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Premier League title rivals are chasing a new magic number

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Liverpool had just received proof that their brilliant pursuit of Manchester City was doomed. “We were close, but not close enough in the end,” said Jürgen Klopp looking back on the last matchday. Again. The 2018/19 season had already given them the bittersweet distinction of being England’s biggest runners-up. Then ’97 points’ became almost a catchphrase at Anfield. Three years later. Klopp said: “Obviously, 92 points is crazy.”

It is, and yet it is also the norm. It is the eighth-biggest total in Premier League history and the other side to finish 92 in 1993-94, Manchester United, managed that from 42 games, not 38. Go-a-game and seven of the eight highest tallys were achieved in posted in the last six seasons, all by teams managed by Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte or Klopp.

The only exception was Jose Mourinho’s 95 in his debut season at Chelsea. But as of 2016, 95 – or 94.83, to be precise – is the average for Premier League champions. Even that is dragged down by City’s tally of 86 in the 2020-21 lockdown and Covid campaign. Take that out and the odds are it takes 2.5 points per game to win the division; suffer a defeat and five consecutive wins are required to undo the damage done.

The error rate is minimal. Liverpool lost a game in 2018/19 – thanks to John Stone’s famous clearance at the Etihad Stadium 11mm before the ball crossed the line – and just two last season: at West Ham and Leicester. No team has lost less without winning the title. But the draw has been all but eliminated by champions: between 2016 and 2020, the eventual winners have drawn just 12 of their 152 league games. In contrast, 2015/16 champions Leicester drew 12 times. And if you can see anomalies, Arsenal’s Invincibles drew 12 times in 2003/04 – their 90 points would have put them third in two of the last four seasons – and United’s treble winners were saved 13 times in 1998/99.

This unique combination of Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup trophies makes them the best team ever. Still, they had dropped 23 points by Christmas, enough to now disqualify them from a title race. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side went undefeated after that defeat by Middlesbrough in December and ended the campaign unbeaten in 33 games in all competitions but with just 79 points. They were masters of brinkmanship.

Ferguson, in his time, specialized in winning against his rivals. In a 38-game season, he only reached 90 points twice. In 1997 he was world champion with 75 points. His first title came after United started with two defeats and drew in the third game. City have suffered an early defeat in the last two seasons – their second game of 2020-21, their first a year later – but squandering eight points so early would put them out of contention now. It was a lesson Ferguson learned the hard way: United lost nine points in their first five games in 2004/05, 12 in their first ten a year later. Mourinho’s Chelsea disappeared into the distance.

The title winning formula had to be changed. “We’ve always started off pretty slowly and we knew very well that even if we were seven or eight points down before Christmas we could always come back,” Gary Neville recalled in 2017. “We got stronger as the season progressed. But in those two Jose Mourinho years, they worked hard from the start and never came back. Liverpool came from 14 points adrift last season – albeit with two games in hand – to briefly overtake City, albeit only after more games. Yet in a season where champions might only drop 19, getting eight on them feels next to impossible.

The 2019 Stones clearance showed how fine margins had become

(Getty)

Setting a precedent, Mourinho’s Chelsea set a record-breaking pace for a relatively short time. It could raise hopes for others that Liverpool and City will slip back a bit towards the pack when Klopp and Guardiola’s reigns end, despite maintaining 90-point form for longer, albeit not every year. After Mourinho, nobody got past 90 until Conte secured 93 for Chelsea in 2016-17.

It came from a 13-match winning sequence. Now, unbeaten runs aren’t enough: Draws can be almost as damaging as losses. Almost every title-winning season is marked by an extended winning streak. Before the formation of the Premier League, the longest winning streak in English Premier League history was Arsenal’s 14th in 1987. Arsene Wenger’s Gunners drew level in 2002. However, as of 2016 there are 18 (City), 18 (Liverpool). ), 17 (Liverpool, just before 18), 15 (City) and 13 (Contes Chelsea). Last season Liverpool won 10 in a row and City 12.

Conte, now at Tottenham, helped set the bar at Chelsea

(Getty)

The lazy interpretation is to say that everyone else is garbage. It’s also dead wrong, given the Premier League’s status as the richest league in the world, a magnet for players and coaches that arguably has more strength in depth than anywhere else. Rather, it shows how the bar has been raised by dueling perfectionists setting new standards and records for goals scored and goal difference.

When City became the Premier League’s first centurions with 100 points in 2018, Guardiola said: “It’s special. It’s a record that will stand for a long time.” But his side reached 98 the following season and Liverpool 99 the following season; maybe if they hadn’t won the title so early they would have upped their ton. City’s century has had a symmetry – 50 points home, 50 away with 16 wins, two draws and a single loss both at the Etihad Stadium and elsewhere – but it hasn’t proved to be the outlier their manager envisioned .

Rather, there has been consistency at this new level. Three of Liverpool’s four highest scores in its history (all adjusted to three for a win) and their top three points per game average have come under Klopp, but they’ve produced a lone league title.

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag faces a challenge to close the gap

(Getty)

This means that each point lost has a higher cost than it did 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Last season, City and Liverpool lost four each in two 2-2 draws. Of the 22 points Liverpool did not take, 12 were drawn against the top four. They have lost just 10 in 32 games against the Premier League’s bottom 16. Of their seven draws in 2017-18, four were against Arsenal, Chelsea, United and City. They took 78 points out of 84 against the bottom 14, 60 out of 60 against the bottom half.

All of this points to how flawless Conte’s Chelsea, United or Tottenham must be now; Gaining between 19 (Chelsea) and 35 (United) points on City seems an impossible task. United have not surpassed 81 points since Ferguson retired, surpassed 74 just once and finished five campaigns on 66 or fewer. Chelsea’s best total since Conte’s champions is just 74. Spurs’ last four seasons have produced 71, 59, 62 and 71 respectively. At other times, some of those records would not have given them much ground to make up. In the era of 95-point teams, they played in a different league, knowing that losing 20 points can be fatal to ambition. Because if the Premier League used to be won by the Class of ’92, it’s now dominated by those with the Class of ’95.

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league-title-favourites-liverpool-b2132672.html Premier League title rivals are chasing a new magic number

Fry Electronics Team

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