The Final Day Conundrum

By Adam Lovatt, Omar Chaudhuri and Daniel Geey

This time last year, we wrote a blog on the Premier League fixture list and a few curious anomalies. You can read our original post here. Our original conclusions related to the top five teams in the league (Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool) since the 2003-2004 season not playing each other during the final game of the Premier League season.

It turned out that we got more (relatively good natured twitter) abuse for not including Spurs as a top five team (!) rather than any one questioning our conclusions. As such, we decided to include Spurs and expand our approach. Once the new set of fixtures were announced, Omar did his thing and again crunched the numbers.

Season Diagram

Our initial conclusion, with the inclusion of Spurs, more or less remained the same.

Given that there are 30 matches between big 6 teams in a season – and accounting for the fact that any given match day might have multiple big six matches – historically there has been 0.8 big six matches per game week with a 68% chance of any given game week over 15 seasons having a big 6 match.

When including Spurs, the three final day games involving a top six team playing each other all involved Spurs during the 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09 seasons. Objectively, those were the seasons when the club was not challenging for Champions League qualification. Once Spurs became a top team challenging for Champions League qualification, they have not played a top six team come gameweek 38. Not having a top six match during the last game of the season, since 2003-2004, pretty much remains in place.

As you can see, (with the above caveat) not having a true top six game being played on the last game of the season remains rather unexpected. The probability (since 2009-10) of the league, including Spurs, having nine consecutive final days without a top six match is 0.004% or around a 1 in 28,000 chance. The Premier League may have good reason not to schedule a top six game that may in effect become a title decider or alternatively it may be a completely random occurrence.

We also tracked the number of gameweeks with more than one top six match. The stats suggest the number of gameweeks with multiple top six games has decreased significantly in recent times. The 2017-18 season will actually be the first season with more than one top six game played in one matchday since 2013-14. This may be to spread the amount of more attractive games more evenly across the season for broadcasters.

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
2 7 7 6 8 6 4 4 6 6 4 0 0 0 2


In terms of a conclusion – is it worth emphasising that teams battling against relegation should do their upmost to ensure safety by the end of gameweek 37. There appears a greater likelihood of a harder game on the last day of the season.

As we previously suggested:

Importantly, this anomaly does impact on non-top [6] clubs as presumably they are more likely to face a top [6] club in the final game of the season if those clubs can’t/don’t face each other. Although clubs battling relegation are more likely to play a top [6] team, there isn’t a strict disadvantage as they would all have equal chance of playing a top [6] team. However it still reduces the possibility of a positive result for relegation threatened teams (given the difference in quality between the sides), which in turn possibly reduces the attractiveness of the competition because the outcome may be more predictable.

It will be intriguing as to whether a top six game occurs during the final set of fixtures during the 2018-19 Premier League season.

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