On the 12th of January two years ago a Premier League manager, who had just watched his side beat Liverpool 2-1 to get to 28 points after 20 matches, was asked: ‘How much closer now are you to survival in this league?’
“It’s only three points closer innit? Just three points closer to the target,” was the realistic reply.
Although the target wasn’t explained it was clear it was 40pts. It’s a tally often referred to by many Premier League bosses in the bid for safety and an amount only three teams have reached and still got relegated in the last 17 seasons (since the PL went to 20 teams, something we will call PL-20 for the rest of this piece).
Whether he knew or not, the 2010/11 manager in question did not let on that no team in the previous 15 seasons had ever been relegated after getting to the 28 point mark through 20 games.
History was about to change.
His side would go on to lose nine of their next twelve matches, leaving them on 33pts after 32 games.
As his team lost the 32nd match they fell below an average of 1.06 points per game for the first time that season. They wouldn’t get to that level again as six more points in their final six matches meant they finished on 39pts and were relegated on the final day of the season.
Ian Holloway and Blackpool are now enjoying life in the Championship but are no longer together. The Seasiders currently sit 18th surrounding a who’s who of teams who have been relegated from the Premier League with them in the last ten years:
Also relegated alongside Blackpool two years ago were Birmingham City who, much like their relegation cousins, found themselves among the record breakers for relegated teams. The Blues of 2010-11 became the first ever team since the league went to 20 teams after 1994-95 (PL-20) to ever lose their Premier League survival after getting to 38pts through 32 matches.
Birmingham’s collapse two seasons ago has puts all teams (and their analytics staff) not on 39pts already this season on high alert because it has become more difficult identifying just who is a prime relegation candidate.
|12||West Ham United||31||10||7||14||35||44||7||4||4||26||18||3||3||10||9||26||-9||37|
|19||Queens Park Rangers||32||4||12||16||29||52||2||8||6||12||23||2||4||10||17||29||-23||24|
32 games in, do these teams look like teams who could go down?
Birmingham’s case was an extreme one. Not only are they the only team, of the 51 teams relegated in the last 17 seasons, to be relegated by getting to 38pts after 32 games, they are also the only team to have got more than 33pts after 32 games and still be relegated. In other words, 50 of the 51 teams relegated in the last 17 seasons had not gotten to the 34pts mark with six games remaining.
What this tells us is 98% of those relegated failed to get more than 1.06 points per game (34pts) through the first 32 matches of the season. And only 2% (one team) were good enough to get at least 1.06 points per game through 32 games and still go down.
Should any of Stoke, Norwich, Newcastle, West Ham or Southampton somehow get relegated this season they would join a very exclusive club.
Points Per Game
As identified above only one team has averaged at least 1.06 PPG through 32 games and been relegated. 1.06 PPG is also relevant as it gets teams to that much-targeted 40 point mark through 38 matches. It is worth noting that the Birmingham side of 10-11 were sent down after getting just one point from their final six matches and, thus, falling below 1.06PPG at the end of the season, finishing on 39.
Only three teams from the 51 in question were relegated by averaging 1.06PPG (40pts or more), the last being West Ham in 2002-03 and that happened because two teams didn’t even reach 27pts that season. With the bottom half becoming more and more competitive every season (12 of the last 15 relegated teams have got to the 30 point mark) it is fair to say 1.06PPG will likely keep you up in this era of the Premier League.
Play football at a 1.06PPG pace all season and you shouldn’t be considered a relegation candidate. Simple.
In fact, even if you play at that level for just two-thirds of the season and then regress you have over a 85% chance of staying up. Only seven of 51 teams relegated (less than 14 %) under PL-20 had a higher average of 1.06PPG (27pts or more) through 25 games and were relegated. Everyone of them fell below 0.85PPG in the last third.
In other words 44 of the 51 teams relegated under PL-20 failed to play at a 1.06PPG through 25 matches. In truth, there were few surprises. They looked like relegated teams two-thirds of the way through and proved it a few months later.
This is relevant when charting the cases of Southampton, West Ham, Newcastle, Norwich, Stoke and Sunderland to be relegated this season.
We have already determined that only 2% of relegated teams have reached a mark over 1.06 PPG through 32 games and gone down, so the other 98% tells us those in this list except Sunderland at this stage don’t look like relegated teams.
But what of those who collapse late in the season? We have determined that a team who gets to 27pts through 25 games has only been relegated when they play below 0.85 PPG in the last 13 matches (11pts or less).
For this we throw out Southampton as they were the only team in this group under 1.06 PPG through 25 matches, claiming 24pts through 25 games (0.96 PPG). An impressive 13pts from their last 7 games – a rate of 1.86 PPG – seems to have all but secured their safety.
Identifying a collapse
However, the cases of the five other teams need to be examined further. West Ham (30), Newcastle (27), Norwich (28) Stoke (30) and Sunderland (29) all played over a rate of 1.06PPG through 25 games. We have determined that any team who gets relegated after reaching this margin did so by not playing above a rate of 0.85PPG (12pts or more) in the last 13 to secure safety. They collapsed.
This conclusion comes from the seven teams in the past seventeen seasons who didn’t and were ultimately relegated. West Ham, who no one is picking to go down being on 37pts through 32 games, should know that no team has ever been relegated reaching the 31 point mark through 25 games or 37 through 31. Hammers don’t appear to be changing history this season.
Newcastle also look very secure. Only Birmingham two seasons ago has been relegated by getting to at least the 36 point mark through 32 games. Four points from their last six games gets them to 1.06 and complete safety.
For Stoke, Sunderland and Norwich, though, there is a precedence of five teams who got to their marks of 30, 29 and 28 through 25 games and failed to survive.
Birmingham (10-11) last 13 – L L D L W D W L L D L L L
Blackpool (10-11) last 13 – D W L L D L L L D D D W L
Ipswich (01-02) last 13 – L L L L D D L D L L W L L
Wimbledon (99-00) last 13 – D L W L L L L L L L L D L
Sunderland (96-97) last 13 – L L L W L L D D L W L W L
You will notice that the four most recent examples show none of the teams in question could win three games or avoid a winless streak of at least six matches. Sunderland of 96-97 is a rare exception to the rule and that is understandable. They are one of the three teams to be relegated by reaching the 40 point mark.
Stoke’s current run in their last 13 is – W L L L D L L. The winless streak of six is already there. Three more losses in their last six and less than two wins will mean they look very much like a relegated team. It will also ensure they finish with less than 40pts and under 1.06PPG.
Sunderland’s current run in their last 13 is – L L D L D L. Another winless streak of six that already exists. Three wins from six would give them what they need and get them to the key mark of 1.06PPG by the end of the season.
Norwich’s current run in their last 13 is – D W L D D L D. Once again we have discovered those prime for a collapse do so when they do not win at least three of their last 13 and go on a winless streak of at least six games. Norwich are firmly in the middle of such a streak right now. The example of Blackpool, drawing many and losing fewer, should be alarming for the Canaries. Like Stoke, three losses and less than two wins in their last six would leave them looking very much like a relegation team.
A look at Aston Villa, Wigan, QPR & Reading
It doesn’t take a genius to understand what these teams look like at this stage of the season, as well as Sunderland, whose recent fall puts them in the collapse category. Of the 50 teams who have been relegated by not getting to the 1.06 mark through 32 games, only 16 (32%) were able to play above 1.06PPG (7pts or more) in the last six matches. This is not surprising. If you are a poor team threatened with relegation after nine months, it is unlikely an eventual relegated team can turn their fortunes around even if the inevitable (relegation) is sealed.
Points acquired by the 51 relegated teams in their last six matches:
0 – 2 teams
1 – 4 teams
2 – 4 teams
3 – 5 teams
4 – 9 teams
5 – 5 teams
6 – 6 teams
7 – 8 teams
8 – 3 teams
9 – 3 teams
10 – 1 team
11 – 1 team
If Aston Villa and Wigan want to not look like a relegation team the rest of the way it is clear they need to be among the 32% and not the 68%. If Villa do that they’ll get to 40pts. Wigan, with a game in hand, currently average a point per game but also know they’ll need nine points to guarantee safety.
No team from those relegated were good enough to play at a rate of two points per game in the last six (12pts), so we can forget about Reading or QPR getting to the 36 point mark. Unless, of course, one of them can somehow do what Wigan did last season when they did something never seen before, gaining 15pts from their last 18 to survive. Unlikely.
A magical run aside, statistical history tells us that those two teams will be relegated but there remains a spot for one other. If those identified as primed for a collapse all survive the other will be one of Wigan or Aston Villa.
Wigan have not reached the 1.06PPG level since they had 14pts through 13 games in November. And that is hardly much more. Aston Villa have not played at that level all season. In short, they have looked like strong relegation candidates for the best part of eight months.
In summary what these numbers all show is the importance of staying at or exceeding 1.06 points per game throughout the season. Play above that all season and you should never be labelled as a ‘relegation candidate’. Three of these clubs will be relegated by May 19th. Two seem likely to drop and a few others may finish the season looking like a relegated team even if only one of them turns out to be. Will it be a one from the collapse category or a team who have been below 1.06PPG for the majority of the season?