The seventh seal (part 2)

October 6, 2010 § 3 Comments

In part 1, Twisted Blood looked at how reasonable it was to make conjectures about the title race based on the table after seven games. And we discovered: increasingly so. Here, in Part 2, we focus on the other end of the table.

So, Liverpool, eh?

From a historical perspective, their start this season – 18th in the table, P7 W1 D3 L3 – is their worst start since 1953/54, a season which saw the club relegated to the old Second Division. The general consensus is, of course, that they are too good to go down*; a quick glance at the markets sees them 13th favourites for the drop, available at a nevertheless-mirth-inducing 18/1. Besides, they’ve been bought, sort of, lawyers allowing, so everything will be fine. You never know, they might even scrape top half.

But can you draw a correlation between being in the bottom three after seven games and ending up there after 38? Acknowledging that being in the bottom three is never good, and keeping with the same sample group as in part 1 (the 29 seasons since 3-points-for-a-win was introduced in 1981/82): of the 88 teams that occupied the relegation zone after most teams in the division had played seven games, only 38 went on to subsequent relegation; that’s 43.18%, slightly closer to half than a third. Which should be comforting to Liverpool, Wolverhampton, and West Ham United; if the trend holds, one or two of them might expect to end the season still in the Premier League.

However, a more detailed glance at the numbers reveals more cause for concern for those fans of the bottom three clubs. As with the eventual title-winners, recent years have seen what we might term a tendency towards increasingly early calcification: the important bits of the table begins to take their final form sooner with each passing season

For instance, there have been three seasons where all of the teams in the relegation places after seven games have escaped come the final reckoning: two in the 80s (82/83, 87/88), one in the nineties (96/97), and none in the decade that nobody’s managed to avoid calling the noughties. Indeed, in seven of the last ten seasons, two or more of the teams in the bottom three after seven games have gone down. Contrast this with the (slightly abbreviated, admittedly) eighties, where only one season saw more than one such team relegated.

If we break the data down into three rough decades, it looks a little something like this:

Decade 1. In the nine seasons between 1981/82 and 1989/90, 28 clubs occupied the relegation zone after most of the league had played seven games. Of those clubs, a mere 8, or 29%, were relegated.

Decade 2. Between 1990/91 and 1999/00, of the 30 teams were in the relegation zone at a similar stage, 12 were eventually relegated. That’s 40%.

Decade 3. Between 2000/01 and 2009/10, of the 30 teams in the relegation zone after seven games, fully 18 of them were relegated, a quite alarming 60%.

By now, fans of Wolves, West Ham, and maybe even Liverpool might be starting to feel a little more concerned. If this trend continues, at least one of them will be needing to brace for the emotional and economic turmoil of a season in the second tier. For Wolves and West Ham, it would of course be disastrous; for Liverpool, it would be positively cataclysmic.

* This is definitely not an attempted jinx. Oh no. They just are too good to go down.

NOTE: This piece has been updated following Dave’s comment below. Cheers Dave.

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§ 3 Responses to The seventh seal (part 2)

  • dave says:

    38 of 88 is 44%, rather larger than a third – you may want to check those figures. Also, statistics in this case can give an overall pointer, but with the threat of a 9-point penalty apparently gone, I would expect to see Liverpool finish somewhere between 10th and 6th this season. SOme analysis of the teams that have avoided the drop would be interesting – Spurs start unbder Juande Ramos springs to mind.

    Obviously there’s a long way to go yet, but it was a tricky start to the season (contrast with Chelseas’s for example). I can’t help wondering whether Reina’s clanger against Arsenal has cost the team more than 2 points so far, with a confidence boosting home win (without Torres), leading to a better dressing room atmosphere and fewer points dropped since… Those 2 points alone would put the team in 14th…

    It will be interesting to see if there is a different attitude on Sunday in the derby game, but derby games (especially on Merseyside) are no reliable indicator of form or ability. I would hope to at least see a bit of passion and desire that’s been lacking too much recently. A far more interesting game from the perspective of the future of the club under NESV will be the home tie against a Blackburn side (currently) only 2 points ahead…

  • Robin Rimmer says:

    Excellent reading as ever, and goes to show how poorly researched most football writing is these days. You should be writing for the Guardian or something…

    However, I do have one question – isn’t there a need for some comparative aspect to this? As in, it’s all well and good to know that you have a 30% chance of going down if you’re in the bottom three but unless you know the odds for the other positions in the table you can’t see whether those odds are actually bad news or not. For example, in the unlikely event that it turned out that the team just above the relegation zone had a 50% of going down then it could actually be favorable (from a stats standpoint) to be lower in the table than a bit higher up.

    This could mean that Roy’s poor start to the season could actually be a tactical masterstroke from the diminutive genius…

  • twistedblood says:

    Dave – absolutely right, no idea how that happened. Fixed it.

    Entertainingly, Spurs were in the bottom three after seven games in 2007/08 and 2008/09. On both occasions they sacked their manager – Jol, then Ramos – and went on to survive.

    I think you make a very good point about that Reina mistake. In points terms I would argue that what he cost you there he made up against Birmingham, but for the team, and for Hodgson, to have a defeat of Arsenal under their belt would make a world of difference.

    Having seen the derby, if Blackburn turn up for the draw, do you think you’ve got enough about you to break them down?

    Robin – thanks, that’s very kind of you! I’m waiting for the call from the Grauniad …

    I would be more careful than to say there’s a 30% chance; rather, just to note that there’s been that trend beforehand. As a general rule, after all, the closer you are to the bottom of the table the more likely you are to go down.

    As I don’t have the numbers to answer your question, I offer anecdote instead. Since 3-for-a-win came in, two teams have gone down despite being in 3rd after seven games. Millwall in 1989/90, and Chelsea in 1987/88.

    Chelsea plummeted from third to finish eighteenth in a 22-team league. The bottom three went down automatically, while Chelsea went into a playoff against second division Middlesbrough. Boro won 2-1! Highlights below for lovers of short shorts:

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