Man City on course for footballing history

Unstoppable: Kasper Schmeichel could not stop a wonder strike from Kevin de Bruyne. © Getty

Will Manchester City stay unbeaten? They have been hailed as the “best football team in Europe,” and some think they will not lose a game all season. Stats show that this may not be true.

This weekend Manchester City beat Leicester City with such devastating fluidity that one pundit called the players “artists”. And after sixteen wins in a row, some think that the team could become the greatest ever.

Out of 12 league games this season City have won 11 and drawn one. If they continue at this rate they will finish on 108 points — 13 more than Chelsea’s record points haul in 2005.

The key to their success? Goals. With the deadly finishing of Sergio Agüero and creativity of Kevin de Bruyne, City have averaged 3.33 goals per game this season. If this continues they will finish on 126 goals, more than any Premier League team ever.

It is the manner of the victories that has got fans excited. They are not grinding out scrappy 1-0 wins, but utterly dismantling all comers.

Pundit Garth Crooks declared that City have played the “best football in the history of the Premier League”. He also claimed they could end the season unbeaten and become “invincible".

But how likely is this to happen?

Only one Premier League team has done it before. In 2004 Arsenal became the first “Invincibles”, winning the league without losing a match. Journalist Henry Winter dubbed the squad “one of English football’s greatest”.

But statistically speaking, Arsenal’s unbeaten season could be seen as a fluke.

By aggregating all the pre-match odds from Arsenal’s 03/04 season, football website 5 Added Minutes calculated that the chance of Arsenal not losing a single game was just 0.06%.

This means that in 10,000 seasons, Arsenal would have gone unbeaten only six times.

The next year Chelsea lost one match in becoming champions. But since then, no team has come close to an undefeated season. In the last 12 years, champions have lost an average of 4.6 games.

This is partly due to the nature of the sport. Even for the best football teams the margins separating a draw from a defeat are tiny. Early in Arsenal’s undefeated season they drew 0-0 with Manchester United.

But they only avoided losing after a last minute United penalty hit the bar.

Even so, could Manchester City become the new Invincibles?

Odds on

Lightning does not strike twice, some say. When City manager Pep Guardiola was asked if his team could go a season unbeaten his answer was emphatic: “That is not going to happen.” The stats prove that it is an almost impossible event — all it takes is one piece of bad luck and the record is broken.

Statistics only tell half the story, others reply. Probability might be good for determining games of chance, but footballers have the power to make their own luck. Guardiola has assembled a world class team. There is no reason why they cannot win every game, not just stay unbeaten.

You Decide

  1. Is football the best sport?
  2. Is sporting success more down to luck or skill?

Activities

  1. What is your favourite sport? It could be football, tennis, basketball, or something completely different. Split a page into two columns and write down what elements of your chosen sport are influenced by luck, and what parts are determined by skill.
  2. Using your choice of favourite sport, or another if you wish, do some research and find a team that has been incredibly successful in that sport. Why was the team so good? Was their success down to certain individuals or teamwork? Did they get a little bit lucky occasionally?

Some People Say...

“The target of anything in life should be to do it so well that it becomes an art.”

Arsène Wenger

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
According to bookmakers William Hill, Manchester City have an 8/1 chance of going through the season unbeaten. This feat has been achieved by teams in other countries. In the 2011-12 season Juventus were the first Italian side to do it. And Romania’s Steaua Bucharest hold the European record for the longest unbeaten run, not losing for 104 matches over three years.
What do we not know?
It is impossible to devise an accurate probability for Manchester City to end the season undefeated. Unknown circumstances will influence the team’s chance of victory before each individual match. For example, if a number of key players get injured or another team is playing particularly well, the odds in favour of City victories might decrease.

Word Watch

2005
That year Chelsea won twenty nine games, drew eight, and lost one. Their single defeat was a 1-0 loss away at Manchester City, courtesy of a Nicholas Anelka penalty. Without that one goal, Chelsea would have been the second unbeaten champions in as many years.
Sergio Agüero
He has scored 8 league goals this season, averaging a goal every 76 minutes — the best minutes per goal ratio in the league.
Ever
The highest goal tally by a Premier League team was recorded by Chelsea during the 2009-10 season. Chelsea striker Didier Drogba was the league’s top individual scorer with 29 goals.
All comers
Manchester City have recorded some big victories this season, beating Stoke City 7-2 and Watford 6-0.
Before
Before the beginning of the Premier League in 1992, Preston North End were the last English top division side to go a season unbeaten. They won the 1888-89 Football League with 18 victories and four draws.

Subjects

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