Monday, September 28, 2009

Weekly Review: Spanish Primera División

Because there is a Premiership match on Monday, I am swapping Britain and Iberia and starting this week off with a review of the Spanish Liga.

The big name matches were on Saturday this week. Real Madrid took care of business with a 3-0 win over the islanders from Tenerife. The match was closer than the score would indicate. Tenerife were certainly in it in the first half and went in even at 0-0. Kaka and Guti came on at the half and that seems to have made a difference. The goals came from Benzema, who got the first two, and Kaka. Barcelona continued their roll with a 0-2 win in Malaga. The Catalans controlled the match from start to finish, with nearly 75% possession. The goals came from Ibrahimovic in the first half and Pique in the second.

Sevilla dominated Athletic de Bilbao 4-0. Renato scored in the fifth minute and they never looked back. Also scoring were Negredo, Kanoute and Jesus Navas. In a much more competitive match, Valencia and Atletico de Madrid finished 2-2. Aguero opened the scoring for Atletico in the 7th minute but goals in the 25th and 27th minutes by Pablo and Villa put the Che out front 2-1. It stayed that way until stoppage time in the second half when Maxi Rodriguez put away a cross from Antonio Lopez with his right foot.

Sundays results I'll just list:
Almeria 2 - 2 Racing
Osasuna 1 - 0 Sporting
Mallorca 3 - 0 Valladolid
Espanyol 0 - 0 Xerez
Zaragoza 3 - 0 Getafe
Deportivo 1 - 0 Villarreal

Best Result:
There were a lot of big wins this week, but I'll go a little unorthodox and say that Atletico de Madrid getting a draw in Mestalla was the best result of the week. Since qualifying for the Champions League the team has not played well at all. They got destroyed by Barcelona, only managed two draws at home against Racing and Almeria, and got a 0-0 draw at home against the weakest team in their Champions League group. To make matters worse, the club itself has been in total chaos due to issues surrounding the Gil family's ownership. Given the opponent, getting a draw in Valencia was big for Atletico, but things should still be pretty crazy for a while (ever?).

Worst Result:
Once again I will opt not to choose from the list teams that were blown out or even go with the other team from above since it could be argued that Valencia getting less than a win at home against an Atletico de Madrid in full crisis is a bad result. The worst result of the week, however, surely belongs to Espanyol. Xerez is the overwhelming favorite to finish worst in the league and will get very few points away from home this season. Managing just a draw is pretty close to giving away 2 points on whoever the rivals might be. Espanyol were expected to be a club that could challenge for a Europa League spot. That's going to be impossible to manage getting results like yesterday's. I didn't see the match, but all signs point to domination and poor finishing. According to Soccernet they were better than 60/40 on time of possession, got 10 corners compared to only 2 for Xerez and got 16 shots while the Andalusians only managed 4. Luck was obviously a factor, but not getting a win out of that effort is the worst result of the week.

Power Rankings

Here is the first edition of my power rankings. These rankings are based on the results and schedule. The methodology is the same as the Poisson model and the first part of the PLM. I get the scoring and defending factors and use them to determine how many goals for and against each team would have on average if you started a new season and they played at the level shown thus far. Because there have only been 5 matches played for each team these aren't all that reliable as an indicator of which team is best, but in my view they are a decent indicator of how well these teams have played so far.

GF rank: the team ranking in expected goals for
GA rank: the team ranking in expected goals against
GD rank: the team ranking in expected goal difference (goals for minus goals against)
EGD: expected goal difference if you started a new season and every team played at the level shown so far.

I think Athletic de Bilbao might be a bit low and certainly both Real Madrid and Barcelona's numbers will drop, though probably not their position in the rankings. Villarreal in the middle of the table is one thing that jumps out. They have performed poorly and currently sit second to last in the table but they have played the toughest schedule in the Liga thus far. Things should improve for them in the next two matchdays as they host Espanyol and then travel to Xerez after the international break. Atletico de Madrid also gets a schedule boost, they've now played both Barcelona and Valencia, but it's not as significant so they remain near the bottom.

At the top, Madridistas will obviously be happy to find their club ranked above Barcelona. In my opinion, the best indicator of all for them is that they rate second only behind Sevilla when it comes to keeping the other team from scoring. As I've argued, for Real Madrid defense will be the key if they are going to win the league. Barcelona are obviously on a roll as well. As for my Sevilla, the ratings are eerily similar to what we saw last year - very solid defense but not enough scoring. It's hard to knock the scoring of a team with 12 goals in 5 matches. The model does just that because it rates four of their opponents as weak. I think this will change in the next few weeks and their offensive ranking will move up. It'll be interesting to see if Depor and especially Mallorca can keep up this level.

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