Data analysis is becoming an increasingly influential tool in the high-stakes world of top-level sports.
From being the niche pursuit of Moneyball fame to an invaluable element of player scouting, analytics have come a long way and are now thought to be a feature of most top football clubs.
One of the leaders in the field is a company called Real Analytics. Although the name might not be immediately familiar, they’ve got a track record of using computer science and mathematics to make freakishly accurate forecasts.
In case you doubt their credentials, it’s worth noting that they were the first in their field to foresee Leicester’s implausible title win of 2016.
In a fascinating report in The Athletic, Real Analytics has crunched the numbers to predict how Manchester United’s season could pan out – with and without a trio of reported transfer targets.
Firstly, the data predicts that no signings at all would see United dropping 8 points against last season’s total.
It’s a gloomy scenario that gives the side a mere 80/1 chance of winning next season’s Premier League. Even a top four place would become a genuine dogfight for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad.
With Chelsea and Liverpool likely to have more consistent campaigns – and Manchester City a top 4 fixture – it seems like a sensible prediction.
The imminent arrival of Jadon Sancho mitigates that bleak outlook, with the wing ace expected to earn United four extra points over the course of next season.
The stats suggest that Sancho alone could be expected to increase the club’s chances of a title win by a spectacular 250%.
However, it’s the mooted signing of Rennes’ Eduardo Camavinga that yields the most spectacular predictions.
The French ace would be expected to earn Solskjaer’s side an impressive 6 extra points. It’s an upswing that’s so eye-catching that company co-founder, Ian McHale, admitted to being slightly taken aback.
McHale said, “We’ve run the numbers and were quite shocked actually, because he makes a massive difference, which is rare for a player so young.”
And it gets better, as the additions of Sancho, Camavinga and Raphael Varane would have a major impact on United’s prospective fortunes.
Those three players combined would yield, “…an improvement of more than 10 points (65.8 to 76.2), an 87% chance of a top four finish and a 14.7% chance of a first title since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.”
It’s a fascinating insight into the number geniuses who have upended the traditional image of scouting from a bloke with a cigar watching from the stands to algorithms and formulas.
More importantly, it emphasises the danger of standing still in a league as competitive as the Premier League.
Luckily, the signs are there that the Old Trafford club has spotted the danger and are pursuing just the right candidates to take the team to the next level.