It is strange that losses can so often be used as an indicator of future success, yet when the minnows of the Premiership play well in a narrow loss to one of the Champion’s League clubs, it is frequently assumed they will perform at the same level from then on. This is a cock-eyed way at looking at things, and is usually proved incorrect when the team involved follows up the narrow win with a poor performance against a smaller club. Southampton have provided a textbook case of this already this season, by fighting all the way in 3-2 losses to Manchesters City and United, with their poor 2-0 home loss to Wigan sandwiched between those results.
Whilst a narrow loss to a top club is preferable to getting thrashed 6-1, as Southampton did this weekend at Arsenal, I would say that in terms of going forward, the two results have similarly negligible effects on the subsequent results. A 6-1 loss may spark a team into life, as much as a 3-2 loss may deflate a team physically and mentally, leaving them vulnerable in the next fixture.
A narrow loss is clearly no guarantee that the performance level will be repeated in the next match. When playing against the big clubs, many players step up their game. It is more of an occasion, stadiums may be fuller, and there may be TV coverage of the match. The atmosphere around the game changes and some players will play well above their natural level as a result, crashing back to their mean in the next game. This effect is exaggerated further when the match takes place during a transfer window, or when one is upcoming. Indeed I could rest much of the evidence for this on Charles N’Zogbia’s career, transfer window big game specialist that he is.
It is very rare for a club facing a relegation fight to survive based on draws and wins against the top six teams, Wigan seem to be an exception to this rule, as, to an extent, were QPR last year with their excellent run of home form.
Certainly no team stays up on the basis of a performance boost after a narrow loss. Teams like Southampton will most likely stay up or be relegated on the basis of home games against Wigan and Aston Villa, not because of how well they play in losing against Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal.
Looking at the fixture list before the start of the season, the vital games in this opening run for Southampton were the home matches against Wigan and Aston Villa. They lost the first of these, if they can win the second, the mauling they received at the Emirates will be as meaningless as the close loss to Manchester United that preceded it.
image: © joncandy