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Give Thanks - Mini-Leagues are Back

Good of the captain to wave bye-bye to Chelsea's title hopes.  (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
Good of the captain to wave bye-bye to Chelsea's title hopes. (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
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Nothing like a holiday to provide a little time to catch back up on a feature that I've been keeping up with tracking but not doing a very good job of writing up. Before we get to it, here's a couple of observations from the Milan vs. Barcelona match I just watched.

  1. Who are these guys? - Have to admit, I don't watch too much Serie A but I was shocked to see how many crazy streetball type of players Milan has collected. Ibrahimovic and Robinho are definitely that type of player and Kevin Prince Boateng is DEFINITELY that sort of guy. A far cry from the days of uber-disciplined players like Maldini and Pirlo. Also an incredible contrast with the ultimate team-oriented group in Barca.
  2. What are they wearing? Are Barca sporting the first "F*** you" kit ever? Did someone at Nike decide that they wanted to design the ugliest kits ever in an effort to prove that Barca are so good that people would buy something in sea foam green? They're not hideous enough to obscure the beautiful play of Messi, Cesc, Xavi, Silva, and Thiago but they're as close as a jersey could get to doing so.
OK, enough of the Champions League and back to the task at hand, analyzing the table in a little bit more depth than just the number of points each team has:

A Brief Introduction

The point of this feature is to give some context to the current table based not only on performance-to-date but also on who each team has played and, based on our (hopefully realistic) assessment of their goals, what we should expect them to have done given who they have played and where those matches took place.

The graphics that accompany each "mini-league" show the following:

  • The number of points we expect from each team in the mini-league on average against teams from each of the mini-leagues both at home and on the road.
  • Their expected and actual performance against each mini-league to date
  • The strength of their schedule thus far
  • How they have performed against expectations
  • Their actual standing in the table.
Hopefully, somewhere in these numbers we can show not only where the table says they are but where we should expect to see them going in the weeks and months to come.

The Title Race (City, United, and Chelsea)

What you know is that City are leading by a comfortable margin. Here's what may not be as obvious looking at the conventional table:

  1. United's Tough Road - Manchester United have played one of the toughest schedules of anyone in the league thus far.
  2. Not So Elsewhere at the Top - Chelsea and City have played among the easiest schedules thus far.
  3. Chelsea Are Done (As Title Contenders) - To be legitimate title contenders, Chelsea should actually be ahead of City so far. That they are behind them in the standings (and woefully so) likely relegates them from the title race even at this early date. Chelsea's remaining first half schedule will likely lead to more dropped points.
  4. City Have Had It Fairly East Too, But Does It Matter? - The same could be said about City's remaining first half schedule but at the rate they're dispatching pretty much everyone, it doesn't appear there will be any stopping them.
  5. The next time I find time to do this analysis, I'll be re-factoring to drop Chelsea to the next group down (we'll see if Spurs are worthy of being bumped up into their place or if they merely continue to be a dominant contender for 3rd).
The Race for Fourth (Spurs, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Newcastle)

We've all marveled at the great start Spurs have made to the season but it becomes even more remarkable when looked at through this prism. Their schedule has been the most difficult of any of the "big" teams with only Swansea having had a rougher go of it so far. Here's what else we've learned:

  1. Good, But Not Good Enough - Arsenal and Liverpool have actually outpaced expectations slightly and would look better if not for the torrid pace that Spurs are setting.
  2. The Next Two Weeks Are Key - Newcastle have had a very easy schedule thus far. The next two weeks against Manchester United (whose form hasn't been great) and Chelsea (who have been worse) will have a great deal to say about the fate of the first half of their season.
  3. No Home Cooking for Arsenal - Arsenal's mediocre performances against the biggest teams in the table aren't necessarily as bad as they look as only one of the five matches played against the top seven teams (home to LIV) has been played at the Emirates. The expectation when traveling to see big opposition shouldn't be a boatload of points unless you're going to challenge for the title and I think we'd all agree that Arsenal aren't going to do that.
  4. Who Needs Home Cooking? - The strength of Newcastle's season so far has been going away from home and winning against mid-table teams - they have left town on such trips four times and come back with 10 points against solid opposition on their home grounds.
The Mid-table Mini-League

The first thing that jumps out here is that no one from among the mid-table group is exceeding expectations. It may be that we've elevated expectations slightly higher than they should be. It also may be that the inclusion of Manchester City, Spurs, and Newcastle in the higher-up mini-leagues may be accounting for the lack of a stand-out mid-table team. The stand-outs have stood out enough to get "promoted" to a better mini-league. Here are a few other points worth mentioning:

  1. Sunderland Lagging Badly - Sunderland have had a fairly easy go of it so far and they're still lingering at the bottom of this group. The matches they've played against their fellow mid-table teams have largely been at home and have not been nearly as fruitful as they need them to be.
  2. The Wolves are Gathering - The downside for Wolves is that they have some really tough matches left over the balance of the first half schedule. They've only played one of the title challenging teams thus far which likely means at least three more matches without the hope of a win.
  3. Stoke's Streak Not So Bad - Much has been made of Stoke's recent poor form but if you look at their expectations vs. performance they are almost exactly on course meaning that they are leading this group as far as expected pace goes. They should make up points as the schedule turns in their favor in the latter part of the first half and into the second half.
  4. Everton Too - Likewise, Everton have had a rough go of the schedule thus far and things should turn their way as the season continues even if they can't afford to bring in major reinforcements in January.
  5. Misleading Villa - While it would appear that Villa are leading this group, they have gotten fat off of home matches with teams likely to be fighting for relegation with 9 of their 15 points collected from such matches. Only Wolves have had as many home matches with the relegation fodder (making things worse for Wolves is the fact that they've spurned these opportunities with 4 points from a possible 9 - that's going to come back to haunt them).
The Relegation Mini-league

Where do we start with Wigan? They've had the easiest schedule in the league thus far and they've routinely missed out on opportunities to take the full three points at home against the other teams likely to be "challenging" them for relegation come April and May. The press doesn't usually start talking about "Relegation 6-pointers" until later in the season but there are only so many such opportunities throughout the season and if we have the right group of relegation strugglers then Wigan have already had their home matches against 4 of the remaining 5 (and one away match). From these matches they've managed 6 total points. There is only one more home match against a relegation-threatened club left. After that they'll have to go out on the road and save their Premier League status at their opponents home grounds - doesn't seem likely, does it? Elsewhere in this mini-league:

  1. QPR Rocking West London - Chelsea may be faltering and Fulham are, well Fulham, and QPR have had some ugly moments (the losses to Fulham and Bolton) but they're crushing expectations despite having the second lowest expected point total in the league based on their schedule to date.
  2. Rovers Straights Not As Dire As You Think - If you believe in the theory that teams fighting relegation have to get their points from home matches with other bad teams, then Rovers should get a pass. They've had exactly ZERO home matches with other teams likely to be fighting for relegation. At the same time, they've gone on the road and taken points from three Relegation Mini-league members (meaning that they picked up 3 points and cost their opponents 6 desperately needed home points). We don't KNOW how Rovers will react in this situations but the fact that they have 5 remaining chances should give them hope.
  3. As the Newly Promoted Teams Turn - Norwich and Swansea's records are fairly similar thus far and we see that both are very close to their expectations but when you look at the relative strengths of their schedules you see that Swansea have had the toughest schedule in the league while Norwich's has been much easier. If you're trying to decide which one will have some staying power you have to guess it will be the Swans.