01 April 2013

Eight Games. Will 18 points be Enough?

A sincere and heart-felt congratulations to Chelsea for its 1-0 win over Man U, denying Sir Alex a least one trophy for the year and adding to Chelsea's already cluttered schedule. They'll now face a semifinal match on April 14th against Man City with a chance to play Millwall or Wigan for the FA Cup. While the date for that match is yet to be decided, the semifinal displaces Chelsea's match with Spurs and will have to be rescheduled. With both teams still competing in the Europa League, it's hard to find a convenient timewell, convenient for them. The more matches each team plays, the better it gets for us. Fatigue, distraction, irritationfine with me.

Just as importantly, if not more so, is how favorable our remaining schedule is. Aside from our match against Everton, we don't face any teams with a lot to prove or achieve. QPR looks set for relegation, Man U looks set to win the Prem, and the others are just kind of there, mid-table, nothing much to gain or lose. Given Man U's lead in the Prem, it's conceivable but unlikely that we'll face a squad that is not at full-strength or not at full intensity, if not both. That's nothing to count on or look forward to, of course. Simply put, we really should expect to collect a minimum of 18 points between now and the end of the season, which could put us at 71, a point ahead of what we finished with last year, which was good enough for 3rd. We're not counting the matches against Everton or Man U at this point because these are more difficult to predict with confidence. Is it rash to expect us to defeat West Brom, Norwich, Fulham, QPR, Wigan, and Newcastle? I should hope not. Frankly, if we can't take maximum points from each of them, we're not a top-four team anyway.

Further strengthening our position, each of the other teams faces other top-four contenders three times (remember that the chart above doesn't include the postponed Chelsea-Spurs match) Everton has four such matches. It's therefore a guarantee that certain teams are going to have to drop points. It's impossible (code for "I'm not smart enough") to assess which outcomes work in our favor, but, in general, I root for the tie. Yes, each team picks up a point, or put another way, both teams drop two. For example, in the Everton-Spurs match, an Everton win puts them ahead of us, if only briefly, and this further complicates the top-four picture. If Spurs win, they strengthen their hold on 3rd, potentially enough to cancel St. Totteringham's Day. A tie frustrates both teams' aspirations and blunts their momentum. One alternate to this is to hope that Everton beats Spurs and Chelsea but drops points where they shouldn't. However, instead of hoping for them to pick up three points here and drop three there, it works to our advantage if our rivals to advance one meager point at a time while we amass three points at a time. Of course, this logic only applies when they're facing each other. When they face mid-table teams—Wigan, Sunderland, Fulham, and so on—we hope for the upset, of course.

Back to basic math. If we can pick up 18 points out the of remaining 24, we hit 71. We would then have to hope that Spurs drops seven points of their remaining 21. With matches against Everton, Man City, and Chelsea, plus the Europa League to distract them, that's reasonable. Chelsea would have to drop eight of their 24 points. Between their FA and Europa League matches, facing Liverpool, Man U, Spurs, and Everton, along with the side-drama of Benitez's status, this feels even more likely than looking to Spurs to fail. On the other hand, I'm not averse to both teams stumbling out entirely. My ideal scenario? We seize third, Chelsea and Spurs implode, and Everton sneaks into the top four.

We're not quite masters of our own fate, at least, not yet. One Chelsea loss (could Sunderland, in an attempt at karma for what's been done to Diaby, upend them next week?) and we might have 4th place by the end of the weekend. West Brom, you're next on the list.