The quality gap between Manchester City and Liverpool is paper thin.
City are still favorites to win the Premier League, where they cling to a point ahead, and go for the double with a Champions League semi-final on the horizon. But after Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final win over City and dominant display against Manchester United on Tuesday, are we seeing a subtle turnaround?
This week, for the first time in two years, Liverpool edged past City in the respected FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index (SPI) Ratings. SPI ratings estimate a team’s overall strength between zero and 100, using difficulty-adjusted match results and underlying performance metrics to model a team’s offensive and defensive strength.
Is the FiveThirtyEight model right for Liverpool’s rise – and if so, what puts them above City?
These SPI ratings provide a detailed view of a team’s strength taking into account their expected goals based on shots and not shots in a game rather than just the final score, which focuses solely on the outcome. A team could improve their SPI rating if they consistently outperform the opposition in underlying numbers, regardless of their full-time results.
Looking at recent seasons, you can see City have always been above Liverpool in FiveThirtyEight’s SPI ratings, apart from two brief fluctuations in January 2019 and January 2020 – at times when there were still plenty football to play during the season.
Interestingly, Liverpool have risen above Manchester City again, but this time just as the season is reaching its crescendo. Based on these ratings, Liverpool are not only increasing their strength, but also doing so at the right time.
How else could we look at the strength of the team? Well, we can look at Elo ratings from both sides, with the help of ClubElo.
Simply put, ClubElo is a scoring system that works by awarding points to teams when they win, giving more for beating tougher teams (e.g. Bayern Munich in the Champions League) and less for dealing with easier opponents (e.g. Norwich in the Premier League). League). Likewise, the points a team can lose for a loss are weighted by the quality of the opposition.
Looking back to the start of the 2016-17 season, City stayed ahead of Liverpool in the Elo rankings until the tide started to turn in 2019, when Liverpool’s domestic and European results were near perfect throughout. one year.
Liverpool’s decline last season is reflected in its ClubElo rating, while Manchester City’s rise is represented by its winning campaign and Champions League runners-up medals.
The level has barely dropped for City since, but Liverpool’s rise has been strong this season, as they are back to 2019-20 levels. As things stand, Liverpool are ranked No.1 in Europe with a ClubElo rating of 2,041, slightly ahead of City (2,034).
While this metric supports FiveThirtyEight trends, it’s worth remembering that ClubElo is focused on results – they are adjusted for opponent strength but the rating is still based on score.
Like Athleticism have recently reporteda look at the raw numbers shows just one point has separated the two Premier League sides since the start of 2018-19, underpinning the absurd levels at which the two have operated over several seasons.
Looking purely from a league points perspective, City would naturally overtake him in determining who is the stronger of the two teams. Three Premier League titles in the last four plus a one-point advantage in the current season are hard to contest.
Methods such as betting odds also have their merit when it comes to examining each team’s probability of success, using complex analysis and algorithms to predict future outcomes.
A quick look at most betting companies gives Manchester City the edge over Liverpool more often than not – most likely due to the slightly easier mounting difficulty for Guardiola’s men in the latter part of the season.
Implied odds suggest City have around a 66 per cent chance of retaining the title, so Liverpool are still the underdog of the bookmakers.
However, while this method seeks to predict future outcomes, it does not necessarily take team strength into account as we would like.
Similarly, Elo ratings and accumulated points are distorted by the outcome of the match. However, FiveThirtyEight’s SPI ratings explain the broader underlying team performance numbers at both ends of the field.
Liverpool’s momentum in recent months means they look stronger than ever – and at the right time of the season.
The data simply confirms what we have seen in recent weeks.
(Top photo: Getty Images)