Will Brentford FC get promoted to Premier League?

On the football hipster scale Brentford FC currently rates very high. Ever since Matthew Benham invested into the team with both money and knowledge, a remarkable increase in performance started. Yet the ultimate aim, promotion to Premier League, was missed last season. Will it happen this season?

Brentford's strategy to achieve promotion, as I understand it, consists of three main pillars.
  1. Build game tactics on a deep understanding of the beautiful game that includes measures not commonly used by other teams
  2. Identify undervalued players and hire then for comparably little money
  3. Develop the players by creating an open learning atmosphere and a lot of specialist coaches
Those pillars are closely interlinked. If Brentford identified tactical means that are underused by other teams, players good at supporting and executing these means will more likely be undervalued, because the other teams don't rate this means highly. Currently, e.g. Brentford seems to want to leverage on set-pieces. They may hence try to identify players that are good in set piece situations, be as taker or receiver of the ball. If Brentford can create many set piece situations, those players will be worth more to them than they might have been worth to their previous teams, especially also because the players will improve each other if they are all good in set pieces. If both the taker and receiver side of a set piece is good, the probability to score raises more than just linear.

Coming back to the initial question. Will Brentford get promoted this season? To answer this question I use the Goalimpact algorithm to evaluate the average player quality of the teams. With that information, I can use a Monte-Carlo simulation of all league games to come up with probabilities for each team to finish on each rank of the league table.

Of course, this will not show the complete picture. If Brentford delivers on pillar 1 and 3, they will outperform predictions because Goalimpact just rates players by their average past performance, albeit adjusted for many factors. While Goalimpact adjusts for performance changes due to normal development and aging, it does so only in an average way. Goalimpact will assume that Brentford's young talents improve over time as the average football players do. However, I assume, that Brentford's ambition is to improve them more than just average. If they manage, Goalimpact will undervalue the players' performance until enough there are enough observations to adjust the rating. But you can also see this the other way round. Goalimpact can be used as a Key Performance Indicator to track if player development at Brentford is indeed above average.

The Monte-Carlo simulation is based on the assumption of a "frozen world". I.e. I assume there are no more transfers done and I also assume that clubs don't react on past performance. In reality, e.g., a club with very bad results may hire new better players in the winter break to avoid relegation, but I assume the teams to stay as they are now. Also in reality, not the best players will always play nor will the "average player" play. In reality changing sets of players play. To reflect this, I average the Goalimpact over all players of a team, but weighting players with strong Goalimpact higher than those with lower ratings. Again this is a simplification, as in reality a seriously injured good player may miss all games of the season, while the same player in an other reality will stay healthy and play all games. The impact on the season will be different than my assumption of him playing half of the games. Note that I also ignore currently known injuries for the sake of keeping the work for this post manageable. In the Bundesliga season ticker, injuries are reflected.

Ok, here are the results as of the 22nd of July 2015:


You will find Brentford on rank seven in this table. But Championship turns out to be a very competitive league with many teams having a Goalimpact in a similar range. This makes random variation having a big influence on the final league table. So while I "expect" Brentford to finish seventh, there is still a 3.4% chance they finish first and even a 1.8% chance that they finish last. Not because they have been a better or worse team, but just because they might turn out to be very lucky or extremely unlucky. Summarizing the results into categories yield following probabilities for the season end.



Relegation is very unlikely and so is direct promotion. However the total chance that they will promote or at least play promotion play-offs is 28.4%. That's more than decent. Still if you point a gun to me, I'd rather bet they will not promote. That said, the team is young and will develop. If we keep the world just a little bit longer frozen and predict how the current teams would fare in the 2016/17 season, promotion odds of Brentford are strongly increased. The reason is that they are very well prepared for that season already. The contracts for key players extend to there and often even longer. Not all other teams are that well managed. This leads to a more than 50% chance Brentford will at least play promotion play-offs and a 18.3% chance they'll promote directly.

However, the assumption of a frozen world is a strong assumption. Actually, while I wrote these lines, Brentford signed to more players and improved their team further.

Lasse Vibe wasn't rated highly until mid 2014 when is Goalimpact started to pick up. He is now a more than just decent signing that improves the team substantially. He past the common peak age of 26 already, but given his recent surge in Goalimpact he is expected to help for more than one season.
Phillip Hofmann developed exactly as good as predicted early in his career. Already 2011 he was expected to have a Goalimpact of 130 when 26 and his performance was in line with this expectation ever since. Just the type of excellent signing you'd love your club to make.

The two good signings raised the expected number of points won this season from 64.0 to 65.5. Less than two extra points may not sound too exciting, but it narrows the gap to the top teams in the league.



Brentford is now expected to finish ahead of Nottingham Forest. And also their odds to get promoted increased.

Instead of 7.8%, chances of direct promotion are now 10.6% and the chance to enter the promotion play-offs increased, too. If looking at the barrel of a gun, I'd still bet they will not promote, but I would now worry even more. In the 2016/2017 season, the chance that they will at least enter the promotion play off is now two thirds with the odds for direct promotion increased by 50% from 18% to 29%.

Conclusion

Brentford FC has a realistic chance to get promoted this season. Yet, it is given the expected performances of all players in the league still below 50%. The club is very well prepared for the season 2016/17 already today. This gives them an edge above the other teams in the league and promotion odds are strongly improved. This analysis is based on Goalimpact and expected average development only. If the club manages to identify tactical inefficiencies and leverage on them, they will out perform expectations. The same holds if they manage to develop their players above average. If so, the players' Goalimpact will raise more than expected and the rating can be used as a KPI to see if the objective has been reached.

Update 26.07.2015:
I recalculated the numbers because some players were erroneously assumed to be off contract. This effected especially Ipswich Town which is now rated higher. Brentford's numbers only marginally changed.