PSG soar to 94 points, AVB secures second for Marseille - Stats Perform AI completes the Ligue 1 season

By Sports Desk April 07, 2020

Football at the highest level in Europe is at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there remains plenty to play for in France's 2019-20 Ligue 1 campaign.

When the virus hit, causing lockdowns and mass sporting postponements, it was just as the seasons were heading towards their conclusion.

Debate has raged across the continent as to how the campaigns can be salvaged, but most league bodies are leaning towards a continuing determination to wrap up this term before wading into 2020-21.

As football waits for the virus threat to subside, and for normal life to return, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers behind the scenes.

Most teams in Ligue 1 have 10 matches still to play - only leaders Paris Saint-Germain and mid-table Strasbourg have 11 remaining - and the goal was to simulate how the season would pan out if the games were played now, to produce a final 2019-20 table.

 

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss - based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model - with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Here, then, is a close look at the results of the simulation with the simulated final league standings.

 

PSG STORM TO TITLE HAT-TRICK

A third Ligue 1 triumph in succession, and a seventh in the last eight years, had long looked an inevitability.

Our model shows Paris Saint-Germain sweeping to glory with 94 points, pulling 23 points clear of second-placed Marseille.

That beats their total from each of the last two seasons - 93 in 2017-18 and 91 in 2018-19 - and confirms PSG remain streets ahead in France.

Thomas Tuchel's side, with the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar in their ranks, have a budget that far exceeds the rest, and another 90-points-plus campaign shows how far they are ahead of the rest.

MARSEILLE SETTLE FOR SECOND

Andre Villas-Boas has rejuvenated Marseille and bolstered his reputation as a leading coach this season, and second place became theirs for the taking.

The AI verdict shows them nailing down the runners-up position, albeit by taking just 15 points from the last 10 rounds of matches.

There had been a momentary stumble from Marseille before the league was halted, with a rare home defeat to Nantes followed by a narrow win at Nimes and a Stade Velodrome 2-2 draw with relegation-threatened Amiens.

Yet a return to the Champions League is on the cards, the simulation shows, with Marseille securing their highest Ligue 1 finish since the 2012-13 season, when they were also runners-up to PSG.

Rennes, meanwhile, are set for a Champions League debut in 2020-21, with Julien Stephan's team pipping Lille to third place despite both teams finishing on 62 points.

 

A LILLE DISAPPOINTMENT

Fourth place represents a blow to Lille, and their coach Christophe Galtier, after last season's second-placed finish.

It earns them another season in European football, but in the Europa League rather than a return to the Champions League.

Lille and Rennes were jostling for third spot when the season reached its unnatural break, and Galtier would have been optimistic his side would have been able to overturn their one-point deficit at the 28-game stage.

The plus point for Lille is that at least the AI simulation does not see them stumbling any further down the table, with the likes of Lyon, Monaco and Nice too far back to mount a challenge.

Just four points separated fifth from 13th place when the league was stopped in March, but an eight-point gap to the top four meant these teams were always likely to be playing for pride.

Reims, who sat fifth, dip to ninth place at the season's end.

THE SINKING, SUNK

It's au revoir to Amiens and Toulouse.

Toulouse had already looked doomed, sitting on 13 points from 28 games, and despite the Stats Perform AI suggesting they would pick up a further 10 points from the final 10 games, it would not be nearly enough.

It was a bleak picture as well for Amiens, who were too far off the pace after racking up just four wins before the virus struck down football.

Nimes are projected to finish 18th and face a relegation play-off, despite a blitz of wins in February that sent optimism surging through Bernard Blaquart's side.

Les Crocodiles beat Monaco, Dijon, Nice and Angers in a 15-day burst before defeats to Rennes, Marseille and Metz left Nimes back in the mire, three points shy of Saint-Etienne and Dijon, the teams perched precariously outside the bottom three.

Nimes would fall short of repeating their four-in-a-row heroics over the run-in, according to the simulated results, leaving the team that finished ninth after promotion last season within two games of sinking back to Ligue 2.

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    It's like he rolls the passing talents of Juan Roman Riquelme and first touch of Ronaldinho into a single player and saunters around the pitch ensuring the game is played at a pace dictated by him.

    His Liverpool career feels a lot shorter than it actually has been because of his absence through injury, and he'll be hoping his recent return is the catalyst to kick-starting what is resembling a fairly meek title defence.

    But while Thiago has shown flashes of his immense ability in his fledgling Liverpool career, it appears not all are entirely convinced.

    Former Reds midfielder Dietmar Hamann expressed his reservations in an interview with talkSPORT on Tuesday, suggesting Thiago is detrimental to a key part of Liverpool's play; utilising a quick tempo with hard-working midfielders who look to get the ball forward to the front three as soon as possible.

    Hamann urged Liverpool to be cautious about how much influence they let Thiago have, questioning his effectiveness when not in possession and suitability to the Reds' system, concerns that won't have been eased by Thursday's shock defeat to Burnley.

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    An unnecessary luxury?

    First of all, there are only so many conclusions you can make regarding Thiago and his time at Liverpool because he has not featured particularly often, as previously highlighted.

    But the fact is, Liverpool's record in Premier League games he has featured in is quite poor, with only one of those six ending in a victory.

    That win came in his Premier League debut, a 2-0 victory at Chelsea back in September – that's right, it was the game where he completed 75 passes despite only coming on at half-time, a record since Opta began recording such data in 2003-04 among players to play a maximum of 45 minutes.

    The hype after that match was stratospheric – the champions had seemingly added the final string to their bow and they were seemingly set to overwhelm everyone, but it's worth bearing in mind that was a Chelsea side reduced to 10 men before Thiago had even come on.

    Liverpool average just one point per game with Thiago, that more than doubles to 2.2 when he hasn't played – additionally, their win percentage rockets from 16.7 to 61.5 in games the Spaniard hasn't featured in.

    Of course, it's a relatively small sample size, so perhaps take the facts with a pinch of salt – but there are metrics that can shine more light on Thiago's influence.

    One of Hamann's major reservations related to Thiago's desire to dictate play and how he might, in the long run, negatively impact Liverpool's effectiveness off the ball.

    "Liverpool were always good when they weren't in possession, won it and played quickly forward. He's not that type of player, so it will be very interesting when he does play more often now how it's going to change the dynamics of the team," Hamann said.

    It's true, Liverpool do have more of the ball (65.7 per cent compared to 64.7) with Thiago in the side, but the difference is negligible and certainly cannot be pointed to as a cause for worry.

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    "He's not that type of player"

    It's fair to say Thiago probably isn't best known for what he brings to teams off the ball, but despite some seemingly questioning him in this department, he appears to be at least pulling his weight.

    In fact, he's averaging marginally more tackles per 90 minutes than Henderson (1.5 over 1.4), while no one in the Liverpool team is intercepting opposition passes as frequently as the Barcelona product (2.8 per 90 mins).

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    "We know that Serie A represents something important for the club and on an economic level, so winning the Scudetto or qualifying for the Champions League is more important than the Coppa Italia," he said.  

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