The season sorted?
With around 10 games left for each club until the end of the season TOTT takes its customary look at best bets for the key issues.
As comparisons go, this is just a bit of fun. As the financial people always tell us, past performance is no guarantee of future results, but trends do have a habit of repeating themselves, obviously with the odd exception.
This comparison has been done based on last season at the same stage. The difference between the number of games in total is 2, but with most teams having played 27 or 28 games so far, the comparison seems fair.
By this stage of last season, most of the issues, to all intents and purposes, were decided. The top 5 with 10 games to go not only were the top 5 at the end of the season, but were in the same order. Chelsea were a point ahead of Manchester United, and Chelsea finished top, one point ahead of United.
What did change was the gap behind the 2 leaders. In early March Arsenal were within a win of top spot. While they still finished 3rd, the gap to 2nd place had extended to 11 points, the top two improving their points return over the final stretch with Arsenal declining by around 15%.
Further down the table, teams tended to move by a small amount, generally only a place or two. The biggest changes were London clubs Fulham, down 3 spots and West Ham down by 4, the latter having gone from exactly one point per game to less than half a point in the closing run. There were small surges by Bolton and Wolves, with Sunderland showing a dramatic improvement in points yield of over 50%, which still only saw them climb by one place.
What had happened was that 8 teams had fallen adrift at the bottom of the league. A massive 7 points had separated 12th from 13th position. This time around, 7 points from 3rd bottom reaches up to include Everton in 10th as potentially vulnerable. What has also been striking is that the bottom teams have started to trade good results, Wolves the latest to seek to contrive an escape with solid victories against Blackpool and the first team to beat Manchester United. The Hammers have made their own bid with a win over Liverpool and Blackpool, with a dramatic draw against West Brom.
Going back to the Christmas and New Year stats, the Hammers looked set for the drop. West Brom had been the only team to escape relegation from being bottom during the festive period, during the 2004-05 season. This time sees the Baggies go the other way. Having peaked in 4th place in late October, they have been in free fall since, apart from a 2 game revival against Everton and Newcastle3 months ago.
West Brom have of course replaced their manager, still only having recorded 1 win in 11 games. Whether Hodgson is the right man for a rescue act remains to be seen. His record at Fulham was ambiguous, with 12 points from 5 games in 2008 saving the club, but a 41% decline in performance at the end of last season.
What might be thought of as significant is the overall points tally at this stage compared with last year. The bottom team at the moment is Wigan with 27 points. That total last year would have put them much further up the table, in 13th to 15th place with a fraction under a point per game.
The obvious question is whether we could have another season like 2003-04, with West Ham relegated on 42 points. They are in fact on exactly 1 point per game, exactly the same as last year, but this time are 6 places lower.
Looking back 7 years, it was the bottom 2 who were adrift, Sunderland ending up without a single point from their last 10 matches. The Hammers had secured an average of 1.9 points per game until the end of the season, enough in most years for a Champions league place over the course of a season. They were thwarted, though, by similar runs from Bolton, Birmingham and to a lesser extent, Leeds, Fulham and Middlesbrough. The number of teams capable of a late surge suggests that complacency further up the table could be dangerous.
So what of the season with the West Brom great escape? The points tally in 2004-05 saw a cluster of teams at the bottom, West Brom being a full 11 points behind their current total this season. Then, they were a full 7 points behind a safe position, Crystal Palace who would be bottom with the same total this year. An average of 1.6 points per game over the closing run led to the lowest ever survival tally in Premier League history.
At the top of the table, in each of the seasons mentioned, the top 4 remained the top 4, with a little jostling over the minor Champions league places.
Coming back to this season, there have been some notable trends. The pack just above the bottom 3 have mostly suffered severe drops in form. It has already been mentioned that West Brom had reached 4th place in October. Birmingham`s start had seen them also peak at 4th, Blackpool once nudging 2nd with Fulham andVilla at 5th at some stage. What makes this season exciting is that any could have a good or bad run.
At the top of the table we can expect little change. Manchester United seem set for the crown. The Europa League seems set for Spurs, and depending on the FA Cup final constituents, perhaps Liverpool too. Chelsea have just reclaimed the possibility of denying Redknapp the opportunity of being only the second English manager to take an English club into the Champions League twice.
Mid table could be fluid, with teams who have lost form, such as Blackpool, teams who have strengthened, Birmingham have their trophy and can now focus on safety. Bolackburn after their managerial change have yet to establish direction, whilst Houllier seems to have his feet under the table now at Villa. Newcastle seem to have enough of a cushion for Pardew to repeat his poor runs at Charlton and West Ham.
At the bottom, Avram Grant could be preparing a second successive relegation campaign, although there is still all to play for. Wigan and West Brom look doomed, unless Hodgson can weave his magic. However, there could be some drama yet with number of 6 pointers to come.
Before putting your mortgage on the outcomes, remember, this is just a bit of fun.