String Driven Thing

Where Mathematical Theory and Football Collide… and It’s Not Pretty

An ageing Teddy Boy who tries to squeeze into those old strides one more time, will fully expect a little tightness around the bottom of his trouser, in fact being drainpipes that is “de riguer.” But, disconcertingly, passing years and an expanding waistline ensure there is now a distinct tightness at the top.

The Chelsea fan’s experience of this year’s Premiership is worryingly similar.

Instead of taking many and varied opportunities to ease away we have done a passable impression of the three-legged race on school sports day. As everyone tumbled, you and your mate only had to stay co-ordinated to win. Strangely this proved beyond you and over you went in a mass of arms and legs.

As the race for the title boils up with only seven games left, some will fall back on blind hope, others quiet confidence, yet more will find a monastery and engage in prayerful retreat, others just try and fight back the rising panic, a few have already given up and taken to their bed.

But an elite, trained in the cool, reasoned world of science will take the path of logic.

It is ever more apparent that the answers to everything lie in the world of numbers, arithmetic and mathematics. Rarely a week goes by when someone is not espousing the sheer beauty of calculus, the stunning brilliance of Euclidian geometry, the satisfying elegance of String Theory.

To those on the outside it can seem a confusing and baffling world but I can only counsel a calm reappraisal because even for those like myself steeped in numeric matters, picking your way along the path of correct deduction is not always straightforward, but it is ultimately rewarding.

As a young man enthused with the power of mathematics, fascinated by rocketry and in awe of man’s ever-growing success with space travel, I produced a raft of calculations for the necessary trajectories and fuel loads required for a moon landing, which I helpfully despatched to the British Space Programme.

Imagine my disappointment when some faceless bureaucrat saw fit to dismiss my efforts with the rather dry observation that having worked through my calculations and confused as to why I wanted to use a rocket for a rather straightforward journey, they were of the opinion that in order to land three men on Barnes Common, it would be cheaper to purchase second class tickets for the regular service from Waterloo.

But I was not to be diverted from a life steeped in the joy of mathematics. And you dear reader have reason to be grateful, as a lifetime of research has now produced Dr Bayou’s Patented Points Predictor (or the “PeeCube” soon to be available from all quality retail outlets –P to the power of 3 you see, geddit?).

Yes I know it is the “Predictor” season and hundreds of websites are pedalling their own inferior product, based on nothing more than gazing at the ceiling or copying random numbers from the number plates of passing cars.

But the PeeCube is a finely honed instrument for cutting through all the emotions and guess work swirling around the Premiership run-in, the better to concentrate a powerful beam of forensic analysis on the unvarnished truth.

Now while I fire up this fabulous machine and await the latest calculations after this week’s results, (the amount of computing power required may make the lights dim briefly) it is worth having a look at some of the raw statistical material, which I’ve shovelled into the PeeCube with the enthusiasm of a stoker on a Blue Riband ocean liner.

I have taken the results of the top three from ’93 to last season, the duration of the EPL. I am aware that the final outcome of a season can be a little distorted by results once the title race is finished, but I do not believe the effect to be significant for our purposes.

Obviously, the early years involved a 42 game season and I have adjusted those results to a 38 game season for the purposes of analysis.

Note: Teams in blue were the League Winners in any year, black, Runners Up and red Third. To highlight the adjusted 42 game seasons, the year is shown in purple.

What it takes to win

Here is a table showing the top three for every Premiership season.

String Driven Thing Table 1

Now recast the table to show the “winningest teams” and it reveals that no team has won 26 games and not won the title.

String Driven Thing Table 2

No team has hit 87 points and not won the title.

String Driven Thing Table 3

What about losing? Again recast the table and you can see only one team, Blackburn in 1994, has won the title losing more than six games.

String Driven Thing Table 4

What about goals? Let’s have a look.

String Driven Thing Table 5 Goals Scored
String Driven Thing Table 5 Goals Conceded

Historically, score 88 goals and you win the title, while 87 is no guarantee. Concede more than 15 and you don’t necessarily walk away with the goodies. So perhaps goal difference is a better indicator.

String Driven Thing Table 6

Certainly a goal difference of above 51 is a nailed on title if history tells us anything.


It is very noticeable that the in the nineties it generally required fewer wins and points to take the title. There has also been a tendency in this decade for titles to be won with bigger points totals and substantial gaps to the second place team, but that has tailed off recently with some tighter finishes. However the points totals have been generally higher in the last decade, with less than 83 points only winning one title, in 2001, whereas that total was only bettered twice between 1993 and 1999.

However the number of defeats has been relatively consistent with the major trend being the number of drawn games being converted to wins proving to be the real difference between the 90s and now. This season, it’s likely the number of wins will be consistent with recent trends with the only change being perhaps one or two more defeats.

So the gap that grew noticeably into this decade between the top two or three teams and the rest, with more wins and fewer draws suggesting a distinct competitive advantage remains. While the number of defeats this season might end up at the higher end of expectations for the top three, the number of wins stays high so it’s the mixture of draws and defeats that has altered slightly this season.

And so…

The harsh grinding sound in the background is the result emanating from my PeeCube. Here it is…

String Driven Thing Table Current Situation

Oh I see… 26 wins, goal difference above 51, more than 88 goals, only six defeats… this can’t be happening…

Well, while I go back and check my fag packets, I mean calculations, here are the final seven games. See what you make of it.

String Driven Thing Table Last Table

Mathematics, shmathematics…