LaLiga title race predictor: Opta AI completes Spain's thrilling four-way tussle

By Sports Desk April 30, 2021

If LaLiga's title race wasn't tantalising enough already, Barcelona's shock defeat to Granada on Thursday really threw a spanner in the works.

It looks set to be the most gripping end to any of the top five European leagues this term, and almost certainly the least predictable finish to LaLiga since 2006-07.

Back then there were three teams in with a chance of taking home the title on the final day of the season – Real Madrid and Barcelona, of course, plus Juande Ramos' Sevilla.

As it was, Madrid and Barca won on the last day whereas Sevilla – who needed a win and for the other two to lose – lost at home to Villarreal.

Madrid finished top by virtue of a better head-to-head record over Barca, who were essentially denied the title by their local rivals Espanyol, slumping to a 2-2 draw with them on the penultimate day to hand Los Blancos the initiative.

For the first time since then, Sevilla are again in with a shout of upsetting established order, though on this occasion Atletico Madrid are in the mix as well.

In fact, with just three points separating first from fourth with five games left, it's the closest title race LaLiga has ever seen in a 20-team campaign (1987-1995, 1997-present).

Diego Simeone's side looked certainties for the title not too long ago: at the start of February, they were 11 points clear, but they've won only six of their 14 league games since, including a defeat to Sevilla in early April.

Yet, remarkably, it's still in Atletico's hands thanks to Barca's surprise loss at home to Granada on Thursday.

 

What made that defeat even more incredible was the fact Granada had just 18 per cent of the ball and scored twice from an xG (expected goals) value of just 0.69. This means they netted more than two times as many as they should have, which speaks to how stunningly clinical they were.

Interestingly – or, infuriatingly, if you're a fan – it was Barcelona's second-highest share of the ball in a league game this season, behind only 82.1 per cent against Cadiz. They lost both games.

It's all shaping up for potentially decisive blows to be struck across May 8 and 9, when the top four all play each other – Barca host Atletico on the Saturday, with Sevilla going to Madrid the next day.

But what does our prediction model say about the most likely outcome in the title race?

How does the predictor work?

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality. Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly. All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table…

 

Atletico take the crown

There we have it… The AI predictor still sees Atletico as the likely champions, with a 38 per cent probability.

It essentially looks like it will come down to their showdown with Barca next Saturday. Atletico hold a slight advantage having beaten Barcelona 1-0 in Madrid earlier this season, and our predictor seemingly doesn't expect Ronald Koeman's men to overturn that at Camp Nou, as the model sees Atletico winning the title by virtue of their head-to-head record.

Nevertheless, Barcelona's outlook is almost identical to just a few weeks ago when the data suggested they had a 32.8 per cent chance, that now dropping ever so slightly to 32.6 – but you can't help but wonder what it would have been had they beaten Granada.

Madrid have drawn two of their previous three games 0-0, and so their chances have dropped from 34.4 per cent to a 26.6 per cent likelihood of winning the title.

Sevilla, perhaps unsurprisingly, remain the outsiders and our prediction model still only gives them a 2.8 per cent probability of winning their first league title since 1946.

However, that's 28 times more likely than just 18 days ago when the data gave them a 0.1 per cent chance of finishing top.

Everything seemingly hinges on next weekend…

Related items

  • Rumour Has It: Premier League clubs queue up for Gnabry Rumour Has It: Premier League clubs queue up for Gnabry

    Robert Lewandowski's status and Sadio Mane's transfer have taken up the majority of attention at Bayern Munich this close season.

    Meanwhile, Serge Gnabry's uncertain future has lurked in the background, despite his importance to the team in recent seasons.

    Reports suggest he is set to leave for the Premier League sooner rather than later, with a number of clubs showing interest.

     

    TOP STORY – PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS QUEUE FOR GNABRY

    Arsenal and Manchester United are both preparing to sign Bayern Munich's Serge Gnabry, according to the Daily Star.

    According to reports, Gnabry is set to run down his contract after rejecting terms for a renewal, with one year left on his deal.

    This leaves Bayern with compromised leverage as time becomes a luxury, despite their desire to cash in this window, instead of letting him go for free at the end of next season

    While Arsenal and United are preparing a £40million (€46.4m) bid, The Sun is also reporting Gnabry would become a priority for Manchester City if Raheem Sterling leaves.


    ROUND-UP

    - Meanwhile, the Gunners and United are engaging in a bidding war for Ajax's Lisandro Martinez, according to the Daily Mail.

    - Martinez's team-mate and compatriot Nicolas Tagliafico is attracting interest from Brighton and Hove Albion and Lyon, per Fabrizio Romano.

    Barcelona have no intention to sell Frenkie de Jong to United but are looking for the midfielder to take a pay cut, Diario AS reports.

    Mohamed Salah was prepared to join Chelsea before Liverpool made him the highest-paid player in their history, The Sun is reporting.

  • Wimbledon: 'I had my own tactics out there' – Kyrgios overcomes frustrated Tsitsipas in controversial third-round clash Wimbledon: 'I had my own tactics out there' – Kyrgios overcomes frustrated Tsitsipas in controversial third-round clash

    Nick Kyrgios acknowledged having his "own tactics" after overcoming Stefanos Tsitsipas in a dramatic, ill-tempered affair to reach Wimbledon's last 16.

    Kyrgios produced an outstanding display to rally after losing the first set on No. 1 Court, eventually prevailing 6-7 (2-7) 6-4 6-3 7-6 (9-7) in an incident-filled match.

    The enigmatic star set the tone with an incredible outburst after a frustrated Tsitsipas struck a ball into the crowd at the end of the second set, narrowly missing a spectator.

    The Australian immediately called for his opponent to be defaulted, recalling Novak Djokovic's contentious exit from the 2020 US Open after he had accidentally hit a line judge in frustration after dropping a game.

    Kyrgios could be heard calling the umpire a "disgrace", and then, after Tsitsipas had been let off with a warning, the unseeded talent asked: "Are you dumb?"

    He then hit out at the umpire, yelling: "What are you talking about? Novak hit someone, it is the same, it happened right there. 

    "Bring out more supervisors, I'm not done. You can bring them all out, I don't care. I'm not playing until we get to the bottom of it. 

    "What happened to Novak when he hit the ball into a girl? She was injured. You can't hit a ball into the crowd and hit someone and not get defaulted."

    But the drama was far from done as Tsitsipas flew into a rage of his own early in the third, having been hit with a point deduction for wildly firing another ball towards the crowd – but hitting the scoreboard instead – after Kyrgios produced a mischievous underarm serve when holding to love.

    The fourth seed's frustration was evident as he then appeared to hit a couple of shots right at Kyrgios to boos from spectators, who vociferously cheered every point for the Australian.

    But after producing some outstanding tennis to end the aggravated Tsitsipas' hopes of winning a first grand slam title, Kyrgios said he had no problems with the Greek, whom he played doubles with at Wimbledon in 2019.

    "Honestly, it was a hell of an atmosphere, an amazing match, I honestly felt like the favourite coming in; I played him a couple of weeks ago, but I knew it was going to be a tough match," he said.

    "He's a hell of a player, I had my own tactics out there – he knows how to play me, he's beaten me once, and obviously I've had success, so it was a hell of a match.

    "I'm just super happy to be through, he was getting frustrated at times and it's a frustrating sport, that's for sure. I know you all think you can play, but it's very frustrating, whatever happens on the court, I love him."

    Kyrgios now holds a 4-1 head-to-head lead over Tsitsipas, having also got the better of the world number five on the grass at the Halle Open earlier this month.

    The 27-year-old also previously courted controversy during his run to the fourth round when he spat in the direction of a "disrespectful" fan during his first-round win over Paul Jubb.

    But Kyrgios claimed his antics serve to drive interest in the sport, adding: "It's amazing, everywhere I go I seem to have full stadiums.

    "The media loves to write that I'm bad for the sport, but clearly not."

  • Marquez set for Barcelona return as Mexico legend agrees to become B team coach Marquez set for Barcelona return as Mexico legend agrees to become B team coach

    Rafael Marquez is set to return to Barcelona as head coach of the Blaugrana's B team, club president Joan Laporta has confirmed.

    The former defender, widely considered one of Mexico's greatest ever players, won La Liga four times and lifted the Champions League trophy twice with Barcelona between 2003 and 2010. 

    He also won 147 caps for his country and appeared at five consecutive World Cups between 2002 and 2018, making his final professional appearance in El Tri's round-of-16 loss to Brazil in Russia four years ago.

    The 43-year-old is now set to follow in the footsteps of Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique by coaching Barcelona B, who play in the third tier of the Spanish league system.

    Speaking at an event in S'Agaro, Laporta said: "Rafa in principle had [agreed] to be the coach of Barca Atletic last year, [but] he had a situation that prevented him from doing so.

    "Now this has already been resolved and Rafa will be the coach of Barca Atletic next season. 

    "I am especially happy because I had Rafa as a player, he is a person with a great personality, captain of the Mexican team, and who was part of one of the best Barca [teams] in history."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.