Incentive is a much over-estimated factor in determining the outcome of football fixtures as this can work both ways. A team tat needs to win a match to stay in contention to win the league or qualify for Europe and a team fighting relegation are perceived to have a better chance of winning a match because there is something on the result. This perception is exaggerated by the opponents have nothing to play for and are free of relegation worries and out of the running for Europe.
The other side of the argument is that fear could be a factor when the result of a matches has a direct bearing on a side at both ends of the table. The contrary opinion is that a team with no key issues at stake will be relaxed and perform at a good level. In the history of the English Premier League there are many examples of the theory working both ways. It will be tested this weekend with matches that are being shown live on television. There are all sorts of issues at stake this weekend.
A marginal drop in effort can be crucial in sport at the highest level. But teams that try too hard and are not relaxed can be caught out by opponents playing with no major pressure. There are no hard and fast rules and each situation should be judged on its merits and other factors considered. Motivated teams can win matches and relaxed outfits can beat supposedly better opposition. Both outcomes are feasible this weekend.
Crystal Palace had lost just one league match in eight before hosting Tottenham this Wednesday. Sam Allardyce has steadied the ship and the team have now won enough points to ensure safety in the top division. Burnley visit this weekend and that side could still face the nightmare scenario of dropping into the Championship. So, all the incentive is with Burnley and Palace can cruise through the match but the result could go either way. In this instance Palace’s confidence and freedom can see them win all three points and leave Burnley still in trouble.
Watford’s home match against Liverpool presents a similar scenario. Watford are now ensconced in mid-table safety, free from relegation worries and out of contention for European qualification. Liverpool are now desperate for points after losing at home to Palace last weekend so have all the incentive to fight for three points. They have a good record against the superpowers but struggle against average opposition. In this case Watford’s laid back approach can get the job done. The players apologised for a dismal effort at Hull and professional pride will kick in and they can win the match.
The fixture between Manchester United and Swansea at Old Trafford brings together two teams who need the points for different reasons. Swansea are in the third relegation place and assuming Middlesbrough and Sunderland are down they are competing with Burnley and Hull to avoid being the third team to leave the division. United are still in the mix to qualify for the Champions league and their class and need for points should see them prevail. Thursday’s fixture at Manchester City will have implications for their mentality when Swansea are in town.
Everton are on a great run at home and no team relishes a visit to Goodison Park when they are on a roll. Chelsea have a buffer at the top of the table but any defeat will give Tottenham a chink as long as they keep winning. Chelsea’ away defeat to Manchester United looks like a blip as they are back on track to win the title after a storming win at home against Southampton. Everton’s home form should see them avoid defeat but Chelsea could drop points if the match is drawn. That is the most likely scenario so the ball is then in Tottenham’s court.
They will know the outcome of the fixture before playing Arsenal at home later in the day. Another favourite saying is that form goes out of the window for a local derby. However, there is much more than local pride on the line in this fixture. Tottenham cannot afford to drop points in pursuit of Chelsea and Arsenal are still in there pitching for Champions League qualification. In taking sitting on the fence too a fine art the prediction is a draw which suits Chelsea and the other teams vying for a Champions League place next season.