Christmas time. The time of the year for over-eating, socially acceptable alcoholism and exchanging terrible presents.
It’s also that time of the year when the premature predictions of doom/glory can begin in earnest. Whatever it is about the last Premier League table before Christmas, it seems to have a certain authority. It’s as if the last ball kicked before the turkey and ham is the cue for the end of all the ‘we just need a few weeks to gel’ excuses and things suddenly get real.
We’ll hold off on the overly dismissive predictions just yet, but with no-one standing out like undisputed champions in waiting, we could be treated to the most open title race since the Premier League cash cow came wandering into our meadow and blowing her financial methane at anyone in her vicinity.
The Paddy Power Blog has looked through the history books to see how the eventual Premier League champions in each of the season were looking at just before Christmas. The four categories we’ve picked are kind of arbitrary, but not that arbitrary – for example not leading any of these categories at Christmas isn’t fatal to your chances of winning the league, but it’d certainly be helpful if you were. The four categories are:
- Being top of the league
- Scoring the most goals in the league
- Having the best defence (based on fewest goals conceded)
- Suffering the fewest defeats
You see what we mean.
[Interactive graphic: click dots to reveal historical data]
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Pensioners not good off the pace
One thing that stands out is the fact that only once in the history of the Premier League has being Top of the Table without leading in any of the other three categories been enough to secure the league title later in the season. Chelsea managed it in Carlo Ancelotti’s first season in charge at the Bridge (09/10). It helps to combine being top of the pile with some other pleasant attribute such as good defending or prolific goalscoring or just plain old not getting beaten very often.
In general, the Pensioners aren’t good for coming off the pace, with the Blues being on top at Christmas for all three of their Premier League titles (04/05, 05/06 and 09/10). They’ve also mixed it up by also being prolific goalscoring and solid defending, but they’ve always had to lead the pack. If they can’t clamber to the top of the pile before tucking into the turkey and ham, the history books suggests it’ll take something special for Jose to turn them into champions by the middle of May.
The data also tells us that being top or not leading in any of the arbitrary categories isn’t the be all and end off for a team’s title hopes. Just under 25 per cent of all the Premier League titles have gone to teams neither leading the table nor scoring the most goals nor having the best defence nor having the fewest defeats.
All is not lost for Moyes
Fergie fired up the second half of the season hairdryer with enough success to propel United to the title on no less than three occasions when not leading in any of the categories and Arsene Wenger managed it twice with Arsenal. United’s record of coming off the pace is particularly encouraging. Of their 13 Premier League titles, five have been won from the position of being top of the table at Christmas with an impressive eight relying on a second half of the season surge to the summit. Based on history, all is not lost for David Moyes. Based on recent results however, it probably is lost.
Towards the centre of the diagram we see some of the more famous teams in Premier League history. And some who aren’t. The teams who dominated in all four categories are the United team who followed up the European Cup with a facile title success in 2000/01, the less nostalgic, but no less effective United team of 2006/07 and the Chelsea team who went some way to backing up Jose’s egotistical bragging by making it two titles in his first two seasons for the Special One in 2005/06.
The trends are a bit fluid, but one that stands out comes in the goalscoring category. The teams that have been at least Top Goalscorer at Christmas (admittedly, they’ve often combined it with being kickass at other things) have gone on to win the title in 11 of the 21 Premier League seasons to date. You wouldn’t be making room in the trophy cabinet just yet, but it’s an encouraging stat if you’re finding the net frequently.
In conclusion, there is no conclusion. As we move towards the festive period and then the second half of the season, being as close to the top of the table is clearly nice, but if you can combine that with being good at defending, scoring goals or not getting beaten, you’ve got to be considered genuine title contenders. Yes, that may even mean Spurs or Liverpool.