Finding points between the couch cushions

We are almost 1/3 through the season (that will be the 60 minute mark of the Man City game) and things are...not great. Our injury list makes for worrying reading, our fans are forgetting that matches last over 90 minutes and our shiny new German manager has his first scuff mark courtesy of Crystal Skull Palace. We have Man City first up after the international break and they may just be getting their star striker back for that match. So yeah, ETW is not far off.

A glance at the table doesn't help matters much. We are currently sitting in 10th on 17 points, 7 off the top four and 9 off the top. Ewww. There is however, a small glimmer of hope; the fixture list is about to ease up. I've been tinkering with some data and trying to determine what the requirements and indicators of a top four campaign look like historically, then trying to extrapolate that out to predict what results we should be aiming for over the course of the season.

Basic premise: split the table into three categories. Cat 1 is the top 6 sides and Liverpool, Cat 2 is 8th through 14th, Cat 3 is the bottom 6. I've only gone back 6 seasons, but looking at how the top sides have performed home and away against these groups has given some interesting insight into what it takes to make top four. I've analysed Liverpool's results each year as well, to get an understanding of why we fall short.

General indicators;

  • Home form is the biggest indicator for winning a title. The best home side has won the title every year since at least 2009/2010.
  • No team has had fewer than 37 home points and made top four. No team has had more than 42 and missed out.
  • Strong performance against the best teams isn't required for top four, with the average PPG of 4th being just 1.29 against sides in the top 6.
  • By contrast, an average of over 2.2 PPG has been required against the mid-table and bottom 6 sides for a side aiming for top 4.
Liverpool's performance shows some anomalies from the sides around it, but also demonstrates some interesting patterns. We routinely outperform sides finishing above us when it comes to playing the top 6 teams. Only once in the past 6 seasons (12-13) have we been worse than 4th when it comes to playing the hardest opposition. By contrast, only twice have we been 4th or better against the mid-table, and 3 times against the bottom 6. Looking closer at this, we have averaged under 2PPG against the mid-table over the past 6 seasons, well short of the 2.2PPG required on all but one occassion (13-14). It is therefore fair to say that it is the mid-table battle that we are losing, and that is why we struggle to make the top 4.
So how are we fairing this season?
The top 6 are interesting, with City, Utd, Arsenal, Tottenham, Southampton and Leicester (!!!) currently sitting in that top bracket. We've played 4 (1H, 3A) for 3 points. Not bad given the away games played and only really needing a few wins to meet our target of 1.3PPG.
I've placed West Ham, Everton, Swansea, Crystal Palace, West Brom, Stoke and Chelsea (!!!) in the mid-table. From those, we've played 5 games (2H, 3A) for a total of 7 points (1.4PPG). We have yet to get a point at home against these sides, with all 7 coming away from Anfield.
Bottom 6 is the three promoted (B'mouth, Watford, Norwich) and the three most likely to drop (Sunderland, Villa, Newcastle). 3 matches, all at home, 7 points, 2.3PPG. So far so good, just need to get the points away as well.

So there we have it; we are losing the mid-table yet again. For Liverpool to have any chance at CL next season, or anytime in the future, we need to start turning over the mid-table. With 9 games remaining against these sides, we require 2.68PPG from those fixtures. That's 8 wins from now on. It's a huge ask, but one we are likely to need if we want to achieve our goals. Otherwise we are going to have to get the points against the hardest opposition, and that is not a position we want to place ourselves in. Even then, we would have to break with history to be playing for Big Ears in 16-17.

Let me know your thoughts and I will continue to add further seasons into my analysis to see if anything changes.

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