Are Europe’s elite teams losing their grip at the top?

There is a very solid chance – about 50/50 depending on where you get your predictions from – that this European football season will end with both Napoli’s first Serie A title since 1990 and Arsenal’s first Premier League title. league since 2004. Leicester City, but given what we’re used to in the sport, with ingrained strength and a tendency to get rich, the two results represent a real tectonic shift.

Let’s look at some of another things that remain on the table (with a probability much higher than 0%) as we enter the final stretch of the season:

– Worst Liverpool season since 2012.
– Chelsea’s worst season since 1991.
– The end of Bayern’s 10-year Bundesliga title.
– Brighton and Union Berlin qualified for the Champions League for the first time.
– Real Sociedad and/or Real Betis do it for the first time since 2014 and 2006 respectively.
– Naples win Champions League

We knew it could be a pretty strange season with all this “worse-than-usual game load in the fall followed by a long break for the World Cup.” And while order could still be restored in the coming weeks – Bayern run away with the Bundesliga, Liverpool return to the top four in the Premier League, while Manchester City win the league, a more established (read: richer) force wins champions. League – It’s undeniable that, on average, Europe’s best and richest teams aren’t dominating as much as they usually do this season.

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Is it all because of the oddities and the winter world championship? Or is something else going on?

How bad are the best teams?

To try to answer here, we will look at a specific group of clubs: the current top 10 in UEFA coefficients, also known as the 10 teams that have consistently achieved the best results in European competition over the past five years. These are Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, Barcelona, ​​Juventus and Ajax.

That’s a pretty good list of heavyweights, and in terms of league points, six of them, including each of the top four, are on track for a worse finish in 2022-23 than they did in 2021-22.

Here are 10 teams listed with last year’s total league points, current pace this year (based solely on current points per game), and the change they’ve seen in their rankings on (Elo ratings are mostly about trading points – beat an opponent and you take away some Elo points from them – so they can be extremely useful for this type of exercise. Beat a bad opponent and you’ll trade a few points. ; beat a good opponent, and you trade more.)

* We are going to ignore Juventus’ current deduction of 15 points as it has nothing to do with playing on the pitch.

On average, these 10 teams lost about 9.5 Elo points per team and are about 2.1 points lower in the league finish pace.

Manchester United have improved markedly under new management, and while Barcelona’s twitching of the levers failed to prevent a memorably terrible European performance – they failed to qualify for the Champions League play-offs for the second year in a row and then immediately stumbled into the Europa League ( albeit against Manchester United) – he still rebounded well in club form. But their respective stature hasn’t made up for the fact that Liverpool and Chelsea have collapsed and the league’s reliable heavyweights Manchester City, Bayern, Ajax and at least a bit of Real Madrid have taken steps back. in a league game.

– O’Hanlon: Premier League Championship Ranking, Top 4, Relegation (E+)

And it’s not just the collapse of Chelsea and Liverpool. also 2.1 points per team lower in league play and they lost an average of 5.8 Elo points despite the impressive rise of teams like Benfica and Borussia Dortmund.

Intensity of protection and the possibility of tilting the field: down

So, the best teams are a little worse than usual. Why are they worse?

They press less effectively and create fewer scoring chances.

On average, the above 10 teams had a drop in possession from 61.4% to 59.9%. They allow opponents to make 4.3 passes per possession (up 5% from last season) and they average 11.1 passes per defense, which is a typical measure of defensive intensity. This is a 4% increase.

Giving opponents a little less obstacle created a kind of domino effect. Opponents now have 5% more offensive touches (126.9 in 90 minutes) and 6% more defensive touches (18.3) and 6% more shots per possession (0.11).

If your opponent completes more possessions in depth in your half of the field, then you start more possessions there. This means you have more opportunities for a costly loss of the ball – opponents start having 2% more possession outside of their defensive third – and it means you have a longer way to get the ball into dangerous areas. These 10 clubs now have 3% fewer offensive possessions (up to 46.8%), 6% fewer offensive touches (209.6) and 4% fewer touches in the penalty area (32.9). . This is probably also one of the reasons why these teams produce fewer high-quality shots: their average xG per shot dropped by 8% to 0.12.

Are these major changes? Obviously not. These teams are still very good for the most part. But the changes add up, leaving a few more matches up to chance as a result.

They don’t charge from the back as well

Arsenal and Napoli are obviously stealing all the comebacks. They are averaging 1.9 and 2.0 points per game respectively, falling behind in matches. When trailing, Arsenal’s 90 possession goal difference is +2.0, while Napoli’s is a whopping +3.4. The top 10 odds teams averaged +1.4 goals last season in these situations; this season, that average has halved to +0.7.

There are a few more returning kids: Ajax +2.3 per 90 possessions, Real Madrid +2.0, and Manchester City and Bayern Munich +1.5. But despite an overall improvement, Manchester United (-1.5) has yet to regain their Fergie Time advantage – a 7-0 loss to a big opponent certainly doesn’t improve your averages in that regard – and ” Chelsea (-0.4) also failed to return to the games. Four out of 10 teams have a negative goal difference when falling behind; only one did last year (United again).

Maybe the biggest difference between last season and this season? These commands are sometimes booze. Their xG difference in losses was +0.8 per match last season, which means they created more chances and may have been a bit unlucky. Their xGD is -0.3 losses this season. Seven out of 10 teams this year are in the red, and nobody were last year. When they lose, they actually lose.

What did the “trend breaker” do to counter the trend?

One thing that the above 10 teams share this season is that they have all gotten older. Using the mean age found in, which are weighted by minutes played, we see that nine of those 10 teams have a higher average age this season than last. Manchester City’s average age has risen from 27.0 to 27.8, with City, Liverpool (28.2), Chelsea (27.5) and Manchester United (27.6) significantly higher the average age of the last five Premier League champions (26.6).

Real Madrid (28.0) and Barcelona (26.5) also saw their averages rise, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing for Barça. Ajax’s average has risen slightly after a string of costly transfers, Bayern’s from 26.8 to 27.2 and Juventus’s from 27.4 to 28.4. The latter is the biggest promotion on the list, and it fits: manager Massimiliano Allegri has a long history of fighting for the credibility of younger players, with only two of their top 12 players in terms of minutes under 25 currently.

The only team whose age is gone down? PSG, whose average fell slightly from 27.8 to 27.6. This season they have officially handed over the reins of goalkeeping to Gianluigi Donnarumma, 24, and have actually played with a couple of young players they added last season, mostly midfielder Vitinha (22) and full-back Nuno Mendez (20).

This creates an interesting contrast to this season’s bright lights. Arsenal’s weighted average age this season is 25.0, and although this is higher than last season’s 24.4, it is still far below all of the above. Meanwhile, Napoli’s figure fell from 27.9 last season to 27.1, lower than eight of the top ten teams.

Is this a massive trend? It’s hard to tell, although it’s a good reminder that you don’t have to fully load Veterans to have a good lineup. Of the top clubs above, the teams whose Elo rating has fallen are 27.7 years old on average, while the teams that have risen are 27.2 years old. Meanwhile, the other most active members of the European elite (or near-elite) are actually even younger.

Here are the 10 European teams that (A) are currently in the top 50 in the EloFootball rankings, (B) are not in the top 20 by UEFA coefficients, and (C) saw the biggest increase in Elo ratings in the 2022-2023 season: Napoli, Arsenal, Brighton, Newcastle, Lens, Wolfsburg, Brentford, Union Berlin, Marseille and Freiburg. Despite having a couple of particularly old teams – Newcastle at 28.1 and Union at 28.5 – the weighted average age of these teams is 27.1. And whether something is aged or not, it’s certainly interesting that their stats have improved in a way that almost perfectly reflects the regression of the above abilities:

  • Opponents’ average passes per possession dropped by 6% to 4.5 and their PPDA improved by 9% to 11.9.

  • They increased…


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