We are a few days removed from Hearts decisive 2-0 victory over Rangers. The win put Hearts even with Rangers on points and ahead on goal differential to earn 2nd in the table. Aberdeen had a disappointing League Cup final against Celtic last Sunday, but find themselves very much in the fight for 2nd in the SPFL, being 2 points behind Hearts and Rangers while playing 2 games less than both of those clubs. Celtic seems to be coasting to another league title, but all three of these clubs have a good shot to finish 2nd. With a week of hyperbole surrounding all three of these clubs, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to introduce the prediction model I have been working on and use it guess where these clubs fighting for 2nd will be towards the end of the season.
My prediction model has been, most definitely for petty reasons, named B.U.R.L.E.Y. This stands for “footBall Using Reliable anaLytics, Even You!” Was this a giant stretch of an acronym just to make sure it fit Craig Burley’s name? Maybe. But if we can’t be petty about Craig Burley, who can we be petty about?
(If you don’t want to read/don’t care about how I came up with these figures, I’d skip this next part!)
To come up with B.U.R.L.E.Y., I borrowed Mark Taylor, from the Power of Goals Blog, simulations method with a few tweaks. Using the expected goal data from the SPFL I have gathered, I took the xG average for the league, the average xG both home and away for every club, and the xG for and against for every club to come up with a calculation for xG for every match up between every team in the SPFL Premiership.
With these expected goal figures, I use Poisson distribution to come up with the probability of every scoreline for every match up in the league. For example, there is a 0.000000000046% chance that Hamilton will beat Partick Thistle 10-7! If we sum the winning score lines for each team in each of these match-ups, we can determine the probabilities of who B.U.R.L.E.Y. thinks will win each match.
Once we have the win probabilities for every match up, we can then run simulations for every game each club has remaining in Excel, as Mark details how to in the link above. We run each club’s remaining season (up until the league splits into a top half and bottom half, since we won’t know who each club will face in their last 5 matches, because LOLSPFL) 1000 times (…and BOY are their legs tired). We take the point total B.U.R.L.E.Y. suggests will happen most frequently and boom, that’s how many points B.U.R.L.E.Y. thinks your team will end up with.
(End of methodology section if you wanted to skip that part!)
When it comes to prediction models, compared to others B.U.R.L.E.Y. is simplistic. I haven’t nailed down how to account for things such as players joining clubs in January or, more pertinent at this moment, managerial changes. B.U.R.L.E.Y. will be blissfully ignorant if Pep Guardiola says to himself, “Forget Manchester, I want to see Edinburgh Castle!” and becomes the next Hearts manager. However, since B.U.R.L.E.Y. is using the expected goal data I am collecting throughout the season, I am hoping that B.U.R.L.E.Y. will continue to get more accurate as the xG sample grows larger. In maybe the first time anyone has ever put these letters in the same order, B.U.R.L.E.Y. will get smarter. But enough of that, you are here to see where B.U.R.L.E.Y. says your club will finish.
Unsurprisingly, B.U.R.L.E.Y. is predicting Celtic to have clinched the SPFL Premiership title by the time the split comes. B.U.R.L.E.Y. thinks that the race for 2nd will be much tighter though. Going into the split, B.U.R.L.E.Y. is predicting today that Rangers will be 2 points ahead of Hearts and 4 points ahead of Aberdeen going into the last 5 matches. Those last 5 matches will decide who else will be joining Celtic in Europe next season most likely. St. Johnstone won’t feature in the fight for 2nd according to B.U.R.L.E.Y., but will comfortably make the top 6 in 5th. I will continue to update these projections as the season continues.
Since we can use B.U.R.L.E.Y. to predict each club’s position in the table, we can also use him to predict to outcome of individual matches. While I am no professional gambler (archaic, outdated laws here make that illegal), I have been using B.U.R.L.E.Y. for the very legal BBC SPFL prediction game the last two weeks, going 8-3! Here is what B.U.R.L.E.Y. thinks will happen this weekend.
Celtic are unsurprisingly heavy favorites in their match away to Motherwell, with B.U.R.L.E.Y. giving their chance to win at 56.82% (Draw 25.09%, Motherwell 16.29%)
B.U.R.L.E.Y. gives an edge in the fight for 2nd to Rangers this weekend. Unsurprisingly, teams typically fare better at home than on the road, so when two relatively equal teams meet, B.U.R.L.E.Y. usually thinks that the home team will prevail, giving Rangers a 53.73% chance to win (Draw 28.95%, Aberdeen 17.32%).
As stated earlier, B.U.R.L.E.Y. currently doesn’t take into effect any coaching changes, so despite Robbie Nielson moving to Milton Keynes, B.U.R.L.E.Y. still expects Hearts to win against Ross County. He gives the Jambos a 43.76% chance to win (draw 37.47%, Ross County 18.77%).
Tommy Wright has built a solid foundation in Perth at St. Johnstone, where he has given the Saints an underdog fighting mentality (as well as seemingly able to find good keepers out of Canada). On Twitter, a Saints supporter told me the club was on their way to becoming the “establishment diddy team”. Here B.U.R.L.E.Y. thinks the “establishment diddy team” will be able to put aside Inverness Caley Thistle, giving the Saints a 49.24% chance of winning (Draw 29.56%, Inverness Caley Thistle 21.20%). Even B.U.R.L.E.Y. knows that Richie Foran has the best beard in the league though.