It is OK to feel a little hope and perhaps a modicum of positivity during this two week international break.
Sure Newcastle United are rooted to the bottom of the league, no win in eight, a gap of five points already opening up between us and safety…but before you have your sharp items and shoelaces confiscated, think about this:
Over those eight games Newcastle have had the toughest fixtures schedule out of all twenty teams in the Premier League.
While you could suggest this is simply one person’s opinion, it is based on simple factual logic.
By assigning every team a value based on what league position they finished last season – E.g. Chelsea were top so receive a value of 1, and giving all promoted teams a value of 20 – you create a quantitative value for schedule strength: the lower the number, the harder the schedule.
Let’s take a look at Newcastle’s opening eight games:
Man Utd (4)
West Ham (12)
Man City (2)
Total – 57
The total value of 57 is the lowest in the league; in fact, take a look at the schedule strength table including each team’s total score:
The column in the middle reflects the current league position of each team and we will come to the column on the right in due course.
Isn’t it great, I hear you say, we’ve had the toughest fixtures schedule and we’re bottom of the league, this just goes to show how poor we are given that Everton, Arsenal, Spurs and Man Utd haven’t exactly found it tough with hard schedules.
While this is somewhat correct it also ignores the inverse principle: teams that have not taken advantage of an easy schedule.
Sunderland have had the third easiest set of games and only sit above us on goal difference, Bournemouth with arguably the easiest set of fixtures are on eight points, a mere five ahead of Newcastle; and Stoke are only one point further ahead on nine.
Further to this there is an additional group of teams – those that have taken advantage of their easy start – with Leicester and West Ham falling into this category; and then there’s Aston Villa. Tim Sherwood’s team sit in eighteenth with four points despite the eighth easiest schedule, but unfortunately for Villa it’s only going to get more difficult.
The table above on the right provides a glimmer of hope and a way forward for Newcastle, relative to the rest of the league, as it predicts the fixtures schedule strength of the next eight games.
On the basis of the explained calculations, Newcastle go into the next eight fixtures with the fifth easiest set of games; conversely Bournemouth, Villa, West Ham, Leicester, and Norwich are going to find picking up points a lot harder than it has been.
The next three games for Bournemouth: Man City, Spurs, Liverpool, should be a real struggle for the newly promoted side while Newcastle face Norwich, Sunderland and Stoke. How many points can you see Aston Villa taking from Chelsea, Swansea and Spurs?
Ok, so all of the above is purely statistical and it’s entirely possible that Norwich,Watford, us and Sunderland achieve victory after yet another new manager upturn (it’s becoming so engrained it should be a national holiday. In Sunderland. With wicker effigies of the sacrificial managers), and Mark Hughes manages to keep his jacket on; but I’d like to view it as a nice half full glass of positive thinking.
It’s possible to use the international break as an opportunity to look away from the twenty car pile-up that has been the start to our season and instead look ahead to not playing both Manchesters, Arsenal and Chelsea every other week but Norwich, Sunderland, Bournemouth and Leicester.
Those games are eminently winnable and the sort that will define our season; defeat doesn’t bear thinking about.
I mean, we have to win sometime…right?
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