The Relegation Battle Is Opening Up Once Again
The bottom of the Premier League table seems weird. Leicester and West Ham, having had extraordinary seasons in 2015/16, don’t seem like they should belong down there at all, and despite their 2016 slump the same broadly goes for Crystal Palace too. Meanwhile, Burnley and Hull got out of the blocks quicker than an Olympic sprinter.
The old adage of the ‘magic 40 point mark’ may be a bit off in terms of historical accuracy, and it appears that 37 points is the magic marker – either way, it’s roughly an average of 1 point per game. At the moment, after 13 games of the season, there are 7 clubs on 1 ppg or fewer, as well as Burnley a point above it on 14 (but with absolutely abysmal shot stats suggesting that they deserve to be amongst that bottom group).
Purely to include Burnley in the mix, let’s call that 8 teams around or below the 1 point per game mark. But how often has this happened in previous season?
Surprisingly often. In 2015/16, after 13 games, there were 7 teams on 14 points or below (though two of these, Swansea and Chelsea, were on 14). 2014/15 saw 8 teams, 2013/14 and 2012/13 both had 7, and 2011/12 had 8 again. It seems that, in recent times, it’s fairly normal to have this many teams around the 1.0 ppg mark at this point in the season.
This season still feels a little odd though; maybe in previous years all of the teams who looked in the mix for relegation were ones which we might expect to be there, and so this mass of teams at the foot of the league made more sense.
Taking the teams’ league position from the previous year (giving all promoted teams a rank of 19 as the midway point of the teams they replaced) and averaging them out initially seems to lend some credence to this theory.
The 2016/17 bunch have a previous season rank of 13.63 – Leicester and West Ham the main drivers in keeping the number low, but Swansea doing their part as well.
Here are the figures for the other recent seasons too:
It should probably be noted that if one excludes Swansea and Chelsea from last season’s bottom bunch (they were both on 14 points as well as being 2 points ahead of next highest Norwich and a further 2 ahead of Newcastle below them), that season’s figure shoots up to 17.2.
What we then see is an interesting trend over the past 5 seasons, of the bottom bunch in the league being more and more – for want of a better phrase – what you would expect. 2011/12 has a bunch of teams who had hovered above relegation the season before (Wolves, Wigan, Blackburn) but also sides who had been in mid-table (Fulham, Sunderland, West Brom).
The same is true if you look at the previous season’s points tallies (seeing as 8th place Fulham in 2010/11 managed 49 points but 8th place Liverpool in 2015/16 managed 60). Promoted teams are given an assumed total of 38 points, in part due to the ‘James Grayson rule’ that the 3 promoted sides between them will average more or less a point per game. This brings 2011/12 more into line with 2012/13, but the trend still holds.
2015/16 (minus Swansea and Chelsea): 38.2
There should probably be a small caveat on this season’s figure here, that Leicester winning the league (gaining 81 points in the process) was extremely unlikely, and so skews the figures – but even assuming that they got a generic top 4 (City, 66) or top 6 (Southampton, 63) points total would put the average at around 46 points.
Perhaps this is just a cycle that leagues go through. Mid-tier teams which are by and large safe from the threat of relegation emerge; after a few seasons, they fail to progress and get dragged into battles at the bottom of the table (most obviously in Swansea, but with elements also present in Leicester, West Ham, and Crystal Palace too). Perhaps it’s just a quirk of history. Either way, it looks like the relegation battle is opening up to beckon in more contenders after a few years of being an unwanted exclusive club.
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