Predicting the outcome of a 4x100m relay between the Premier League's top clubs

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There has always been a fascination with sprinting in the world of football.

Despite the vast number of ball-skills required to become a top-level players, supporters simply love the moments when professionals go head-to-head in a footrace. Until the day that the world's fastest players come together for charity and hold a 100 metre race, fans will always be left speculating how the hypothetical race would transpire.

As a result, those irregular instances where two players are chasing the same long ball gives ammunition to the arguments, never-mind the interesting - although sometimes misleading - speed statistics from Opta. Even the sheer empiricality of the ratings used in EA Sports' FIFA series can't quell the debate and speculation.

Even when you try and crunch all of the data available, establishing a race result over any IAAF approved distance is almost impossible. Nevertheless, we gave it our best shot back in October, trying to establish who would win an all-star Premier League 100m race, eventually concluding that Adama Traore was the likely victor.

That's all well and good, but in this imaginary footballing Olympiad, how would some of the world's fastest players fare in the relay? It would, after all, be fascinating to assess the result if Premier League sides compiled their fastest four players and pitted them against their rivals over a single lap of the track. 

4x100m relay: The teams

For the ease of picking which teams to analyse, we're focusing on the top six in this instance, drawing on the country's biggest teams and also keeping lanes one and eight free. In order to make this simulation utterly focused on the sheer pace of these players, we would have to make a number of assumptions.

First and foremost, we'll make the presumption that every baton exchange will be executed with an equal level of rapidity and legality, at the exact midpoint of each respective changeover box. It should also be established that the lane draw should bear no resemblance on the result.

So, without further ado, here are the relay teams we have selected for the race:

Man City: Kyle Walker, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane

Liverpool: Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk, Alberto Moreno, Sadio Mane

Tottenham: Serge Aurier, Moussa Sissoko, Heung-min Son, Lucas Moura

Man Utd: Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial

Chelsea: Willian, Antonio Rudiger, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Eden Hazard

Arsenal: Hector Bellerin, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Ainsley Maitland-Niles 

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The team selection has largely been based on the statistics provided by FIFA 19, although their recorded top speeds and general sprinting technique have been taken into consideration. Further to that, their orders have been coordinated on a rough logic of: the most explosive short sprinter first, the rangiest runner second, the third fastest runner on the top bend and quickest finisher as anchor.

There's no exact science to the situation with so little data available, but we have broken down the race into 100-metre intervals to try and established how the overall race would play out. A summary of the predicted positions at each changeover has been provided as well as the fastest split for each leg. Take a look at our full simulation down below:

Leg one

If we assume that every first leg runner has the same level of training from blocks, we are putting a heavy impetus on explosiveness over the drive phase and being able to maintain their pace for as long as possible. Although we have our reservations about Hector Bellerin's 'reported' 40 metre time, we think he'll give Arsenal the lead along the opening bend.

Kyle Walker would be close behind in second, having recorded a similar top speed to Bellerin at over 35 kilometres-per-hour. The City runner's muscly build and rapid turnover would make him another quick starter, giving him a clear advantage over leggier sprinters like Salah, even if he would close the distance later on.

We have great reason to suggest that Valencia, Willian and Aurier would probably starter quicker than the Liverpool quartert but we back Salah to have closed the deficit before crossing the first yellow line.

Fastest leg: Hector Bellerin

Results at this stage: 1. Arsenal, 2. Man City, 3. Chelsea, 4. Liverpool, 5. Man Utd, 6. Tottenham

Arsenal v Everton - Premier League

Leg two

Here is where Arsenal could seriously pull out a lead. Although there's an argument for giving Aubameyang the anchor leg, his height over six feet and proven speed across a greater period of time makes him the logical pick for the longest interval. His status as arguably the fastest player in the Premier League would at least ensure he maintained the lead given to him by Bellerin.

We predict that City would lose the silver medal at this point. It was difficult choosing between Sterling and Jesus for the second leg, but neither are ideally suited to the back straight and the latter would struggle to match some of the centre-backs. 

Van Dijk has actually beaten Aubameyang in a footrace at Anfield, but we just can't see him winning over 100m, even if he would do enough to elevate Liverpool into second. We also think the incredibly underrated Ruidger would keep Chelsea on the podium as Jesus started to lose efficiency in his running late on.

Walker will have given City enough of a lead during the first 100m to ensure Rashford - despite outpacing Jesus - can't improve on United's position. Sissoko would bring up the rear.

Fastest leg: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Results at this stage: 1. Arsenal, 2. Liverpool, 3. Chelsea, 4. Man City, 5. Man Utd, 6. Tottenham

Arsenal v Everton - Premier League

Leg three

Arguably the weakest leg of the race for a number of teams, Liverpool really start to creep up on Arsenal across the top bend. Although neither Lacazette nor Moreno are regarded as some of the fastest players in the league, everything from FIFA stats and top speed seems to favour a swifter 100m split for the Reds. 

However, given the impressive lead pulled out by Bellerin and Aubameyang, we predict Lacazette to surrender the baton with a lead of roughly one metre from their pursuers. Hudson-Odoi would do enough to keep Sterling at bay who - despite being the faster player on paper - would be let down by his speed endurance and all-too infamous arm technique.

Lukaku is a real weakness in the United team and in spite of his recent slimming, match footage suggests sluggish form and wasteful levels of contact time. Sissoko will have thrust Spurs right into the pack during the second leg, albeit still in last, and we think Son would give the north London side a marginal advantage over United here.

Fastest leg: Callum Hudson-Odoi

Results at this stage: 1. Arsenal, 2. Liverpool, 3. Chelsea, 4. Man City, 5. Tottenham, 6. Man Utd

Chelsea FC v Perth Glory

Anchor leg

The business end of the race and sadly for Arsenal, it's at this stage that Liverpool burst clear and claim the gold medal. The Reds have a much more rounded team than the top-heavy Gunners and Mane would be able to close his team's slight disadvantage, striding past Maitland-Niles and pulling out a substantial lead through the line.

There would also be plenty of movement further back. Sane, statistically the fastest player in Premier League history, would easily pass Hazard after approximately 50 metres and almost give Maitland-Niles a shock during the closing stages. Chelsea would do enough to hold on to fourth place, however.

Martial would deliver a very impressive closing leg for United but we predict Moura to match him stride for stride, sustaining the lead given to him by Son and Sissoko over the middle 200m.

Fastest Leg: Leroy Sane

Final results: 1. Liverpool, 2. Arsenal, 3. Man City, 4. Chelsea, 5. Tottenham, 6. Man Utd 

Manchester City v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League

According to our forecast, Liverpool would produce the fastest 4x100m relay time, offering the most rounded team in the pack and punishing Arsenal for their weaker closing half. City would seriously benefit from having the fastest player of all, as well as one of the quickest starters, and Chelsea would lock down fourth place without much worry

Sorry Tottenham and United, but your respective quartets wouldn't be in the conversation for victory.

Of course, there is definitely room to debate the teams, orders and final results, but the statistics at our availability point towards a reasonably clear podium. It seems there is something that Liverpool can win with Moreno in their team, just with a little help from Mane, Salah and Van Dijk's along the way.

Who do you think would win a Premier League 4x100m relay? Have your say in the comments section below.

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