Top of the League, and That’s How We Like It

By
Updated: April 15, 2015

Picture: it’s 20 games into the season. Chelsea and Man City are entering the second half of the season absolutely and perfectly level, in terms of points, goal difference, goals scored, and goals against. It has taken Man City winning seven games in a row late in the year to make up a points gap that had opened up, but that won’t matter going into 2015. We have a genuine two horse race on our hands.

Fast forward: it’s April 14. Chelsea are now twelve points clear of Man City (with a game in hand to boot), who have fallen to fourth, and are looking over their shoulder at Liverpool, who are as close to them as Man City are to third-placed Man Utd. Arsenal have had a very strong 2015, and have charged up to second, but they are still seven points behind Chelsea, and like everyone else in the top half of the table, have played one more game than Mourinho’s boys.

People would argue

that Man City’s collapse has been shocking, and certainly four losses in their last six is surprising from the defending champions. But there’s something more out of the ordinary here: Chelsea’s consistency.

Let’s take a quick look at Chelsea’s results in the EPL this season so far:

chelsea results

I’ve color coded the results column to help make it more visual. Blue for a win, yellow for a draw, and red for a loss. Of most interest is that Chelsea have only not-won more than one game in a row once all season, in the draw-loss combo away to Southampton and then away to Tottenham, right around the turn of the new year. For the entire rest of the season, they’ve avoided any extended dry spells in terms of points, always recovering from a disappointing result with a win. Now, that’s not to say that they’ve looked good all season. In fact, aside from the comprehensive and resounding victory at Swansea, I would go so far as to say that Chelsea haven’t looked particularly good on the pitch since about December. But that doesn’t matter come the end of the season, does it? What matters is points, and Chelsea have done a truly excellent job at getting those.

In fact, let’s take a look at the season’s results for our three nearest competitors in the league:

  • Arsenal – W DDD W DLD WWW L WW L W D WW L WWW L WWWWWWWW
  • Man Utd – LDD W L WW DDL WWWWWW D W DDL WW D W L WWWWWW
  • Man City – WW LDD WWW L W D WWWWWWW D W DLD D WW L W L W LL

Arsenal have been excellent in 2015, and are currently in the middle of an eight-game winning streak, which is their longest in over a decade. In fact, they’ve won 15 of their last 17 games, with the other two results being losses. The beginning of the season, however, paints a very different picture. They won only 2 of their first 8 games, and had accumulated three losses already before entering their hot streak (Chelsea have only lost two all season), during which time they also added two more. Now, I’m not bringing this up to be critical of Arsenal. They’re a very good team, and the EPL is an incredibly difficult league to play in. You expect to lose points and have difficult spells over the course of a season. Manchester United started off the season in

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even worse form, winning only 3 of their first ten, and having two losses and two draws from their first five games. Again, Manchester United are a very good team, as shown by their two separate six game winning streaks (one of them currently ongoing), but you just expect that to happen over the course of the year. In that regard, Man City’s 2015 is actually not that surprising. Even some of the best teams in the league have difficult spells. It’s only natural.

But not Chelsea. Not this year. See, winning the EPL is really hard. Slip up for only a little while, and you go from dead-even tied for first, to fourth and looking over your shoulder, in the blink of an eye. Chelsea, meanwhile, beat Burnley 1-3 on the first day of the season, in a game that featured one of the nicest goals of the year (that Fabregas assist though!), and they haven’t slipped up or looked back since.

In fact, here’s two shocking stats for you, courtesy of a recent Twitter conversation I had with Paul Carr of ESPN: with the exception of GW 2, when Tottenham briefly took over first place on goal difference (Chelsea were level on points), Chelsea have been at or tied at the top of the table for the entire rest of the season. Further, if they hold onto their lead at the top, which all the best predictive models have them at about ~97% likelihood to do so, then they will have spent a staggering 274 days atop the EPL table, good for the all-time Premier League record. For a bit of comparison, last year’s champions spent only 15 (!) days at the top of the table, and the previous record is Manchester United’s 1993/94 title-winning season with 262 days at the top.

In the Olympics, a lot of the competitions are often scored not only on execution but on degree of difficulty as well. Maybe Chelsea haven’t looked great in a lot of games. Maybe they’ve been squeaking out results. But the level of difficulty in achieving such a staggering level of consistency of results over the course of a season is ridiculous, and I don’t really think that we’ve taken the time to appreciate it enough.

So appreciate it. And KTBFFH!

This piece has been contributed by Oscar Puente, a Chelsea fan since Michael Ballack joined the club in 2006. Oscar hails from New York City, and is a mathematician and economist in his regular life. You can find him on Twitter @footiefromafar.

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