Christmas comes but once a year…and so does the half-way point of a football league season.
This year, if all Premier League fixtures go ahead as planned, then by December 24th every team will have played 19 matches — that’s exactly half of the season completed. At Christmas most teams will have played every other team in the league once. (There are some exceptions — more on that below.)
It should be admitted that Christmas is a relatively dull time for the alt-3 league table. The sort of fixture-list imbalance that the alt-3 method eliminates is almost absent at the half-way point of the season — precisely because most teams have played everyone else in the league once, at that point.
(It won’t be the case that teams have played equal numbers of matches at home and away, of course — because 19 is an odd number.)
But still, even at the halfway point of the season, some clubs will have faced a markedly harder or easier set of 19 matches than is typical of their whole season. I highlight here the four clubs whose alt-3 schedule strength for fixtures before Christmas differs appreciably from zero (i.e., whose schedule strength is rated at +1.5 league points or higher, or −1.5 league points or lower).
Bournemouth’s gruelling run up to Christmas
In their 19 matches up to the season’s halfway point, Bournemouth will not only have played 10 matches away from home, they will also be the only team to have faced current league leaders Manchester City twice.
This is captured perfectly by today’s alt-3 schedule-strength chart for Bournemouth (snapshot on the right), which shows a value of +1.9 after 23 December when the Cherries play Man City for the second time — representing by far the hardest first-half-season fixture list of any Premier League team.
What that means is that Bournemouth’s Premier League points total at Christmas — whatever that total turns out to be at the time — will not really be the best indication of their season up to that point. To take account of the fact that Bournemouth’s first-half-season fixtures have been quite a bit harder than typical, we should add 1.9 points to their Christmas tally — which is precisely the kind of adjustment that the alt-3 league table makes consistently, every week, for every team in the league. (Note that the exact figure ‘1.9’ just mentioned for Bournemouth might change slightly over time, to take account of match results between now and Christmas. But it’s very unlikely to change by much, if at all.)
The ‘official’ Premier League table at Christmas will be a rather mean one, then, for Bournemouth supporters. But of course the flip-side of all this is that the Cherries will face the easiest second-half-season fixture list of any club in the league!
Newcastle, Southampton, Swansea: Make the most of your Christmas presents!
The opposite situation to Bournemouth’s applies to three other clubs (all of which — coincidentally? — are struggling to find form at the time of writing this).
The easiest fixture lists in the first half of the season belong to Newcastle, Southampton and Swansea (whose schedule-strength ratings for the halfway point of the season currently stand at −1.5, −1.8 and −1.7, respectively).
Here is a snapshot of those three clubs’ schedule-strength charts, as they stand today:
After completion of the last round of Premier League matches before Christmas:
Southampton will have played 11 of their first 19 matches at home.
Swansea will have played 10 of their first 19 at home; and after the match on 23 December they will already have played struggling Crystal Palace twice.
Newcastle, although playing away from home in 10 of the first 19 matches, will not face league-leaders Manchester City in the first half of the season: they will instead be tested twice by City in the weeks that come after Christmas.
So Newcastle, Southampton and Swansea will all have Premier League points totals at Christmas that flatter them quite a bit — regardless of their position in the league at that time. Their supporters probably should try to enjoy it while it lasts?
What about other Premier League clubs?
To see your own team’s schedule-strength graph, just click on the team name in the current alt-3 league table.