Photo: Ronnie MacDonald
So after a hectic Christmas period we have played our last game of 2013 and reached the half way point of this season's Premier League marathon. Now that all 19 teams have played each other we should be able to work out who will be fighting for the title come April/May.
A casual glance at the traditional Barclays Premier League Table would suggest that Arsenal remain strong favourites with Manchester City and Chelsea providing the closest competition. The two Merseyside clubs bridge the gap to Manchester United and Tottenham with Newcastle close behind. At this stage of the season the small gap between Chelsea and the rest may not seem significant but arguably is - in the last ten years no team has ever come back to win the title after being more than two points behind the league leader after 19 games.
However all is not as it appears, quite simply it's all down to home advantage. There are many theories behind home advantage and why it occurs, ranging from the seemingly obvious factors such as crowd support, to more creative suggestions such as a natural testosterone boost. Whatever the cause one thing is irrefutable, home advantage is a real phenomenon.
Hardly surprising then that we will have to play every team twice this season both home and away, of course at this stage each team has has played different teams home and away. All this means the table above should not be taken at face value.
The Title Race Table
I hope some of you have been reading the blog posts by P-Lan on the title race this year*. I was fascinated by the formula he used to work out how well each team were doing (considering the games they had played) but I felt a few tweaks were necessary before I could comfortably interpret the results.
P-Lan has thus-far assumed the top 6 to be: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool. With 6-10 in his table consisting of Villa, Everton, Newcastle, Swansea while the other teams forming a bottom 10.
This year I think Southampton Away (our next match) is a much harder fixture than Villa away so I placed Villa in the bottom 10 at the expense of the Saints. My next tweak was to swap Everton with Tottenham. I'll admit it was hard to decide whether to swap the Toffees with Manchester United instead, however I think recent results, the instability at White Heart Lane and the fact that Old Trafford is a far larger and more intimidating ground mean the decision wasn't purely down to Chelsea bias!
According to this tweaked version of the formula, the table below shows the deficit to the points that each contender should have scored to be on track win the title with a total of 91 points at the end of the season.
According to this table the three front runners in the title race are Liverpool (now only have 2 away games against the entire top ten), Chelsea (have already got points away at Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal, plus have got trips to Everton and Newcastle out of the way) and Arsenal.
The Contenders - The Bigger Picture
The opinion amongst managers and pundits seems to be that Manchester City are the team to beat, I find this surprising. True they have won some games with big goal tallies but these were all home games that they were expected to win. With two Champions League ties against Barcelona and League Cup Semi-Finals to navigate in the next few months they also have a run in that includes traveling to play Swansea, Newcastle, Everton, Liverpool, Arsenal and improving Tottenham and Manchester United sides (7 of the 9 other top half teams), by far the hardest fixture list of any of the top 5. Threat Level (Low) - Outside chance of the title.
Although Liverpool are slightly ahead of the rest at this stage they have by far the thinnest squad, this is balanced slightly as they are not in any European competitions and so have less need to rotate. Threat level (High) - Favourites if key players stay fit.
Arsenal are slightly behind us at this point and have some hard fixtures coming up in Europe and the FA Cup, which could cost them points in the league. If they progress in the cup competitions they may struggle to catch us. Threat Level (Medium) - Depends on cup competitions.
Considering all factors I would say the favourites team for the title is a toss up between Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. Manchester City are in with a shout but they need to get some big results away from home to stay in the race. Chelsea fans have every reason to be confident as we head into 2014!
*P-Lan assumes that 91pts will guarantee winning the league. To get this total a team must win all games vs bottom 10 (60pts), win and draw away against mid-4 (Villa, Everton, Newcastle, Swansea) (16pts), win and lose away against the top 6 (15pts). The table is displayed as a deviation away from each teams expected total based on the fixtures they have played (i.e. a team with -5pts is on course to get 86pts, 2 short of 91)