Let’s talk about ‘games in hand’

Let’s be honest, everyone counts the points of games in hand and adjusts their favorite football team on the table before even the game has happened.

In theory, games in hand can be a productive measure as the team exactly knows what they have to do.

On the other hand, the same can be a physiological liability as you fall behind everyone and now are under pressure to perform.

I mean, it’s never great to play catch up, and you would rather have the points in the bag than games in hand.

One of the former Premier League managers said,

“Games in hand can give players and management a false sense of security.”

And we agree!

Luton Town example

Burnley this season were 6 games behind at one stage and they were rock bottom in the Premier League. Sure, they had 18 more points to play for, but it’s never a guarantee that you will get even half the points.

The last time a side had 6 games in hand was Luton Town in the 1987/88 season.

Back then, to cover up that, they had to face a frantic last 14 days in their season.

They played 7 times in the last fortnight where they won 1 lost 1 and drew the rest.

They also reached two cup finals at Wembley, where they won one and lost the other and they also finished 9th on the table their third-highest finish ever.

So, games in hand kind of helped the team!

Liverpool and QPR

The Luton Town example was before the Premier League era and Burnley holds the spot of having the most games in hand in the PL era.

The 2nd position is held by Liverpool and QPR who have had 5 games in hand at some point in their season.

Liverpool had 5 games in hand at one stage but only for a day, as they were playing on Sunday while the rest played on Saturday.

On that day they were 5th on the table and by the end of the season, they did one better and finished 4th in the league.

QPR on the other hand had 5 games in hand at some points throughout February and March. They were 16th on the table after garnering 35 points in 28 games.

They ended up 8th by winning 8 of their last 14 games and finishing on 60 points.

The trend has followed

But there is more, according to records, there have been 12 teams in the premier league era to have 4 games in hand at some point.

8 of them finished in higher positions while the remaining 4 dropped a single place.

United, one of those teams, was 2nd when they had games in hand and then went on to win the Premier League as they lost only once in their last 19 matches.

Another glorious example that comes to mind is Southampton in the 94/95 season.

Mid-March after playing 30 of the 42 games, they were 18th on the table, which meant they were out of the relegation zone, but they were only so on goal difference.

Soon after they went on a winning streak and had a good run in the fag end of the season. They won 6 of their last 11 games and ended 10th on the table.

From relegation battle to finishing 10th, games in hand certainly proved to be advantageous in finding momentum!

The truth

Although history has it, that games in hands have always resulted in positive results, yet, there will never be a team that would prefer games in hand to points in the bag.

Having games in hand is kind of a double-edged sword, as teams who have that, need to play every 2-3 days to cover up the gap.

As a result, if the team finds itself in a pristine form they just go on a superb run where they are winning games on a trot.

Playing frequently and as much as possible, provided, you are in an excellent form, will always be good. Whereas if the team is struggling for results and they play every 3 days, it’s going to have bad repercussions.

So, games in hand is a double-edged sword and the truth is, it doesn’t matter if a team has games in hand what matter is which team has it!