“The prediction business is always risky, while the assessment occupation has less peril.”
With the arrival of the international break, the premiership has an off week. The league is preparing to wind down with all but two of the teams having eight remaining games (Portsmouth and Man United have the game in hand).
Known as the “run in,” “business end,” “home stretch,” and other synonymous terms, the conclusion of the season will be worth watching.
Instead of looking forward, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back and assess what each team would have thought if they knew that they would be in their existing spot in the standings.
The tact is this: If, at the beginning of the season, team management was offered to be in the current position in the table, would they take it or leave it?
1. Manchester United: Take it. All Sir Alex needs to know is that his destiny rests in his own hands and he will take it every time. Of course, he would wish for more, but a one-point lead with a game in hand would be enough for anyone, even Sir Alex.
2. Liverpool: Take it. Say what you will about Liverpool and their aspirations, but this is the closest they have been to the premiership title at this point in the season in a long time. Had they refused this position at season’s start, I would have countered by saying Rafa and the scousers are all suffering from delusions of grandeur.
3. Chelsea: Leave it. The only thing that would satisfy the leadership at Stamford Bridge is a title. Having no control of their destiny would never be agreed to. They would have been more than willing to see how things would play out rather than be in their current position.
4. Arsenal: This is a tough one. The initial response would be that there is no way Mr. Wenger would accept the current position. But to really think that he had the squad to win the title would be demented to say the least. The realistic ambition for this squad was a Champions League spot, and any more would be a bonus and that is exactly where Arsenal lies. But I think Wenger would be more than willing to gut it out than accept the current position. Leave it.
5. Aston Villa: Take it. Martin O’Neill’s desire has been clear from day one: improve the squad and break up the big four. With eight games to go, he is three points off the pace of achieving the disruption of the established order and has definitely improved the squad.
6. Everton: Leave it. David Moyes would be more than willing to take his chances through the course of the season than to be satisfied with what is typically a UEFA (now Europa) spot in the EPL table; this is routine for them and this is a hungry club. Everton aspires to a Champions League spot, and anything less is simply another lost opportunity. After all, they were the last team to see Champions League play outside the big four.
7. Wigan: Take it, and never look back! One of the overachievers of the season, Mr. Bruce probably has not had his feet touch the ground in quite a while. Had he been told he would be a serious candidate for Europe with eight games to go, he would have had the messenger’s head checked.
8. West Ham: Leave it. I think the brass at Upton Park had unrealistic expectations from the get-go and were thinking of a top 5 finish. Alan Curbishley was the man to get them there, and they were high on hope, but in reality they still lacked the on field personnel. Thus, the exit of Curbishley. All that aside, Zola has done a more than credible job, and the Hammers are overachieving as it is.
9. Fulham: Take it and get away faster than Mr. Bruce and the folks at Wigan. There is no doubt that the memory of escaping relegation by Danny Murphy’s late heroics in the final game of the previous campaign was still fresh in the minds of the Fulham faithful. To offer Roy Hogdson survival in the premiership would have been snatched faster that the stone from Grasshopper’s master. And at the magical 40-point mark already, they probably have done just that.
10. Manchester City: Leave it. Mark Hughes did not leave Blackburn to finish in a position lower than what he was used to at Ewood Park. With big money come big ambitions and expectations, and sitting in 10th and closer to relegation than Europe would not have been anticipated or accepted.
11. Tottenham: Leave it. Anything other than a Champion’s League spot would not be acceptable. Spurs spent heavily and frequently, and Mr. Ramos was going to do the job that Martin Jol just could not finish. Harry Houdini has come in and saved them from relegation, and they are already deeming the season a disappointment, and rightly so!
12. Bolton: Take it. When Big Sam left, the expectation barometer lowered from a place in Europe to a place in the premiership. Had Gary Megson been told that in all likelihood that he would have to get six points from eight games to avoid the drop, he would have asked where he should sign to see that it was done.
13. Hull City: Take it. Getting into the premiership via the playoff was heady stuff for the Tigers, and just the thought of playing in the top flight was being seen as an unlikely, but worthy undertaking. Much like Bolton, tell Phil Brown that he would be four points above the drop and probably needing seven points from eight games and he would have broken the hand of the offerer from shaking it too long and hard.
14. Sunderland: Leave it. There is no way Roy Keane and Niall Quinn (with Roy Keane as manager) would have said being in the bottom half was a position they would accept. Keane’s will, personality and summer spending were enough to have loftier expectations than that of survival and that is just what they are barely achieving.
15. Portsmouth: Leave it. Remember the last game they played before this season was the FA Cup Final victory at Wembley and there were European nights to come at Fratton Park. To offer a position three points above the relegation mire would have been an insult or at the very least, laughable. Some things are not so funny.
16. Stoke City: Take it. Mr. Pulis and his Potters have had much to do this season, but I am convinced that the expectations for them after 30 games in the top flight would have been dismal. The fact that they are not even in the relegation zone has them inspired to see it out and just offering Stoke a ghost of a chance in the beginning would have had a positive reception.
17. Blackburn: Leave it. Mr. Hughes is certainly a tough act to follow, but the Guv’nor surely was capable of keeping this perennial top half club far from the mire of relegation. The deliverer of the offer of 17th would have been drawn and quartered throughout the four corners of Lancashire.
18. Newcastle: Leave it. Disastrous, calamitous, diabolical, and on and on. Here is a fact, other than the big four, Newcastle is the only club from the premiership to have appeared in the Champions League more than once in the 21st century. How the mighty have fallen.
19. Middlesbrough: Leave it. While this club has never suffered delusions of grandeur, it certainly would have expectations beyond being among the bookmaker’s favorites to be dropped. Survival has always been at the forefront of Boro ambitions, but with a 10-year run in the top flight, any talk of being five points from safety would have been scoffed at.
20. West Brom: Leave it, no team would accept the base of the table and eight points from survival (except maybe 07/08 Derby County). Why not play and see where the chips land, what have they got to lose? The Baggies and Tony Mowbry have at least made an attempt to play the game and not get in the fetal position (play for 0-0) at every opportunity.
So when the EPL Genie comes along with his crystal ball and makes an offer, I would recommend that genuine and realistic expectations guide those who have to make the decision.
Eight matches are left and all is to play for.