After an insipid display in the 3-1 defeat against Bolton on the weekend, Liverpool find themselves 7th after 22 games, with 35 points and a goal difference of +4. With 48 points left to play for this season, Kenny Dalglish’s men face an uphill task to finish fourth and qualify for the Champions League. Just the size of this task, however, is something that a look back at previous campaigns can perhaps shed some light on.
Since the 2001/2002 season there have been four Champions League places available to Premiership clubs, so for the point of this article, the ten seasons from 01/02 to 10/11 will provide the sample set of data. These ten seasons have to be divided, however, to give a realistic picture of the present climate within the Premiership, though. Following the artificial inflation of Chelsea and Manchester City through foreign ownership, the league has become more competitive in the top half of the table. The rise to prominence of Chelsea and Manchester City is further compounded by the rise of Tottenham Hotspur, who have become a competitive force for Champions League places. As such, the sample set will be considered but so will the two halves of the decadeÂ separatelyÂ to see what trends are evident and to give an accurate picture as to what is necessary.
The general trends that are apparent are that in the latter half of the decade, the number of points between third and fourth has decreased (from 10.8 to 5.2) while the difference between fourth and fifth has increased (from 3.4 to 7.4). These trends are suggestive that there has been a consolidation in the high level teams and as such there is a greater distance between the elite and the rest. As well as this there has been increase in the average goal difference (24.9 to 30.6) in the latter half of the decade, as well as the average number of points needed (65.2 to 70.8), which again is indicative in the greater quality of the top sides within the league, or the disparity between them and the lesser sides. As such, the figures for the first half of the decade don’t seem pertinent in consideration of this season, where it is much more competitive.
Liverpool, then, face a stronger challenge now than they would have five years ago. In terms of teams who have finished fourth, the average number of points garnered has been 30 in the final 16 games over the last five seasons. If we take the figure as +30 points in the last 16 games, then should Liverpool follow this trend they would end the season with 65 points: the lowest points total for a fourth placed team since 2004/2005. Infact, for Liverpool to meet the average number of points for fourth placed teams – in the last five years – they would have to match the best run in of any team to finish fourth in the past decade (Liverpool themselves, in 07/08 with 36 points out of 48).
On the statistical averages of the last decade, Liverpool won’t take much comfort from the goal scoring figures either. Teams who have scored less than 60 goals in a season have only finished fourth twice, both times when there has been a massiveÂ deficit in points from 1st to 4th – 34 points in 04/05 when Everton qualified with 61 points and 30 points in 03/04 when Liverpool qualified with 60 points – as well as a large difference in points between 3rd and 4th (16 and 15, respectively). All of which is indicative that there was a deficiency in the competition.
In contrast, Chelsea find themselves in a position of relative comfort, according to the averages of previous seasons, anyway. They have more points at this stage of the season than any other team who have finished fourth in the last 10 seasons bar Arsenal (2010/2011) and Everton (2004/2005) who both had collapses in the last 16 games – getting 22 and 18 points out of their last 48, respectively – and Newcastle in 2001/2002 who had one more point at this stage of the season. Third placed Tottenham, meanwhile, have the same points total at this point of the season as Arsenal did before their collapse last season, Â the joint highest for any team – out of teams who finished fourth – in the last decade.
Of course, this is all history, and Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish will know that anything can happen. However, should the season go along the laws of averages then they will need to finish the season as strong as any fourth placed team in the last decade or hope for all of Chelsea, Arsenal and Newcastle to experience drastic collapses.