Minerva Punjab host East Bengal on Tuesday in the I-League, and the outcome of their game at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium, Panchkula is likely to decide the outcome of the ongoing season.
Minerva have been the strongest team of the season -- leading the points table with 29 points, ahead of debutants NEROCA (28 points in 15 games, two more than Minerva). ESPN decided to crunch some numbers from all ten previous seasons of the I-League to see how Minerva's title credentials match with the winning teams over the years.
Percentage Points Won (PPW)
This is the percentage of points a team wins out of the maximum available in a season, and Minerva are going at 74 -- about five percent better than the mean PPW for past I-League winners.
The highest PPW in ten seasons of the I-League has been 73, achieved by Dempo during their last I-League win in 2011-12, and the lowest for a champion team was 65, when Mohun Bagan won the crown in 2014-15. For Minerva to break Dempo's record, they need to ensure they finish with 40 points, which is achievable with even one defeat in their remaining five matches. They can also afford to draw two games and win three.
It is revealing that this season, the only other team with a PPW matching that of a previous season champion is NEROCA at 67 percent.
Average Goals For (AGF)
This metric is for average goals scored per match by champion teams across previous seasons. The numbers for Minerva and East Bengal are strikingly similar -- 20 goals scored in 13 games apiece for an identical AGF of 1.54. This is not just lower than the average AGF for winning teams in previous seasons (1.97) but also falls short of the AGF for teams that have finished second (1.79) and even third (1.66) in all seasons.
This is perhaps not as much a sign of a lack of quality in these teams' attacking abilities -- both previous champions Aizawl FC (1.33) and Bengaluru FC (1.5) won the league scoring fewer goals per game -- as many games this season have been decided on close margins.
Win-Loss Ratio (WLR)
The WLR is obtained simply by dividing a team's wins by their losses.
Why Minerva have an advantage over East Bengal is because they have nine wins to two defeats, for a WLR of 4.5, ahead of the average 3.7 recorded by champions down the years. East Bengal have just two losses too, but have drawn five of their 13 matches, giving them a WLR of 3. In sheer numbers, they look like the only team capable of challenging Minerva in this count, but it will need Minerva to start chalking up defeats and for East Bengal to keep winning to have an effective crossover.
Churchill Brothers hold the best record for a past champion -- 13 wins to two losses (6.5) in 2008-09. In Bengaluru's 2016 win, on the other hand, they won 10 matches and lost four, for a WLR of 2.5. Crucially, second-placed Mohun Bagan lost just two matches, but also ended up drawing six games to finish second -- a fate East Bengal would be desperate to avoid.
(With inputs by Gautam Roy, football historian and media manager of East Bengal football club)