Welcome to StatsBomb’s belated 2016-17 round table. We’ve assembled some of the sharpest minds from around the public analytic sphere and asked for opinions. No modelling here, just hunches, feelings, inevitable bias and varying levels of seriousness. And of course, being mostly real stats men, it turns out our opinions are a lot like those of real football men, from the heart and er… often quite similar. 14 questions, so without further ado: who thought what?
- Who wins the PL?
Ted Knutson: Pep. Marek Kwiatkowski: Man City. They have the best players and the best manager, and they seem to have hit the ground running. Will Gurpinar-Morgan: Manchester City. Plenty of good numbers under the hood last season, even though the results didn’t follow plus a lot of new talent brought in or back from injury. Also, some guy called Guardiola. Dustin Ward: If I had to bet at current odds: Chelsea (Man City a bit more likely) Paul Riley: A team from Manchester. They have the best managers who can blend both defence and attack and they bought pretty well. Pete Owen: Manchester City James Yorke: Nearly everyone has said City and I agree. I thought that beforehand and still do, but then I said that last year and they promptly turned to shit. Pep won’t let that happen. Mohamed Mohamed: Manchester City. It’s a bit scary that already the team is starting to pick up his positional principles in different phases. Sterling looks great and Gundogan hasn’t even played yet. There’s still some worries with their defensive personnel particularly their creaky fullbacks Flavio Fusi: I was asked the same question before the start of the season and I said Manchester United. Now that I have seen how fast Guardiola managed to implement his principles at City and the Manchester Derby, I am less confident about my prediction, but I still think that Mourinho’s team could outclass pretty much any other team and so even if they won’t win I don’t think they will finish worse than a close 2nd. Clarke Ruehlen: Man City. Now my prediction model had Spurs top but it doesnt calculate all the money spent and Pep coming in. So I overruled my model and and I am picking Man City. Benjamin Pugsley: Who wins? Seeing as Arsenal’s true level seems to be last years shot volume, not last year’s locations of shots then… Okay, an admission: on the eve of the 16/17 I was a little jumpy/edgy/grumpy about just how quickly the Man City players could take to Guardiola’s complex, and very different, system. Could the aging dogs be taught new tricks quickly enough for City to be good in the first 10 games or so? I was skeptical. It seems those doubts were misplaced, sort of. City are 4 from 4 and have looked great in spells, although we wait for a complete 90 minute smackdown that is surely just around the corner. With only Spurs (a) and Chelsea (h) to cause any real worry over the next 10 games it is reasonable to project that City may have a sizeable points lead at the top before they have really, truly, fully grasped Guardiola’s system in its entirety. City’s #1 D (Kompany), #1 Mid (Gundogan) have yet to feature. Add incredibly exciting prospect Sane and Jesus to this squad and it is difficult to see past a Man City team that should gradually improve for the rest of the calendar year. So much for tear-down rebuilds, hey?
- Top Four?
Knutson: Too soon to say. 2 Manchester clubs, Chelsea and X. Kwiatkowski: City and Arsenal for sure. United, Chelsea and Tottenham to fight for the remaining two spots. Gurpinar-Morgan: Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal/Liverpool (Head/Heart). Ward: Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool Riley: United, City, Chelsea and Tottenham are posting strong numbers already. Arsenal are lagging behind a bit. Could they finally miss out? Let’s be brave and say, yes. Owen: City, United, Chelsea, Liverpool Yorke: Arsenal and City are certs to my mind and I think Chelsea have already shown that they will fend off the crap teams with ease and that might be enough for them. Obviously Spurs for the last slot Mohamed: Arsenal, Man City, Man United and Tottenham in some order Fusi: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea (the fact they won’t take part in European football will be a big boost for them) and Liverpool. Ruehlen: Man City, Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal. Given how Chelsea have started it seems mad to not put them in the top4 but I am not so now they will probably win the league. Pugsley: City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool. I can’t put United in here, not with squad, not playing this.
- Top goalscorer?
Knutson: Etienne Capoue or Leroy Fer. (Agüero) Kwiatkowski: Sergio Agüero. He’s been the best striker in the league for many seasons now, and City will batter quite a few teams on their way. Gurpinar-Morgan: Agüero. Ward: Agüero Riley: Agüero if he stays fit, if not, Ibrahimovic Owen: Zlatan Yorke: Agüero remains the one peak age top class forward in the league Mohamed: As long as he stops elbowing people in the head, seems like it’s Sergio Agüero’s award to lose. Fusi: I accept the risk of sounding banal and I say Sergio Agüero. A more adventurous pick could be Diego Costa, but he need to increase the amount of shots he takes inside the box (2.6 p90 so far), or to over-perform in terms of conversion rate to become a serious contender. Ruehlen: Ibrahimovic – He may play every minute of every league game as Jose claims he will play a different 11 in Europe as to the league. Pugsley: James will say Lukaku…..tough to look past Agüero, unless Pep overplays him and his legs go. Too many setup high-skill setup men at City for him not to score shitloads.
Knutson: Sunderland because they get relegated every year. Kwiatkowski: Hull, Burnley and I’d love to say Sunderland, they’ve had it comingfor a long time, but actually I think that Moyes will keep them unflushable comfortably. Watford? Gurpinar-Morgan: Hull City, Burnley. Poor starts from Swansea and Stoke after underwhelming numbers last year – could come down to managerial firing and hiring decisions? Ward: Hull, Burnley, Watford (West Ham most likely to bet at current odds: want it noted this was written before the loss to Watford) Riley: Burnley already look horrific on the numbers. Bournemouth and Watford aren’t far behind and I don’t get the way they re-shaped staff and players this summer. Bournemouth needed to shore up a porous back line. They haven’t. Watford needed to open out more and they hired Mazzarri. Owen: Burnley, Hull, West Brom Yorke: Bournemouth are the one bet I placed and it’s not much of a stretch to add Hull and Burnley, but as ever the title of least worst will be keenly fought, with Stoke and Sunderland looking terrible so far too. Fusi: I do not think that Hull and Burnley have the qualities to survive in the Premier League. Sunderland are my third relegation candidates, but Bournemouth will be in the mix too. Ruehlen: Burnley, Hull, Middlesbrough. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Lots of relegation candidates out there. Pugsley: Burnley, Sunderland (finally) and fuck it, West Brom (Pulis doesn’t belong in the PL anymore)
- Best transfer? (PL or otherwise)
Knutson: Looking back a few years from now it could be Rob Holding. This year it’s hard to see past Sadio Mane’s huge impact at Liverpool. Kwiatkowski: Hojbjerg to Southampton? Tremendous player by all accounts (including me watching him for like a total of 90 minutes in his entire career). There a few quieter buys that look like spectacular value. Bravo to City and Holding to Arsenal for example. I’d go as far as to say that none of the “marquee” signings stand out as particularly inspired, though I love both Xhaka and Musafi for Arsenal – near world-class quality at good price. Saido Mané has looked great for Liverpool, he fits their style very well. Gurpinar-Morgan: Martin Škrtel for actual money. Ward: Paul Pogba, sometimes you just forget the financial side as a fan and decide getting one of the best players you can is a good thing. Riley: Batshuayi (young, eager, ability, top tweeting too) or Ibrahimovic (presence, character, still able) Owen: Definitely a biased Liverpool fan’s perspective who’s recently been spending too much time justifying transfers. But for transfers that improve a team the most for the cheapest I’d have to go with either Karius and/or Matip providing much needed help sorting out Liverpool’s defense at a cost of next to nothing. Yorke: To get on the analytics hipster hype train, if Tottenham had signed Naby Keita, Timo Werner and Oliver Burke, i’d have been well excited, so credit to RB Leipzig for paying for fun. Back in the Premier League, Sadio Mane is about the closest you get to a zero risk transfer. Mohamed: Idrissa Gueye to Everton. He’s by far not the best player, but Everton truly needed a ball winning midfielder with legs to stop the leakage of shots coming against their goalies. Combine that with his paltry transfer fee and Everton got a good player who fills a pressing need. Fusi: Ilkay Gundogan for €27 M is a serious piece of business. Even if he is quite fragile, you could have not picked a better midfielder for that money. Regarding the Serie A, the best transfer is either Banega to Inter for free or Bruno Peres to Roma on loan with an obligation to buy based on performance, for a total reported fee of €13.5 M. It’s true that after the deals involving Ljajic and Falqué the Giallorossi have a special relationship with Torino, yet in the current market, his cost should have been around € 10 M more. Pugsley: No idea….Isaac Success? I can’t look past Gundogan for £19m, if fit. I didn’t pay that much attention to transfers this year after I quickly realized that everyone was gonna blow their brains out on meh talent
- Transfer you hate? (PL or otherwise)
Knutson: Non-Sissoko/Bolasie edition? Probably Andre Schurrle, though I understand Tuchel might view him as the player who was immense at Mainz instead of the more average guy who has been around since then. Kwiatkowski: Ibrahimovic. Overpriced, overrated and older than me. I had hoped he’d do a full Falcao, but seems to be doing alright for now… very annoying. Gurpinar-Morgan: Martin Škrtel for actual money. Ward: Not sure if hate is the right term here as I think Pep can mold anyone but Leroy Sané’s price seemed really inflated Riley: Hate’s a strong word. Ibe for £15m and Ayew to West Ham for £20m take some beating, though. Owen: Bolasie. Actually think Everton get worse with this transfer since Bolasie will be taking minutes off Deulofeu’s playing time. Yorke: Barcelona spending fortunes on sub par backups Mohamed: To be honest I could’ve picked some of Everton’s transfer but let’s go with Jordan Ibe to Bournemouth. Bournemouth paid a steep steep price at £15M for a player that no one knows if he’s any good. Then combine that with the buyback/sell-on clauses, Bournemouth will probably not even get the high upside of Ibe becoming a real player for them because Liverpool will snap him up. This is why you don’t generally give managers this level of control in the market Fusi: Moussa Sissoko to Tottenham and Yannick Bolasie to Everton, because their output does not justify such expenditures. If you follow me on Twitter you would know I am not a fan of Antonio Candreva, so I was also disappointed to see Inter splashing €22 (+3) M on a 29 years old winger who wastes hundreds of possessions a season with loads of inaccurate crosses and shots. Pugsley: Sissoko, depth guy who adds a different element to Tottenham’s midfield but is nowhere near worth the bounty. Honourable shout to Islam Slimani and Jeff Hendrick.
- Player of the year? (PL or otherwise)
Knutson: GINGER FREAK Kwiatkowski: Kevin De Bruyne Ward: Eden Hazard Riley: A Hazard resurrection? Owen: De Bruyne Yorke: Maybe someone will score 25-30 goals, juiced by penalties and get the gig Shearer style, while the Ozils of the world watch on in disbelief but I dream of a world in which Erik Lamela hits a world class ceiling. Mohamed: Sergio Aguero. If you’re the starting striker on a Pep team, you will get loads of high quality chances coming your way. Fusi: I am still undecided about the PL player of the year, but I am pretty sure that Paulo Dybala will be the Serie A player of the year. Ruehlen: De Bruyne Pugsley: Kevin De Bruyne: Durable, versatile, huge skill, scores, sets up, killer movement, set piece wizard. Lots to like.
- Breakout star? (PL or otherwise)
Knutson: Raheem Sterling. Again. *Plays Redemption Song* Kwiatkowski: Jack Wilsh–just kidding. Kelechi Ihenacho, if he qualifies for the title? Ward: Nathan Redmond Riley: Does Batshuayi count? Owen: Deulofeu or Iheanacho depending on if they get the minutes. Mohamed: Adam Ounas from Bordeaux Fusi: I see Sadio Mané as a player really suited to Klopp’s Liverpool and I seriously think 2016-17 could be his breakout season. Ruehlen: Nathan Redmond – Finally getting a legit shot as a starter at Southampton. Pugsley: I hope this is the year that Lukaku gets his mainstream dues, but I doubt it. Mane could be a decent shout in a high event Liverpool offense.
- Who wins the CL?
Knutson: Not Pep. Kwiatkowski: No idea, and don’t really care. Gurpinar-Morgan: Barcelona. Ward: A fully healthy Bayern with Robben, Ribéry and Thiago all at full speed vs a fully healthy Barcelona is all I ask. Would have been more fun with Pep but I still think Bayern would edge it Riley: Bayern? Owen: Barcelona Yorke: Leicester Mohamed: Bayern. Carlo loves him some cup competitions Ruehlen: Bayern Munich. Strong squad, great manager and will likely walk their league allowing them to focus on the CL. Pugsley: Bayern could well land this under Ancelotti although I wonder if their window is slipping away. Madrid added bench depth but I’m not sure Zizou can pull off the trick again. I’m not sure Barca are good enough at the back, or if that even matters!
- Team most likely to break into the top seven/eight?
Knutson: Not Southampton… or Leicester… or Hull… are we allowed to pick Everton? Manager upgrade there should propel them back up. Kwiatkowski: Liverpool. Gurpinar-Morgan: Everton. Good numbers and results against the fodder so far. Ward: Bournemouth Riley: Everton under Koeman. Decent start made already. He’ll improve defence and there’s a lot of pace, power and options to change it around up front. Midfield may be a problem, though. Owen: If they’d have signed a decent number 8 I’d probably have Everton battling for the top 6, fortunately for them though Southampton, Leicester, and West Ham have all started poorly so I think Everton should beat them all out for 7th place. Yorke: The league looks pretty set already with only Everton moving from the shit group to the good group Mohamed: Everton reclaim their rightful spot of being “okay” and finish in the top 7-8 Ruehlen: Looking like Everton early and really no one else seems up to the task. Pugsley: Everton? though a soft schedule may be colouring my view so far…… Southampton or Everton…..there’s nothing else there after those two.
- Player you’re most looking forward to seeing this year? (PL or otherwise)
Knutson: Last time I did one of these I chose Kevin De Bruyne who played no time at all and was sold by Jose to Germany in January. I’m too afraid to pick another one. Kwiatkowski: Granit Xhaka. But mostly I am looking forward to seeing a functional Arsenal midfield again, without Coquelin or Flamini or Wilshere or even Cazorla. Xhaka-Ramsey-Ozil, with Elneny for rotation. Gurpinar-Morgan: Loving watching Roberto Firmino Ward: Naby Keita and Ousmane Dembele to see what all the hype is about and Julian Draxler to see if he can keep up his climb toward superstardom Riley: I’m gonna name an XI and they’re noted for all kinds of reasons: Butland, Mustafi, Stones, Smalling, Brad Smith, Fellaini, Gundogan, Rodwell, Mirallas, Negredo, Ibrahimovic Owen: Looking forward to Benteke ‘redeeming’ himself after all the stick he’s been getting this past year. Without a decent striker I probably would’ve put Palace in my bottom three, but with Benteke I can see them finishing 10th-15th Yorke: Hopefully Mkhitaryan doesn’t get lost at Utd and i’ll always have an extra bit of support for Eriksen and Lamela Mohamed: Gianelli Imbula. He’s the next Moussa Dembele and so far Marcelo Bielsa has been the only manager to realize this. Mark Hughes if you’re reading this, starting creating a system revolving his amazing press resistant dribbling. Fusi: I am looking forward to see if Edin Dzeko will improve his finishing. Last season he was the only Roma offensive player who underperformed in front of the goal with a meagre conversion rate of the 7.4%. Was it a consequence of variance and of an increasing lack of confidence™ or he is stepping towards the twilight of his career? Well, so far he leads the league in xG and has scored 2 goals. Ruehlen: Dimitri Payet – just a brilliant player. Pugsley: Pogba intrigues, mostly so I can see if he can change my mind about the disconnect I have between his reputation and what I actually see when I watch him play. Is he just a physical freak with bang average processing of the game and not enough craft/skill in f3rd? Positive player: Gundogan
- Can anyone overturn PSG/Juve/Bayern?
Knutson: PSG look vaguely vulnerable, but I would guess that’s just part of the adaptation to Emery. The other two? Sadly, no chance. Kwiatkowski: Not really. Juventus the most gettable of the three, surely. Gurpinar-Morgan: Ward: No to PSG unless they just stop playing hard like they did 2 years ago. Napoli, Dortmund, and Leverkusen all could be good enough to take advantage of serious stumbles but it would still take a serious stumble. Riley: Probably not. Zzzzzzzzzzzz Owen: Nope/ Maybe Napoli? / Nope Yorke: No. Mohamed: Lyon have looked amazing at times in attack but it’s worrying that both the attack is so reliant on Alexandre Lacazette, and Nabil Fekir’s knee is starting to give him some trouble again. Assuming both their health concerns go away sooner rather than later, I still believe in the high upside that Lyon have to give PSG a run for their money. Fusi: I think that the gap between these three teams and the rest of their leagues is too big to have an underdog winner. Even without Ibra, PSG is on a total different level if compared to Lyon and Monaco. Juventus is the usual defensive monster and considerably got better on offence by purchasing Higuaín and Pjanić, depriving Napoli and Roma of their two best players. Bayern lost Guardiola, but Ancelotti is another top-class coach and with Hummels, Gundogan and Mkhytarian Dortmund Tuchel has lost three keystones of his team and will likely face Leverkusen competition for the 2nd place on the table, rather than questioning Bayern’s leader in German football. Ruehlen: Lyon or Monaco could push PSG. Juve and Bayern will likely walk their respective leagues. Pugsley: No
- Who wins La Liga?
Knutson: I don’t care? Kwiatkowski: Barca or Real. Maybe Atletico. *shrug* (see CL above) Riley: Barcelona. Difficult to see past that forward line, innit? Owen: Real Madrid Yorke: Gary Neville Fusi: I expect Zidane to improve Real from a tactical POV, but I think Barcelona will win again. I believe Atlético is more suited to knockout tournaments and needs something really special to contend. Ruehlen: Barcelona – Messi, Suarez, Neymar Pugsley: Everything screams Barcelona. Both giants have better benches this year which gives them more opportunities to rotate which neither of them will full maximise. Barcelona and el tridente should just about win out
- Any other comment?
Kwiatkowski: We really need a new kind of analytics. Riley: I’m feeling the numbers bug again. Watch this space