Are Chelsea In Danger Of Falling Out Of The Top 4?

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 12: Frank Lampard (3rd R) of Chelsea is congratulated by teammates after scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on December 12, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Chelsea have not had their best start to the season. After a reasonably comfortable first few games, we lost 3-1 at Old Trafford and went into something of a tailspin, suffering a referee-aided defeat at Loftus Road before losing back to back Premier League matches at Stamford Bridge to Arsenal and Liverpool, precipitating 'Chelsea in crisis' cries and causing quite reasonable people to worry if the Blues were going to drop out of the top four this season.

Three wins on the bounce - including one against league leaders Manchester City - have made everyone feel a little better about the situation, but there's no doubt that we've subject to one of our worst starts to a season in a while. So, I decided to take a look at the past eight seasons and see where teams with a certain number of points (actually, points per game) on December 13th ended up. Graph coming up after the jump...

Figure 1: Finishing positions in the Premier League table vs. points per game on December 13th, 2003-2011.

Obviously, we don't know for sure how things will end up this year, but we can use historical data in a number of ways. Let's take a look at Chelsea's chances this year first. So far this year, the Blues have taken 31 points in 15 games, good for 2.07 points per match. Despite the rough patch, they're currently in third place in the table, although Tottenham Hotspur are level on points and have a game in hand.

The mark of 2.07 ppg is well below where the ultimate winners and runners-up were at this point in the majority of the seasons we've looked at, but it's marginally higher than the average third-placed team and comfortably better than the average 4th place side, who were normally at 1.78 points per match in mid-December. To translate that to Chelsea this year, we'd have to have turned one of our wins into a loss and another into a draw before we drop below that threshold.

No team holding a ppg over 2 at this point in the season has dropped out of the Champions League places since this data set began. Only twice has a team finished lower than third place. Obviously, this year will mark the third time that's happened, because there are four teams with ppgs over 2, but based on what we have in front of us, Chelsea should be feeling pretty comfortable about their ability to finish in the top for (as should Tottenham).

Statistics are, of course, guides rather than accurate predictors of the future, so don't go betting tonnes of money on us making the top four this year or anything just because you read this, but I'd be fairly confident that we'll be alright. I was expecting a third placed finish when we started the season, and that still sounds about right to me now.

Other less-Chelsea-related tidbits:

  • Manchester City and United both have higher ppgs at this point in the season than the average title winner, which is amazing (especially for a very shaky United). If not for a very good run by Sir Alex Ferguson's team, City would be running away with the title. Instead, they're only a draw ahead of their arch-nemeses.
  • If the fact that each team is on a better run than the average winner doesn't impress you, consider this: Out of the 180 teams looked at, only two (Chelsea in 05/06 and Manchester United in 06/07) have better points per game tallies than United this year.
  • The top seven places this year are significantly better than they have been in the past. Everyone else is slightly worse. If not for major injuries to Newcastle United and Liverpool that will even the playfield a little bit, we could have seen a huge chasm appear between the Europa sides and the mid-table teams. That's weird.
  • Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers are probably boned. Sorry y'all.
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