cwick (Chadwick Matlin, deputy editor): Tony, Grace, Ryan — we’ve gathered again to talk about English soccer, which is really to say, we’ve gathered again to talk about just how bad Kepa Arrizabalaga is at his job. And I guess we can also talk about the EPL on the eve of the season’s final matches, as three teams compete for just two Champions League spots and three teams compete to keep their head above two relegation spots.
Let’s start with the Champions League race, where Chelsea has an 89 percent chance to make it into the Top 4, according to FiveThirtyEight’s model. Manchester United has a 76 percent chance, and Leicester has just a 35 percent chance. How do those numbers sit with you all? Seem about right?
ryan (Ryan O’Hanlon, FiveThirtyEight contributor and author of the No Grass in the Clouds newsletter): I wouldn’t take any of those numbers as an accurate assessment of how confident I am in any of those teams. But, just given the shape of the table, it makes sense. Chelsea can still finish Top 4 if they lose and Sunday’s Manchester United-Leicester game doesn’t end in a draw. And since Leicester and United are playing each other, they can only both get in if they draw with each other AND Chelsea loses. Frankly, though, no outcome would surprise me at this point.
grace (Grace Robertson, FiveThirtyEight contributor and author of the Grace on Football newsletter): It feels right to me. Leicester’s collapse has been big and loud, but they didn’t play too badly against last week’s 3-0 loss to the Spurs and could certainly lay a glove on Man United. But just looking at the table, it’s clear what the most likely outcome is. At this point in the season, one point is a lot of points!
I do think the wild card is that the Wolves, who play Chelsea Sunday, are the kind of side who could cause Chelsea problems. They have a compact defense and primarily attack on the counter. Lampard hasn’t developed a clear strategy for breaking down deep defending sides, so Chelsea will have to rely more on individual quality for that game.
tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): Worth pointing out that Man United are currently favorites according to FiveThirtyEight to win THIS year’s Europa league (at 35). So even if they fail to make Top 4 in the league, there’s always that route for them.
ryan: Should United throw the game so the EPL can get five teams into the Champions League?
tchow: Yes. I am 100 percent here for this.
cwick: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does not strike me as a galaxy-brain type.
tchow: If Chelsea fail to make Top 4, they too could also make it if they win the Champions League this year. Our model gives them a … [checks predictions] … less than 1 percent chance of that.
ryan: If Wolves are blowing Chelsea out — not impossible! — maybe we’ll get some midgame handshake deal between Brendan Rodgers and OGS. There’s a precedent for this!
tchow: The Disgrace of Old Trafford has a nice ring to it.
grace: My memory is always the Euro 2004 game where Denmark and Sweden somehow managed to draw 2-2, guaranteeing both to qualify for the next round even though Italy won their game in the same group. Italy’s Antonio Cassano running for a huge celebration before the guys on the bench tell him the other game’s score will stay with me forever.
ryan: Just imagine Frank Lampard’s post-game reaction.
grace: Frank Lampard is developing some huge “I want to speak to the manager” energy.
tchow: I have always thought that Frank was a great name for the male counterpart of Karen.
ryan: Sir, you ARE the manager.
cwick: Uh, the Europa League is AFTER this weekend’s games, right? So you want Manchester United to throw it on a 35 percent chance???
ryan: C’mon, you’re Manchester United! Have some self-confidence!
cwick: Meanwhile, what happened to Leicester? They had a 95 percent chance to qualify as of June 8, before the league restarted!
tchow: Brendan Rodgers should deliver a mea culpa.
grace: The performances haven’t even been that poor. SPI went from giving Leicester a rating of 81.6 before the restart to a lowly 81.3 today.
ryan: Leicester’s expected goal differential actually improved after the break, too!
cwick: So it’s nothing more than an unlucky run? I have enough to blame on the unrelenting chaos of the universe. I need more than just randomness to explain the world around me!
grace: This is still a very good season. To the extent that Leicester has a problem, it’s that Brendan Rodgers likes to constantly improvise and introduce new tactical ideas to shake things up, but his bag of tricks eventually runs dry.
ryan: United also got a lot better all of a sudden, thanks to the signing of Bruno Fernandes and the reintegration of Paul Pogba.
grace: It’s wild how players who can pass the ball forward seem to be important in this sport about getting the ball forward into the opposition goal.
ryan: At the beginning of the season, if you told Leicester that all they’d have to do to qualify for the Champions League was to win the final game of the season at home, they absolutely would’ve taken that, right?
grace: No doubt about it.
cwick: The FiveThirtyEight model gives United a 44 percent chance of winning, Leicester a 30 percent chance of winning, and a 26 percent chance of a draw.
tchow: Is the King Power really the King Power when there are no fans, though? “At home” doesn’t mean the same thing now, does it?
grace: The King Powerless.
cwick: Have there been analyses on whether home field advantage has been sapped since the restart in multiple leagues?
tchow: Shhh, don’t scoop our own stories, Chad! I think we’re working on something like this accounting for all the other European leagues.
grace: There was a lot of noise about the Bundesliga having fewer home wins, but I’m not sure anyone has a large enough sample size to make bold claims.
ryan: The Financial Times found that not much has changed, except for one thing: Refs are awarding fewer cards to away teams now.
tchow: All the games on Sunday are at 11 a.m. EDT. How many screens is too many this Sunday? If you had to choose only three games to pay attention to, there’s Man United vs. Leicester. What are your other two?
ryan: Wolves-Chelsea, and then Watford-Arsenal. Remember: Watford outshot Arsenal, 30-7, when they played earlier this season in September.
cwick: Arsenal vs. Watford should be total chaos. Chelsea vs. Wolves is a glimpse into the future of the EPL.
grace: I would go for both of those two also.
ryan: Although I would hate to pass up an opportunity to watch West Ham’s Michail Antonio, who is now the best player in the world.
cwick: Ryan, you’re like a hermit crab. Every week you outgrow your old best player in the world, shed him, and nestle up inside another.
ryan: That’s … the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me?
grace: “The new greatest player in the world is … oh, let’s go with… James Ward-Prowse.”
ryan: I think you guys at FiveThirtyEight would call me a “Bayesian.” I’m just “updating my priors,” people!
cwick: What has you crushing on Antonio?
ryan: He’s leading the league in both shots and expected goals since the restart. Also, he carries the ball upfield — and he’s built like a running back.
grace: He is very good. I think there was always a desire to play him wide or even at wingback due to his defensive solidity and stamina, but he seems to have adapted to playing upfront without any difficulty at all. Maybe this is just where he should’ve been playing the whole time.
ryan: West Ham will win the league next year, is what we’re saying.
tchow: And England could’ve won a World Cup if Antonio was striker. Too far?
grace: I can dream.
cwick: OK, back to the relegation race. At the bottom of the table, the FiveThirtyEight model gives Bournemouth a 5 percent chance of avoiding relegation, Watford only a 34 percent chance and Aston Villa a 62 percent chance. Watford has crashed and burned since the restart. They had a 75 percent chance of staying in the league on June 8.
ryan: They also fired their third manager of the season less than a week ago.
tchow: The win over Arsenal REALLY helped Aston Villa.
grace: A final-day relegation dogfight like this is always extremely difficult to call.
tchow: I was trying to figure out why Bournemouth had only a 5 percent chance to not get relegated. They are 3 points behind Watford, and the two teams have the same goal differential. So, on Sunday, Bournemouth will have to 1) beat Everton 2) hope that Aston Villa loses badly against West Ham and 3) hope they beat Everton by more goals than Watford beats their opponent, who is … Arsenal. Ohhhhh, now the 5 percent makes total sense.
ryan: Watford have definitely been a much better team than Villa over the course of the season, but they also are relying on an interim-manager game to win one of the most important games in the history of the club.
grace: I’m sure former West Ham midfielder Hayden Mullins and former Arsenal backup goalkeeper Graham Stack have a very clear tactical idea that they’ve had enough time to get across to the Watford players.
The Pozzo family, who owns Watford, has a very … liberal sense of when to change managers. If they pull this off, the Pozzos should build a statue outside the stadium of themselves.
ryan: If you hire four new managers in a season, do you get four “new manager bounces”?
tchow: Y’all stop. This chat is just setting up perfectly for a 5-0 Watford win on Sunday. And that can’t happen.
ryan: They were also pretty good under Nigel Pearson! They took the 13th-most points in the league over the stretch while he was managing.
grace: It was very up and down, in fairness. Pearson got a string of good early results but only two wins since the restart.
ryan: Villa, meanwhile, have been weirdly competent since then. They have the worst defense in the league, by xG allowed, but they’ve allowed the third-fewest xG since play resumed.
Villa’s leading scorer is Jack Grealish. He has seven goals! Add that to an awful defense, and somehow they’re not favorites to get relegated.
grace: Close followers of Aston Villa coach Dean Smith’s seemed to insist that his Brentford sides always ran very hot and cold. He seems to have transferred that to the Premier League.
tchow: Finish this sentence: If Villa get relegated, Grealish goes to _________.
ryan: Manchester United were once the betting favorites to sign him, but I don’t really get that.
grace: I think he’d be a good get for a lot of teams, but the price is probably going to be inflated due to his nationality.
tchow: I think a lot of teams could use him. Actually, I’m not sure why I even caveated that question with “if Villa get relegated.” There’s a high chance he’s gone regardless.
cwick: OK, we can’t end the chat without talking about Kepa, the real entity most likely to be relegated after this season. Chelsea’s defense was run off the pitch on Wednesday, letting in five goals to Liverpool. Kepa’s own defenders were screaming at him, Though I guess screaming at Kepa isn’t so new.
tchow: Trust, if Chelsea end up in fifth, it’ll most likely be because of Kepa.
cwick: What should Chelsea do??
grace: StatsBomb’s data on Football Reference estimates Kepa has cost Chelsea 9.8 goals this season. Second-worst is Everton’s Jordan Pickford at just 4.1.
ryan: The back-of-the-napkin math is that one goal of goal differential is roughly equal to one point in the table. Give Chelsea 10 more points, and they qualified for Europe a long time ago.
grace: Liverpool had five shots on target against Chelsea, and Kepa conceded them all. He’s long been bad but seems to be in particularly poor form.
tchow: I’ve gotten in trouble, both in our work texts and in personal soccer-group texts, for continuing to make fun of Kepa. He makes it hard not to, but I think I have to refrain.
cwick: Wow, Tony, so mature. Think of what could have been for you and Arsenal.
tchow: I mean, in a lot of ways, he would be the “perfect” keeper for Arsenal. Misery loves company.
cwick: I love soccer because you can basically search for any player name and a team name and get some random link to pop up with some rumor or take.
tchow: You say that, Chad, but I’m searching “Messi to Arsenal” and I’m getting zero results.
grace: I mean, Messi has been to Arsenal. And scored lots of goals there in the process.
tchow: Club legend, really.
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