In the "First XI" post yesterday, I introduced the concept of Mini-leagues (or at least my version of it, I can't claim that I'm the only one ever to think such a thing). In that post, I discussed the progress of Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea toward the title based not only on their points in the "real" table but their progress versus expectations based on the varying quality of their opponents through 8 weeks and where those matches were played. This analysis showed that not only is City leading in the real title race but they're doing so having played an equivalent schedule to their two competitors (they all have approximately the same expected number of points thus far).
With an initial analysis of the title race already out there for everyone to comment on, I'm going to move on to what I believe to be a MUCH more interesting battle, the battle for 4th place and that final, lucrative Champions League spot. I'm sure this one will generate some interesting debate.
The first reason for that debate is that I've included a fourth team in the race for fourth (Newcastle) along with the obvious candidates (Spurs, Liverpool, and Arsenal). The Magpies have looked great so far and currently sit in 4th so it certainly deserves a look to see how they've arrived at that spot and what their prospects are for staying there.
Here's a quick summary of what we've learned about each team from their matches thus far:
Spurs - They've performed more or less to expectations against the top echelon and have benefited from their "big" matches within the Fourth Place Mini-league being at home. Where Spurs have excelled is away from home against the lesser lights. If they keep this up, they'll have every chance to take fourth.
Liverpool - The Reds schedule has been a little easier than Spurs' thus far and so their performance should be better. Their wins at the Emirates and Goodison were huge but they'll have to stop dropping points to the likes of Sunderland if they're going to keep up with Spurs.
Arsenal - They've had two tragic results when compared against expectations. The embarrassment at Old Trafford was the worst from a PR standpoint but they were always likely to lose that match. The losses that hurt are the loss at home to Liverpool where they should have picked up three points and the loss at Rovers where they should have at least expected a draw. Based on this analysis, Arsenal are 7 points behind Spurs in the race for 4th despite only appearing to be 3 points behind them in the "real" table.
Newcastle - The schedule has been very kind so far and, give them credit, Newcastle have taken advantage of that fact and piled up some points ahead of what will be some tougher matches against the big boys of the league later in the season. The downside for NUFC thus far is that they've only picked up two points in two home matches within this "mini-league" (from Arsenal and Spurs). Thus far, they have made up for that by being excellent on the road against teams that are likely to finish up in the middle of the table (@AST, @SUN, and @WOL). Without some points against the bigger clubs though, they'll likely slide just out of the race for 4th (think Aston Villa a few years back when they had a similarly impressive start to the season and challenged into the second half).
So, that's what the adjusted table tells us about the race for fourth at this point. What do you think? Does the Mini-league concept provide some additional insight in this case?
I'm still early enough in this concept to make some adjustments.