Countdown to Champions League Final: How horrible is Saturday’s match up? Ridiculous numbers shed light.

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It’s difficult to get too fired up about a Champions League final contested by a team that finished sixth in their domestic league and an opponent that just got blitzed in their domestic cup final. If the Champions League is, in fact, supposed to be about the best facing the best, this year’s final defies the definition. Few would argue that either Bayern Munich or Chelsea are amongst the world’s top five-or-so1 teams right now, but it would also be foolish to argue that these teams don’t deserve to be in Munich.2

It’s a bit unfair to compare the build up for this year’s final to last year’s Barcelona-Manchester United meeting, but there’s an obvious (and possibly refreshing) diminution in excitement. While it might help if Frank Lampard stepped up with a reputation-undermining scandal, the perceived quality of the matchup is tempering anticipation for a meeting of two of the world’s most popular clubs.

All that was a bit too nebulous for me, so I decided to combine a series of random numbers with spurious assessments, trying to determine just how bad this match up is. I looked at the 20 years of the Champions League and tried to assess, based on league finishes and league strength, whether we’d ever seen a “weaker” final. Trying to cover a number of angles, creating a number of different ways to rank the final match ups, looking at (click here to skip the boring stuff):

  • combined table (ordinal) finish,3
  • combined points, adjusted for the number of points it took to win the league,4 and
  • combined points, adjusted for the maximum number of points possible.5

Then for each of these measurements, I also created rankings that attempted to adjust for league quality:

  • combined table (ordinal) finish, with each value multiplied by league’s UEFA coefficient rank (ordinal),6
  • combined points adjusted for league winner’s points, adjusted for how the league’s coefficient (points) compare to the top coefficient,7 and
  • combined points adjusted for league winner’s points, adjusted for how the league’s coefficient (points) compare to a pseudo-maximum coefficient.8

Whether you want to look at raw, relative, or adjusted numbers, these quick-and-dirty assessments should cover the spectrum, but none of this should be taken too seriously. The goal here is to move from “Man, this matchup stinks” to something a closer to “OK, this is a slight more valid reason to think this matchup stinks.”

And by the six “measures,” Saturday’s matchup is the stinkiest in only one:

Table 1: Best, worst match ups by combined league rank

Best Worst
Year Match up Score
2011 Barcelona-Manchester United 2
2010 Internazionale-Bayern Munich 2
2009 Barcelona-Manchester United 2
2001 Bayern Munch-Valencia 2
1999 Manchester United-Bayern Munich 2
1994 Milan-Barcelona 2
1993 Marseille-Milan 2
Year Match up Score
2012 Bayern Munich-Chelsea 8
2000 Real Madrid-Valencia 8
2007 Milan-Liverpool 7
2005 Liverpool-Milan 7
4 tied at 5

All we’re trying to see here is which finals have features the best league finishers. There’s no shortage of meetings of league winners (“Best”, where the score ends up being 2). This year’s final, however, is right there with 2000’s as the weakest, by this measure.

It bares noting La Liga in 2000 was amazing, with six teams within eight points at the top (Deportivo La Coruña took the title).

We account for this kind of clustering in the next measure, where we don’t look at league rank; rather, we take consider how close the teams came to winning the league. The numbers, below, are the combined percentages of the points each team earned divided by the league leader’s (multiplied by 100, to make pretty). 200 would be a the best possible score, one earned by those seven meetings of league winners.

Table 2: Best, worst match ups by percentage of league leader points

Best Worst
Year Match up Score
Seven tied at 200.0
Year Match up Score
2007 Milan-Liverpool 139.3
2005 Liverpool-Milan 152.9
2012 Bayern Munich-Chelsea 162.0
2006 Barcelona-Arsenal 173.6

This measure tries to capture how far back of their league leaders each team was when they made the final. When Milan and Liverpool were competing against each other for Champions League, there weren’t meaningfully competing for their domestic titles. Interesting, the four finals rating “worst” by this measure have all occurred in the last six years.

The next chart is similar, but instead of looking at teams relative to their league leader, we look at total points available. There are a certain number of points out there at the beginning of the year. How many did the finalists grab? If you had two finalists with two perfect league records, the score would be 200.

Table 3: Best, worst match ups by percentage of maximum points

Best Worst
Year Match up Score
2009 Barcelona-Manchester United 155.3
2011 Barcelona-Manchester United 154.4
1994 Milan-Barcelona 147.2
2004 Porto-Marseille 146.2
Year Match up Score
2000 Real Madrid-Valencia 110.5
2007 Milan-Liverpool 113.2
2005 Liverpool-Milan 120.2
1997 Borussia Dortmund-Juventus 124.5

There’s that La Liga season again. In 2000, points were so evenly dispersed in Spain that Valencia (third, 64) and Real Madrid (fifth, 62) were still title contenders. To put that in perspective, this year’s Chelsea – never real title contenders – finished with 64 points.

To this point, we havent taking league strength into account. In these final three … things … I try to do so. First, I take the league finish rankings and multiply them by the league’s UEFA coefficient ranking (before combining the numbers). The best possible score here would be 3.9

Table 4: Best, worst match ups by combined league rank, UEFA coefficient adjusted

Best Worst
Year Match up Score
2011 Barcelona-Manchester United 3
2009 Barcelona-Manchester United 3
2008 Manchester United-Chelsea 3
1993 Milan-Marseille 3
Year Match up Score
2004 Porto-Monaco 21
2007 Milan-Liverpool 18
2005 Liverpool-Milan 16
4 tied at 13

A meeting of teams from fifth and sixth-ranked leagues drives up the 2004 final. It didn’t help that Monaco was the third place team in Ligue 1 that season.

Staying with the idea of adjusting domestic results for league strength, we shift back to point totals but make our UEFA coefficient adjustment. That adjustment: take the league’s coefficient points and divide it by the leader’s coefficient points to create our “factor”. For example, if we’re talking about a team from the number one ranked league by UEFA, the factor will be 1; however, if we’re talking about a league that’s only accumulated half the points of the best league, the factor will be .5 and the team’s domestic point total will be downgraded accordingly:

Table 5: Best, worst match ups by combined league points (relative to leader), UEFA coefficient adjusted

Best Worst
Year Match up Score
2011 Barcelona-Manchester United 100.9
2009 Barcelona-Manchester United 100.9
2001 Bayern Munich-Valencia 100.7
1998 Real Madrid-Juventus 100.69
Year Match up Score
1994 Milan-Barcelona 58.77
1996 Juventus-Ajax 64.06
2006 Barcelona-Arsenal 65.25
2007 Milan-Liverpool 68.65

In 1994, Barcelona finished well off the pace in a league that was miles behind Italy as UEFA’s best-rated. If you want strong teams from strong leagues in your Champions League final, 1994 Barcelona may be the worst finalist of the last 20 years.

And we’re finally at out final table. This one is like Table 5, but except using the best-rated UEFA league as the European standard, we shift to our theoretical maximum UEFA coefficient points.10 The goal here: assess teams’ absolute league results when adjusted for league’s absolute coefficient “quality”.

Table 6: Best, worst match ups by combined points earned from maximum, UEFA coefficient adjusted

Best Worst
Year Match up Score
2009 Barcelona-Manchester United 66.2
2011 Barcelona-Manchester United 64.7
2008 Manchester United-Chelsea 58.9
2012 Bayern Munich-Chelsea 50.0
Year Match up Score
1994 Milan-Barcelona 28.2
1996 Juventus-Ajax 33.3
2004 Porto-Monaco 33.6
2000 Real Madrid-Valencia 35.3

Hold on a second: How did this year’s matchup make it into a “Best” list? For this ranking, it’s all about the UEFA coefficient. In historical terms, the rankings of the current top three leagues are very high. You get a matchup between the two of them, and it’s going to climb these charts. In 1994, even though Milan was from Europe’s top-rated league, the actual rating wasn’t that high, as far as coefficient-leading rankings are concerned.

So … after all that anybody else ready for Saturday?!? Wasn’t this exciting? Yeah, I know. The numbers become a bit of a buzzkill after a while, but look at it this way: There was no buzz to kill for this weekend’s match, exactly the reason why we did this in the first place.

There is the assumption that this year’s matchup is a bit of a stinker, and it is. But there are have been a lot of stinkers in the past, no matter how you look at it. And as the prevalence of the Milan-Liverpool finals on these lists show, some the match ups the numbers see as horrible end up being among our most memorable finals.

Take a look at some of the raw data, if you’re into that kind of thing.


1 – Let’s go ahead and say Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City, with a good argument for AC Milan ahead of Bayern … and most certainly Chelsea.
2 – It’s not that the argument’s wrong. It’s more that “deserve to be” there is just a weird way we discuss these things. It always leads nowhere. You’d be foolish the engage in that discussion. It’s too Baylessian.
3 – League finish of Team A added to League finish fo Team B (or for second place Bayern and sixth place Chelsea, the final value out be 8).
4 – League points for Team A divided by the league leader’s points, added to the same measure for Team B. I multiplied by 100 for aesthetics. If two league leaders meet, the score would be 200.
5 – League points for Team A divided by maximum league points, added to the same measure for Team B.
6 – This one’s just as it sounds. Chelsea’s sixth place finish and England’s first place coefficient ranking yield a value of six. Bayern’s value is also six (second and third ordinals). The match up’s final “score” is 12.
7 – This takes the league leader point adjustments we did for note 4 and multiply them by a similar coefficient leader adjustment based on league coefficient points and divided by coefficient leader points.
8 – Similar to what we did for note 5, but since it’s near impossible to come up with a maximum coefficient, the figure used as to adjust here is the highest coefficient seen yet (England 85.785 in 2011) divided by .897 (which is the closest any club has come to claiming full league points in the Champions League era). The goal is to scale the value in a manner similar to some of the non-coefficient adjusted measures.
9 – The first place team from Europe’s best league meeting the first place team from the second-best league or the second place team from the best league.
10 – Which comes out to 95.635, and is really not a theoretical maximum at all; rather, it’s a scaling agent.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. West Bromwich Albion

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  • West Bromwich Albion hope to choose from goalkeepers Ben Foster (back) and Boaz Myhill (hamstring) for the trip to St Mary’s. Hal Robson-Kanu (strain), James Morrison (calf) and Oliver Burke (hamstring) will all be absent for the Baggies.
  • Southampton are again without Jeremy Pied but have no other injury concerns.
  • Of all teams to have met in at least seven different Premier League campaigns, Southampton v West Brom has the lowest goals-per-match ratio in the competition (21 in 14 matches, 1.5 per match). 
  • Dusan Tadic has been directly involved in a goal in each of his last three PL appearances against the Baggies (one goal, two assists).

Two mid-table sides meet up in the south of England as Southampton hosts West Bromwich Albion at 13:20 p.m. Saturday afternoon. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Both teams are struggling for form heading into the match. West Brom is winless in its last seven games while Southampton has just one win in its last five, coughing up a chance to defeat Newcastle a week ago.

It’s a big boost for Southampton though that Manolo Gabbiadini is back on the scoresheet after scoring twice against Newcastle. It was Gabbiadini’s first goal since the second week of the Premier League season.

At the other end, West Brom have a worry with both of its top two goalkeepers, Ben Forster and Boaz Myhill. recovering from injuries.

What they’re saying

Southampton manager Manuel Pellegrino on his team: “The reaction of the team was really good, but we have to start from the beginning with this spirit. Sometimes you have to be patient, because at the beginning teams have more energy, they are fresher and they can press you better. I think we feel comfortable with the ball. If we are precise with the ball and with our tempo, we can create more problems – it doesn’t matter who we are playing. We know that West Brom are really strong physically, and dangerous from set plays and on the counter-attack. That’s something we’ve been working on this week. Every single week we are learning from our last few games, and I feel that my players are better prepared.”

West Bromwich manager Tony Pulis on facing Southampton: “They’re a good footballing team. Pellegrino has come in with his own ideas and the way he wants to play. From watching them in a couple of games away from St Mary’s they seem a little more relaxed. They look a little more uptight at home. But I’m sure they’ll become the team everyone knows they can be.”

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Prediction

West Bromwich doesn’t look closer to stopping its slide down the table, especially on the road. Even with Jay Rodriguez returning to his former club, Southampton should find the offense to put Tony Pulis and West Brom away. Southampton 2-1 West Bromwich Albion

Watch Live: West Ham vs. Brighton and Hove Albion

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West Ham and Brighton kick off the weekend’s Premier League action at the London Stadium on Friday afternoon. (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN an online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Both teams have just eight points from eight games, and are looking to move up in the table with a win.

Manuel Lanzini makes his second consecutive start, playing behind Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in West Ham’s 4-2-3-1 formation. On the other side, Tomer Hemed sits his final match of his three-match suspension, with Glen Murray playing atop the 4-4-1-1 Brighton formation.

LINEUPS

West Ham United: Hart; Zabaleta, Fonte, Reid, Masuaku; Kouate, Obiang; Antonio, Lanzini, Arnautovic; Chicharito Hernandez. Subs: Adrian, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Byram, Ayew, Noble, Fernandes

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan; Bong, Duffy, Dunk, Saltor; Izquierdo, Propper, Stephens, Knockaert; Gross; Murray. Subs: Krul, Goldson, Suttner, Schelotto, Molumby, March, Brown.

Report: FIFA considering updating international rules

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Under current FIFA rules, once a player plays a senior international competitive match, they’re cap-tied permanently to that nation. But that rule could be changing.

That’s according to a report from Reuters, which quotes CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani that FIFA could look into updating some of its nationality laws. Montagliani is the head of FIFA’s stakeholders committee.

“There are so many issues that have popped up over the years because the world is changing, immigration is changing,” Montagliani said. “There are nationality issues that pop up all over the world, in Africa, there are issues in Asia and CONCACAF, so its a good time to have a look at this and see if there are solutions, without hurting the integrity of the game.”

Changing the rules would have a big impact on nations with diverse populations or nationalities with large diasporas.

The report states the Cape Verdean FA requested relaxing the rule of cap-tying a player after playing a competitive game, if that player drops out of the player pool and likely wouldn’t be called up again. Cape Verde relies on a lot of Portugal-based and raised players with Cape Verdean heritage.

A relaxation of the rules could have an affect on U.S. Men’s National Team players as well. In theory, if Kenny Saief decided he wanted to play for Israel again, under a relaxation of the rules, and some sort of proof that a new USMNT coach wouldn’t call him up, Israel could potentially use him. In addition, players such as Cristian Roldan or Jesse Gonzalez could in theory be lost should they fall down the depth chart and other countries they’re eligible for.

 

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Watford

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  • Chelsea are without N'Golo Kante, Victor Moses (both hamstring) and Danny Drinkwater (calf) is still absent.
  • Watford remain without Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Prodl (both thigh), plus long-term absentees Craig Cathcart, Nathaniel Chalobah and Isaac Success (all knee).
  • Watford have not won against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge since 1986, but the Hornets have won 10 points of a possible 12 on the road. 
  • Chelsea have lost three of their first eight matches this season. No team has ever lost this many of their opening eight matches and still won the Premier League title.

Watford heads south for another London derby with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Hornets have had an amazing start to the season and currently occupy fourth place on 15 points, two points ahead of fifth-place Chelsea, which has lost two-straight Premier League games. The Blues have struggled without N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata and there have been reports of grumbles from the squad about dissatisfaction with Antonio Conte‘s training methods, but the Chelsea coach has brushed those rumors off.

Meanwhile Watford is coming off a confidence-boosting win last weekend against fellow Londoners Arsenal, and the club is looking to take down another big club for a second-straight week.

What they’re saying

Watford manager Marco Silva on his team’s start“I want everybody to be really calm. We did really in the first eight matches but it’s too early. We want to continue to work hard every day. Everything changes fast and you need to keep going and treat the next game as the most important. But of course I feel proud.”

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte on being under pressure: “‘Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

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Prediction

Chelsea has its back against the wall but the team’s overall quality should be enough to see them through with all three points against Watford. The Hornets luck runs out in Stamford Bridge as Chelsea hold on for a late win. Chelsea 2-1 Watford