Here, drink this champagne, eat this hors d’oeuvre, and take a seat. I’m here to make things better.
Let’s suppose that Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal are the three favorites to win the title this year. Each team has played 14 matches so far, 7 at home, and 7 away. Chelsea and Utd lead the Prem with 28 points, and Arsenal are not far behind with 26.
Of the fourteen games played so far, all three teams have 6 opponents in common. They are: Liverpool, Manchester Citeh, Sunderland, West Brom, West Ham, and Wolves.
Whether home or away, Chelsea, United, and Arsenal have all faced the aforementioned teams. Here are the points earned for their shared opponents:
Chelsea - 9 points
Man Utd – 12 pts
Arsenal – 11 pts
This is important because not all wins and losses are the same at this stage of the season. When Arsenal go to the Eastlands and smash on Manchester Citeh, those three points have more inherent value than Chelsea’s home beat down of West Brom. At this point of the campaign, all three points are not created equal.
It’s less fun to analyze the season this way, but it’s the truth. Would any Gooner feel confident at Old Trafford for the final game of the season, top of the table by one point? Oh by the way, 2nd place Chelsea have West Ham at home… didn’t think so.
The key, as always, is expectations. Every manager knows this. Ian Holloway rested ten of his starters because Blackpool cannot be expected to get points away at Aston Villa, not when four days later West Ham comes to visit. Mick McCarthy did the same thing against United last year. Five days later his rested team beat Burnley. Ian earned a draw for his next game.
Granted, these are managers trying to avoid relegation, not win the Premier League, but what is a “good results” and what is a “bad result” still holds. Take a look at last year. Recall that Chelsea won the league with 86 points, Man United finished with 85 points, and Arsenal third, with 75.
Of the 38 fixtures every team plays, 14 of them are exceedingly tricky: home or away games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool, Man Citeh, Tottenham (12) and also away games at Aston Villa, and Everton (2). Twelve plus two makes for 14 critical fixtures in any team’s title chase*. Wondering how critical? – Just ask Arsenal.
Last year Arsenal earned just 14 points from the “tricky” fixtures while Chelsea and Man-U earned 24 and 22 respectively. Ouch.
Put this in a different way. For the 24 matches that a team such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Man-U are expected to win, they earned 61, 62, and 63 points respectively. No big difference. Not nearly the 14, 24 and 22 spread from the crucial fixtures. You earn your paycheck for the twenty-four regular matches; you get paid for the other fourteen.
So how is this season shaping up? Obviously I wouldn’t have gone through all this trouble if it didn’t mean good news for Arsenal… right? Right?
Each team has conveniently played 4 of their 12 tricky games so far this season:
Arsenal – 7 points
Chelsea – 4 pts
Man Utd – 6 pts
With such a limited sample size it’s tough to jump to any major conclusions. We’ll know more about Arsenal very soon; 3 of our next 5 games are Villa away, United away and Chelsea at home.
One detail, however, does stand out; Chelsea is in worse shape than the table shows. They’re trailing their peers on points against the same opponent as well as crucial fixtures. And even though they’re still top, a smart Chelsea fan would be worried that they haven’t met the expectations of a championship caliber team.
You know, a team that blows a 2 goal-lead, at home, to their biggest rival - that kind of championship team. Ugh, I think I’m gonna be sick again.
*It’s really 12 for a top team since they don't play themselves.