The early exchanges in the Premier League this season have set up, what looks like, one of the most competitive championships in years. A case can be made for four or five genuine title contenders, while the race for Champions League qualification has up to seven realistic contenders. It is this race that I will focus on.
This post is inspired by a good friend of mine (and Manchester United fan) who recently said “I’d take 4th this season and a decent Champions League run”. This may sound counterintuitive, but fourth place has now almost become the ‘second’ best place to finish, with the race for fourth almost as exciting as the title race itself.
The race for '4th spot' has existed since 2002 when English teams were offered an additional Champions League place by UEFA (via a qualification route). The table below presents data on the Premier League Table from 2002 to 2013 and the points accumulated by the top five teams.
The average number of points required for 4th place between 2002 and 2013 has been 69 with a standard deviation of 4.58. Only Tottenham have managed to accumulate 69 points or more and not qualify for the Champions League.
In 2012 the north London club finished 4th on 69 points (marked in yellow) but were denied a place in Europe’s premier club competition when Chelsea won the 2012 tournament but finished outside the top four. Last season, Spurs managed to win a massive 72 points but still failed to qualify. In fact, 72 points would have been enough for Spurs to finish 3rd in four previous seasons between 2002 and 2013!
Liverpool have qualified with the least number of points. In 2004 the Merseyside club managed just 60 points. Amazingly, the Reds went onto win the trophy in Istanbul the following May and qualified for the 2005 – 2006 tournament automatically, despite finishing just 5th in the Premier League on 58 points (marked in yellow). Their Merseyside rivals Everton qualified fourth that year with just 61 points. Liverpool also have the honour of holding the highest 4th place finish, accumulating 76 points during the 2007 – 2008 season.
If 40 points are required to stay up, 70 points will get you into the Champions League. I'm predicting the highly competitive nature of the Premier League this season will see a drop in the points need for fourth. My guess is 67. What's yours??