All posts by Mark Critchley

An Italian flag.

Serie A: Winners and Losers 2014/15

Serie A will draw to a close next week following a season of rejuvenation for Italian football. Clubs from the peninsula have re-established their reputation in European competition and the fare has been just as good on the domestic front. In a special guest post, Italian football expert David Thomas runs the rule over this season’s winners and losers.



Who else?

Having sealed a fourth consecutive scudetto, the Coppa Italia and an opportunity to complete an incredible treble in the Champions League final on June 6th, Juventus are close to joining the ranks of the great European sides of the past.

Regardless of the result in Berlin, their domination of the Italian game is unquestionable, and their juggling of domestic and continental cup campaigns impressive.

Much of the credit for this success must go to Massimiliano Allegri, the coach who has masterminded this success. As the season nears its climax, it is easy to forget the pressure he was under from the moment he stepped into the Vinovo training ground in July.

Sacked by Milan the previous January, Allegri did not seem to many Juventini as the man to replace Antonio Conte, who had dragged the club from mediocrity to the peak of the Italian game during his three seasons in charge.

Taking the supporter’s protests in his stride, Allegri has not dismantled the successful team he inherited, but tweaked it, introducing new ideas and new signings slowly, and the results have been better for it.

Star man: Alvaro Morata

Thanks to the continued shrewdness of Giuseppe Marotta’s transfer policy, additions such as Patrice Evra, Roberto Pereyra and Alvaro Morata have given Allegri’s side the depth required to challenge on all fronts. Morata in particular has flourished under Allegri, having waited patiently for an extended run in the team.

While he would probably have preferred to be on the bench when Napoli defender Miguel Britos arrived to head-butt him on Saturday, the former Real Madrid striker has discovered the knack of scoring important goals at important times.

It is a knack which could serve him well in Berlin, as the club where winning means everything look to scoop the lot.


Highly Commended


After three seasons of relegation dogfights and mid-table obscurity, the Grifone have given their fans something to get excited about in 2014/15.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have built on their 14th place finish last year, playing an attractive style of football with plenty of direct running. As it stands, Genoa sit sixth in the table and under any other set of circumstances, they would have guaranteed a Europa League place with a game to spare.

Their hopes are likely to be scuppered, however, by UEFA, who have denied them a licence for next year’s competition for their failure to provide an alternative home ground to Marassi, which has been deemed unfit. Whether or not their appeal is successful, this season represents a major step forward for the Genoese club.

Their rise is made all the more impressive when set against a backdrop of significant personnel changes, a familiar situation in Liguria in recent years. With eight in and eight out in January alone, the side underwent a period of flux which temporarily damaged the team’s performance. Having taken 18 points from the last 24 on offer, however, they have again found an effective balance, and you cannot help but wonder what this group could achieve with a little consistency.

Star man: Andrea Bertolacci

Andrea Bertolacci could be seen to reflect his team in microcosm. One of Genoa’s most improved performers this term, he is a box-to-box player with greater technical qualities than his role suggests. At his best, the recently-capped Italy midfielder has the ability to hurt any Serie A defence, as illustrated by his sensational solo goal against Milan in April.

Along with team mates Diego Perotti and Iago Falque, Bertolacci’s growth in confidence has led to interest from some of the peninsula’s giants, but he would be well advised to continue his development at Marassi, even if it cannot offer European football in the immediate future.


The Losers

Inter/AC Milan

They share a stadium, so why not an award?

It has been a terrible season for both tenants of San Siro. 2014/15 was always going to feel somewhat peculiar, as neither Milan nor Inter competed in the Champions League for the first time in 13 years. Both held ambitions at the start of the league season of a return to the top 3, yet both have come up woefully short.

Whether their mutual aspirations were remotely realistic is questionable, as its safe to say that both have looked a shadow of their former selves. Off the pitch, both clubs posted significant losses on their most recent accounts, and their early form offered no consolation. Heading into the first Derby della Madonnina of the season in November, Milan and Inter sat 7th and 9th in the table respectively.

What went wrong?

Behind even their beleaguered city rivals, the mind of Inter owner Erick Thohir was made up; coach Walter Mazzarri was sacked and Roberto Mancini returned, looking to reinvigorate a dull, reactive Nerazzurri side.

After a slow start, Mancini appears to have made Inter entertain again with spells of good form, but defensive frailties have put paid to any lingering hopes of European qualification, and the campaign must be considered a failure.


Milan’s patience with rookie coach Filippo Inzaghi has so far endured, but it appears to be wearing paper thin. Inzaghi’s legendary status at the club may have played a part in their restraint, but there is also a recognition that the Rossoneri squad is not up to scratch.

As Giovanni Trapattoni recently suggested, Milan are trying to “make fine wine out of turnips”.  Nonetheless, ‘enough’ is clearly enough for the Curva Sud, who made their feelings clear during Milan’s 3-1 home defeat to Genoa in April, gathering together in the otherwise empty tier to spell out ‘BASTA’.

Since the derby in November, they had seen their team drift through the season, picking up only six wins in twenty games. It is likely that Inzaghi will vacate the bench at the Giuseppe Meazza at the season’s end, while Mancini will understandably be given another chance; neither club, however, can take many positives from their deeply underwhelming campaigns.

An image of Sunderland fans at Roker Park.

How many points do you need to avoid Premier League relegation?

Here we are, ‘Survival Sunday’, this decrepit season’s death rattle.

Either Hull City or Newcastle United will, come tea-time today, have secured their Premier League status for another year despite supporter boycotts, cocaine abuse and managers accusing players of getting themselves sent off deliberately.

Should they both lose, which is likely considering just how absolutely rancid these two teams are, Newcastle’s meagre 36 points will have proved just about enough.

Whereas managers once used to talk of ‘the 40-point mark’ as a some kind of life-giving panacea, it has been four years since a team needed so many to stay up (Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2010/11). Whisper it, but because of declining standards, the number of points needed to stay in Premier League has slowly fallen since the turn of the century.

How do you know that?

We took a look at the final league tables for each year since the division was reduced from a 42-game season to a 38-game season in 1995/96. This allowed us to calculate the probability of avoiding relegation for a series of points totals.

Remember, there are few certainties in football. This data is based simply on past Premier League seasons, none of which have been freak anomalies on the edge of mathematics with teams so bad they lose all but one or two games.

It should be noted that 64 points is the amount needed to absolutely guarantee safety in the division. A club could, however, potentially stay up on a total as low as 6.

So, how many points does a team need to probably stay up?

Probability of avoiding relegation per points total

First things first, no team since 1995/96 has stayed up with 30 points or less. There’s your minimum standard. In 2009/10, both Hull and Burnley were relegated with 30, ahead of a cash-strapped Portsmouth side who earned only 19.

If, next season, Newcastle’s owner Mike Ashley is particularly eager to pinch the pennies, history suggests he could only invest enough into his side to earn 31 points and still keep them up, but there would be a slim 5.26 per cent chance of success.

At the opposite end of the scale, West Ham United’s 2002/03 side, which slotted young talents like Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe alongside established performers in Paolo di Canio and Frédéric Kanouté did not do enough to stay up despite taking 42 points.

Somebody has to be the unlucky outlier in this dataset and, unfortunately for the Irons, it was them. Based on this information, a side that earns over the traditional target of 40 now has a very healthy 94.74 per cent chance of avoiding the drop.

The most interesting point to take from this information, however, is the jump from 36 points to 37. Whereas the former has only been enough to secure Premier League safety 44.74 per cent of the time, the latter offers a 68.42 per cent chance of survival – above two-thirds.

It might not be a round and even number but maybe 37 points is the new target that managers should aim for when facing a battle at the sharp end of the league table.

Featured image: Homes of Football (Wikipedia)


An image showing the Champions League banner being waved before a match.

UEFA Champions League Market Pool: Financial Foul Play?

The story of Juventus’ march to this year’s UEFA Champions League final has been billed in some quarters as a romantic one.

Never mind the on-going corruption scandal that caused Italy’s most storied club to fall from European football’s top table; for those who remember Wednesday nights in the late 1990s, with Zinedine Zidane’s pirouettes, Alessandro del Piero’s back heels and Edgar Davids’ glaucoma, their renaissance carries a nostalgic quality.

The Bianconieri have, however, been somewhat helped along the way by UEFA’s system for distributing Champions League television money.

Before the current campaign, Juventus had qualified for Europe’s premier club competition three times in five seasons. They crashed out at the group stage in 2009/10 and 2013/14, but reached the quarter-finals in 2012/13, where they were eliminated by eventual champions Bayern Munich.

For one of the continent’s biggest clubs, that is not a spectacular record. The Old Lady’s rather limp performances did not, however, prevent them from earning €88.7m from UEFA in television money over the same period, the sixth-highest amount of any club. Incredibly, that’s more than ever-presents Real Madrid. What’s more, in the year of that quarter-final defeat, they earned €44.8m, the most of any club.

How can that be right?

Welcome to the ‘market pool’, the perplexing way in which the money paid by Champions League broadcasters is redistributed back to their respective nation’s clubs.

Market pool: highest-earning clubs (2009/10 - 2013/14)

Essentially, it is a payment based on the size of the television market in each nation. So, for example, in England, where Sky and ITV currently hold the rights to show Champions League football, around €70m is split between the four qualified English clubs each year (and the single Scottish club, if they reach the group stage). This system works well for clubs like Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona and others who can count themselves lucky enough to come from countries where television rights go for a lot of money. Regardless of their performance in the competition, they are guaranteed to take a sizeable  amount from the market pool. Last season, Marseille lost every game in the group stage and still took home €23.8m.

OK, is there really a problem with that though?

Amount received from market pool per nation (2013/14)

Yes. The problem is that the current system hands out the big bucks based on factors unrelated to achievement.

Remember APOEL? The Cypriot club were responsible for the most extraordinary run in the competition’s recent history when they reached the quarter-finals in 2012.

Their famous victories over Zenit St. Petersburg, Porto and Lyon that year, not to forget their two goals in the Santiago Bernabéu, defied logic, science and the various in place to keep the minnows in their place. Their reward from UEFA’s pool of television money? A measly €1.8m.

By comparison, in the same season as APOEL’s run, Manchester United earned €25.2m despite finishing third in their group and exiting the tournament early. Romania’s Otelui Galati, the team that finished below United and lost every game, still managed to take home €11.2m.

In this sense, the payments bear no relation to how far a team actually progresses in the competition. Another payment, the ‘performance bonus’, is designed to reflect this but the sums are much smaller than those distributed by the market pool, meaning that clubs like APOEL have to pull off  miraculous victories to merely compete.

It’s not only unfair on the smaller nations. Imagine, for example, that a Portuguese club make it all the way to the semi-finals, at which point they are knocked out. An English club, who have an identical record to the Portuguese side, are also eliminated at the semi-final stage that year.

Both have had credible campaigns, both have played the same number of televised games and they can both consider themselves unlucky to be missing out on the final. The English club, however, receives a significantly higher amount of television money.

Why? Solely because their country’s broadcasters pay more for Champions League coverage.

A map showing how much each nation has earned from the market pool (2009/10 – 2013/14)

There’s an argument that the system is fair. The clubs who earn the most from the market pool tend to be the most popular and, therefore, tend to attract the largest television audiences. Why shouldn’t this popularity be reflected in television money payments?

Well, for one reason, because the most popular Champions League sides do not need the cash boost.

Each year, under the market pool system, around €330m of broadcasting companies’ money is pumped into the five major leagues; the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1.

This has entrenched the elite nations’ dominance in European competition, to the point where 79% of the clubs to have progressed through the group stage in the last five seasons have come from one of these five leagues.

The market pool is one reason why we see the same names in the latter stages of the competition year in, year out, it is  one reason why we have entered the age of the ‘super club’ and it is one reason why we may soon see the dawn of a ‘super league’.

Download the data
Featured image: Alberto Sánchez Fernández (Flickr)