25% Of Pundits Get Top 4 Prediction Exactly Right! (So, Er, 75% Were Wrong)

Obviously with hindsight predictions are easy. And to be fair, 25% getting all the top 4 in the correct order is actually pretty good. I collected all these predictions from journalists and assorted media types and pundits at the start of the season, and if it shows anything it’s that these days the top of the Premier League is fairly predictable.

Forty out of 60 correctly went for Chelsea as Champions. That’s a large proportion correct, but not unprecedented – the glory days of Liverpool and Man Utd from the ’70s through the ’90s would have seen even bigger proportions of predictions for the top spot coming true most years. But in those days, up to the mid-90s anyway, predicting the rest of the top four was a bit more of a lottery. The likes of QPR, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur, to name but four small London clubs, all appeared in the top three at least once between 1975 and 1995, and of course Derby, Everton, Villa, Forest and Blackburn were among the Champions during those years. It’s not quite so dynamic these days. The traditional three giants of English football in the 20th century, Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd, have been joined by a couple of billionaire-funded upstarts. The new ‘big five’ have finances so much bigger than the rest that it’s difficult to see how anyone outside that group can even seriously challenge for the title now. It will take another seismic shift, or a very long time, for things to change. (As it happens, this is the first year since Villa won the title in 1981 that none of Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd have not finished in the top two.)

The upshot of that is that if you want to predict the top four, you take four of those five. In any given year one of them may have an off-season – usually after a change of manager – so it’s not nailed on that they will always be the top five, but it’s more likely than not that four of them will be the top four. And so it proved this season, and most recent seasons, and probably next season and the one after. Spurs sneaked into the top four once this century, but no one outside the big five has been in the top three since Newcastle 13 years ago. That’s an unprecedented level of stability at the top of English football.

So in total 33 of 60 predicted the correct top four teams, with 15 getting them all in the correct order. I doubt that would ever have happened before the 1990s. If we just look at the top two, 47 got the right teams and 35 got them in the right order. pred v2

I say I looked at 60 predictions; there are actually 61 in the table, but the last one, from a twitter account called @enfieldspurs, is just in there for amusement. It can’t really have been a serious prediction. Can it? Surely not. Nobody seriously thinks that Spurs are going to win the League.

However, there is a football journalist called Louise Taylor, who writes for the Guardian, who was the only one of the other 60 to seriously predict Liverpool as champions of 2014-15. I don’t read the Guardian generally, so I have no idea if Louise Taylor’s prose is brilliant or inane. All I know is her predictions regarding football aren’t up to much. For 2013-14 she did an @enfieldspurs and actually, seriously, and with no hint of sarcasm or irony, went for Tottenham as champions. Not to be put off by the failure of that one, she chose Liverpool on this basis:louise taylor predicts liverpool

What she’s overlooked there is the concept of regression to the mean. Liverpool came a slip away from winning the Premier League in 2014, but they overperformed. It was far more likely that they would fall back to their normal level than better their great performance, whoever came or went among the playing staff.

One bunch I overlooked in collecting the predictions was the good folk of ESPN, who put them up here. There are 12 in all, and 11 of them predicted the correct top four teams. The one dissenter was Gabriele Marcotti, who went for Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd. Most amusingly, a Pool fan then contributed this comment under the article:

Liverpool idiotAh, lovely. I hope he and the 55 people who agreed with him are chuckling as much as I am.

So far this year none of the big five have changed manager, though Man City and Liverpool might both be considering it. With that in mind and the fact there’s a whole transfer window to negotiate, it’s a bit early to make predictions for places in next season’s top four. However, I predict no one other than members of the big five will be in it. Money talks louder than ever.

Twitter: @AngryOfN5



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