As the Premier League season draws to a close, some teams will have too many points to get relegated but not enough to challenge for Europe. It’s arguable that as these teams have ‘little to play for’, their players won’t be as motivated as usual which will lead to worse results. These teams are deemed as ‘on the beach’ and ones to target from an FPL perspective.
Whilst this argument makes sense, I wanted to test it out with some data.
For each premier league season since 1995/96, I calculated the average points per game of each team before and after they reached 40 points, the traditional benchmark for being safe from relegation. 1995/96 was chosen as the cut-off point as that was the first season with 20 teams in the league.
After points per game had been calculated, teams who finished with more than 55 points (putting them roughly in the top half of the table) were removed, as these teams would have been competing for the title or European places. Teams who reached 40 points with less than 5 games were also removed, as I deemed less than 5 games not a large enough sample to assess if the team were playing worse due to lack of motivation.
This left me with 121 teams across all seasons who finished in the bottom half and reached 40 points with 5 or more games left. From these teams, they averaged 1.38 points per game before reaching 40 points, and 1.03 after reaching 40 points. Figure 1 shows the whole distribution of points per game for these teams, with the dashed vertical line representing the average for each group.
Figure 1 shows that most teams perform the same before reaching 40 points, and there is a lot of variation after. The high variance in points per game (ppg) after reaching safety makes sense as the calculation is taken from a smaller number of games, so its more likely to be affected by injuries and fixture difficulty. Despite this, I believe the analysis provides enough evidence that teams perform worse once they reach 40 points, due to the large sample used.
Figure 2 also shows how teams experience a drop off in performance after reaching 40 games. All teams below the Orange line had a greater ppg record before reaching 40 points than after. My favourite observation is Watford losing all 6 of their last games in the 16/17 season!
Whilst going all the way back to 1995/96 provides a larger sample, perhaps older seasons aren’t as relevant nowadays e.g., teams may now have bonus structures in place to maintain motivation at the end of the season. However, doing the same calculations with data going back to 2014/15 provided similar results. Another limitation of the analysis is that teams are now realistically safe with 36 points, so lowering the points threshold for safety could have given a larger sample. This analysis could be extended further by including data from other leagues in England and across Europe.