fourth in the table despite averaging just 40% possession and having scored almost half as many goals as second-placed Barça.

Finally, there may be a changing of the guard in Germany after six straight Bayern Munich titles. Dortmund has raced ahead and is nine points clear of fifth-placed Bayern. The champions still have the best pass conversion rate in the Bundesliga (87%) but have struggled to turn that dominance into goals. Striker Robert Lewandowski is the only Bayern player in the top 20 season MVPs so far.

So, few shocks in the cards this season, but should Dortmund and Sevilla maintain their form, and Alavés keep it tight, then we could see some unexpected champions and unfamiliar faces in next year’s Champions League. It’s still early days, though.

Want to see more? Explore the dossier today. Are you ready to create your own data analysis? Download MicroStrategy Desktop for free and get started. Stay tuned to the MicroStrategy blog this season, as we’ll be providing regular insights from the Premier League and more.

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