Football has many clichés: “It’s a game of two halves, but the lads gave 110%, and credit to him, he’s got a good touch for a big lad.” Most of which had a meaning at one time, but now are as tiresome as the fake tension built into a reality show vote. It may now be time to add another one to the list of outdated sayings which are banded around football commentary these days. I’m taking about “hitting the magical 40 point mark.” This was heard a lot last year as Claudio Ranieri tried to shift pleasure from his high flying Foxes. Understandably so, but it got to the point where not even he believed it. It may be many teams initial aim as they begin preseason training, but do they need to even aim that high?
We have to go back to Wolves in 2010/11 for the last team to finish 17th with 40 points or more. Since then QPR (37), WBA (36), Villa (38) and Sunderland twice on 39 were the team to finish one place above the trap door. Crystal Palace currently sit above the thin red line with a tally of 16. Having played more than half the season, it seems unlikely that survival will take much more than 35 points this year. This would make it the lowest for some time, if not ever.
As more teams join the race for the lucrative Champions League places, the divide between top and bottom grows. These teams cannot afford dropped points to a side from the bottom. This could be why we are seeing a lower number needed for survival as England’s top division quickly becomes ‘a league of two halves.’ Twelve points separate the top 6 this season, but there are now 14 points between sixth and tenth place. This makes it almost impossible for a team in the bottom half to make a late break for the European places.
It is possibly time now for a new phrase. From next season managers up and down the league will be announcing that their aim is to reach the magical 38 point mark. Although if I was them I would ask my players to go that extra step and hit 60 points. At least then we would be more than safe and can take the spring off.
It has been four seasons since Sunderland amassed 40 points in a campaign, and as they currently have just 15 it could be another few years until they get the opportunity to try again. While we are on the topic of the Black Cats, I originally wanted to write about Jack Rodwell. It is now becoming common knowledge that he is yet to start a game in which he has been victorious. I wanted to look further into this and try to give some balanced reasoning. It turns out however that his record is just poor. He did start nine games in the 2014/15 season which finished in draws. This dropped to just six draws the following year. The closest I have found to a win was a substitute appearance after 15 minutes in the 2-1 win against Manchester United in early 2016. That counts, right? I wanted to use the point that he plays for a team which has only won 21% of its games (16 in 72) since his arrival. Although I did then consider that he played a lot of these games. Although not a defender as such, he is allowed to try and help his side win the game.
Still, it’s not all bad news, the last player to go on a similar run for a new team turned out alright. Gareth Bale lost his first 24 games for Spurs after his arrival and went on to be one of the world’s best. So chin up Jack.