Some time ago, frustrated by the mainstream football media’s seeming inability to tell the truth in favor of a grand headline, I wrote an article shedding some light on common “football myths”. There was an inkling of demand for a second part, so here it is.
The media has never needed an excuse to hate on good old Rafa. Witness how his recent calm response to a question (when his voice never raised) was labelled as a ‘rant’ by all the broadsheets. Chelsea fans certainly don’t need a reason to hate the Spaniard, and admittedly with some reason. Benítez was brought in because Roberto Di Matteo never truly got Chelsea’s disparate parts humming together, trying to play Oscar, Eden Hazard, and Juan Mata together meant offensive and defensive sequences never truly synced.
Benítez has made Chelsea much more compact, also heavily rotating some of his most gifted play-makers. To some observers, this has made Chelsea boring, while reducing their effectiveness.
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As the table above shows, Chelsea are a lot of things, but boring isn’t one of them. They have scored the second most goals in the division, behind Manchester United. What’s more is that they consistently score well, there has been no change in their offensive potency under Benítez.
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What is confusing is that Chelsea’s defence (actually quite good under Di Matteo despite what the media would have you believe) has not changed under Rafa either. Not to say they’ve been bad, they concede less than everybody except Manchester City, but it begs the question, why was Benítez ever appointed? Nothing has changed, except the fans have become unspeakably angry. Rafael Benítez hasn’t made the club better, but in an atmosphere of poison he hasn’t made the club worse or more boring either. There are serious administrative issues at Chelsea and really that can only be traced back to one person, and he’s not Spanish.
How did this myth come about? Well, like most myths, it’s the media selectively making a huge deal out of certain results while ignoring those that disprove their view.
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Chelsea have put five past Southampton, four past Wigan, eight (8!) past Aston Villa, and four past Stoke under Benítez, but it seems like those results never happened. Most stories concerning Chelsea and Rafa are about the games where the side struggles. Scraping past Norwich or being held by Swansea.
If the last myth dealt with a media pariah this one deals with a media darling. Despite financially ruining two prominent and well-loved south coast clubs and being a high-profile tax dodger in a horrible recession, Harry Redknapp is still loved by the press. Having come into QPR and spent money just like he said he wasn’t going to, ‘Arry’s recently been talking up QPR’s chances for avoiding the drop.
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As the table above shows, the amount of points it’s taken to avoid relegation haven’t changed much over the years. On this evidence, QPR’s chances of avoiding the drop are slim to none, even accounting for the fact that they have a far stronger squad than most relegation battlers. From their current 0.71 points per game to be reasonably assured of avoiding the drop QPR are going to have to find some way to scrounge up at least 15 more points at 1.5 points per game. After being bottom dwellers for so long they have to suddenly play like a team challenging for European competition.
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What Harry Redknapp has done isn’t so much make QPR better, as make them harder to beat. He’s placed a premium on staying deep and narrow, trying hard not to lose games at the expense of the offense. And it’s worked, QPR have tripled their points per game under Redknapp. If they had employed this style from the beginning of the season they’d finish with around 40 points and most likely be safe. But now, when wins are needed and every draw sees you lose ground, being hard to beat isn’t enough.
This hasn’t seemed like Manchester United’s greatest season. Defensively they’ve seemed shaky, and the amount of times before the New Year that they had to mount improbably comebacks was far too high to suggest true title-winning quality. At times, it’s seemed that the Red Devils are on top of the table solely by default, because as bad as they’ve been, Manchester City have been worse. Are United worthy champions or not?
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There’s certainly an argument that City have lacked the hunger and desire this season that they showed in abundance last time out. They’re projected to be slightly worse defensively, and staggeringly 23 goals worse off offensively. But to say that Manchester United are champions by default is doing them a disservice.
Ferguson’s side is on pace for 96 points; Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea of 2004-05 currently are the Premiership’s best ever side, with 95 points. For all the times before January where United seemed to be clawing out results there have been times in 2013 that they’ve absolutely steamrolled the competition. They’ve dropped only 13 points all season, an amazing accomplishment even if they do tail away towards the end and miss out on breaking the overall top spot.
There is one caveat, while this is a Manchester United for the ages, it has to be said that the overall quality of the Premiership this season hasn’t been high. Despite Manchester United’s additions of the high-priced Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa, their projected offense has only increased by three goals from last season, and they’ve conceded almost ten more. Part of the reason that this United side are record-breaking is because it’s not just City that have been poor, so have the rest of the non-elite. Arsenal are projected to be six points worse than last year, Newcastle 25 points worse. Last year the gap between first and fourth place was 20 points, this season it’s projected to be 26. Last season’s fourth place Tottenham side got 69 points, this season Chelsea (currently in fourth), by all accounts enduring an underwhelming season, are projected for 71.
In 2004-5 Liverpool got fifth with 58 points, and Everton claimed fourth with 61. In 2002-03 there was only a 16 point gap between champions United and fourth Chelsea, 1998-99 saw a mere 12 points separate Manchester and Leeds. The gap between first and tenth last season was 42 points, ten years ago it was 33 between United and Tottenham. The league is getting richer, and the gap between the top clubs and the rest is growing. Furthermore, the gap between the really top clubs is growing further still. It takes more points to win the league now, but a lot more of those points are easier to get.
[box_light]All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.[/box_light]
I am currently a University student majoring in Economics and a budding football writer who is keen to examine statistical evidence to arrive at informed conclusions.
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