Does The World Cup Affect EPL Performance?

With the 2018/19 Premier League season getting underway less than four weeks after the World Cup final, bettors have to bear in mind some teams won’t be at full strength during the first few weeks of the campaign. In total, around a sixth of the 736 players who were at the World Cup play their club football in the English leagues.

All of the top six EPL teams had at least seven players away with their countries in Russia, and Manchester City had a remarkable 16, which was the most of any club in the world. While they won’t have all played every match, each of England’s big six clubs had at least one player present at the final week of the tournament, and they will all need a break. In this bitcoin betting guide, I'll see if there's a correlation between points gained and World Cup appearances.

As an example, nine of the 12 Tottenham players were away with Belgium, England or France, so the World Cup will have had an enormous impact upon Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for the new season. But is there any evidence it will affect the team’s performance?

This is hard to assess. World Cups only come around every four years, and team performance tends to fluctuate from season to season anyway; it’s rare for a club to finish with the same points tally for two years running.

Does the World Cup disproportionately affect elite teams?

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t trends which we can bear in mind when looking ahead to 2018/19. For instance, as a general rule it takes fewer points to win the league in a season directly following a World Cup, as the below table illustrates.

For the purposes of this study we’ll begin at 1998/99, as that was the first season in the 20 team Premier League era which followed a World Cup. The seasons are sorted by ‘second place team plus one point’, as that’s the minimum requirement the eventual champions needed to claim the crown (leaving aside the possibility of winning on goal difference, though that has happened in the past). Any World Cup years are highlighted in the tables.

Season Bottom 7 Average Points Points Earned By Champions Second Place Plus 1 Point
2011/12 36.4 89 90
2008/09 35.9 90 87
2016/17 35.4 93 87
2009/10 33.7 86 86
2007/08 33.4 87 86
2013/14 34.9 86 85
2006/07 37.1 89 84
2004/05 36.7 95 84
2005/06 35.3 91 84
2017/18 35.9 100 82
2001/02 37.3 87 81
2003/04 38.3 90 80
2014/15 36.3 87 80
2002/03 38.7 83 79
1998/99 38.4 79 79
2012/13 35.9 89 79
1999/00 35.7 91 74
2010/11 40.3 80 72
2015/16 36.3 81 72
2000/01 37.4 80 71

A points tally in the seventies would’ve been enough for the champions to win the league seven times in the past 20 seasons. That applies to three of the five post-World Cup campaigns though, and four of them could’ve been won with 80 points or less.

The difference between top teams and relegation candidates

It’s not that there have been surprise winners in these seasons; the first four were all claimed by Manchester United, with Chelsea the most recent winners in 2014/15. But the competition at the top end hasn’t tended to be as fierce in these years either. As you'll see in this bitcoin betting guide to the EPL, the bottom teams have taken their chances in World Cup years.

A glance at the other end of the league table also implies the struggling teams make a better fist of it when a World Cup has just happened, which makes the division more competitive. The following table shows the average points won by the bottom seven teams in each of the last 20 seasons. The choice of using seven teams was arbitrary, but it should include all of the teams who were realistically involved in the relegation dogfight.

Season Bottom 7 Average Points
2010/11 40.3
2002/03 38.7
1998/99 38.4
2003/04 38.3
2000/01 37.4
2001/02 37.3
2006/07 37.1
2004/05 36.7
2011/12 36.4
2014/15 36.3
2015/16 36.3
2008/09 35.9
2017/18 35.9
2012/13 35.9
1999/00 35.7
2016/17 35.4
2005/06 35.3
2013/14 34.9
2009/10 33.7
2007/08 33.4

Of course, we have to be very careful not to mix correlation with causation, and this trend may not be entirely down to the World Cup, or even much at all. To try to get an idea, let’s look at how many players each Premier League team sent to the World Cup in 2014, and how their performance differed the following season.

Is there a correlation between points and players at a World Cup?

For the purposes of this article, the relegated and promoted teams from 2013/14 have been excluded, and the teams are sorted by their point difference between the two campaigns.

Club Players at 2014 World Cup 2013/14 Points 2014/15 Points Difference
Swansea City 3 42 56 14
West Bromwich Albion 2 36 44 8
West Ham United 1 40 47 7
Manchester United 14 64 70 6
Chelsea 12 82 87 5
Stoke City 4 50 54 4
Southampton 7 56 60 4
Crystal Palace 1 45 48 3
Aston Villa 2 38 38 0
Sunderland 2 38 38 0
Hull City 2 37 35 -2
Arsenal 10 79 75 -4
Tottenham Hotspur 7 69 64 -5
Manchester City 10 86 79 -7
Newcastle United 6 49 39 -10
Liverpool 10 84 62 -22
Everton 6 72 47 -25

There’s no real correlation here between how many players a team had at the World Cup and how their performance changed, but there are a few interesting points to note. For instance, five of the six teams who lost the most points were in the previous year’s top six, so something clearly affected them. Was it the World Cup? Obviously squad churn and luck play a part; Liverpool sold Suárez and lost Sturridge to injury, for example. 

We can also see the top three improving sides had no more than three players in Brazil, and the next two both spent over £100m on new players (Manchester United also hired a new manager). Clearly there are other factors at play here. We don't need a World Cup year to tell us the importance of transfers on team performance. Likewise fitness and tactics are all factors that play a role in a team's finishing position. It isn't really possible to lay changes in performance entirely at the door of the World Cup, but history suggests we could be set for another very competitive season in the Premier League in 2018/19.

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