Thursday, August 31, 2017

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Group Stage Preview

Hey! It's the still Champions League!

Playoff-Round Review

Celtic all but clinched their participation in the Champions League group stage with a 5-0 win at home. But then they lost on the road 4-3. It didn't "matter", but there went 0.25 for the coefficient for the next five years. Still, with the bonus for group stage qualification, that was 1.25 more for this year's coefficient.

Group-Stage Preview

Let's look at the Clubelo rankings of Celtic's group. There's #3 (Bayern Munich), #8 (Paris St. Germain), #65 (Anderlecht) and #90 (Celtic). Incredibly, this is not as tough a road as last year, when Celtic faced teams from the three top leagues in Europe. Celtic has been scrappy enough to pick up draws at home from even the best teams in the world, and Anderlecht shouldn't scare them, even on the road. (Sadly, the reverse is true.) So it wouldn't be impossible to imagine 3 draws and 1 win netting a third-place finish for Celtic, which would drop them into the elimination phase of the Europa League. In fact, 14 years ago, Celtic ended up in group with...uh...Anderlecht, Bayern Munich and a French team, and ended up third. So one could dream of picking up 1.25 more in the group, and even more by making a Europa League run.

FiveThirtyEight

The American web site FiveThirtyEight has expanded their soccer coverage to include the Scottish Premiership. I find this mildly cool (currently second-place Celtic are 81% favorites to win the league...seems low). But what really helps us out is the coverage of the Champions League, and yes, the Europa League, so I can analyze how likely other nations are to get points for their coefficients.

Where We Stand

We (they) stand 23rd. Despite the awful start for Scottish teams, their 3 point so far look pretty respectable compared to other countries in their neighborhood. The problem is moving out of that neighborhood...

I tend to show a window of countries within 2 points of Scotland. Right now, that's 21-28. That means there's more downside than upside, particularly with many of these teams in the easier Europa League group stage. Let's take them one-by-one.

21. Romania. Despite starting with five teams in Europe, they're down to one, and in the Europa League. Steaua has a 55% percent chance of advancing from the group, according to FiveThirtyEight, so expect them to widen then 1.05 gap with Scotland. Still, any points they get are divided by 5 rather then 4, so they will not be too far ahead.

22. Azerbaijan. They are having a better year than Scotland, but like everyone else in the neighborhood, they are down to one team. Garabag (or however you spell it) is the lowest-rated team in Champions League play. Fivethirtyeight gives them only a 3% chance of even finishing third. They could well be shut out of further points, and a decent performance by Celtic could pass them.

23. Celtic, while distinct underdogs, is listed as a 4% chance of finishing second and 43% to finish third. That's almost a 50/50 chance of advancing!

24. Belarus. They have the same number of points as Scotland. I'm not sure what the tie-breaker is here. BATE Borisov is in Europa League play, where they are severely outclassed by Arsenal and Koln. They only have a 14% chance of advancing, but they should pick up enough points from Red Star Belgrade to keep Belarus close to or ahead of Scotland.

25. Sweden. Osterund is another team out of its depth in its Europa League group, between Bilbao and Hertha. But even the Ukranian side Zorya should outperform them -- they have an 8% chance of advancing, so Scotland's lead of 0.15 is more likely than not to hold up.

26. Bulgaria. Ludogorets Razgrad has a decent shot -- 29% -- at their group. Hoffenheim is the clear class, but neither Braga nor Istanbul should scare them too much. The 0.25 lead Scotland has over Bulgaria could evaporate quickly.

27. Norway. After Celtic bounced Rosenborg down to the Europa League, they still have the opportunity to pick up points. In this case, mostly against the Macedonian side Vardar, because Zenit St. Petersburg and Real Sociedad should deny them, as long as they take Europa League play seriously. I think the 1.2 point gap is safe; Fivethirtyeight gives a 21% chance for them to advance.

28. Kazakhstan. Astana is another side Celtic bounced from the Champions League, and another side with a 21% chance of advancing. At 1.5, the gap is probably even safer.
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