During the past ten seasons, the Premier League has been won by just three teams; Manchester United (5), Chelsea (3) and Manchester City (2) but you already knew that, didn’t you?
But if you are a Liverpool fan, besides knowing that your team hasn’t won the Premier League during those ten seasons, or the fifteen before that, how would you gauge your team’s performance during that time?
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Most of the talk, among football supporters, centres around league position and European qualification - especially champions league qualification.
Tune into the sports phone-ins, read the fans forums or have any sort of chat with a Liverpool supporter and the focus, apart from Daniel Sturridge’s dodgy lower limbs and a defence with more holes than a pair of fishnet stockings, will be league position.
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And with the exception of the 2013-14 SAS season, when Liverpool did a really good parody of the Titanic and the iceberg, Reds fans will use the numbers six, seven and eight, a lot.
That’s because those are their league positions from 2009 onwards, which is the measure that Liverpool supporters, as well as most sports journalists and commentators will use when assessing whether or not Liverpool have made progress under this manager or that manager.
The same is true of the remaining top six contenders who haven’t won the Premier League during that time; most notably Arsenal, Spurs and Everton.
Fans, pundits and commentators will base their opinion on a team’s progress on what could be argued is the cheap and easy league position observation.
However, as there is more than one way to skin a cat so there is more than one way to determine the progress, or lack of, made by a football team.
In the table, below, you will see Liverpool’s league performances listed since the 2005-06 season, not just in terms of points and league position but, crucially, as a percentage of the champions for each season.
Read on; stay with the article and allow me to explain
As someone who combines being a professional mathematician with writing about sport (and particularly football), it has always eaten away at me that professionals write about the progress of a team by comparing that team with itself.
Now, there is nothing wrong with that approach, but it only tells part of the story.
Comparing league positions, year on year, describes where a team is, relative to where they were a year ago or two years ago and so on, which is fine.
If a team finished eighth, two years ago and this season they finished fifth, you would say that team had improved.
But surely, if you are a fan of one of the ‘big six’, your hope is for your team to win the title, or mount a serious challenge, at the very least.
Which means that, although you might be superficially pleased that your team has moved up from eighth to fifth, would that change in league position mean that your team is any nearer to winning the title?
For a good example of this, take a look at Liverpool in 2005-06 and then 2006-07 and if we take things at face value then Liverpool finishing third in each of those seasons would be quoted as a good, consistent achievement.
Now look closer.
In the 2005-06 season, they were within 10% of the champions.
The following season they were 24% away from the champions.
Same league position, yes; but compared to the previous season, a million miles away.
Only someone with a very blinkered view, wearing extremely rose tinted goggles would argue that, in those two seasons, finishing third represented a consistent achievement.
Their league position suggests consolidation and consistency; their performance, relative to the champions, suggests backward steps. Big ones, too!
So, the table shows that, regardless of league position, there have been three seasons in the past ten years when Liverpool were close to the team who were the eventual champions.
In 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2013-14, Liverpool won at least 90% of the points accumulated by the teams who were crowned champions.
Another way of describing that would be to say, in terms of improvement needed to win the title, following those three seasons, Liverpool needed to improve by around 5% to 10%.
Overall, though, the table tells me that, typically, Liverpool achieve 79% of the points that the champions achieve each season.
Take out those three exceptional, freakish seasons and Liverpool’s average performance, relative to the champions, since 2005-06, drops to 68% which, if you are in any way associated with Liverpool FC, is an alarming statistic and a revealing one.
Hopes, dreams and aspirations are one thing but cold, harsh, statistical reality is something else and the cold, harsh, statistical reality for Liverpool FC is that, for the past ten years, regardless of ownership, spending and manager, they have performed at just over two-thirds of the level they aspire to and dream about, which is the long-awaited crowning as champions, once more.
Sure, there have been three seasons when they were blessed with world class talents such as Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez.
And maybe; just maybe, if they had been able to hold on to such prodigious talents for another season or two each time and add to them, they might well have reached the pinnacle they so desperately crave and covet.
And if this season’s average points count is anything to go by, which after 25 matches is now a statistically valid platform from which to make an end of season prediction, then Liverpool FC might just find themselves ending this season with one of the three worst returns of any season in the past ten.
Or, to put it another way, Liverpool FC will quite probably be starting the new 2016-17 season, under the shadow of their impressive new stand, with a bigger mountain to climb, if they are to break into the top four and mount a serious title challenge, than at any other time during the past ten years apart from at the end of the woeful 2011-12 season.
So, walk on with hope in your hearts, by all means, but make sure you keep an eye on the statistics because at the moment, relatively speaking, as far as Premier League aspirations go, it is all storm and very little golden sky.
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