It’s not in my character to say “I told you so,” but it actually is totally in my character and I told you so.
I abandoned my “countdown” weeks ago because there didn’t seem much reason to continue. Although Chelsea’s odds of pipping Liverpool into the final Top 4 spot slightly increased in the closing weeks of the season (and especially after defeating the Reds 1-0 at Stamford Bridge), it was always going to be an uphill climb for the Blues.
The win against Liverpool was Chelsea’s fourth on the trot, equalling their best run of the 2017/18 campaign. Liverpool’s best winning streak in the league was also “only” four matches. Tottenham once managed six wins on the trot, and United’s best winning streak ended at five. Simply, the best teams in the league, spare the mighty Manchester City, were likely to drop points every few matches.
With six games remaining and literally no margin for error, Chelsea were in deep trouble and the stats concurred. For most of the final run-in, Five Thirty Eight listed Liverpool’s odds of qualifying in the high 90’s, even over 99% at one point. After losing to Chelsea, that number dropped, appropriately, but still gave the Reds a 92% chance of qualifying through the league.
If Chelsea had won out instead of stumbling in the final two matches, they would have only equaled Liverpool’s 75 point tally, and with a far worse goal differential. And to even make it close, Liverpool had to go on one of their worst runs of the season, hampered by a sudden injury crisis and Champions League exertions.
Both teams dropped points 17 times over the course of the season. However, Liverpool only lost 5 matches, half as many as Chelsea’s 10. Being able to see out at least a draw in the others made up the 5 point margin by which Liverpool finished ahead of their London rivals.
As we know, Chelsea did not win out. We can argue whether Liverpool’s final day 4-0 romp over Brighton would have been as comfortable if Chelsea had won the penultimate game against Huddersfield. Or we could argue whether Chelsea would have shown up on the final day, instead of shitting the bed against Agent Rafa and Newcastle.
However, all of that is merely academic after the fact. And just as importantly, we could have had this thing sorted with a fluke goal against Chelsea, or competent refereeing against Stoke City and West Brom.
The point is, given the respective forms of Chelsea and Liverpool throughout 30+ games, it was perfectly reasonable to place big odds on Liverpool finishing ahead. In order to even make it a final day contest, Chelsea needed all the breaks to go their way, and in the end, it still would not have been enough to overcome the deficit.
The race for Top 4 was never going to be easy, or straight forward, and especially not with a deep Champions League run (which, let’s admit, no one would have predicted even a few months back). Even without advancing past the Round of 16, Manchester United and Tottenham had stumbles down the stretch. Spurs, in particular, only managed to sew up Champions League qualification in the second-to-last match.
Sure, it felt close down the stretch. It had the potential to be even closer than it was. It also had the potential for Liverpool to qualify with several games to spare. And now that it’s over, we can look forward to a chance to win the whole fucking thing, which is why we want to qualify to begin with. We can leave the “just happy to be there” feelings for the Spurs and Gunners of the world.