What a weekend.
All around the globe the narrative bots are going crazy: the mighty have fallen! the league has shifted, Moyes out!, Pellegrini out!, down the titans, up the little guy! United lost to West Brom, City lost to Villa, and even mighty Chelsea -- literally everyone's pick to win the league -- could only muster a draw against Tottenham.
Chelsea finish the weekend in 5th. Man City in 7th. And David Moyes' United stuck languishing in 12th place, even on points with Swansea, Stoke, Norwich, and Newcastle. Somewhere, in his secret lair, Sir Alex Ferguson has sent an encrypted message to the Queen saying: "fire that fool Moyes and bring back the gaffer!"
To borrow one of the most profoundly dead horse clichés of sports journalism: if the league ended to day Arsenal would win and for the first time in over 20 years Manchester United would not finish in the top four (you have to go back almost 25 years to find a year in which they finished as low as they are now in the table.
But, of course, the league doesn't end today. It goes for another 32 games. Months of changes, injuries, upsets, and surprises.
So should anyone panic? Well the answer is actually maybe.
In the past ten years the table after 6 weeks has been the same in the 38th week exactly 0% of the time. Not once has it accurately predicted how the league would end.
However, if we look only at the top four after 6 weeks we find two things that are surprising:
- For a decade, a team's position within the top 4 has been the same from week 6 to week 38 22% of the time.
- 67.5% of the time a team ended week 6 in the top 4, they went on to end the season in the top 4.
It's the second fact that is the most worrying for teams like City, Chelsea, and United. Because not only do most teams that end week 6 in the top 4 stay in the top 4, but half the time week 6 predicts 3 of the 4 teams, and once it's predicted all 4 of the teams.
That leaves three times in the past ten years that there have been two wild-card slots in the top 4 at this point in the season. If you go back another ten years the numbers are exactly the same.
So what does this mean? Well if the table looks like this after 6 weeks:
Then statistics suggest that at least two of those teams will remain in the top four at the end of the season.
Based on their squad strengths and depths, I'd put my money on Everton and Liverpool to fall below the rest.
But who knows?
A few injuries and Arsenal could slip away. A loss of concentration, a turned head, and Tottenham could be facing Europa league yet again.
But more importantly, history suggests there are only 2 slots left for United, Chelsea, and City.
In the past twenty years Manchester United has finished out of the top 4 exactly 0 times. City has finished 5th or below a total of 14 times, and Chelsea 12.
So who will be left out?