Liverpool’s shock home defeat to Burnley was sort of emblematic of the odd times football, and indeed wider society, continues to live through.
The Reds had not suffered defeat in a Premier League fixture at Anfield since April 2017 – a staggering run of 68 home matches – prior to Ashley Barnes’ penalty securing a famous three points for the Clarets.
It leaves Jurgen Klopp’s defending champions six points adrift of the top at a time when rivals Manchester City and Manchester United – who beat the Reds in the FA Cup on Sunday – are absolutely flying.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic means this season has been another strange one, with congested schedules, hastily rearranged fixtures and empty stadia becoming the norm.
It has meant that the dominance City and Liverpool have had in their recent title wins has been difficult to replicate this term and thrown the race for the trophy wide open.
Fans and pundits will continue to have their say on who will sit top come the end of the season, and the Stats Perform AI team have also crunched the numbers to predict the champions for the 2020-21 campaign.
With the majority of the 20 teams having reached the halfway stage of the league season, they have simulated how the rest of the season may play out.
The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team’s attacking and defensive quality.
Those ratings are allocated based on four years’ worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.
The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.
All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams’ attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.
The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.
Without further ado, let’s have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.
CITY TRIUMPH WITHOUT THE DOMINANCE OF PAST TITLE WINS
The results in our model show City have an 82.1 per cent chance of winning the title, and doing so with 84 points.
By recent standards that would represent a rather modest total. City won back-to-back titles in 2017-18 and 2018-19, the former seeing them rack up a competition record 100 points and following up with 98 in the latter.
Indeed, it would represent the lowest tally since Leicester City’s famous triumph in 2015-16 when the Foxes earned 81, but there have been eight occasions of teams topping the table with fewer than 84.
City are on a 17-match unbeaten run across all competitions and if they can continue that form, Guardiola’s serial winners will take some stopping.
UNITED PIP REDS AND SPURS TO SECOND AS FOXES SLIP AWAY
While the model tips City to ultimately win the title relatively comfortably, the “race for second” is certainly not clear cut.
According to our predictor, Manchester United – currently top of the table having played a game more than City – will fall off the title pace but still finish second on 75 points (a 40.2 per cent chance).
Liverpool are in a poor run of form but are tipped to recover from their recent malaise to secure a third-place finish on 73 (while the simulator still gives the Reds a 26 per cent chance for second and a five per cent shot at retaining the title).
Interestingly, Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham side came fourth in our outcome on 70 points, three above Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City side who are only two adrift of United in the real-life table.
Frank Lampard’s future at Chelsea is sure to face more scrutiny if a predicted finish of sixth, 22 points adrift of City, comes to fruition.
Everton, Arsenal, West Ham and Aston Villa completed the top 10 in the sim.
BLADES NOT THE WORST EVER AS BAGGIES, FULHAM HEAD BACK DOWN
It has been a miserable first half of the season for Sheffield United, who have taken only five points from 19 matches.
Should Chris Wilder’s side replicate that over the next 19 they would record the lowest tally ever in a Premier League season.
Our predictor has the Blades finishing rock bottom, but fans can take some solace from the fact they are tipped to do so on 24 points. Indeed, our sim still gives them a three per cent chance of finishing 17th and a 0.1 per cent of the dizzying heights of 15th…hey, you never know!
The reading is no better for two sides promoted from the Championship last term in West Brom and Fulham.
Sam Allardyce was the man drafted in by the Baggies to replace Slaven Bilic and continue his record of never being relegated from the Premier League, but under this model West Brom are headed for a 19th-place finish on 26 points.
In our league, Fulham – promoted by the playoffs last term – pick up 28 and return immediately to the second tier as well. That would at least be two more than the 26 they gained when relegated in the 2018-19 campaign.
West Brom’s chances of reaching 17th and survival are rated at just 5.6 per cent, while Fulham are given a little more hope at 11.2 per cent.
Brighton and Hove Albion (37), Newcastle United (41), Burnley (42) and Crystal Palace (44) are all tipped to safely beat the drop, while Leeds United – champions of the Championship last term – are predicted for a 12th-place finish and 49 points.