Printing football league tables after one match is a nonsense

Though the top four – Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool – has a familiar ring to it, publishing a Premier League table this early in the season is plainly daft

League tables after only one match has been played are a complete joke, aren’t they? I’m sure that when I was in short trousers there was some sort of voluntary agreement among newspapers that tables would only start to be printed three matches into the season, when supporters of each club could take a look at what happened to the theoretical maximum of six points.

That’s not a typo. Back in the days when England were a decent bet to do well at World Cups, two points was all you received for a league victory.

Newspapers were generally the only place to look for league tables – the internet was still to be invented, tablets were what you took for headaches etc – and you could rely on the games played column showing the same number for each club. Three games into the season everyone would have played three games, quite possibly all with three o’clock Saturday afternoon kick-offs, although there was normally a midweek round of fixtures early on to take advantage of the still-bright nights and appetite for football’s return.

That surely is a better arrangement than waiting all weekend for Burnley and Chelsea to get under way with a Monday night game, then contemplating a Premier League table that shows eight clubs joint bottom with no points.

All right, if you insist on being pedantic Burnley and Newcastle are actually joint bottom with a goal difference of minus two (and if you want to get really pedantic the Alan Pardew’s side are bottom on goals scored). The other six first-day losers are fractionally better off due to only going down by a single-goal margin. Of those three scored, three did not, and the only thing between those trios at the moment is alphabetical ordering, which confirms such a premature table ought to be laughed at rather than pored over, though I must admit the present standings allow a certain amount of – equally premature- satisfaction.

If you tipped Chelsea to be champions and Manchester City to be runners-up, as I did, along with Crystal Palace, QPR and Burnley to go down, everything looks all right with the world. It probably won’t last, and neither will the adulation currently being heaped on the head of Cesc Fábregas – my suggestion for player of the season – but whatever happens over the next eight months at least I can argue I was not completely wrong the whole of the time.

Easily resisting the temptation to cut out the league table and paste it in a book for safe keeping – an old habit of Bill Shankly’s apparently, though he would not have been able to do it after just one match – let us see if the new Premier League standings have anything else of (in)significance to reveal.

Six of the eight first-day losers did so at home, or to put the same stat another way, only two clubs began the season with a home win. Is this going to be a new trend? Doubtful.

Two of the first-days losers were newly promoted clubs – Burnley would never have been expected to beat Chelsea though Hull’s result at Loftus Road was more of a worry for the Hoops – while Manchester City and Tottenham were always likely to have more firepower than Newcastle and West Ham respectively. That just leaves the two most surprising results, Swansea’s win at Old Trafford and Aston Villa’s success at Stoke. Yet Manchester United are clearly in the same turmoil now as they were last season, the arrival of Louis van Gaal has not yet altered that, and Swansea (in the FA Cup) were one of eight clubs to win at Old Trafford last season, actually nine if you count Sunderland’s League Cup success on penalties.

Garry Monk’s side appears to have all the organisation, guile and team spirit that United presently lack, so perhaps the outcome was not all that surprising. Villa’s win at Stoke was more of a shock considering how dire Paul Lambert’s team were last season, yet that campaign too got off to an unexpectedly good start with a 3-1 victory at Arsenal. Conclusion: not a new trend. Just a trick of the fixture list.

The top four – Chelsea, City, Arsenal and Liverpool – already looks the way it might do at the end of the season, and in the right order. There’s no denying it. Predictions of a more-open, five- or six-way challenge this season were largely predicated on Manchester United sticking their noses back into the mix in no uncertain manner. It is already clear after a mere 90 minutes that may not happen through an imperious click of Van Gaal’s fingers.

The problems beneath the surface last season are still there, and even United supporters are fearful for the future, unsure what to do next. Gary Neville has advised his old club not to panic buy in the next two weeks. For some reason every United purchase of the last couple of years could be described as a panic buy, with the arguable exception of Ander Herrera, who made such a low-key debut on Saturday he was hauled off in favour of Marouane Fellaini, the original PB. What Neville thinks United should do instead is unclear. Don’t buy and keep losing? Or just panic?

Tottenham and Everton are traditionally supposed to get a mention in connection with breaking into the top four, though neither got off to the most spectacular start on Saturday and both will become bogged down with Europa League commitments later in the season. Conclusion: top four unlikely to change between now and the end of the season.

No one has actually played anyone yet, all the fixtures so far have pitted top half teams against bottom half teams, apart from that bit in mid-table where there were a couple of draws. A glance at the table shows this to be true, though of course that is the trouble with producing tables after one match. Had Southampton won at Anfield, as by all accounts they could have done, they would be in the top half now with Liverpool towards the bottom.

At least the next round of fixtures, which include Everton v Arsenal and Manchester City v Liverpool, should provide more reliable pointers about how 2014-15 might end up. Until then, as a letter to the editor from a Mr Robin Nicholas of Surrey in Wednesday’s Guardian points out, “newspapers only used to publish league tables after at least three games had been played. To print them after one game is daft”.

Conclusion: couldn’t agree more. Please disregard everything you have just read on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

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