Now that Chelsea has secured their first title for 50 years, the assessments of how good they are can begin. Last week, The Insider was very critical of their performance against Liverpool in the Champions League; highlighting their lack of attackign options and reliance on the midfield to score goals. A closer look at the league table shows he may have a point. Despite having the highest points-per-game of any champion in the last decade, Chelsea have mostly achieved it against the bottom half. An incredible one draw shows a remarkable consistency, and both Chelsea and Arsenal are not just winning, but thrashing sides down the table.
But look at the top half performances and they are less dominant. Despite numerous complaints from Manchester United supporters, their performance against better opposition is comparable, if not superior, to Chelsea's. The problem for Chelsea, especially in light of games against Liverpool and - potentially - Milan in the Champions League, is a lack of goals against decent defence. 15 goals in 16 games puts them a very poor 10th in attacking terms against the top half. Where they have been outstanding in attack it has been on the back of perenially injured midfielders Arjen Robben and Damien Duff, rather than a quality striker.
However, in a league competition, Chelsea's strengths: consistency and a parsimonious defence are sufficient to lift the title. It remains for Arsenal and Manchester United to lift their game in those two areas if they are to challenge next season.
For the remainder though, a more worrying long term trend is emerging. This graph shows the points per season of each league position since the contraction.
At the very bottom it shows a marginal decline in the relegated sides - from high to mid 30s. Given the three sides likely to drop this season are the same three who came up there is something to the argument that the first division and the premier league are getting further apart. It should also be noted that the sides to survive in recent years have also had large supporter bases - such as Birmingham; similarly, it is Sunderland making a return next season.
The midpoint has remained roughly the same, at 50 points per season. However, the big change is occuring right above them as the mid-table gets closer to the European places. Articles lamenting the low quality of potential Champions League participants are correct. They are well placed because the league is so tight, rather than because of any particular quality. While the graph shows clearly how first and second are scoring more highly and more consistently, the graph is less clear on the other places because the fluctuate quite sharply. However, looking at the standard deviation of the points distribution at the top level shows it increasing from around 9 to nearer 13. In short, the top teams are going away even as the rest of the league gets more competitive.
Year on year the number of teams within 25 points of the top has gone: 8, 7, 9, 6, 4, 6, 5, 6, 2 and 2. Perhaps the last few years have been an anomaly, but the ability of mid table teams to challenge seems to be dropping, which is not a positive development. Not every team will get a fairy godmother in the guise of an oil-rich Russian oligarch to buy their way to the top.
2nd May, 2005 01:08:33