Strength Of Schedule In The Premier League

One of the problems with evaluating just how a team has started the new season is that a fixture list can be mighty lopsided after just seven games. During the first 8 fixtures (this coming weekends round is included) some teams have had an easy fixture list, some teams have had a hard fixture list. Then there is Aston Villa's fixture list...

We understand that not all early fixture lists contain the same quality of opponent, the question is:how do we quantify the strength of an opponent and thus the strength of fixture list at this early stage of the season?

We could use the PPG of opponents at the time of fixture, but points aren't always an accurate reflection of team strength at this early stage of the season. In fact no stat is a true reflection of team strength after just 8 games, but, my, we can use some metrics that are more accurate at this early stage than mere PPG.

How about if we recorded each teams opponents TSR, SoTR , PDO, Goal ratio (goals for/total goals) and Final third Pass Ratio at the time of fixture and created an average number for each teams fixture list?

An example: Arsenal have 8 games worth of opponents data loaded into my database, for each fixture we take their opponents number in each category immediately prior to that fixture and create an average from all 8 games of opposition data. And by doing this we gain an idea on the strength of opposition thus far.

Again, it is early doors and this method isn't perfect, but it's better than groping around in the dark and guessing at who has had a difficult fixture list through these first 7 (actually, 8) games so far.

The Big Table

This table features every PL teams Average Strength Of Opponent faced thus far.

Go follow who was sharp enough to spot a slight glitch with Villa's 3rd game. The glitch affected Villa's Opposition GD Ratio & Final 1/3rd Ratio and a couple of teams' TSR's. Villa's schedule just got a little bit harder following the glitch fix.

All fixed now.

Opp TSR Opp SoTR Opp PDO GD Ratio Final 1/3rd SoT Rating Possession
Arsenal 42.81 41.75 98.91 0.515 46.50 99.17 48.57
Aston Villa 62.09 59.71 104.73 0.663 62.84 97.52 54.00
Cardiff 57.18 55.79 105.00 0.596 58.12 100.79 54.33
Chelsea 47.24 46.47 111.04 0.517 40.46 95.96 46.43
Palace 41.24 45.22 96.92 0.424 47.08 107.72 49.40
Everton 53.89 48.87 105.24 0.502 49.28 101.20 47.00
Fulham 45.55 38.69 91.67 0.357 39.93 95.00 44.25
Hull 47.45 44.79 101.96 0.489 50.42 100.18 48.67
Liverpool 48.15 47.49 87.64 0.477 48.98 99.53 49.29
Man City 46.91 44.39 102.26 0.464 48.47 98.16 47.50
Man United 54.59 53.45 98.86 0.555 53.24 107.25 51.00
Newcastle 44.76 50.96 112.48 0.589 50.63 108.02 44.00
Norwich 52.98 53.22 107.14 0.591 53.61 104.34 53.00
Southampton 54.34 62.21 91.70 0.561 55.90 107.25 55.83
Stoke 43.91 45.76 99.49 0.426 44.64 97.99 45.40
Sunderland 49.19 52.43 96.92 0.521 53.25 102.66 55.20
Swansea 54.92 50.11 98.76 0.597 54.74 104.41 54.00
Tottenham 49.28 47.03 107.53 0.497 53.61 95.24 54.00
West Brom 51.40 51.32 98.04 0.478 55.51 103.57 49.33
West Ham 56.58 56.86 97.22 0.519 60.36 101.99 58.86

There's some pretty interesting things going on here. I'll break them down one-by-one.

TSR

The average TSR number is 50, anything above 50 means that a teams fixture list has contained opponents who are better than average Total Shot ratio teams.

Looking down the chart we can see that Stoke have faced a sub-par succession of TSR teams through their first 8 games. Palace and Fulham have both played against a fixture list full of weaker shots (TSR) teams. Man City and Liverpool have both had a fixture list full of opponents who fail to outshoot teams.

At the bottom of this table we come across the teams who have had a fixture list full of the really strong shots (TSR) teams. My Lord, look at Villa's fixture list TSR! The average TSR number of Villa's opponents through the first 8 games is 60.28 That is really fucking high.

Cardiff have opponents who are only a shade weaker by TSR. United, as expected having faced Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City, have faced some pretty strong TSR teams.


SoTR

This time we'll focus on Shots On Target Ratio.

Fulham, despite really poor form, have faced the easiest set opponents by SoTR. Arsenal's have been pretty easy, as have Man City's.

Man United, Villa and Cardiff round out the teams with the hardest set of opponents by SoTR.  It's worth mentioning SToke at this point who faced the easiest TSR fixture list but have also faced the fourth hardest SoTR fixture list. Could be a quirk, or they could have faced some super efficient teams in their first few fixtures.

I could continue to list each table in graph form but, quite frankly, there is no need when the first table of data is sortable. So sort that table and see who has faced easy or hard quality of competition in each of the listed categories.

Now I want to focus on two teams who have faced completely different strengths of fixture list so far: Aston villa and Man City.

Man City

Man city have some interesting things going on with the strength of fixture list:

  • TSR 46.9
  • SoTR 44.3
  • Final Third Pass % 48.4%
  • Goal Difference % Ratio 46.4
  • PDO 102.2
The average of City opponents TSR & SoTR look pretty easy right now, as does City's fixture list GD Ratio (league ave is 50). That said, the most interesting quirk in City fixture list is their opponents PDO at the time of fixture which is 105

For those that don't know, PDO is a teams scoring% (ave ~32) + save% (ave ~68) and the league average sits dead on 100. if the league average PDO is 100 that makes City's fixture list PDO of 102 is a shade above average. In short, PDO is used (roughly) as a 'luck' measure, and so far Man City have ran into some ever-so-slightly lucky opponents in their first 8 fixtures.

Game-By-Game Fixture List Strength (Not rolling averages)

Let's now look at Aston Villa who have, more or less, faced the toughest fixture list so far.

  • TSR 62.09
  • SoTR 59.1
  • Final Third Pass % 62.84%
  • Goal Difference % Ratio 0.663
  • PDO 104.7

The above information tells us that Villa have faced some mighty strong shots sides, who are also amazingly good at out-passing the opposition and way above average at out-scoring their opponents.

Remember when we looked at Man City's opponents PDO? Well, Villa's fixture list PDO is slight above average. Right across the board Villa's fixture list has been pretty darn hard.

Game-By-Game Fixture List Strength (Not rolling averages)

The information in these interactive graphs merely backs up the earlier statements: Villa have had a damn hard fixture list. the data points us toward that conclusion, and so does a look at Villa's fixture list:

  1. Arsenal (a)
  2. Chelsea (a)
  3. Liverpool (h)
  4. Newcastle (h)
  5. Norwcih (a)
  6. Man City (h)
  7. Hull (a)
  8. Tottenham (h) (upcoming)

No team has faced anywhere near this level of competition in their first 8 games. Villa, somehow, have 10 points from their first 7 fixtures. Hell, even if they remain on 10 points after the Tottenham fixture, I still think they have done remarkably well.

Final Thoughts

Villa have suffered through a crippling fixture list thus far, our eyes tell us that and the data tells us that too. If Villa's early season returns appear good so far then they should seem even better after taking into account just how tough their fixture list has been.

I will keep track of these numbers throughout the season so as to uncover the easy or difficult stretches in a teams fixture list and whether a bump in points won was caused, in some point, by the uneven quality of opponent.

Teams to hit purple patches once their fixture list cools off and evens out? Man United and Aston Villa. Just wait for the plaudits to roll in on how Lambert 'fixed' things, or how Moyes 'grew confident in the OT hot seat'.

As for easy fixture, if Fulham's fixture list evens out and they run into some 'big' teams then I really fear for Fulham and their managers future.
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