Recent Premier League seasons have confirmed the existence of two echelons within the league. Results of matches within and between these groups are very useful for monitoring the important issues within the league and some interesting conclusions can be drawn. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to The Superior 7 and The Threatened 13.
The Superior 7
Last season’s Premier League top seven clubs of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Liverpool are the septet which comprise The Superior 7. Last term they finished 12 points clear of the rest but this group of seven have been established for longer than a single season. Two seasons earlier, these seven clubs also finished above the rest and they currently also occupy the top seven spots. The only exception to this in recent times was the 2011/2012 season in which Newcastle United replaced Liverpool in this elite selection of clubs. However, Newcastle’s performance either side of that season was no reason to promote them into The Superior 7 at Liverpool’s expense. So, this group is now in its fourth successive season as the established elite.
The Threatened 13
The rest of the Premier League survivors and the trio of promoted clubs make up The Threatened 13 at the beginning of each season. Any three of these clubs are relegation threatened because of the efficiency of the Premier League system. It is possible that genuine improvement or random variation could lift them to isolated higher rankings but the best players will constantly leave, financial realities will leave squads short when injury hits and random variation will regress them back to the mean at least. Even when a club appears to be established in the Premier League, they are still relegation threatened when occupying this group. Everton, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have all switched groups in recent seasons for different reasons and the size of the two respective groups is, of course, not set in stone.
The first of these two groups consists of seven clubs which theoretically fight it out for the top seven spots and will not be involved in a relegation battle whilst retaining their place within that elite. Dropping out of the top seven in an isolated season can happen of course but structurally those seven are currently a separate group from the rest of the league.
The second group of 13 clubs can all be relegated but can also occasionally finish in the top seven. The homogeneity of this group potentially makes the term “mid-table team” redundant as there is so little difference between them that the idea of a structural mid-table team has all but disappeared, that is if it ever existed. After all, as @jameswgrayson pointed out to me, clubs are either attempting to get into Europe or they are trying to avoid relegation. No club has the goal of finishing mid-table.
So, what use is all of this? Well, this blog is all about getting away from the idea that league standings and individual results are telling us the whole story. Splitting the league up in this way provides more insight into what is really going on than the Premier League table at this stage of the season. Here are a few highlights after 19 matches which will be expanded upon in subsequent posts on this subject:
- Manchester City are the best of the Superior 7 in matches against fellow members of that elite group. However, their 15 points from six matches are skewed by the fact that five were at home and only one away.
- Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton and Liverpool have all achieved similar points from their matches against the Superior 7, but are averaging between just 1.1 and 1.5 points per match. Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are even worse than this.
- Arsenal are the best of the Superior 7 in matches against the Threatened 13, dropping only 5 points in 13 matches. Manchester City are the worst, taking only 2/3 of the available points from these fixtures.
- Newcastle are the only one of the Threatened 13 to have taken more than a point per match in their fixtures against the Superior 7.
- Fulham are the only one of the Threatened 13 to have not taken a single point from the Superior 7 this season.
- Sunderland are the worst of the Threatened 13 in fixtures against the other 12 clubs in this group, taking just 8 points in 12 matches. However, hope for them lies in the fact that ¾ of these matches were away from home.
There is a great deal more to say on this, both in terms of the current season and historical seasons including why the so-called six pointers at the top are probably not as important as people think. Come back here for much more once the 20th round of Premier League fixtures has been played.