Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Race for 37

Until now, this blog has been solely for J-Talk podcasts, but this week, as I'm not recording until after Japan's World Cup Qualifier against Iraq, I thought I'd write about something I've mentioned a few times on the podcast in the past month.... The Race for 37. With ten games to go in the 2012 J1 season, this number is of huge importance for four, and potentially as many as seven, teams.

37(.2) is the average number of points that the team finishing in 15th (and therefore, safe) has earned in the past five J1 seasons, so that is the total that Cerezo Osaka, their city rivals Gamba, Niigata and Omiya are striving to reach. Here we'll look back at the stats from seasons 2007 - 2011, and look ahead to the final two and a half months of this year. I won't try and predict the results of games, as that is a pointless task in this most unpredictable of seasons, but we might find some clues as to who will be staying up, and which two teams will join Sapporo in J2 as of 5.30pm on Saturday, December 1st.

Before we get into all the numbers, some points to mention:
  • For the purposes of this piece, lets consider Sapporo down. They're gone. Ten points after 24 games matches the terribleness of Oita in 2009, but while the Kyushu club rallied towards the end of that year, eventually finishing 17th on 30 points, Sapporo would have to win nine of their last ten to get to 37, and that ain't happening.
  • I mentioned seven teams in the top paragraph, and while all sane-minded observers would have Kobe (33pts), Kashima and Kawasaki (both 32) all safe, the outlier in our statistical survey is Hiroshima in 2007, who were 13th on 29 points with ten games to go... and manged just three more the rest of the year, eventually finishing 16th and down (after losing the promotion/relegation playoff - link from Wikipedia - against Kyoto) with just 32. Tokyo Verdy in 2008 deserve a mention here too, they were also 13th after Matchday 24 but ended-up relegated in 17th after taking just six points from their last ten games. The three K's still have a bit of work to do this year, but they can exhale once they've reached 37.
  • This isn't great reading for supporters of Niigata and Omiya, but the bottom three teams at the end of Matchday 24 have all been relegated in each of the last three seasons. Now this year is unusual in that we haven't had three teams in the relegation battle on the same number of points this late in the season before, but if it ends up coming down to goal difference Niigata (eight goals behind Gamba) and Omiya (a further eight behind Albirex) have a lot of catching up to do. Omiya were actually the big beneficiaries of Hiroshima's meltdown in '07, they were 16th with ten games to go but ended in 15th, while in '08 Chiba earned 17 points from the last ten to rise from 17th to 15th and safety. The * in all this is Iwata, who finished 16th that same year but stayed up after beating Sendai in the pro/rele playoff.

OK, so lets dive into the last five seasons, starting in 2007, looking at who finished fifteenth and how they ended up there:


Who finished 15th? Omiya on 35 points Where were they/points after MD 24? 16th on 21
What happened? Omiya beat Hiroshima in MD 29, which started a run of 11 points in the last six for the Saitama club. Hiroshima completely imploded from 13th, earning just three points from the last 30 available, including a loss to already doomed Kofu.


Who finished 15th? Chiba on 38 points Where were they/points after MD 24? 17th on 21
What happened? Chiba staged a superb turnaround, winning four in a row from MD 25 on to climb out of the drop zone. They hit a wall though, and were back in 17th entering the final matchday, and when they fell 2-0 down to FC Tokyo in the 53rd minute of the final game of the season it looked all over, before a famous rally saw them score four in the last 16 minutes to rise to safety ahead of Iwata* and Verdy, who won just one of the last ten.


Who finished 15th? Yamagata on 39 points Where were they/points after MD 24? 15th on 27
What happened? The start of the same-three-after-MD24-go-down pattern, Yamagata were five points clear of the bottom three with ten games left, and finished five points ahead of 16th-placed Kashiwa. The margin was down to just one point after MD 26, but Yamagata rose as high as 13th before slipping back to 15th.


Who finished 15th? Kobe on 38 points Where were they/points after MD 24? 15th on 23
What happened? Kobe started the last ten games in fifteenth, but after slipping a spot in MD 25 they stayed 16th and in the final relegation spot until the last game of the season, when they capped off a brilliant seven game unbeaten run to finish the year with a stunning 4-0 win away at Urawa, while FC Tokyo, who entered the final matchday a point above them, crashed to a 2-0 away loss to already-relegated Kyoto, who hadn't won for three months.


Who finished 15th? Urawa on 36 points Where were they/points after MD 24? 13th on 28
What happened? Urawa slipped to 16th after a Saitama Derby loss in MD 29, the end of a miserable run of one draw and five losses in six games, but they rebounded to beat Yokohama away in the next game, and were safe after their MD 33 win over Fukuoka, thanks to a massive goal difference advantage over 16th-placed Kofu.

So from all that we can see that not only is 37(.2) the average number of points earned by 15th-placed teams in our survey, 13(.2) is the average those clubs have earned in their last ten games - hardly pulling up any trees. The highs and lows there are Chiba, 17 in 2008, and Urawa, eight last year, respectively.

But hey! Look at that! While Cerezo are still in danger on 29 points, we have three teams - Gamba, Niigata and Omiya - on 24! What are the odds that one of them will get exactly 13 points and end up safe on 37? I dunno, but I love it.

Lets look at the run-ins for those four teams, again I'm not going to try and guess the results, rather just point out which teams fixtures for the final ten games look better-or-worse on paper. (Games Left v Top Half refer to clubs in top half at end of Matchday 24)

Cerezo Osaka (29 points, Goal Difference -2)

Home Games Left: 6 Games Left v Top Half: 7 Games Left v Relegation Battle: 1 (Omiya H, MD 32)
Cerezo have a five point headstart on the other three, and require just eight points to reach 37. They have a very tough run between matchdays 28 and 31, when they play four in a row against top-half teams, but with six home games remaining, and four of their seven against the top half at home, you'd have to think they'll be able to scrounge together those eight points, perhaps even before they host Kawasaki at home on the final day.

Gamba Osaka (24pts, GD -4)

Home Games Left: 4 Games Left v Top Half: 7 Games Left v Relegation Battle: 1 (Niigata H, MD 25)
Just four home games left for Gamba, and five of their seven against top-half teams are away. They'll have to beat Niigata at home on Saturday in a crunch #relegationsixpointer, and hope they have points in the bank by the time Matchday 30 comes around, as they finish with five straight against teams in the top half. In the first 24 games they've managed just eight points against teams currently in the top nine (W: 2 D: 2 L: 7). This is Gamba though, so there's every chance they'll win all of their remaining games 4-3...

Niigata (24pts, GD -12)

Home Games Left: 5 Games Left v Top Half: 5 Games Left v Relegation Battle: 2 (Gamba A, MD 25, Omiya A, MD 29)
Niigata have a slightly easier run-in on paper than the two Osaka clubs, only playing five top-half teams, although three of those games are away. The two games against fellow strugglers will obviously be massive, while the other advantage they have over both Cerezo and Gamba is that they play Sapporo - at home on the final day - neither of the Osakans play Consadole again.

Omiya (24pts, GD -20)

Home Games Left: 5 Games Left v Top Half: 5 Games Left v Relegation Battle: 2 (Niigata H, MD 29, Cerezo A, MD 32)
Omiya also have the advantage of playing Sapporo, though that game in Matchday 26 is away, and we know that all three of Sapporo's wins have come at home this season. The Squirrels also play three of their five against top-half teams away (finishing the season at Shimizu). Their goal difference is clearly a big disadvantage, so they'll need to finish a point better off than their rivals or they're toast.

And there you have it. I'm not sure if that's made the situation any clearer for you, or if it's only served to muddy the waters even more. You can see from my comments I expect Cerezo will probably be OK, which means two of Gamba, Niigata and Omiya will be forced to serve a year (at least! Just look at Chiba!) of penance down in J2 in 2013. Would I put any money on it though? Not a chance. Enjoy the last two and a half months of the season and I hope you'll continue to listen to The J-Talk Podcast as we monitor the Race for 37.

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