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2011/12 EPL Season Review--Quality Of Opposition

Welcome to part, er, 12? I took a small break to let the Euro's run their fascinating course, and now I'm back.

Today we shall look at a new and strange measure called Quality of Opposition. This is an attempt to try and decipher which EPL team had the most difficult fixture list.

Now, I hear you shout 'every team has the same schedule'. Yes, yes they do, but after the jump I'll show why some teams had a more difficult fixture list than others.

Quality of Opposition is, as I will show, a unique way of showing which teams in the EPL had a difficult fixture list, and which teams less so. An individual team's league position can change throughout the season.This can be due fluctuations in form or injury to key players, or, great escapes (Wigan) or desperate slides toward oblivion (Wolves).

An example, perennial slow starters, Everton. The Toffee's 10th game of the season was away at Newcastle United. Everton were in 16th place in the EPL at that point with a 3-1-5 record and struggling, they lost 2-1.

Everton's 38th game of the season was at home to Newcastle. Everton were in 7th place in the EPL by this point and won easily 3-1.

The point being Newcastle faced the same side twice in 2011/12, but Everton weren't the same side.They were poor on fixture #11 and strong and obdurate by fixture #38. They had started badly, as usual, and picked up form to finish upper mid-table, again, as is usual.

Quality of Opposition factors these risers, or sliders and rates each teams individual fixtures for each of the 38 games by assigning the oppositions league position to each fixture. Newcastle's games vs Everton looked like so.

Eg. Match #11 Newcastle v Everton (16th)

Match #38 Everton (7th) v Newcastle

I have done this for each individual team in the EPL for all of their 38 fixtures and added up the numbers from each game and came up with an average for each team.

The most difficult fixture list by this method was Aston Villa's, each fixture was against opposition who's league position was, on average, 9.64. The easiest fixture list was Sunderland, whose fixtures had an average of 11.68. A difference of 2 league positions for each fixture, a wide enough margin, although these two teams are the outliers in this set.

The Rating System

Instead of just listing the oppositions league position I shall use a weighted system. So a fixture against the the 1st place team in the EPL be a 20 difficulty rating. A fixture against the 20th placed side will have a 1 difficulty rating. I believe it to be a better system to have a difficulty rating rather than just listing the oppositions average league position. We then can easily see which team had the hardest schedule.

So, the higher the Quality of Opposition average total is, the more difficult the schedule. The higher the number the harder the schedule.

Quality Of Opposition (38 game schedule)

By Chart



So there is the graph for all 20 teams in the 2011/12 EPL and the game difficulty of their fixtures for all 38 games.

Their are no expected results here. The top teams don't have the easiest schedules, the relegation clubs don't have the most difficult fixtures. It's random, blind luck decides whether you play Everton early season (when they're in poor form) or at the tail end of the campaign. Ditto for a strong early-season Spurs fixture compared with Spurs' 2nd half slide (England rumours, small squad).

The game difficulties average range from 11.32, for the unfortunate Aston Villa all the way to the easy schedule of Sunderland at 9.36 Quality of Opposition rating per game.

Three of the top six sides are well above the mean line of game difficulty, they are Chelsea (11.06), Man City (10.87) and Newcastle (10.69). They had harder fixture lists yet still prevailed and qualified for European football next year.

Spurs (10.53), who came 4th, were a fraction above the mean line. Manchester United (9.92) and Arsenal (9.85) finished inside the EPL's top 4 and did so with a very favorable quality of opposition fixture list.

Quality Of Opposition (home)


So here is the quality of opposition chart for the 19 game home schedule. It is what it is, there are no biases here, just a cold look at who played what team and where those teams were in the league at that given date.

Man City, Everton, Liverpool and Spurs had considerably more difficult home fixture lists than the other EPL teams. Man City are 1.5 game difficulty points above the mean and when we consider the 55 point haul at the Etihad it seems impressive.

Liverpool struggled mightily at home this season and maybe we saw a team who played form teams in their home fixtures at Anfield.

Man Utd finish with by far the easiest home schedule by this measure, a game difficulty rating of 8.43, nearly 2 points below the mean line.

Again it is what it is, no bias. Three of the top 6 teams finished the harder side of the mean line, three of the top 6 finished the easier side of the mean line.

Quality Of Opposition (away)


Now the away table. Four of the top 6 sides are the harder side of mean, and Man City and Arsenal the easier side of the mean.

Stoke had the easiest schedule but still posted terrible away form. They are a poor side, though. Aston Villa had the hardest fixture list, closely followed by Man Utd who posted the EPL's best away form.

Chelsea were the only side to have a particularly difficult schedule both home and away.


This is a quick and easy way of looking at which teams had a slice of luck in regards to the fixture list. It shows which teams ran into an opposition in good form with a high league position in the EPL table, or, a team who got lucky and faced the opposition when said that team was lurking around the bottom of the table.

The difference between the teams with the highest game difficulty average and the team with the lowest game difficulty average is only 2 points on the quality of opposition scale. And that means only 2 places in the Prenier League table. We know that 2 places in the table doesn't mean too much in terms of difference in playing staff or a more difficult fixture on a one-off basis, but an entire 38 game fixture list is another matter.

A 38 game fixture list where the opposition every week, on average, is 1 place higher in the standings than the average fixture list is, may make a slight difference in league finishing position. Just ask Aston Villa, or should that be big 'Eck's fault? Probably big 'Eck's.

No great claim can be gleaned from Quality Of Opposition measure, it is, in essence, a fun look at the fixture list and it's oddities.

Up next, Points Adjusted Quality Of Competition.

Thanks for reading.

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