26 May 2009

Three new teams, and how it affects Liverpool

Awards on Thursday and Top 10 goals on Friday should wrap up the season review stuff unless something strikes me. In addition, there may be a review of the CL final tomorrow, depending on circumstances (yes, you know what I'm implying).

But first, relegation.

I don’t know why the idea hadn’t struck me sooner, but promotions and relegations affect Liverpool. That Burnley won the playoffs instead of Reading or Sheffield United makes the connection more tenuous, but there are still some notions to be divined. It was Birmingham sealing promotion on the same day that Liverpool hammered Newcastle that hit the point home.

I hate when Liverpool plays Birmingham. Every club has those bogey teams, and Birmingham seems to be one of Liverpool’s, especially under Benitez. I thought it was just a Steve Bruce thing, but Alex McLeish’s side went and took two points off Liverpool in April 2008, a month where Brum only tallied two points on the road to relegation. At the same time, Liverpool’s won four straight over Newcastle by a margin of 14-1.

In fact, Liverpool’s lost to at least one relegated team in three of Benitez’s five seasons: Boro this season, Reading last season, and both Southampton and Crystal Palace in 04-05. The exceptions are 2005-06, where Liverpool were held by Birmingham twice, and 2006-07, where Liverpool drew at both Charlton and Sheffield United. Four points dropped is worse than three.

So, anyway, the changes for next year, and Liverpool’s last four games against each side. I am not including cup matches in Birmingham’s totals, but am including them in Burnley’s. Yes, it’s selective use of the data, but otherwise I’d be going back to at least ’75-76 for Liverpool/Burnley league matches. So we’ll pretend those cup matches counted for points. I know, but play along anyway.

1-0 Liverpool (h) 03.20.04
1-1 (a) 01.21.04
0-1 Wolves (h) 01.14.84
1-1 (a) 08.27.83
5 points; 3 goals for, 2 goals against
2-2 (a) 04.26.08
0-0 (h) 09.22.07
1-1 (h) 02.01.06
2-2 (a) 09.24.05
4 points; 5 for, 5 against
0-1 Burnley (a; FA Cup) 01.18.05
1-0 Liverpool (h; FA Cup) 01.04.97
1-0 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 02.07.95
0-0 (a; League Cup) 01.28.95
7 points; 2 for, 1 against
Combined Total: 16 points; 10 for, 8 against

3-0 Liverpool (h) 05.03.09
5-1 Liverpool (a) 12.28.08
3-0 Liverpool (h) 03.08.08
3-0 Liverpool (a) 11.24.07
12 points; 14 for, 1 against
0-2 Boro (a) 02.28.09
2-1 Liverpool (h) 08.23.08
3-2 Liverpool (h) 02.23.08
1-1 (a) 01.12.08
7 points; 6 for, 6 against
West Brom:
2-0 Liverpool (a) 05.17.09
3-0 Liverpool (h) 11.08.08
2-0 Liverpool (a) 04.01.06
1-0 Liverpool (h) 12.31.05
12 points; 8 for, 0 against
Combined Total: 31 points; 28 for, 7 against

So, a 15-point discrepancy. A +21 goal difference versus a +2 one. Super.

Wolves and Burnley make it a tougher comparison, because Liverpool’s never played Wanderers under Benitez and the lone FA Cup tie against Burnley barely counts (Rafa’ll never field a weakened side in the FA Cup again, that’s for sure), but there are still some interesting comparisons.

As said above, I’m not thrilled to see Brum back. Last time Liverpool beat them in the league was May 2004. Benitez has only beaten them in cup competition; his league record is 0-4-2. But at least we’re waving goodbye to Boro, another bogey club. Two wins, a draw, and a loss over the last two seasons, and Boro scored in each of those four games. And it took a late Gerrard winner this year and a Torres hat trick last year to get those two wins.

It’s rude to compound relegation with insults, but it’s sad to see Newcastle and West Brom go down. One goal conceded in eight games against the clubs. Yikes. Why couldn’t Stoke or Hull be relegated instead? At least there’s always next year.

I’m intrigued by and wary of Burnley. Having seen all their playoff matches, I’ve been very impressed. The final was compelling beyond belief. Paterson and Elliot have scored some absolute corkers. The defense was resilient throughout, and the side knows how to counter and how to utilize the flanks. Owen Coyle’s done an amazing job. They’ll either be next season’s Hull (the first half of the season anyway) or next season’s West Brom. I doubt there’ll be any middle ground. And chances are I’ll be rooting for them in 36 of their games.

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