CHAMPIONS! Champions! Kings of the world. Fabulous Foxes.
Oh no, but wait! Ranieri’s Raiders have got off to a very… ordinary start to the season. Disaster. One-hit wonders. Let’s look how bad it is compared to the past two seasons:
Ough. Ouch. Yikes. Not only have they started this season worse than last year’s, but it’s even worse than 2014–15, when they were good contenders for the drop. Cash in those bets now, pals.
Obviously, this is ludicrous, and I’m just pulling your leg. We’re five games into a 38-game season so it’s not the time to be making any claims based on a handful of results.
Football pundits get a lot of stick, often deservedly, but we’re at a point where if you want to know anything about Leicester’s hopes then you do need to listen to them talk about how things are going with the players on the pitch.
But, since we’re here already, let’s put the start of the season into context.
Leicester actually started reasonably well in that dreadful/heroic 2014–15 season. Not great, but not badly. Being a point adrift at this point isn’t a problem.
What was the problem in 2014–15 is two long spells (games 5–18, 21–30) where Leicester kept, er, losing. I’ve extended the height on the chart above to make those plateaus starker.
The dashed line represents steady progress towards the magical 40 points to avoid relegation. (West Ham landed in the drop zone with 42 points in 2002–3, but that was unusual. Most of the time you need even fewer points; last season it was 38.)
Ideally you want to be well above that line (as Leicester were last season), or close enough to it that you don’t have to win seven games from your final eight (as in 2014–15). If we reorient the chart around that safety line, those plateaus suddenly look a lot more threatening:
I take an ultra-cautious “Just make it to 40” approach to football, and so for me two wins and a draw is not something to worry about — if repeated throughout those kind of performances would have had you finish just inside the top half of the table last season.
Obviously if you’re expecting Leicester to play like natural title contenders you’re likely in for a shock. We have a lot of external factors to thank for last season’s triumph.
Just before I finish, here’s a chart showing the fortunes of the bottom four teams in the 2015–16 season relative to a steady progression towards safety:
Villa, Norwich and Newcastle were all relegated — Sunderland have a dashed line because they just missed the drop in 17th place with 39 points.
Apart from Villa, who you can see galloping towards the exit marked “Championship,” the other teams performed roughly similarly. Norwich had a better start, but by the time they’d all played 26 games they were all a similar distance from where they should have been to ensure safety.
Going by their form earlier in the season, you really would have expected Norwich to stay up instead of Sunderland, who managed to claw their way back in the final third of the season.