You’re watching only because Spain are in town, with Wembley playing host. A mere three days later, Sweden beckons, England wins, and no one really cares. I apologize if you’re a die-hard Three Lions fan, but welcome to the mundane fixture of international football.
For the legions of religious football followers from pole to pole, international football is, at best, a disruption. Already, leading European clubs are piling on the pressure for UEFA and FIFA to drastically slash the number of ‘nonsense’ fixtures. It is a valid proposal, and one that wouldn’t fade into the horizon as easily as the sun does.
Thankfully, now Capello can relax, as the hustle and bustle of club football makes its return to the centre-stage. This is surely more so in England, with the hub of Abu Dhabi’s riches concentrated in Manchester leading the chasing pack, followed by a myriad of other clubs of established, but varying stature.
Somewhere within the four walls of Melwood, staff led by Dalglish studiously plot the demise of Chelsea this Sunday. They pore over countless pages of notes, devising strategies to exploit the weaknesses of the current Blues side. Likewise, it is inevitable a similar routine will be employed for the clash against table-toppers Manchester City the weekend after, then at Chelsea 48 hours later.
These games do serve as a benchmark to the progress made under Dalglish since the turn of the new year. Playing against the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City will determine whether the gulf in playing standards is now narrow or still wide. Also, this will crucially provide a stern test for our mentality, and whether or not the current side do have the character to soldier on during potentially rough waters.
The three games are by all accounts, a perfect test for our resilience.
However, it is difficult to buy into a concept whereby these games could be potentially “season-defining”. As much as they do have the capability of enabling us to kick on before the festive winter period, it just won’t mean much when May 2012 dawns upon us.
What Liverpool do need currently in terms of results is the ability to be consistently a touch of class above teams like Norwich and Swansea, with all due respect. In short, this means grinding out a ‘winning consistency’ against sides towards the bottom half of the table. Over recent seasons, it has been evident that this is Liverpool’s main Achilles heel. In truth, beating our top-four rivals do count for very little if we fail to capitalise and not notch those points in games we should be winning.
I looked into how Liverpool are faring against ‘lesser sides’ and compared ourselves with other ‘top sides’.
The methodology I used is rather straightforward – I simply calculated the number of points Liverpool and other teams finishing above 65 points gained against teams finishing with less than 45 points. I did this from 2007-08 season onwards to the current season. I included Liverpool in all seasons (even if we might not have finished above 65 points in some seasons), as it is the club under our scope of study.
For the current season, I used an expectations table which predicted final league positions, as it will be a more accurate reflection than the current table in November. This expectations table can be found here. I also calculated the points per game for 2011/12 season based on the results as of the time of writing.
From the tables above, it can be inferred that there seems to be a rather close (although not direct) correlation between the PPG (points per game) and league position. Over the course of 5 seasons, it is evident that the top two have a PPG of at least 2.50, with the exception of Man Utd last season.
Liverpool’s form against sides below 45 points have been fluctuating over the seasons, with the PPG being on a general decline after reaching a high of 2.69 in the 2008-09 season.
Throughout the years, both fans and players alike have been emphasizing on the need to take maximum points against these sides. Just 2 weeks ago, Craig Bellamy joined this brigade when he said: “If we have ambitions of finishing in the top four then we have to win these type of games.” (referring to Swansea). It is a fair assessment and something the majority will wholeheartedly agree with, and it is definitely something Liverpool need to work towards to.
I also compared the average league position of the traditional ‘Big Four’ and their average PPG over 5 seasons (2007-12). There – a direct, and striking correlation is derived.
From the above, it is evident over the past 5 seasons that the greater the number of points you pick up against ‘relegation fodder’ sides (of below 45 points), the greater your chances of having a higher league finish. It is without doubt that the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United have been remarkably consistent against these lower-ranked sides, something that Liverpool, and to a certain extent, Arsenal, haven’t been able to replicate.
Indeed, the next three fixtures that the Reds face do give an indication of what we’re capable of, collectively as a side coming up against heavyweights in the Premier League. However, it will not be a fair barometer of whether we can finish among the Champions League places. Rather than being a club that consistently lives up to its billing during rivalry-fuelled matches like the ones to come, we must instead live up to our billing week in, week out and replicate our form on a consistent basis.
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This post also appeared on my Liverpool blog, The Spion Kop, which can be visited here.