The table doesn't lie, right? It's hard to find someone working in soccer, constantly fielding questions in front of a microphone, who hasn't said those four words at some point. Man United star Rio Ferdinand said it to Arsenal's longtime manager Arsene Wenger. Roy Keane said it to Manchester United and to Tottenham. Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta said it about his own team. Thierry Henry said it about his former team. Wayne Rooney has used it when talking about Derby County, and so has the Real Madrid manager, Carlo Ancelotti.
On the one hand, it's wrong because, well, the league table lies all the time! Were the league table an unquestionable source of truth, betting markets would always favor the team sitting higher in the table. And if not, you'd be able to get rich off all the times the betting market favored the team that was ranked lower in the table. Neither of those things is true. Soccer is an incredibly random, low-scoring game, and points simply just aren't that predictive of future points. Countless studies have found that a number of other metrics -- expected goals, shot margins, goal differential -- predict team strength and future points better than their place in the table whenever you happen to look.
On the other hand, the cliche is right because the league table is just a ledger of history. It's a collection of comparable and sortable facts that are all true and therefore not lying to you. Points? Goals? Wins? Goal differential? Draws? It's all there. Wanna know what's happened this season? The league table has all of the top-line information. With everyone playing the same number of matches within a day or two of each other, the teams that have accrued the highest percentage of the available points from their matches are arranged in order. None of it requires any belief in advanced data; it's all there; you can trust it.
That is, until this season. The league table is lying to you -- and not in the way it usually is.
No longer is the league table an informative, sorted record of which teams have won the most points from their matches this season. No: Thanks to a spate of COVID-related cancellations, the league table has become a broken amalgamation of data points that does a better job of telling you what teams have played the most games rather than anything else. Burnley have played 18 games so far, while Chelsea are at 24. Raw totals are useless with a gap like that.
Broadcasters, publishers, journalists and tweeters alike: It is time, people. Soccer's table used to make sense; then, the pandemic changed the equation. For the remainder of the 2021-22 Premier League season, we should stop showing the table sorted by a team's raw point total. There is a better way -- and it's called "points per game."