LaLiga title race predictor: Opta AI predicts the fate of Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid

By Sports Desk May 21, 2021

One round remaining, two teams involved, and just two points separate them.

LaLiga's title race has been at its most gripping in years this term, arguably capturing the imagination more than any since 2006-07.

Back then, there were three teams in with a chance of taking home the title on the final day of the season: Real Madrid and Barcelona, of course, plus Juande Ramos' Sevilla.

As it was, Madrid and Barca won on the last day whereas Sevilla – who needed a win and for the other two to lose – lost at home to Villarreal.

Madrid finished top by virtue of a better head-to-head record over Barca, who were essentially denied the title by their local rivals Espanyol, slumping to a 2-2 draw with them on the penultimate day to hand Los Blancos the initiative.

This time there are only two teams left in the hunt on the final day, with Sevilla and Barcelona bowing out of what was, for a while, a four-way tussle at the summit.

Now it's between Atletico and Madrid, the two city rivals hoping to leave the other wallowing in misery.

Diego Simeone's side looked certainties for the title not too long ago: at the start of February, they were 11 points clear, but their form in the second half of the season has been a little underwhelming.

Having accumulated 50 points in their first 19 league matches, that haul has plummeted to 33 in the 18 matches since, hence why as many as three other teams have threatened to overtake them.

There have been thrills and spills, particularly in the past few weeks, with Atletico securing a dramatic 2-1 win over Osasuna last weekend despite falling behind in the 75th minute. Any result other than a win would have allowed Madrid to go into the final weekend top.

Yet, remarkably, the title is still in Atletico's hands thanks to Luis Suarez's 88th-minute winner on that occasion, meaning they hold the advantage heading into the final weekend.

Atletico go to relegation-threatened Real Valladolid, while Madrid host Villarreal. Who will prevail?

 

How does the predictor work?

First of all, here's how we got the data...

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality. Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly. All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Let's see how the model now predicts the final league table will look...

 

Atletico take the crown

All signs point to Atletico sealing the title, their second league crown under the guidance of Simeone and first since 2014, when they also clinched it on the final day.

Our model gives Atletico a 73.9 per cent chance of finishing top – after all, they have won 89 per cent (8/9) of their league meetings with Pucela under Simeone, a record they can only better against Elche, Las Palmas (both 100 per cent) and Osasuna (91 per cent).

Our predictor does expect Madrid to beat Villarreal, as its most likely outcome sees Los Blancos finishing with 83 points, but Atletico know their rivals' result will be irrelevant if they go to Valladolid and win.

Nevertheless, Madrid do still have a 26.1 per cent chance of successfully defending their crown, no doubt helped by the fact they boast a better head-to-head record against Atletico.

If they are ultimately successful, it will be Madrid's 35th league title and their first successive LaLiga crowns since 2006-07 and 2007-08, while Zinedine Zidane would be the first Blancos coach since Leo Beenhakker (three – 1987, 1988 and 1989) to win consecutive titles.

The omens are good for Madrid in terms of them fulfilling their end of the bargain, as Yellow Submarine coach Unai Emery has lost eight of his nine LaLiga matches away to them.

Atletico's result will also help finalise matters near the bottom of the table as well, as Valladolid need to win to avoid the drop, though even that may not be enough to save them.

The predicted table has Valladolid and Huesca – due to their inferior head-to-head record against Elche – following Eibar into La Segunda.

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