Stats, stats, stats. We all have differing views on how useful they are, and we all know the vast majority of them can be skewed to fit the narrative of the person producing them.
As an example, off the top of my head: Spurs are shit-hot at corners because we scored from 50% of the two we won at Old Trafford; Spurs are utterly shit at corners because we gurned our way through all ten at Watford with zero end-product.
For me, the two things I think about ahead of every premier league game are pretty simple – how are we performing points-wise compared to the same stage last season, and what did we do in the same fixture last season, irrespective of when that fixture took place – so I asked Flatty if he’d mind me having a go at producing a weekly post ahead of each Premier League fixture reminding the good ship Flat Oeuf of these two things and any other random snippets of nonsense I can manage to cram in: Just the same as my wife around midday on any given Valentines Day, he said ‘you have a go and we’ll take it from there. Definitely no promises, though.’.
So here I am, having a go. As it’s still pretty early on in the season, I thought I’d also look back at where we stood following the fourth round of fixtures in each of Poch’s seasons in charge to date, and whether or not our fabled slow starts really have cost us title-bids compared to the teams who eventually triumphed. Putting this first one together has been a bit rushed, though, so apologies in advance if I’ve mucked up my research on any of the results, or, even, got my seasons mixed up.
In Poch’s first season, 2014-15, our fourth game ended in a 2-2 draw away at Sunderland which saw us in sixth with seven points, already five points off the pace of eventual champions Chelsea. A welcome away win against the Spammers in Poch’s first game and a battering of Arry’s QPR saw us all dreaming of glory and a truly brave new dawn until the Dippers did us 0-3 at the Lane back in the day when the only titles we were dreaming of were the deeds to Archways premises. Despite already having given us that battering, though, Liverpool ended that fourth round of fixtures two places and one point behind us.
In 2015-16, a slow start saw us with only three points from four games, wallowing in sixteenth, following three draws and a loss, again five points off eventual champions Leicester, who we had drawn away to, along with home draws against Stoke and Everton and a narrow defeat at Old Trafford on the opening day. Our dippy mates from Scouse-land ended the same round of fixtures in 7th with seven points. We followed that by winning a scrappy game against Sunderland one-nil away, with Ryan Mason getting injured in the process of scoring our winner and rarely featuring for us again. Two games later, though, we took City apart 4-1 at the Lane. When Liverpool turned up at the Lane two weeks later, in the 9th round of fixtures, Jurgen Klopp’s first game spent on a touchline worrying about his car tyres saw honours shared 0-0.
Following that flash-in-the-pan season where all the big-boys had a year off, we were widely tipped to slide back to our Europa League status again, but 16/17 saw us sitting pretty in fifth after four matches, having won two and drawn two, only two points off eventual champions Chelsea, though four points off early pace-setters Man City. As in Mo Po’s first season, those pesky dippers were lurking a point behind us, having already visited the Lane for our second home-game, securing a 1-1 draw. Despite the fact White Hart Lane’s missing corner would surely ruin our season and cause weird winds to disrupt the flow of our game, a single Kane strike on 59 minutes would see us extend our unbeaten start to the season against Sunderland at home in the next round of fixtures, and, of course, we finished our last ever season at The Lane unbeaten and with our highest ever Premiership finish, second. Wembley would see us slide back to our Europa League status next time around, though, for sure.
So on to last season, and the dreaded Wembley curse. Following a painfully narrow home defeat to defending champions, Chelsea (I was there, and it was narrow, and it was painful) and a home draw against Burnley, we were sitting fifth on seven points following away wins over Newcastle and Everton. Liverpool were in seventh, on seven points, having just been torn a new one away at the Etihad. Despite this, those pesky dippers picked themselves up, brushed themselves off, and took the footballing world by storm, proving once again that they truly are the greatest club-side in the world. Well, if that’s how you want to spin being ripped another new one by us five weeks later, finishing below us for something like the eighth season in nine, and winning exactly the same number of trophies as we did. And, rightly or wrongly, at least we stood by our goalkeeper when he started to act a bit drunk.
Which brings us to now, our zero spend zenith, the season when Levy’s chickens will surely come home to roost…
It’s obviously way too early to tell whether the summer’s (lack of) transfer shenanigans and our attempt to break the world-record for home venues in a single season are going to spur us or scupper us, but this is our best start under Poch with nine points from twelve. However, the dippers have also had their best start over the same period, with a perfect return of twelve points, although neither side can be said to have really hit anything like their best form from last season yet, with our lapse against Watford leaving that bitter taste of Spursy in the back of the throat and Liverpool perhaps having to dig in more then they would have expected for results against Palace and Brighton and their expensive new keeper gifting Leicester the sort of joke goal Hugo likes to keep back for when he feels a world cup final has got a bit one-sided and someone really should do something to distract the world from what a tool Dejan Lovren is.
While it’s weird that their visits to us over Poch’s tenure have consistently come early, the tale so far is one trouncing each and a couple of very close draws, though it’s also (hopefully not) worth remembering that the last time they visited pre-Poch resulted in another pants-down for us and the sacking of AVB.
I’ve got the feeling with this one that it’s one of those games where either team’s capable of giving the other a right pasting, with both equally capable of producing an end-to-end nail-biting nil-nil, which probably means it’s all going to come down to how we do with our corners, and, as the stats show against Watford, we’re fricking awful at them.