It is difficult enough to predict the final standings in a normal Premier League season, but this year has already thrown us a curveball — and there might be more on the way.
Everton were handed a 10-point deduction in November for breaching the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability Regulations (PSR) relating to the three-year reporting period ending in the 2021-22 season. And, on Monday, were charged for a further breach of these regulations, along with Nottingham Forest.
Although the degree of punishment is currently unconfirmed, points deductions could be on the way for both sides, which will further shift exactly what they need to do to stay in the top division.
So, what predictions can we make about their chances of survival?
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Everton are hovering above the relegation zone with 17 points, but it is worth reminding ourselves just how impressive they have been compared with last season.
Their current 17th place is clearly a false representation of their quality this season, with their non-deducted points tally placing them far closer to mid-table.
Meanwhile, Nuno Espirito Santo has got a tune out of Forest since replacing Steve Cooper in December, with two hard-fought wins over Newcastle United and Manchester United.
Forest also sit above the relegation zone but lack the requisite breathing space to be comfortable with their current position, where things are tight at the bottom. As it stands, even a five-point punishment would shunt Forest into the relegation zone.
In normal circumstances, you’d be confident that both Everton and Forest would survive given the quality they have in their respective squads, but the potential sanctions could shuffle the pack considerably.
Let’s work through some key questions and see what it might take for each side to stay up.
What will it take to stay up?
First things first — the “magic 40 points” marker is not a thing in the modern game.
The distribution of points across the Premier League has grown wider and wider, with a growing trend of promoted clubs suffering immediate relegation in their first season — something all three clubs are at high risk of this campaign.
If we look at all relegated clubs who finished in 18th place since 2000-01, only West Ham United (2002-03) were relegated with more than 40 points — as their 42-point haul saw them finish two points from safety behind Bolton Wanderers on 44 points.
With many clubs now declaring that “30 is the new 40” to stave off relegation, the truth has actually been somewhere in between in recent years.
While goal difference could be a factor in a relegation battle, let’s work on the basis that one point above an 18th-placed finish is enough to keep you in the division. By that criteria, the average points haul required since 2000-01 is 35.7.
In five of the last six seasons, that required tally has been only 34 points.
This season we can (crudely) forecast 18th-placed Luton Town’s final points tally based on their current rate of 0.8 points per game. Rob Edwards’ side are projected to finish with 30.4 points, making the required survival tally just 31 points.
What are the permutations for survival?
Here is where it gets a bit fiddly.
Given there has been no points deduction issued by the Premier League for the most recent charges, it is difficult to predict how many points both sides might need to accrue to survive.
So let’s run some numbers based on two scenarios.
The first being the 31-point target predicted for this season and the second being a pessimistic — or rather, realistic — 35-point target, as an average of recent Premier League seasons.
For Everton, the output looks fairly promising. If they match their current rate of 1.3 points per game for the remainder of the season, they would reach the 31-point target even if they were docked a further three or six points.
Things obviously get trickier if they need to reach 35 points, but if they continue as they have done so far this season, a further three-point deduction would not stop them from reaching that goal.
Understandably, an additional six-point or nine-point deduction would probably be ruinous to their chances of reaching 35 points — requiring 1.4 points or more per game from their remaining fixtures, which is essentially a rate of one win in two.
Things are similar for Forest, whose current rate of 20 points in 20 games should see them survive if things continue as they are this season.
Even if they were slapped with a three-point deduction, their current points per game rate would be enough to see them smash the 31-point target and land exactly on our “magic” total of 35 points for the season.
If Forest were to be slapped with a deduction of six points or more, they could scrape to 31 points but would need at least 1.2 points per game in their remaining fixtures to reach the 35-point target.
Only Crystal Palace have drawn more (6) than Forest (5) among all current bottom-half Premier League sides, so the simple requirement would be to turn more draws into wins to gain that edge in the second half of the campaign.
If either side survives relegation after being handed a points deduction, they would be the first (and second) to do so in Premier League history.
Middlesbrough were docked three points for failing to fulfil a fixture in the 1996-97 season, as they finished 19th overall. Meanwhile, Portsmouth were handed a nine-point penalty in the 2009-10 campaign after going into administration, finishing bottom of the table. For Middlesbrough, the deduction was the difference between staying up and going down. For Portsmouth, though, keeping those nine points would not have made any difference to their survival.
So will both Everton and Forest manage to keep the drop at arm’s length in 2023-24?
The truth is, we can’t be sure, particularly as the points penalties have yet to be announced, but some simple maths does at least provide something of a framework for fans of both sides to work towards. Like a rider in the Tour de France knowing that a certain watts per kilogram figure will keep them at the front of the race in the mountains, breaking down a route to survival into points per game based on historical targets at least makes dealing with any punishment that’s handed down a little easier to process.
There will be plenty of twists and turns to come on the pitch in the remainder of this season, but seemingly just as many off the pitch for Everton and Nottingham Forest. All the players can do is to keep picking up wins (and draws) between now and May.
(Top photos: Getty Images)
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