Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

One of the closest Premier League races in recent history

3 points separate 1st and 5th place. One loss, and you’ll be lucky not to drop out of the top four. 10 points separate 1st and 10th. A string of three losses, bad form, and you drop out of a European spot.

Figure 1.1 - Premier League Table after the first 12 matches.

I can’t take my eyes off of this competition. To compare it to the other Big 5 European Leagues:

  • Premier League: 3 points separate 1st and 5th
  • Ligue 1: 8 points separate 1st and 5th
  • Bundesliga: 9 points separate 1st and 5th
  • Serie A: 10 points separate 1st and 5th
  • La Liga: 10 points separate 1st and 5th

It is mid-November, and I’ve yet to watch one Girona match. I blame the Premier League for that. It’s hard to find time for the other leagues.

The bottom half of the table may be weaker, but with how close the table is at the top, almost every game is a must-watch. The teams in the top 10 should win against those in the bottom half, which makes those bigger matches must-wins. They are so important.

Figure 2.1 - Fixtures between week 11-20. Credit legomane_fpl

Fixtures will become more and more congested as we progress through December into January, especially when the FA Cup 3rd Round begins on Saturday, January 6, 2024.

Manchester City and Liverpool are the most prepared for this period and fit. They have the most experience knowing how to rotate their lineup with the 2-3 days between matches. Liverpool has the edge because they’re playing in the Europa League. They’ll have less motivation or need to go full strength into those mid-week matches.

Arsenal, like Newcastle, are new to the Champions League. Newcastle is ridden with injuries and already looking like a team plagued by fatigue. It’s only November. Arsenal may be able to rest mid-week because they are topping their Champions League group.

Arsenal’s entire season hinges on how swiftly they can adapt to their new squad dynamics, reliant on Bukayo Saka and William Saliba staying fit. Their fortune lies in Manchester United’s poor start to the season; United’s struggle and inability to contend for a top 4 spot increases Arsenal’s chances. However, sustained success may require ongoing luck as fatigue clashes with their inexperience.

I don’t think Newcastle have a chance at finishing top 4 with the squad in its current state due to the lack of depth in defense and the strength of the teams above them in the table.

Watch for either Arsenal or Newcastle to tire further and possibly fall into March.

Tottenham had a great start to the season but they’ve been hit with the wall of injuries. When it rains, it pours. They could easily drop out of the top 4. Aston Villa is sitting in 5th, and they’ll only get better when Jacob Ramsey and Álex Moreno eventually reintegrate into the starting eleven.

Manchester United and Chelsea are at a low, but their squads are too strong for them to struggle for much longer. Manchester United has been hit with a number of injuries in important positions. Watch for when Christopher Nkunku returns to the Chelsea lineup, potentially after the international break. Chelsea could fire like they did in preseason, and they were red hot. Everyone needs to stay fit, though. Low mid-table level floor with a top 4 title contender ceiling for both teams.

And then you have Brighton and West Ham as wildcards, waiting to chip away at the rest. Brighton is too porous defensively to be taken seriously, and they are in an injury crisis.

There are four teams to watch, lurking outside the top 10. Ivan Toney will be allowed back to play after suspension on January 17, 2023 for Brentford (16 points). Wolves (15) are firing under Gary O’Neil, Michael Olise just returned from injury for Crystal Palace (15), and Everton (14) might have figured out how their manager wants to play.

The league race is the closest it has been since the 2020-21 season, but these seasons are rare when you look at the history in the past 10 years.

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