Woke Up, It Was a Chelsea Morning (and Afternoon, Evening…?)

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Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

The Prem table is, in a word, bizarre. Chelsea lead—by a lot—though history says that they shouldn’t be popping corks in West London just yet. And interlopers Southampton, West Ham and Swansea shockingly occupy places in the Top 5, with supposed contenders Everton, Liverpool and our Spurs mired in places 10-12.

What does it all mean, and could the stranglehold that the Big Seven have had on Top Four placement and Champions League qualification (Newcastle is the only other Prem side to make Top 5 in the past dozen years, since Leeds Utd in 2002) be about to end?

Let’s take the leaders first. In the 22 previous Premier League seasons, the leader at this stage (defined as either the November international break or, in the cases of seasons without such a respite, the end of the closest mid-November week. Some seasons featured 11 fixtures by now, some 12, some 13—and of course in the early years with more sides in the League, there were as many as 15 games by this point) went on to win the title only 9 times. That’s a 41% success rate—hardly a guarantee for the Special One to be feeling special in May. Now, to be fair, Chelsea themselves have led 5 times and won 3, and of the 13 teams that came from behind to win, 8 were managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, who, last time I checked, occupies a seat somewhat higher in the stands than he used to fill at Old Trafford. Last year was the first time in 15 that the Mid November leader fell out of the top three entirely (good on ya, Gunners! Excellent second half play!) so I would be shocked to see Chelsea ever out of contention.

And to be honest, given the ennui that seems to have set in at Eastlands, and the identity of the three other teams in the top five, we’d all be surprised to see Chelsea anywhere but top, wouldn’t we? But what of the others? Could the Saints or Hammers or Swans qualify for Europe? And possibly in the biggest and most lucrative of competitions?

Here’s what the previous quarter-century tells us:

Mid-November Position

2 (SOUTHAMPTON)  Standing in Final Table: 1st 5 times, 2nd 8 times (and twice in last three years), 3rd/4th 4 times, 5th 2 times, 6th/7th 0, 10th or worse 3 times, (but not since Wigan plummeted in 2006)

This team is a lot better than Wigan were—the goals allowed and goal differential suggest a quality side. The only negative is the schedule—they have yet to play Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton or either Manchester side.

PROSPECT: An excellent chance to finish Top 4. Unless the Blue Moons keep imploding, I would doubt they can hold onto the second spot, and must fear Arsenal pipping them for 3rd, but 4th is about as far as I think they will fall;

3 (MANCHESTER CITY)  Standing in Final Table: 1st 3 times (most recently Man U in 2011), 2nd 2 times, 3rd/4th 8 times, 5th 1 time, 6th/7th 2 times, 8th or worse 6 times (including Southampton last season).

City may be an outlier here—generally third position by mid-November is hardly a guarantee of a similar or better standing in May. I can’t figure this team out—I don’t think Manuel Pellegrini can, either.

PROSPECT: Any finish from 1st -5th would not shock me. Call it 3rd.

4) (WEST HAM) Standing in Final Table: 1st Never, 2nd 4 times, 3rd/4th 8 times (most recently Chelsea last season), 5th 2 times, 6th/7th 4 times, 8th or worse 4 times (most recently West Bromwich Albion in 2013)

So the data suggests it is 50-50 for the Hammers to maintain or improve their position, or instead plummet, and usually into borderline Europa or worse position. So far their record compared to Swansea has been very similar—1 goal better on differential, Hammers beat City at home and Liverpool away; Swans defeated Arsenal at home and United away. Both lost at home to Southampton, but Bubbles also lost at home to us while Swansea lost at Stamford Bridge. One of these two will probably finish Top 5—I can’t for the life of me figure out which one.

5) (SWANSEA) Standing in Final Table: 1st 2 times (Arsenal in 2002, United the following year), 2nd NEVER, 3rd/4th 7 times, 5th 2 times, 6th/7th 7 times, including 4 of the last 6 seasons, 8th or worse 3 times.

Small sample sizes but 5th place teams have clustered on cusp of Europa or just in the CL more often. Again, you tell me which one of these two might stick—I can’t figure it out.

So now how often does a team outside the Top 5 in Mid-November rise into the Top Four, and has a bottom half club (ahem…. That’s us, campers. And the Reds too) ever done it?

So of the roughly 340 sides that have been outside the Top 5 at roughly this date in the 22 previous EPL seasons, 30 have climbed into the top 5 by season’s end, but only 16 into the top Four. (That’s right. Almost half of the ultimate 5th place finishers begin lower than that—including Spurs 4 times in the past 9 years) So it is about 5%– a 1 in 20 chance– of gaining the Champions League. But every year in the Prem’s existence at least one team climbs up into the Top Five—Arsenal (currently 6th) would appear to have the best prospect of making such a rise this year—13 times in 22 the 6th place holder at this juncture improves.

Of the roughly 225 sides that have wallowed in the bottom half of the table at this point in the proceedings, 2 have wound up in the top 5, but only one in the top four. Those two, interestingly enough, were both in 12th place (our current predicament) and happened to be the exact “big clubs” that are staring up at the rest today—Liverpool and Spurs. The Reds made it to 3rd in 2006; we got only as far as 5th in 2007.

So, to quote a somewhat funny American movie that just spawned a 20 years later sequel which is somewhat less funny (Dumb and Dumber/To): “So you’re saying there’s a chance?”

Yep—we’ve got somewhere between a 1-5% shot at landing the girl.

The Prem table is, in a word, bizarre. Chelsea lead—by a lot—though history says that they shouldn’t be popping corks in West London just yet. And interlopers Southampton, West Ham and Swansea shockingly occupy places in the Top 5, with supposed contenders Everton, Liverpool and our Spurs mired in places 10-12.

What does it all mean, and could the stranglehold that the Big Seven have had on Top Four placement and Champions League qualification (Newcastle is the only other Prem side to make Top 5 in the past dozen years, since Leeds Utd in 2002) be about to end?

Let’s take the leaders first. In the 22 previous Premier League seasons, the leader at this stage (defined as either the November international break or, in the cases of seasons without such a respite, the end of the closest mid-November week. Some seasons featured 11 fixtures by now, some 12, some 13—and of course in the early years with more sides in the League, there were as many as 15 games by this point) went on to win the title only 9 times. That’s a 41% success rate—hardly a guarantee for the Special One to be feeling special in May. Now, to be fair, Chelsea themselves have led 5 times and won 3, and of the 13 teams that came from behind to win, 8 were managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, who, last time I checked, occupies a seat somewhat higher in the stands than he used to fill at Old Trafford. Last year was the first time in 15 that the Mid November leader fell out of the top three entirely (good on ya, Gunners! Excellent second half play!) so I would be shocked to see Chelsea ever out of contention.

And to be honest, given the ennui that seems to have set in at Eastlands, and the identity of the three other teams in the top five, we’d all be surprised to see Chelsea anywhere but top, wouldn’t we? But what of the others? Could the Saints or Hammers or Swans qualify for Europe? And possibly in the biggest and most lucrative of competitions?

Here’s what the previous quarter-century tells us:

Mid-November Position

2 (SOUTHAMPTON)  Standing in Final Table: 1st 5 times, 2nd 8 times (and twice in last three years), 3rd/4th 4 times, 5th 2 times, 6th/7th 0, 10th or worse 3 times, (but not since Wigan plummeted in 2006)

This team is a lot better than Wigan were—the goals allowed and goal differential suggest a quality side. The only negative is the schedule—they have yet to play Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton or either Manchester side.

PROSPECT: An excellent chance to finish Top 4. Unless the Blue Moons keep imploding, I would doubt they can hold onto the second spot, and must fear Arsenal pipping them for 3rd, but 4th is about as far as I think they will fall;

 

3 (MANCHESTER CITY)  Standing in Final Table: 1st 3 times (most recently Man U in 2011), 2nd 2 times, 3rd/4th 8 times, 5th 1 time, 6th/7th 2 times, 8th or worse 6 times (including Southampton last season).

City may be an outlier here—generally third position by mid-November is hardly a guarantee of a similar or better standing in May. I can’t figure this team out—I don’t think Manuel Pellegrini can, either.

PROSPECT: Any finish from 1st -5th would not shock me. Call it 3rd.

4) (WEST HAM) Standing in Final Table: 1st Never, 2nd 4 times, 3rd/4th 8 times (most recently Chelsea last season), 5th 2 times, 6th/7th 4 times, 8th or worse 4 times (most recently West Bromwich Albion in 2013)

So the data suggests it is 50-50 for the Hammers to maintain or improve their position, or instead plummet, and usually into borderline Europa or worse position. So far their record compared to Swansea has been very similar—1 goal better on differential, Hammers beat City at home and Liverpool away; Swans defeated Arsenal at home and United away. Both lost at home to Southampton, but Bubbles also lost at home to us while Swansea lost at Stamford Bridge. One of these two will probably finish Top 5—I can’t for the life of me figure out which one.

5) (SWANSEA) Standing in Final Table: 1st 2 times (Arsenal in 2002, United the following year), 2nd NEVER, 3rd/4th 7 times, 5th 2 times, 6th/7th 7 times, including 4 of the last 6 seasons, 8th or worse 3 times.

Small sample sizes but 5th place teams have clustered on cusp of Europa or just in the CL more often. Again, you tell me which one of these two might stick—I can’t figure it out.

 

So now how often does a team outside the Top 5 in Mid-November rise into the Top Four, and has a bottom half club (ahem…. That’s us, campers. And the Reds too) ever done it?

So of the roughly 340 sides that have been outside the Top 5 at roughly this date in the 22 previous EPL seasons, 30 have climbed into the top 5 by season’s end, but only 16 into the top Four. (That’s right. Almost half of the ultimate 5th place finishers begin lower than that—including Spurs 4 times in the past 9 years) So it is about 5%– a 1 in 20 chance– of gaining the Champions League. But every year in the Prem’s existence at least one team climbs up into the Top Five—Arsenal (currently 6th) would appear to have the best prospect of making such a rise this year—13 times in 22 the 6th place holder at this juncture improves.

Of the roughly 225 sides that have wallowed in the bottom half of the table at this point in the proceedings, 2 have wound up in the top 5, but only one in the top four. Those two, interestingly enough, were both in 12th place (our current predicament) and happened to be the exact “big clubs” that are staring up at the rest today—Liverpool and Spurs. The Reds made it to 3rd in 2006; we got only as far as 5th in 2007.

So, to quote a somewhat funny American movie that just spawned a 20 years later sequel which is somewhat less funny (Dumb and Dumber/To): “So you’re saying there’s a chance?”

Yep—we’ve got somewhere between a 1-5% shot at landing the girl.

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Paul is a respected U.S. political pollster (Democrat) based in Madison, Wisconsin and Los Angeles. His love for Spurs began when the Premier League games started appearing regularly in the U.S. and an American lover of football had to choose a side. Bale, Rushdie, Adele, Shakespeare, the Spurs faithful, The Lane, etc. were all irresistible attractions and have made Maslin a Spur for life.

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