Why 40 points is a target too high

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Cheer up, Bolton and Burnley. Don't be glum, Hull and Sunderland. Give us a grin, Wigan, West Ham and Wolves. Your job might not be as hard as it seems, says editor Gary Parkinson

We might already know which three teams will finish in the Premier League's medals positions, but there's a particularly splendid race against relegation going on.

With two-thirds of the season gone, a third of the division is clamouring to avoid two relegation spots: there's only three points between Burnley in 19th and Sunderland in 13th.

The Mackems, tipped for Europe in autumn, are hurtling downwards to join the gang: since the beachball bamboozled Pepe Reina on October 17th – four long, long months ago – they've only won once in 16 league games.

And as usual in a tight relegation race there's a fearful cry that "40 points might not be enough".

It's simply not true - which is good news for nearly half the division.

For 40 points not to be enough would require at least two teams to pull their socks up above their knees – or two plus poor old Pompey to pull theirs above their heads with a sudden conversion to Champions League pace of two points per game.

It's somewhat doubtful, considering none of the bottom seven are averaging more than a point per game and just above them Sunderland have got 10 points from the last 16 games; extrapolated over a season, that would see the Black Cats limp to 23 points.

It's not inconceivable that two or three teams will buck their ideas up. Indeed, it's often said that one team suddenly runs into the sort of form that should see them in mid-table comfort; sadly for relegation candidates, Messrs Redknapp and Hodgson seem quite happy where they are.

"Don't ask me, ask him"

But the 40-point total is simply too high. And it has been since 1998 – the year of Beckham effigies, Wenger's first Arsenal title, a mysterious headache for Ronaldo (when there was only one Ronaldo), Man City in the third tier, Sam Allardyce managing Notts County. It truly was a different era.

Since 1998, the 18th-placed team – the team to beat – has collected 36, 33, 34, 36, 42, 33, 33, 34, 38 and 36 points. So maybe you don't actually need that win at Old Trafford.

The astute (and the 'Ammers) will now be raising an objection. Ah, but what of 2003? When a West Ham side including Joe Cole, Glen Johnson, Jermain Defoe, Paolo di Canio, Fredi Kanouté, Trevor Sinclair and David James somehow contrived to get relegated?

True, the Irons got 42 points that season. But it was a statistical anomaly in that there were two poor sides in the division, WBA only managing 26 points while Sunderland stumbled to 19.

It's the only season that two top-flight teams have failed to reach 30 points since 1994/1995 (which, being the last 42-game season, predates the Magic 40-Point Mark anyway).

The club came back... but the stars all left

So what if there aren't normally two sides haemhorraging points? Wouldn't having two punchbags make it easier to avoid relegation? Well, no, frankly.

If there are two sides surrendering points so easily, relegation rivals will naturally pick up more points - either directly, against the punchbags, or by striving to keep up with a higher pace maintained by other teams picking up easy points.

The truth is that there are, as is widely acknowledged, two divisions within the Premier League: the European-oriented elite and the rest. And over the last decade, the top teams have started winning with increasingly monotonous regularity.

Man United won the title in 2001 with 80 points - 2.1 points per game. Impressive, but not good enough these days: they failed to win 10 of their away games, and last season 80 points wouldn't have got you in the top three.

Over the last six seasons the respective title-winners have amassed 90, 87, 89, 91, 95 and 90 points - closer to 2.5 points per game. Increasingly, champions don't drop points. And neither do Champions League contenders.

They'd never have it so 'easy' again

As the Haves, buoyed by money flowing in from their Champions League oligopoly, steadily assemble reserve teams expected to beat the Have-Nots' best XIs, fewer drop-dodgers are reaching 40. Indeed, 40 isn't so much the top of the relegation battle as the bottom of mid-table: Bolton finished 13th last term on 41 points.

And that's the way things are going. As Manchester City, Spurs, Villa and other deep-pocketers grow their squads, dropped points against anyone but the elite will become not so much a frightful infra dig inconvenience as a cash-draining administrative error punishable by exclusion from Europe.

Regardless of the preposterous proposition of a play-off for the increasingly inaccurately-named Champions League, the bar will raise and so will the average number of points collected by those at the top - which means much lower expectations for those at the bottom.

Fast-forward to 2016, and freshly-promoted Blackpool have their primary Premier League target set by angry young manager Gary Neville: "First things first, let's get to that magic 30-point mark..."

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