Pat Nevin: Does it all add up?

Chelsea legend Pat Nevin is developing a new pastime when looking at the Premier League fixtures ahead, as he explains in this week’s column…

 

Do you ever have one of those days when you sit in front of your computer, start looking something up and you then disappear into an internet vortex?

Suddenly two hours have passed without you really noticing it and when it ends you think, ‘What on earth happened there?’ I tend to do it now and again with music videos on YouTube and it would be just as easy to get lost inside the Chelsea website. One minute you are checking out videos of the first team’s recent goals and then all of a sudden, you spot a piece on Gianfranco Zola and there you are two hours later engrossed in what the kids in the Under-18s are doing.

I got lost in another vortex the other day and it was a set of calculations about our chances of winning the league, or simply finishing in the top four which is the first priority.

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I started with a quick look at the number of points that it takes to win the Premier League. Leicester did it last season with 81 points, so with a current haul of 49 points to our name; we would only need another 33 out of the last 54 on offer to beat that. That is 11 wins form the last 18 games. I suddenly felt pretty confident, then I realised the error or one of the errors in my thinking. Leicester won it with an unusually low number of points of course.

Back to the desktop calculator and indeed the drawing board. A better statistic would be the average of the past 10 years of Premier League winners. Suddenly that is more like 86.6 points, which would round up to 87. That is getting very close to 13 wins needed from the last 18 games. It can be done but it is harder and this is of course the more likely scenario. I should have got out of my little arithmetical dream world then and there but no, I was lost and swirling downward in a mathematical maelstrom.

I started looking at what it would take for the others to reach that magical 87-point figure. Well I have been extolling the virtues of the Manchester United squad lately but on closer inspection, they would need to win at least 16 of their last 18 games to get to the magic number, or average number that wins Premier League titles if you are going to be pedantic about it. It is as they say in all the best managerial interviews, ‘A big ask.’ Actually do they say that anymore? I have noticed that particular part of football speak has slowly faded from the top level of the game. New jargon has come into replace it of course, but I feel I am straying into another column for the future now, I’ll get back to you on that one.

Back to trying to figure out who is going to win the league. I will not continue to drag you down with me, as I researched the relative chances between Man City and Arsenal, while always trying to factor in the effect of European ties on the following fixtures for both sides. It got messy and that is of course the crux of the matter, it does get messy. If the Blues play the way we did against Spurs between now and the end of the season and not the way we played in the 13 games previously, then a title celebration is less likely and that is about all the certainty we can have on the matter.

It is odd though, because as a player I never really considered these sorts of calculations because I instinctively knew everything could change so quickly in terms of form and fortune. You felt the mass of variables during one 10-minute period of one game and as such, seriously predicting a whole bunch of games featuring 20 different teams did feel rather silly. It has however given me one little bit of satisfaction. If a team other than Chelsea is going to win the Premier League, they are going to have to go on a spectacular run of wins. There is very little room for error if you are any of the top six sides, except at the moment for Chelsea. The breathing space is still there but it could well get constricted which is why this weekend’s game at Leicester is so vital, in fact one of the most important games of the season.

If Chelsea could win this one against an improving Foxes team, Hull are next before Liverpool at Anfield. Before we face the Reds, Klopp’s men will have played Man United and Pochettino’s Spurs will have faced Manchester City. Some, and maybe all of those teams will have dropped points in that short time. I know I am straying into the realms of maybes and what-ifs yet again, but if we beat Leicester the day before, it would be such a proverbial punch in the solar plexus to Liverpool and United in particular who play the next day. Those circumstances might just finish one of them off as a credible challenge.

I am going to try not to do any more calculations in my private time but instead, I am simply going to look at the side and how we are playing until things become a little clearer by the end of the month, I promise. Though I will be tempted like everyone else!

It would be remiss not to mention the departure of John Mikel Obi and of course Oscar the other week, both of whom have gone to China. They were two very different-styled midfielders that Chelsea fans will want to thank for their efforts over the years. Neither could be questioned on their commitment to the club during any game and as such they leave with everyone’s best wishes and thanks. 

As they leave Nathan Ake comes back into the fold. When he left on loan to Bournemouth it always looked like he would have more chance of a few starts there than at Chelsea, but his progression has been monumentally impressive in that short spell on the south coast. He joins us back at Cobham with the expectation he will get quite a few more opportunities for the first team from now on in. Of course there are top defenders in situ and a few including Brana, JT and Kurt Zouma not even in the side most weeks, but such is Nathan’s improvement it is not beyond the realms of possibility he could jump right to the front of the queue. After scoring three goals in eight league starts from centre back for The Cherries, let’s hope he has kept a few back for the Blues between now and the end of the season. A cheeky little winner at Leicester wouldn’t go amiss.