Predicting Premier League, LaLiga, Bundesliga trends based on last season: Will Man City, Bayern repeat?

This weekend marks the start of European soccer season. Three of Europe's major five leagues, the English Premier League and Spanish LaLiga, will all be starting their 2021-22 seasons. (The French Ligue 1 started last weekend and Italy's Serie A starts on August. 21.- ESPN+ viewers' guide: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, FA Cup, more- Watch ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (U.S. Only)- Do you not have ESPN? Get instant accessBefore last season, I put together a big preview that involved different statistical factors: efficiency, ball control, field factors and regression-to-the-mean factors. We have a few weeks before the transfer window closes so let's not forget about this preview. However, as we get ready to dive into the European club season marathon, let's look at what those stats can tell us about the coming season.Jump to: Regression factors | Premier League | Bundesliga | LaLiga | Serie A | Ligue 1First: let's talk about regression-to-the-mean factorsAlthough we can make fairly accurate projections just by looking at how a team performed last year and how much they spent since then, some teams may still see the benefits (or liabilities) of additional bounces during a season.Liverpool's 2019-20 squad, for instance, was the perfect example of what regression-to-the-mean factors look like. Although Jurgen Klopp's squad was impressive overall, the Reds were a little too successful at close games and perhaps a little lucky with injuries to keep their level of play. They went from scoring 2.50 points per match in matches decided by 0-1 goals, to an average of 1.43 points, which cost them around 20 points in the table. Factor in a devastating number of injuries (Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Diogo Jota, Joel Matip etc.) Liverpool had to be quick to keep their place in the Champions League.Injuries alone make Liverpool a massive progression-to-the-mean candidate this season, but let's walk through some pretty common regression factors to see who else we might be under- or overestimating. These factors provided us with some good clues about the regression of Liverpool and other teams such as Real Madrid, Juventus Lazio, Marseille, and the potential improvement Manchester City would experience.What does this say about the current season?Close-game performanceThere are two things you need to know about close-game performance. (1) The best teams are better at it. They are, as it stands. You can use a team's total points per game to run a regression and get a fairly accurate projection of their performance in close games (a.k.a. Matches decided by 0-1 goals (2) There are some teams that are just a bit too good or too bad for close games. Liverpool 2019-20 is a good example.Last year's PSG is another good example. Les Parisiens were so good that they could have expected to average nearly two points per match in close matches. They averaged 1.29. They lost by one point in Ligue 1 and it cost them 12 points.PSG were the most unlucky team in Europe's Big 5 leagues, scoring -0.84 points per match compared to expectations. You could argue that their luck has changed this offseason.Others were also a bit slower than you might expect based on their overall performance.Inter Milan's win in Serie A was a comforting result. However, they played a solid game in close games, averaging 1.9 points per match, the same as Milan and behind Lazio. This is at most a consolation for all of the talent that has left the club this offseason: manager Antonio Conte; forward Romelu Kuku, wingback Achraf Haikimi, etc. Borussia Dortmund, on the other hand, had an odd propensity to give up early goals. From late-November through late-January they allowed five goals in 15 minutes and only pulled four points from five matches. This left them with a lot of work to do, and often too much.These matches also gave rise to a few teams that won more points than expected. Crystal Palace was 14th in goals scored and 18th in goals permitted last season, but they managed to stay out of the drop zone due to seven wins in one-goal matches. Although they averaged 1.53 points per game in close matches (RB Leipzig: 1.52), this is unlikely to be sustained without significant 1:25 Why Barcelona has more questions than answers Julien Laurens examines Barcelona's financial problems leading up to their LaLiga opener against Real Sociedad.Another way to see how results don't accurately reflect performance is to examine how teams performed in losses. Five teams had an average xG differential of greater than +0.20 during losses. This means that their shots in those matches resulted in an expected goal figure at minimum 0.2 higher than their victorious counterparts.Inter and Manchester City finished second in their respective league races in 2019-20. However, their average xG differential of losses (+0.47, respectively) suggests that they were lucky to have lost so many matches. This was just the beginning of what was to come.- What's New About Premier League VAR 2021-22Surprisingly Lille was the leader in 2020-21 with an xG differential +0.77 in losses. This can be used to remind them that they did not win the league simply because PSG had bad breaks in close games. They were also close to adding a higher total point total. Manchester City came in second place at +0.50. RB Leipzig (+0.38), and Sevilla (+0.30) are the two most intriguing teams. As we mentioned, Leipzig scored fewer points per game than Palace. They are likely ready to move up in this area. Sevilla was nine points behind in La Liga and shouldn't have lost so many matches.Sets and savesYou have some control over set piece execution and save percentages. However, having too many successes in these areas is usually a sign that you are not sustainable.StatsPerform offers a post-shot measure called xGOT (expected goals for shots at target), which measures the quality of shot placements for shots on goal. The pre-shot versions of xG are the most commonly used. To determine the expected save percentage, you can compare your and your opponent's respective xGOT scores (per shot on target). This will allow us to see which teams have outperformed.Monaco was perhaps the most successful team in set-pieces, scoring on 19 of their league games. They were able to climb to third place in Ligue 1 thanks to this, and although they will continue to be good in this area, it will be difficult to match that record.Atletico Madrid was a similar story. Based on the xGOT per target shot, Atleti's save rate should have been 71%, but it was 84%. This overachievement may be due to Jan Oblak, a human save percentage cheatcode.Manchester City was simply too strong to beat their Premier League counterparts last year. However, this season will bring regression or progression to the mean for all their competitors. Michael Regan/Getty ImagesCards and disciplineRed cards and second yellows are another regression factor that can impact a match. These can drastically alter a match and, if you have a few more matches that are normal, it could impact your place on the table.The most surprising team with unsustainable high cards was Juventus. Six reds and two yellows were suffered by the team. Two of those occurred late in matches. Four others happened in the 62nd or earlier minute. They took five points out of those four matches, which is a loss of three to four points when compared with expectations.Game stateI have been playing around with game-state information lately. What happens when a match ends in a tie? When a team is ahead/behind? How much time is remaining? One goal can have a huge impact on the results. I find it interesting to see who was lucky or not, especially in tie matches.To see who might have been the luckiest in a tie, we often compare goal differential with xG differential.Atletico and Lille were surprise league champions. Their goal differentials were +1.06 per 90 possessions and +1.04 for 90 possessions respectively. However, those numbers were +0.33 to +0.28 higher than their respective xG differentials in those situations. Both were perhaps better at building leads than they should have been, which may explain some of their rise, even if you consider the fact that both Atleti's Oblak, and Lille's Mike Maignan (who has since left for AC Milan), were great keepers. It is quite interesting that Tottenham Hotspur's goal differential was +0.32 greater than its xG differential. Spurs lost a lot last season and some of those leads may have been undeserved.Another interesting bit of data about game state is who took the most points in matches where they were trailing? It would be expected that the best teams would show up here. However, the top name is quite interesting. Manchester United (1.82 PPG), was the top team in this category. However, the Red Devils had to perform well in this category as they were less mediocre than other Premier League teams when matches were tied. While Manchester City's goal differential was +1.9 for 90 possessions, United was only +0.7.Let's not forget about regression data. Let's see what stats can tell you to help set the stage for the next season.English Premier League(Before we start: "Since February" refers to the points per game and xG differential for each team since Feb. 1. This table is intended to show which teams were in good form or poor later in the season.Chelsea's Champions League win was not a flukeTo finish fourth in the league they needed to overcome a late mistake by Leicester City. But you could argue that Chelsea was the premier league's best team from the day Thomas Tuchel was hired to replace Frank Lampard. Although their points-per-game average from February was lower than that of champion City, the xG differential suggests that the Blues were not as fortunate to have generated more points. They had five draws and two one goal losses.- ESPN's Premier League Kit Rankings, 2021-22- Dawson: Inside Man United’s summer preseason campConnelly: I'm excited to see the 2021-22 Connelly PlayersThey also failed to achieve their xG targets for the entire year. Kai Havertz and Timo Werner, expensive new additions, combined for 18.8 goals but only 10 actual goals. That should move toward the average, but how much? The addition of Romelu Kuku will make a huge difference. However, Werner will find a better rhythm and Chelsea will be a formidable team.Is West Ham's strangeness a regression factor?These are the possession rates of each of the top nine teams last year:Manchester City 64%Manchester United: 56%Liverpool: 62%Chelsea: 61%Leicester City: 54%West Ham United: 43%Tottenham Hotspur: 52%Arsenal: 53%Leeds United: 57%David Moyes and his lanky Hammers created a unique winning formula out of set-piece glory and quick transition strikes. They also used old-fashioned, low-pressure, traditional defense. It was a great underdog strategy that worked perfectly for the players and earned them a place in the Europa League. Can it work again? Are opponents going to find ways to adjust? Especially with the set-piece goals that are likely to cause a regressive trend?Key subplot: transition defenseCity's inability to stop high-quality shots was one of the main reasons it failed to achieve its baseline stats in 2019-20. City allowed 0.14xG per shot in Europe's Big 5 leagues. Getafe was the only one that allowed less shots per possession. City is fifth in the Big 5. They had a huge problem with transition defense.Ian Darke's preview of the Premier League team-by-teamCity reduced that average to 0.12xG per shot in 2020-21 and placed a lot more pressure upon shooters. Stats Perform showed that opponents attempted 71% of their shots with moderate to high pressure. Only 18% of shots were made by opposing shooters when there were less than two City defenders in between the shot, and the goal. This was 18th in league, but it was more that enough.Liverpool's transition defense collapsed, allowing 27% of shots to be scored with no more than two defenders.As you can see, Manchester City was third worst and Leicester fourth worst. Teams that try to play solid possession games with a high defensive line will rank low. However, Liverpool's average was almost half the level it should have been. This is a reasonable result considering the injuries the Reds suffered in their central defense last year. Let's see if we can track the average throughout the year to see which possession teams do their best to avoid high-quality transition opportunities.Top five predictions: Manchester City and Chelsea, Manchester United (Manchester United), Liverpool, Leicester CityYou think I am going out on a limb? My only change to the table from last year is to bump Chelsea up to second. However, it's difficult to imagine anyone else making a good run at the top 4. Liverpool's injury bug should be less of an issue, while the three other teams were the most swinging in the transfer window. Liverpool is expected to rebound. They might not be finished swinging yet. They were the top four in the order they appeared for the last two seasons.For what it's value, the race for fifth could be quite a contest. Spurs will not know what we can expect until Harry Kane's status is confirmed. However, Leicester are making smart moves such as the addition of Patson Daka to their attacking line-up, so I'm going to give them the benefit.German BundesligaIt is easier than usual to convince yourself that you don't want Bayern.The 2020 Champions League champions won their ninth consecutive Bundesliga title. However, they were not as convincing as they had been after they hired Hansi Flick late last year. They also had several rocky transfer windows.Rae: Can anybody stop Bayern this season?They spent the majority of their transfer budget on bringing in Julian Nagelsmann, who is now Germany's national soccer manager -- and Dayot Upamecano, RB Leipzig's centre-back. These are excellent additions, but they will still rely heavily on Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, and Kingsley Coman, the winger, and Leon Goretzka, the midfielder. Right-back, already a position with minimal depth, was recently affected by Benjamin Pavard's injury to his ankle.Bayern's almost ten-decade-long title streak could be ended if another contender is on its 1:03 How will Josh Sargent adjust to the Premier League? Sebastian Salazar and HerculezGomez discuss Josh Sargent's move to Norwich from Werder Bremen.Borussia Dortmund lost Jadon Sáncho to Manchester United. However, they brought in Donyell Malen from PSV to make up the difference. Many key players like Jude Bellingham, Gio Reyna, and 16-year-old Youssoufa Moukoko will likely see improvement. They will still have Erling Haaland, the all-world goal-scorer, for one more season. They could make at least 75 points this year if they can get more breaks in tie-game situations, and they don't chase the scoreboard nearly as often after scoring only 64 points in 2020-21.RB Leipzig may be the more intriguing contender. The 2020 Champions League semifinalists boast one of the best collections of attacking talent in the world, and although there is no guarantee that the defense will hold, Jesse Marsch, the American manager, will have quite a lot to offer in resisting big, bad Bayern.Again, the importance of transition defense is immenseBayern was much more easily hit by opponents than they were last year. That was a major reason why PSG lost to them in the Champions League quarterfinals. It was also an issue in league play.You didn't get as many shots against Bayern in 2019-20 like Man City, but you had very good chances. They ranked eighth in xG allowed per shot, and opponents were able to score those shots very well due to a lack of pressure.xGOT allowed per shot on goal, Bundesliga 18. Hoffenheim (0.37) 17. Bayern (0,36) 16. Bayer Leverkusen (0.34) ... 13. RB Leipzig (0.33) 11. Borussia Dortmund (0.33)Bayern's shots against Bayern were only 65% under moderate to severe pressure, which is second in the league after Leverkusen.These categories were better for Nagelsmann's RBL. We should expect a bit more pragmatic thinking this year. But how much? What happens if Bayern's attacking upside is also reduced by the pragmatic approach?Top five prediction: Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Mnchengladbach, Bayer LeverkusenI can't do it. I can't pick against a nine-year streak. RBL and BVB will both see improvement on last year's numbers, and Bayern could legitimately be in an intense dogfight here. However, they probably still have the most to offer overall.While I am curious to see what Eintracht Frankfurt can do in attack, my guess would be that Gladbach, which finished lower than Eintracht last season and which took manager Adi Hutter from Eintracht when Marco Rose went to Dortmund), may have the inside track for the No. They don't need to worry about competing in a continental tournament this season, which is why they are ranked at No. 4.Spanish LaLigaWhat does Messi's departure really mean?Despite the drama of last year, Leo Messi asking for his departure, Luis Suarez being sent to Atletico, etc. Last season, Barcelona was the best LaLiga team. They had the highest goals scored, allowed the fourth fewest goals and topped the field in xG. They are currently ranked third in 538's club ratings. They dropped from 82 to 79 points, seven points behind Atleti, but none of this was enough to win a title. They would have been the favorite in the league if they had not made any changes.The club will be getting its largest facelift in 20 years. This is not because the franchise's long-term face is gone.Play 1:40 Marcotti criticizes Barcelona over failing to retain Messi Gab Marcotti questions Barcelona’s decision-making in failing to reach an agreement with Lionel Messi for the club's continued existence.Barcelona discovered that money is real, and couldn't navigate LaLiga's sensible salary restrictions during a time of huge debt. Messi was forced out to join PSG. Barcelona had to rely on free transfers, even high-quality ones such as Memphis Depay from Lyon, Eric Garcia from Manchester City, and Sergio Aguero, who was already injured. We will see what moves they make and whether any additional acquisitions are possible, but Barcelona will be very different this year.After Barca contract expires, Messi signs with PSGInside Story: Messi joined PSG after leaving Barcelona- Laurens: Messi enjoys frenzied welcome to ParisThey'll still have more raw talent than Real Madrid, but it's not a matter of talent. They still have Antoine Griezmann and the young stars Frenkie De Jong, Pedri, Ansu Fati. Although the club lost money by buying Philippe Coutinho and Griezmann, they are still talented. Barca can still compete in La Liga if Ronald Koeman can put together something coherent. We don't know when or if he will.Who fills the leadership gap if there is one?Even with their financial woes and limited transfer options, the odds of Barcelona and/or Real Madrid retaking the top spot in La Liga are strong. Atletico Madrid will defend its title with the majority of its squad intact even though it lost a little bit and could barely hold on to its lead in the final stages.STREAM ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ Dan Thomas is joined with Craig Burley, Shaka Herlop, and other experts to bring you the most recent highlights and discuss the major storylines. Stream on ESPN+ (U.S only).However, this is the best chance a club other than Spain's Big Three has ever had to make a move. Which team is most likely to make it happen?Sevilla clearly has a strong chance. Julen Lopetegui’s team is a force to be reckoned with. They are able to stretch you sideways and defend like mad. As you can see, they were just two points behind Barca in the win column.Real Sociedad began and finished well, but suffered two long slumps (nine in 11 matches in December/January, and two in five matches March/April). They finished at the bottom of the field. They were able to beat Real Madrid and Sevilla in terms of xG differential. They had cleaner shots than their rivals -- 34% of their shots were taken under light or no pressure (fifth) and 25% (first). If they can finish their chances better they might be able to make a move.Which LaLiga team should I root for?- LaLiga 2021-22 team by-team preview: Barca for title?Villarreal was unable to sustain a push in league play but showed their potential by winning the Europa League. Unai Emery is now in his second season as manager.Real Betis is a team that has improved a lot over the last few seasons and returned most of last season’s squad.Top five prediction: Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Sevilla, Barcelona, Real SociedadAlthough I'm not one to take risks with predictions, Atleti could be in serious trouble if Oblak's performance is anything but 100%. However, it's difficult to argue that Real Madrid or Barca will surpass last year's figures. Real Sociedad is the team I believe is the most likely to improve, and is therefore starting from the very beginning.Although we are not far from a crazy title race, the favorite favorites remain.Italian Serie AAtalanta may never have had a better shotAtalanta's club is at an elevated ebb. They reached the Champions League quarterfinals for 2019-20, and then the round of 16, but were knocked out by Real Madrid. After being hamstrung at home by an early red card, they finished third in Serie A for the past three seasons.Although the results have been impressive for a club with a smaller reputation, there have been many what-ifs. They have struggled through league play for two consecutive seasons while focusing on the Champions League group stages, only to see their team surge at the end of that group stage.The Serie A points total for the year ended Dec. 13, 2013. Inter Milan 70 2. Atalanta 64 Juventus 61 4. Napoli 56 5. Milan 53 6. Lazio 51It is an amazing feat that they came third in such a close battle. However, after coming in just five points behind the Scudetto in 2019-20 due to a similar surge, there must be hope for more.This might be Atalanta’s best chance with Inter's title team in disarray and AC Milan, second place, spending the majority of its transfer budget on Gianluigi Donarumma (Lille’s Maignan), and Fikayo Tomori's permanent transfer last year.They have to deal with their turnover as usual, but they are pretty comfortable with it.Juve is back as the favorite betting team after losing its title streak last season. Even though we don't know what their final transfer window will look like, this might be a reasonable move after last year's disappointing fortune in close games. If Atalanta is able to reach December without making up significant ground, it could be an interesting 0:53 Could Lautaro Martnez replace Harry Kane at Tottenham Julien Laurens, Don Hutchison and Don Hutchison discuss whether Lautaro Martinez from Inter Milan would make a good fit for Tottenham.What about Napoli?Napoli was a team that played the most possession-oriented game in the league. However, they were still a point behind the pace to earn a Champions League spot. Their possession rate of 56% was third in league. They attempted far more shots and passes than their rivals, had the most carries, and the highest ground duel win percentage. While they did most of the things well, they gave opponents a few too many good looks and didn’t stop enough.Napoli appointed Luciano Spalletti as their veteran manager, having previously been with Inter. They also brought Matteo Politano, Inter's winger, to the club on a permanent basis following a loan agreement in 2020-21. Spalletti's possession-friendly style seems to be a good fit for their squad. The Azzurri may be a wildcard in Scudetto hunting, after alternating between fearsome and flaky.Top five prediction: Juventus, Atalanta, Napoli, AC Milan, Inter MilanInter is difficult to write off. They will still have Lautaro Martnez, and Roma is still a mystery after Jose Mourinho takes over. If Inter does indeed fall, Napoli, Juve and Atalanta are the best-placed to fill that void.French Ligue 1PSG would have won the league comfortably if they hadn't made one offseason move.Lille's defense of the title was certain to fail, if only PSG would perform better in close matches and Lille might have had fewer breaks when building leads.Lille lost Christophe Galtier, its manager to Nice, and Maignan was sold to Leicester. Midfielder Boubakary Soumare (Leicester), and LuizAraujo (Atlanta United), but PSG had the most impressive transfer window performance ever.They also added Achraf Hakimi of Inter and Danilo Peeira from Porto, and then, ho-hum brought in Messi and Donnarumma as well as Sergio Ramos, Georginio Wijnaldum via free transfer. PSG had strangely few matchup advantages other than Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, but now they have almost an entire roster's worth. It is hard to imagine that any Ligue 1 team will be able keep up with this all star team for much of the season.Play 1:45 Is Erling Haaland worth the risk? Craig Burley explains why clubs should spend whatever it takes to secure Dortmund's Erling Haaland.The race for second could be exciting, however.If you want to see the amazing things a Messi/Mbappe/Neymar attack can create, you'll likely end up watching a lot more of Ligue 1 this season. While you're there, make sure to check out the other teams. FiveThirtyEight offers five teams a chance to earn a Champions League bid for this year. It's easy to argue that many of them will finish second.Monaco outscored Lille and PSG down the stretch, and was brilliant in set-piece (even though they won't be able to count on 19 goals again). They have the ball well and allow the fewest shots per possession. They had some transition defense issues, which was predictable, but they were great in 2020-21.Lyon came first in the league for xG differential, and third in goal differential. Although they were PSG's best possession team, their defense was not strong enough to allow Monaco to surpass them. Rudi Garcia, the manager, and Memphis Depay, the forward, both left. But there is still talent.After a fan riot in February, Marseille has proven to be incredibly competent since they brought in a new president (Pablo Longoria), and a manager (Jorge Sampaoli). They're investing in high-upside young players like Arsenal's Matteo Guendouzi (loan), and Barcelona's Konrad de la Fuente(Barcelona) -- and they're sure to be more entertaining than ever.Lille will replace key defensive players, and Jocelyn Gourvennec, the new manager, has never managed a club with high expectations. However, they still have attackers Burak Yilmaz and Jonathan David, as well as midfielder Renato Santes and Tim Weah. They will have to be able to tap into their raw talent, but you need to be aware of the potential impact Champions League play could have on their depth.One simple problem last year caused Rennes to lose focus: they couldn’t shoot. They had a 59% possession rate and shot much more than their opponent. They still have Eduardo Camavinga, their midfielder, and other reasons that contribute to this ball quality. You also have to score the goal.Top five prediction: PSG, Monaco, Lyon, Rennes, MarseilleIt has had to understand what Lille can do, especially since the core of a defense friendly system is being torn apart. However, the second and sixth-place teams may not be too far apart this season.