martes, 5 de noviembre de 2013

How to get into the Top 4


How can a team ensure a top 4 finish in the Premier League and Champions League qualification? Most will say it's simple - win matches.

However, taking a less simplistic view, this article aims to discuss what is needed in each type of game over the course of the season (from the relatively easy to the very hard) in order to get into the coveted Champions League spots.  Based on these assumptions we can track clubs' progress throughout the season, keeping in mind the varying fixture difficulties of each club, and therefore try and see the bigger picture of how the season is playing out.

As a Liverpool fan, this is written from a Liverpool perspective, and would therefore probably serve well for the other top 4 pretenders (Spurs and Everton) as to what we aspire to this season - if any of these three clubs reach the target outlined below, it would have to be seen as a successful season, as it would almost certainly ensure Champions League qualification.

However, it can also serve the established, title-challenging Champions League sides, who might see the target as a minimum requirement for the season, and who also, with new managers and indifferent starts, might be very happy with this minimum total come the end of the season.

This will also enable us, at the end of the season, to easily see where each club which does not make the top 4 might have failed - was it a case of not competing against big teams? Or not putting smaller teams to the sword? Poor away form, or throwing away costly points at home?


The fixture model is based on two (admittedly less-than-perfect) assumptions:

1. 76 points will guarantee at least 4th and is therefore the target: 

The league is looking like it's becoming incredibly bunched at the top, so maybe this is a dangerous assumption to make - Spurs only managed 5th with 72 points last year after all. However, it would be unrealistic for Liverpool fans to expect more than 76, and really if Liverpool reached this target and didn't qualify it would be incredibly bad luck.

2. The league can roughly (and perhaps slightly crudely) be divided into two-tiers - the top 7 and the bottom 13

Yes Southampton have been fantastic so far this season and can not be compared to Crystal Palace, and no Liverpool, Everton and Spurs perhaps can't be placed in the same bracket as the usual top 4 of the last few years, but for this to work a line must be drawn somewhere, and this is the best place.  Most would agree that these top 7 clubs are the only clubs who go into the season with a genuine chance of qualifying for the Champions League, and they have been the only teams who have consistently finished near the top of the league in the last several years.

The Model

Following these assumptions, we can break down fixtures (and expectations and targets from these fixtures) into 4 broad categories.

1. Home against bottom 13 teams
2. Home against the other 6 'top 7' teams
3. Away against bottom 13 teams
4. Away against the other 6 'top 7' teams.

What is needed in each category to reach 76 points?

Category 1 

These are games you expect to win, and anything less than a win is bitterly disappointing. However, the odd slip-up is inevitable and it's incredibly rare to see even a title-winning team (never mind a team hoping to compete for 4th) put together a perfect 13 wins here.

Target: 2.5 points per game 

This allows for roughly 3 slip-ups in the 13 games. 2.5 ppg leads to 32.5 points (obviously this can not happen so lets round down to 32 points). At least 10 of these games need to be won in order to achieve the target, and preferably the 3 not won would contain at least two draws.

Category 2 

Any home game must be targeted with a win, even against tough opposition. However, the quality of these teams makes it impossible to expect the same type of return as against the weaker teams in the league, and a draw is only a slightly disappointing result. 

Target: 2 points per game 

Most would be happy with winning one and drawing the other in these games, (or alternatively winning 4 and losing 2) to give a decent points tally of 12 points.

Home total: 44 points

Category 3 

It's a cliché, but it's more or less true that no game is easy in the Premier League, especially away from home. However, against the perceived weaker teams you certainly are looking to win if you want any chance of making the top 4. Although more slip-ups have to be accounted for, due to the difficulty of playing away.

Target: 2 points per game 

Draws are fine, as long as they are followed up by wins the following week. Though the inevitable odd loss will mean slightly more wins are required to boost the points tally. 2 ppg, or 26 points would be a good return from these games.

Category 4 

The most difficult games. In general, if you come away with a point from these games then it's job done. You take what you can get here.

Target: 1 point per game 

If you can sneak a win in one of these games then you're looking good to reach your goal of 6 points from these games.

Away total: 32 points

Combined total: 76 points

If you can meet or exceed the above targets, top 4 should be guaranteed.  Even staying very close to this target should give you a very good chance, though considering the current competitiveness at the top end of the table, dropping below this target would put yourself in a risky position.

How are Liverpool doing do far?

Category 1: PPG: 2.25 (Target is 2.5) 

A home loss to Southampton means Liverpool are falling bit short here at the moment. It's early days and Southampton are possibly the toughest of the 13 'second-tier' sides to be faced at home, but it will be imperative to keep this ppg as close to 2.5 as possible over the season.  

Category 2. PPG: 3 (Target is 2)  

Small sample size is an understatement but in the one match in this category, 3 points were taken against United.

Category 3PPG: 2 (Target is 2) 

So far so good, matching the target with 2 wins and 2 draws in the four away games in this category. 

Category 4PPG: 0 (Target is 1) 

The loss to Arsenal means Liverpool are not yet off the mark here, though like category 2, it is far too early to say if we're meeting expectations or not.


Following this system, Liverpool have had four '2.5-point' matches, five '2 point' matches, and one '1-point' match.

So the overall target for these matches would have been 21 points. With 20 points Liverpool are very slightly behind the target.  However, the current form in relation to fixture difficulty prolonged over a full season would see Liverpool finish with 72 points - certainly enough to be in the conversation for top 4 and maybe enough to reach it.

Here is how the Premier League table looks like following this model, and where each team stands in relation to the target:

1. Arsenal   +3.5 points
2. Chelsea  +1 point
3. Tottenham - 0 (Neutral)
4. Liverpool -1 point
5. Man City -1.5 points
6. Everton -2 points
7. Man United -3 points

On current form in relation to this fixture difficulty model, Arsenal are on course to reach 89 points, and are therefore the only team so far that is displaying truly title-winning form. However, we can see that their much-vaunted 5 point lead is not as big as they think - due to their relatively easy start, in this model Chelsea are only theoretically 2.5 points behind.

From a Liverpool perspective, to be in fourth in this table shows that a nice opening set of fixtures only partially accounts for the impressive start to the season.  Even taking into account the relatively easy opening run, Liverpool are still where they want to be at the end of the season.  

However, the glass-half-empty view would be that of the teams they perhaps targeted to finish ahead at the start of the season (Everton, Spurs and Arsenal), two of them are currently ahead of Liverpool in this model.  The two Manchester clubs are behind Liverpool, but they would be expected to improve their poor start to this season which has seen them fall behind what would surely be the bare minimum expected at the start of the season.

All in all, Liverpool fans can be happy that, with a decent chunk of the season gone, they are in the ballpark of what needs to be achieved, even when accounting for fixture difficulty.

Throughout the season, this model could be useful to help understand where teams really are in relation to their targets. Fixture difficulty is not spread out evenly for all teams until the last match of the season (just compare Arsenal and United's start), and this model perhaps gives a truer and less variable-influenced indication of where each club stands in the Premier League.

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario