Thursday, 8 May 2014

Home and Away: A different way

You can always rely on Football League Review. The match-day programme insert seen by millions of football fans during the late-60's and early-70's regularly supplied a constant stream of news, opinions and features to get the average fan talking in-between weekend matches.

The remarkable thing about it was its ability to generate ideas for making the game better in some way. Whether it was the lack of goals being scored or the increase in player indiscipline, the Football League Review could always be relied upon to come up with suggestions both serious and silly.

One such idea that I stumbled upon recently centred on the exciting nature of those matches played in the European Cup, UEFA Cup and Cup-Winners Cup. The article in question suggested that the suspense created when clubs try to win a tie over two legs, home and away, could also be replicated in the Football League.

Though it admitted such a system would never materialise in reality, it frivolously suggested that the added dimension of having to 'do an aggregate double' over every opponent in the division would create an extra challenge. By only handing out two points for an aggregate win, teams would have to play to their very best from the first kick of the season to the last.

Naturally enough, the question came about: 'What would today's Premier League table look like if such a system had been adopted for 2013/14'? This being The Football Attic, it wasn't long before we crunched the numbers and came up with the answer.

To explain how the calculations were done, if Team A beat Team B 1-0 at home but lost to them 2-0 away, the aggregate score would be 2-1 to Team B thereby earning Team B three points. If the two teams were level at, say, 2-2 after both 'legs', the away goals rule would determine who picked up the points in much the same way as it determines the winner of a European tie. If both teams couldn't be separated after applying the away goals rule, in our system we'd give both teams one point.

In general, there are many similarities between the real table (as it currently stands) and the one we created based on aggregate scores, but a closer look highlights some interesting details.

The 2013/14 Premier League table and 'Aggregates' table
after 37 matches

To begin with, there's the race for the title. When the final round of matches takes place next weekend, Man City will have a two point lead over Liverpool and will enter their match at home to West Ham knowing that a point will be sufficient to retain the trophy. In our table, both Liverpool and Man City will take to the field level on points.

With a 3-0 victory against West Ham already under their belts from earlier this season, Man City would have to beat them again - even if it's just a 1-0 win - to be certain of securing the title. Liverpool, meanwhile, would have to win at home to Newcastle and hope that West Ham could inflict a draw or defeat on Man City.

At the other end of our table, Cardiff and Fulham are both destined for relegation as in real life, but Norwich, Sunderland and West Brom would all go into the last day's play knowing they could face the drop too. As in real life, The Baggies have the advantage of possessing a better points total and goal difference than their fellow strugglers, so their Premier League fate would seem fairly secure in our system. A look at the remaining fixtures confirms this, with Norwich needing to (at the very least) cancel out the 4-1 defeat they had at the Emirates Stadium back in October, while Sunderland would have to do more in getting a reverse on their 4-0 loss at Swansea. Needless to say the more goals Norwich, Sunderland and West Brom scored, the better the chance of their survival. Not exactly fair for them, but for the neutral bystander, potentially very entertaining to watch.

So it's fair to say that under the 'aggregate win' system, things would be tantalisingly less cut and dried going into the last day of the season as they are in real life. That, in turn, begs the question "Which clubs have been the best and worst this season for 'doing the aggregate double' over their opponents?"

Unsurprisingly, the best teams were Liverpool and Man City who both had aggregate victories over 16 of the 18 teams they've played twice so far this season. Chelsea are third on 14 and Tottenham are fourth with 13. At the other end of the scale, Fulham have managed aggregate wins over just two clubs - Aston Villa and Norwich - while Cardiff scored three (against Fulham, Norwich and West Brom).

And finally, you might be wondering what the biggest aggregate victory was in the Premier League 2013/14? Why that would be Man City's whopping 11-1 win over Tottenham (6-0 at the City of Manchester Stadium, 5-1 at White Hart Lane).

So there you go - a way of adding a little more excitement (to say nothing of confusion and complexity) to your average league season. Definitely one to file under 'Too convoluted', but it certainly has the potential to add a bit of pep to some otherwise mundane matches.


  1. Couldn't Man City lose 2-0 to West Ham, and still win 3-2 on aggregate?

    1. Correct... but if they lost 3-0 to West Ham, they'd only receive 1 point which could allow Liverpool to win the title (albeit after a high-scoring victory over Newcastle). I think that's right! :)