Five Football League clubs who could be in a false position at the end of August
At the end of August the Football League season will be five games old and – even though there will still be plenty of football to be played – we won’t be able to stop ourselves from forming judgements about how clubs are performing.
One of the main obstacles to doing this in a balanced way is the fixture schedule: some teams have been given a much gentler start than others and this will undoubtedly influence their relative positions in the table.
By combining the fixture difficulty molecules (which map the strength of each club’s opposition over the season) and the new “E ratings” (which measure strength based on the quality of chances created) into a simple model, I’ve simulated the first month of the new season to highlight some clubs who the data suggests are likely to be in a false position after the first five matches.
First of all, here’s how the model thinks the three tables could look. Underneath I’ve highlighted the five clubs I think will be in the most misleading positions:
Despite having one of the highest E ratings in the Championship and being among the bookies’ favourites for automatic promotion, Boro could appear off the pace at the end of August. With three of their first five matches being away to opponents expected to finish in the top half – chief amongst them Derby – it may be late September before they can shunt their way into the top six.
Newly-promoted Preston actually scored pretty well in the E ratings last season, with the bookies likewise expecting them to avoid the relegation battle, so mid-table safety seems a realistic aim. However they have one of the toughest starts in the Championship with Middlesbrough, Hull and Ipswich to deal with in August, meaning that they could start September uncomfortably close to the foot of the table.
A margin of only two points prevented Colchester from dropping into League 2 last season, but a relatively straightforward start to this campaign gives them the opportunity to ensconce themselves in the top half early on. All of their first five opponents are currently rated as bottom half sides, with their three home matches against Blackpool, Oldham and Scunthorpe all among their more winnable fixtures. A much tougher September – with trips to Sheffield United, Swindon and Chesterfield – looks likely to drag them down the table.
While it’s not that unlikely that Wimbledon could enjoy a promotion push this season, particularly given the fine margins in League 2, their relatively average ratings and odds suggest that mid-table is more likely. Whether or not they end up exceeding expectations, it would be premature to assume that they are genuine promotion contenders on the evidence of August alone. Only one of their first five League 2 fixtures – their opener at home to Plymouth – is against a “top half” side (at least according to the E ratings).
Rovers’ strong performance last season makes them realistic contenders for a double promotion in both the bookies’ odds and the E ratings. A top half finish should be their minimum target this season but they’ll be doing well to be sitting there at the end of August. With trips to two of the four sides relegated to League 1 – Yeovil and Leyton Orient – plus encounters with Northampton and Luton, both of whom should likewise be targeting the top half, their easiest match in August may actually be their home clash with fellow promoted side Barnet.