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Simulating a Football Season

This is a nice example of how statistics are used in modeling – similar techniques are used when gambling companies are creating odds or when computer game designers are making football manager games.  We start with some statistics.  The soccer stats site has the data we need from the 2018-19 season, and we will use this to predict the outcome of the 2019-20 season (assuming teams stay at a similar level, and that no-one was relegated in 2018-19).

Attack and defense strength

For each team we need to calculate:

  1. Home attack strength
  2. Away attack strength
  3. Home defense strength
  4. Away defense strength.

For example for Liverpool (LFC)

LFC Home attack strength = (LFC home goals in 2018-19 season)/(average home goals in 2018-19 season)

LFC Away attack strength = (LFC away goals in 2018-19 season)/(average away goals in 2018-19 season)

LFC Home defense strength = (LFC home goals conceded in 2018-19 season)/(average home goals conceded in 2018-19 season)

LFC Away defense strength = (LFC away goals conceded in 2018-19 season)/(average away goals conceded in 2018-19 season)

Calculating lamda

We can then use a Poisson model to work out some probabilities.  First though we need to find our lamda value.  To make life easier we can also use the fact that the lamda value for a Poisson gives the mean value – and use this to give an approximate answer.

So, for example if Liverpool are playing at home to Arsenal we work out Liverpool’s lamda value as:

LFC home lamda = league average home goals per game x LFC home attack strength x Arsenal away defense strength.

We would work out Arsenal’s away lamda as:

Arsenal away lamda = league average away goals per game x Arsenal away attack strength x Liverpool home defense strength.

Putting in some values gives a home lamda for Liverpool as 3.38 and an away lamda for Arsenal as 0.69.  So we would expect Liverpool to win 3-1 (rounding to the nearest integer).

Using Excel

I then used an Excel spreadsheet to work out the home goals in each fixture in the league season (green column represents the home teams)

and then used the same method to work out the away goals in each fixture in the league (yellow column represents the away team)

I could then round these numbers to the nearest integer and fill in the scores for each match in the table:

Then I was able to work out the point totals to produce a predicted table:

Here we had both Liverpool and Manchester City on 104 points, but with Manchester City having a better goal difference, so winning the league again.

Using a Poisson model.

The poisson model allows us to calculate probabilities.  The mode is:

P(k goals) = (eλk)/k!

λ is the symbol lamda which we calculated before.

So, for example with Liverpool at home to Arsenal we calculate

Liverpool’s home lamda = league average home goals per game x LFC home attack strength x Arsenal away defense strength.

Liverpool’s home lamda = 1.57 x 1.84 x 1.17 = 3.38


P(Liverpool score 0 goals) = (e-3.383.380)/0! = 0.034

P(Liverpool score 1 goal) = (e-3.383.381)/1! = 0.12

P(Liverpool score 2 goals) = (e-3.383.382)/2! = 0.19

P(Liverpool score 3 goals) = (e-3.383.383)/3! = 0.22

P(Liverpool score 4 goals) = (e-3.383.381)/1! = 0.19

P(Liverpool score 5 goals) = (e-3.383.385)/5! = 0.13 etc.

Arsenal’s away lamda = 1.25 x 1.30 x 0.42 = 0.68

P(Arsenal score 0 goals) = (e-0.680.680)/0! = 0.51

P(Arsenal score 1 goal) = (e-0.680.681)/1! = 0.34

P(Arsenal score 2 goals) = (e-0.680.682)/2! = 0.12

P(Arsenal score 3 goals) = (e-0.680.683)/3! = 0.03 etc.

Probability that Arsenal win

Arsenal can win if:

Liverpool score 0 goals and Arsenal score 1 or more

Liverpool score 1 goal and Arsenal score 2 or more

Liverpool score 2 goals and Arsenal score 3 or more etc.

i.e the approximate probability of Arsenal winning is:

0.034 x 0.49 + 0.12 x 0.15 + 0.19 x 0.03 = 0.04.

Using the same method we could work out the probability of a draw and a Liverpool win.  This is the sort of method that bookmakers will use to calculate the probabilities that ensure they make a profit when offering odds.

Essential Resources for IB Teachers


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If you are a teacher then please also visit my new site.  This has been designed specifically for teachers of mathematics at international schools.  The content now includes over 2000 pages of pdf content for the entire SL and HL Analysis syllabus and also the SL Applications syllabus.  Some of the content includes:

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There is also a lot more.  I think this could save teachers 200+ hours of preparation time in delivering an IB maths course – so it should be well worth exploring!

Essential Resources for both IB teachers and IB students

1) Exploration Guides and Paper 3 Resources

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I’ve put together a 168 page Super Exploration Guide to talk students and teachers through all aspects of producing an excellent coursework submission.  Students always make the same mistakes when doing their coursework – get the inside track from an IB moderator!  I have also made Paper 3 packs for HL Analysis and also Applications students to help prepare for their Paper 3 exams.  The Exploration Guides can be downloaded here and the Paper 3 Questions can be downloaded here.


Modeling Volcanoes – When will they erupt?

A recent post by the excellent Maths Careers website looked at how we can model volcanic eruptions mathematically. This is an important branch of mathematics – which looks to assign risk to events and these methods are very important to statisticians and insurers. Given that large-scale volcanic eruptions have the potential to end modern civilisation, it’s also useful to know how likely the next large eruption is.

The Guardian has recently run a piece on the dangers that large volcanoes pose to humans.  Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano which erupted in 2010 caused over 100,000 flights to be grounded and cost the global economy over $1 billion – and yet this was only a very minor eruption historically speaking.  For example, the Tombora eruption in Indonesia (1815) was so big that the explosion could be heard over 2000km away, and the 200 million tones of sulpher that were emitted spread across the globe, lowering global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius.  This led to widespread famine as crops failed – and tens of thousands of deaths.


Super volcanoes

Even this destruction is insignificant when compared to the potential damage caused by a super volcano.  These volcanoes, like that underneath Yellowstone Park in America, have the potential to wipe-out millions in the initial explosion and and to send enough sulpher and ash into the air to cause a “volcanic winter” of significantly lower global temperatures.  The graphic above shows that the ash from a Yellowstone eruption could cover the ground of about half the USA. The resultant widespread disruption to global food supplies and travel would be devastating.

So, how can we predict the probability of a volcanic eruption?  The easiest model to use, if we already have an estimated probability of eruption is the Poisson distribution:

 P(X{=}k)= \frac{\lambda^k e^{-\lambda}}{k!},

 This formula calculates the probability that X equals a given value of k.  λ is the mean of the distribution.  If X represents the number of volcanic eruptions we have Pr(X ≥1) = 1 – Pr(x = 0).  This gives us a formula for working out the probability of an eruption as 1 -e.  For example, the Yellowstone super volcano erupts around every 600,000 years.  Therefore if λ is the number of eruptions every year, we have λ = 1/600,000  ≈ 0.00000167 and 1 -e also ≈ 0.00000167. This gets more interesting if we then look at the probability over a range of years. We can do this by modifying the formula for probability as 1 -e-tλ where t is the number of years for our range.

So the probability of a Yellowstone eruption in the next 1000 years is 1 -e-0.00167 ≈ 0.00166, and the probability in the next 10,000 years is 1 -e-0.0167 ≈ 0.0164. So we have approximately a 2% chance of this eruption in the next 10,000 years.


A far smaller volcano, like Katla in Iceland has erupted 16 times in the past 1100 years – giving a average eruption every ≈ 70 years. This gives λ = 1/70 ≈ 0.014. So we can expect this to erupt in the next 10 years with probability 1 -e-0.14 ≈ 0.0139. And in the next 30 years with probability 1 -e-0.42 ≈ 0.34.

The models for volcanic eruptions can get a lot more complicated – especially as we often don’t know the accurate data to give us an estimate for the λ.  λ can be estimated using a technique called Maximum Likelihood Estimation – which you can read about here.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like:

Black Swans and Civilisation Collapse. How effective is maths at guiding government policies?

IB Revision

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If you’re already thinking about your coursework then it’s probably also time to start planning some revision, either for the end of Year 12 school exams or Year 13 final exams. There’s a really great website that I would strongly recommend students use – you choose your subject (HL/SL/Studies if your exam is in 2020 or Applications/Analysis if your exam is in 2021), and then have the following resources:

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 4.42.05 PM.pngThe Questionbank takes you to a breakdown of each main subject area (e.g. Algebra, Calculus etc) and each area then has a number of graded questions. What I like about this is that you are given a difficulty rating, as well as a mark scheme and also a worked video tutorial.  Really useful!

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The Practice Exams section takes you to ready made exams on each topic – again with worked solutions.  This also has some harder exams for those students aiming for 6s and 7s and the Past IB Exams section takes you to full video worked solutions to every question on every past paper – and you can also get a prediction exam for the upcoming year.

I would really recommend everyone making use of this – there is a mixture of a lot of free content as well as premium content so have a look and see what you think.

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All content on this site has been written by Andrew Chambers (MSc. Mathematics, IB Mathematics Examiner).

New website for International teachers

I’ve just launched a brand new maths site for international schools – over 2000 pdf pages of resources to support IB teachers.  If you are an IB teacher this could save you 200+ hours of preparation time.

Explore here!

Free HL Paper 3 Questions

P3 investigation questions and fully typed mark scheme.  Packs for both Applications students and Analysis students.

Available to download here

IB Maths Super Exploration Guide

A Super Exploration Guide with 168 pages of essential advice from a current IB examiner to ensure you get great marks on your coursework.

Available to download here.

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