These things even themselves out over the course of the season. Two – nil is the most dangerous lead in football. That was a great cross, it’s just a pity nobody could get on the end of it.
What do the above have in common? Is it that they belong on a list of football pundits/commentators’ most reproduced clichés? Of course it is. But the thing about clichés – especially in football – is that they usually fall under one of two categories.
A) They are blatantly and painfully obvious. See “it’s a game of two halves” (smacks head against wall) , or “it’s only half time” at the end of the first leg of a two legged affair. Duh. Perhaps when it comes to being obvious, the word painful is more appropriate than blatant.
B) They’re just not true. It is under this category that the aforementioned clichés fall. I’m sorry, but luck does not even itself out over the course of the season. It rarely does. And 2-0 is not the most dangerous lead in football. 1-0 is. I understand the thinking behind the 2-0 theory, but basic math trumps psychology in this instance. And a cross is only a great cross if somebody is on the end of it. A cross with no connection may be great technique, but when was the last time the Sky Sports vidi-printer listed a score as Nottingham Forest 1, Derby County almost 1.
So what does all this crap have to do with Chelsea? Well, another one of the pundit’s club’s favourite clichés is that the best time to play Manchester United (or any of the other so called Big 4 for that matter) is after their European exertions. At first glance, this falls somewhere in between our two categories. Okay, it sounds obvious – not to the extent of labeling it blatant, and it’s certainly not painful – but a bit of simple research could prove it false, right? Well that’s how I spent my Wednesday night. With what is potentially a title deciding clash at Old Trafford this weekend between United and the Blues, I have looked back over every United fixture since the turn of the 21st century (in footballing terms, that is the 2000/2001 calendar season) that has fallen immediately after a European encounter. The results were interesting to say the least.
Since being sent packing from the Champions League by Real Madrid – or more accurately, Raúl – in 2000, Man Utd have played 112 fixtures the weekend after a European showdown. Of these 112 fixtures, they have the following record:
Using the life-saving mathematical procedure of “rounding off to the nearest whole number”, that gives the a winning percentage of 53%, while they have drawn 23% and lost 24% of these proceeding games.
Considering the club’s record in English football since the turn of the millennium, these figures just don’t look right. So let’s apply them to a full Premier League season. How would United have performed had they maintained these percentages throughout both last season and the current term? That is, where would they have finished in the league had they played every game like they do after a European tie? Let’s see.
Warning: Maths ahead.
There are 38 games a season for each team. We have already calculated that, had United played every game after a European gameweek, they would have won 53%, drawn 23% and lost 24% of their games.
Won: 38 x 0.53 = 20.14 (we’ll round that down to 20)
Drawn: 38 x 0.23 = 8.74 (this becomes 9)
Loss: 38 x 0.24 = 9.12 (this also becomes 9)
So, we see that last season they would have won 20 games, drawn 9, and lost 9. This equals 38 games – a full Premier League season. Mathematical win! So where would this have left them?
4th Place, on 69 points – 6 points ahead of Everton in 5th, but 3 adrift of Arsenal in 3rd. If we apply the same percentages to this enthralling season so far – that is, 32 games – we get the following:
Won: 32 x 0.53 = 16.96 (or 17)
Drawn: 32 x 0.23 = 7.36 (or 7)
Loss: 32 x 0.24 = 7.68 (or 8)
This would see United on 58 points for the current campaign, putting them right in the middle of the excruciating 4th place battle that is current underway (which, in this fantasy situation, now becomes a 3rd place battle as United no longer occupy the top of the table). They would be level with Spurs, and 2 points ahead of Man City, although both teams would have a game in hand over them.
I think it’s fair to say that these positions are not representative of the current Man Utd team and how they perform in the league over the course of a season. So we have identified that they do indeed under-perform after a European game. But let’s get more specific to the week that’s in it. They have just been beaten 2-1 by Bayern Munich. It’s not often they lose in Europe, so how does this affect their next performance?
Well, on the 16 occasions United have lost in Europe and played a domestic game (either league of cup), they have won 7 times, drawn 3 times, and lost 6 times.
To make this analysis more “Big 4” specific, let’s also look at the amount of times they have played another member of the Big 4 after a European tie. Of the 27 times they have played Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool after they have played in Europe midweek, things get slightly more alarming. 9 wins, 4 draws and 14 losses. They have lost more than half of these clashes, and dropped points in 66% of them (granted, a draw this weekend would not be a disaster and would still leave them with their destiny in their own hands).
So now let’s combine the above two filters – how have Man Utd perform in a tie against one of the Big 4 immediately after they have lost in Europe. The sample size gets much smaller (to the point where it may become irrelevant) at 3 games. That is, United have only played Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool 3 times after they have lost in Europe. And the percentages don’t make for good reading for United fans either. Of those 3 games, they have drawn 1 and lost 2.
Of course, having said all of this, we all know football rarely comes down numbers and statistics. Given the magnitude of this weekend’s fixture, you could easily make a case for all previous form going out the window. While this article argues the point of one particular cliché, it is firmly acknowledged that there is one over-ruling cliché that is king in football. It is a cliché we have borrowed from our American counterparts and their national sport. It is a cliché that is in the blood of every underdog every time they step onto that grass.
It is “any given Sunday“.