With little left to play for in the final few games of the season, managers of mid-table sides try to spur on fans and players alike with the message that a strong end-of-season run will give them momentum going into the following season. But is there really any link between good results at the end of one season and a promising start to the next?
Teams that finish with a burst of good form have actually tended to return to type at the beginning of the next season. Millwall, for example, picked up 2 points per game in their last ten fixtures of 2017/18, finishing in 8th place on their return to the Championship, and almost making the play-offs. But at the beginning of the 2018/19 season, they fell back to just 0.6 points per game in their opening ten fixtures.
There is therefore good news for teams that end the season badly: sides that suffer a downturn towards the end of the fixture list don’t tend to carry the slump into the next season. Both Leeds and Sheffield United had a flat end to 2017/18, falling back on their earlier season performance. But both had a flying start to the current season, averaging close to two points per game over their first ten fixtures.
Part of this could be teams going all out to avoid relegation in their final games of the calendar, before returning to normal when the pressure is off at the start of next season. Or teams that are safe easing off with a few games to go, before regaining motivation at the beginning of next year. But a large part is probably that teams overperforming at the end of one season are likely to return to their normal level at the beginning of the next. And teams with abnormally difficult fixtures in their last few games are likely to have an easier schedule at the start of the following fixture list.
Much as a successful end to the season can boost morale, the hard work behind the scenes over the summer will be the real driver of clubs’ fortunes next year. Good or bad spring form should never be enough to affect our plans.