Friday, November 6, 2009

Weekend Preview: Chelsea - Manchester United

The match between the top two teams in the Premiership kicks off at 16:00 local. For the Americans, it can be found at 11 AM Eastern on the Fox Soccer Channel.


These two teams have won the last 5 English Premier League titles. In the last six seasons both have been in the top 3 and three of those times they finished in first and second. While Arsenal and to a lesser extent Liverpool and Man City are thought to be contenders this season, the champion this year will most likely be one of these two clubs.

Looking at their head-to-head results, going further back is even more pointless than usual due to the recent influx of quality at Chelsea when Abramovich took over. I'll give it to you anyway: in league play Chelsea have beaten Manchester United 37 times, Man U have bettered Chelsea 56 times and 41 times they played to a draw. Since Abramovich took over in the summer of 2003, Chelsea have 5 wins, 4 draws and 3 losses against Manchester United in league play. At Stamford Bridge United have not won since the Abramovich takeover; Chelsea have 4 wins and 2 draws in league matches, throw on an extra win and a draw if you want to include cup play. The last time United won at Stamford Bridge was the 2001-2002 season.


Usually when these two clubs play it's a given that they've won 4 or 5 of their last 5 matches but that's not the case this week. Chelsea are 3-0-2 in their last 5 and Manchester United are 3-1-1. Chelsea's losses were 3-1 at Wigan and 2-1 at Aston Villa. You don't expect any team to win them all, but Chelsea fans are surely disappointed with those results. The loss to Villa isn't so bad, they'd probably feel ok with a draw there, but losing by two goals to a team that figures to be midtable at best and probably in the relegation fight is. If you think that Manchester United's loss was 2-0 at Anfield and their draw was 2-2 at home against Sunderland. There they equalized in extra time on an own goal.

An interesting thing is that there is a big divide between home and away form for these teams. Chelsea have won all 5 of their home matches so far this season. After edging out Hull 2-1 in their opener, they have been on fire beating Burnley then Spurs by 3 goals, Liverpool by 2 and then Blackburn 5-0. They have scored 15 goals and only conceded 1 in their 5 home games. Away from home Chelsea have 4 wins and those 2 losses mentioned above. Similarly, Manchester United are 4-1-0 at home with the only blemish that 2-2 draw versus Sunderland. On the road they are a less impressive 3-0-2 with losses to Liverpool and Burnley. We're talking about quite small samples of 5 and 6 matches, but if home and away form mean anything it points to an edge for Chelsea.


Chelsea are relatively free of injury. Mikel and Zhirkov are expected to play but have ankle and knee injuries respectively. Bosingwa is the only player likely to be unavailable. The same cannot be said for Manchester United who have several players that either can't play or won't be fully fit. In the first column, it appears that Rio Ferdinand will not play due to a nagging calf injury. Park Ji-Sung and Hargreaves are also likely to miss out. Someone we know won't play is Gary Neville due to suspension. On the brighter side, Vidic is expected to be able to play. Fletcher still has an ankle injury but says he can play with an injection.

Model Rankings

In my rankings Chelsea are second and Manchester United third. Despite being in positions next to each other, the model actually has them a fair bit apart at nearly 22 goals of goal differential. Most of that difference is at the attacking end. Not to the same extent as Arsenal, but Chelsea seem to have been running hot at scoring so far. They are on pace for 96 goals, the model says they would score about 91 at this pace because they've played a slightly easier than average schedule. Last season they only scored 68. I think that Manchester United have also been running above their scoring expectation as the model says they'll average around 76 goals playing at this level and they also only scored 68 last year. I think both will cool off and it's too early to say for sure, but Chelsea have certainly looked better in attack than Manchester United. This shouldn't be a huge surprise given the sale of their best attacking player over the summer.

On the defensive side of things, the model puts Chelsea on pace to concede 28 and Manchester United 35. Last year they both conceded 24. Manchester United have had some surprising defensive lapses this season. I've said repeatedly that over the last couple years I think they have had the best defense in football but they've not looked like it this year. Something I wonder is how much of it has to do with losing Ronaldo. Ronaldo didn't defend much, but his ability to go after the other team certainly made it more risky to attack the United goal. That doesn't cause things like Rio Ferdinand handing Man City an equalizer in the 90th minute, but I think it does play some role.


Like before, I'm using the PLM to give the result prediction and the Poisson model to say the most likely scoreline. The models give Chelsea a surprisingly big edge, especially when you consider that they don't take injury into account. They say the Blues win just over 55% of the time, United 18% of the time with the remaining 27% being a draw. The most likely scoreline is 1-0 with a 13.5% chance. Next is 2-0 (11.9%), 1-1 (10.8%) and 2-1 (9.6%). I think the injuries become too much to overcome and Chelsea win 2-0. We'll see if I get the exact scoreline for the first time.

No comments:

Post a Comment