I built a model to predict the 2017_18 Champions League groups using the latest income data for each of the 32 clubs alone.

Here are the predictions. Can you do better? #lotsofmoneyball

Income Model UCL 17_18

A prediction of Points and Goal Difference for the 8 Champions League groups in 2017_18 made before the first games.

The Model

My theory is that a football team is roughly as good as the sum of the talent in it. And that the salary that a football player commands is a good approximation of his talent. So we can measure how good a football team will be based on how much it spends on player salaries. We don’t need to know who the manager of a team is, what formation they will play or what tactics they will adopt. We don’t even need to know who the players are. We just need a decent guide to how good they are. And we can model that if we know how much they get paid. Let’s call it the lotsofmoneyball theory.

The group stage of the Champions Leagues features 8 groups of 4 teams, who each play one another home and away. Six games isn’t a huge sample size, but it’s enough to generate a ‘Points For’ and ‘Goal Difference’ value for each team that we can use.

As a proxy for the size of each team’s salary budget we have used the latest annual income figures of each of the 32 Champions League group participants, as reported by Sporting Intelligence. Our model takes these values and converts them into a prediction for points and goal difference in each of the 4-team groups. And that’s it. The model doesn’t know or care who the team is, which country they come from, the identity of their manager, where they finished in the league last season, their current form/injuries/suspensions. All it needs to know is how rich the club is. It’s a single input model. With one exception.

I’m proposing the lotsofmoneyball theory as the rule that governs Champions League football. As with every rule, there is an exception though. The Income Model method of predicting performance in the UCL works for teams from every country playing in Europe, apart from one. The exception is England. Whatever the reason, the lotsofmoneyball model massively over-rates English teams. So we impose a ‘40% English Tax’ on them. In other words, we credit them with only 60p in the £ ‘value’ for their total income in our model.


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