Avoiding the League Table

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They say that at the start of a season, you shouldn’t pay any attention to the league table until 10 games in. That’s when it starts to take shape, and truly reflects how teams are performing. But with 10 games left of the season, I’m equally as wary of what it shows.

Obviously we are now getting a good idea of what teams will be finishing in what sort of positions; who is in a relegation battle, who is destined for the mid-table, and who is battling for European spots. Mathematically the league table tells us that Manchester United could still finish as champions, but we use our common sense to know that it’s not at all likely.

Over the past couple of days, seemingly any time the phrase ‘Liverpool are up to second’ has been uttered, it has been law to follow it up with ‘but Manchester City have two games in hand.’ Then you have to look into how those two games will affect the table. Two wins, and Man City go top. Two draws, and they level up on points with us and Arsenal, but leapfrog us both on goal difference. Two losses, and it’s as you were.

This coming weekend will add only more uncertainty, with many teams not playing due to the FA Cup fixtures. More games in hand, that may or may not be converted into three points, and may or may not cause movement in the table. And without Liverpool even playing, we are looking at the fixtures and the table, and assessing what results would suit us. If Tottenham beat Chelsea then we are four points off top spot, with a game in hand and still to play the leaders at Anfield. But that takes Tottenham to within three points of us, and the following week if we lose at Old Trafford and they beat Arsenal then they are level on points with us, and Man City may use their games to steal a march in the title race.

A lot of ifs and a lot of buts. And none of it really matters, as things can change so quickly in this league that one set of results isn’t going to make or break anyone’s season. It’s what you do over every single one of the 38 games. So far we haven’t let ourselves down too often. But neither have Chelsea, Arsenal or Man City.

Our rivals may have looked at our weekend’s fixture away to Southampton as a potential banana skin for us to slip up on. Likewise with Arsenal away to Stoke. Which is fine, as seeing the teams around you drop points, especially at the top where it happens so infrequently, can get you looking at the table and seeing what advantage can be taken. But did Arsenal losing to Stoke put any more importance on our game at St Mary’s? Of course not. Our focus has to be on ourselves, and playing to the best of our ability every single match. We could win every one of our remaining games but still not win the title, and in that case we would just have to take our hats off and say well done to whoever performed well enough to finish above us.

Maybe it’s just different being a Liverpool supporter in this situation, as the consensus was that our aim this season was to finish in the top four. To be closer points wise to the top spot than fifth, is perhaps affording us a bit of luxury in that we have exceeded expectations, and even a poor end to our season could see us reach our initial target. Therefore we don’t need to get carried away with title thoughts, but simply take each game as it comes and see where we end up. First, second, third, or fourth would all be taken as a good season for us, whereas the other three teams may be disappointed in anything but first.

If it gets to the last day of the season and we’re still in with a shout of finishing as champions, I couldn’t blame anyone for looking at the table and the fixtures and working out how we need things to play out to see our dreams come true. But trying to work it all out with 10 games left is too premature, and rather than get carried away with what might be, I think everyone is better off just sitting back and enjoying what is sure to be an exhilarating ride.

By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)