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European soccer matches have become predictable, study finds. Salary caps might help

Scientists say that underdog wins, like when Leicester City beat 5000-to-1 odds against them to take the 2016 Premier League, may be a thing of the past as matches become more predictable.
Michael Regan
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Scientists say that underdog wins, like when Leicester City beat 5000-to-1 odds against them to take the 2016 Premier League, may be a thing of the past as matches become more predictable.

Soccer games that make you sit on the edge of your seat may be a thing of the past, according to new scientific research.

After analyzing 26 years worth of European soccer matches, in 11 major European soccer leagues, scientists have determined the games have become more predictable over time — and the home field advantage has vanished. The work appears in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Taha Yasseri is a computational social scientist at University College Dublin and a soccer fan (though he'd say football).

"I realized that I might be able to use network science and network analysis methods to make predictions about the results of football matches," Yasseri said.

So, he built a computer model and analyzed nearly 88,000 European soccer matches.

He found that stronger teams beat their weaker rivals more often as the years went by.

"Football is so exciting because, you know, there is always a possibility for the weaker teams to win. But, unfortunately, pouring money into the sport and not regulating the wealth or income of the clubs might take that away from the fans," Yasseri postulated.

He found that financial inequality among teams also went up over time. He compares it to gentrification — but in sports.

Better teams win more games and rake in more riches.

Then, they buy even better players and win more games.

"As a football fan, that's really hard for me to take," Yasseri lamented.

Luis Miguel Echegaray, a soccer analyst with CBS, thinks the solution could be to have an independent regulator in every major soccer league. "They can instill rules that forbid certain things, like overspending on players," he says.

Echegaray said leveling the economic playing field in European soccer could bring back the magic moments, like when a team that began the season with 5000-to-1 odds against them won the 2016 Premier League title.

"I mean, that's why Leicester City was such a Cinderella story because, you know, it's not usually what happens," Echegaray said.

And what sports fan wouldn't want more Cinderella moments?

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