The days are long.
There’s the smell of cut grass and possibly stale cider in the air.
When sometimes even see this strange yellow thing floating in the sky.
It’s that unmistakable time of the year when it’s hard not to let your mind take a sneak peek at optimism. While your natural cynicism knows better than to believe the overly fanciful rumours about potential signings, drunk on the high of summer, it’s hard not think them faintly possible. It’s a time for hope about a brighter future. Goodbye crippling disappointment – I’ll see you at the next Star Wars movie.
For the team hanging around the top six of the Premier League, thoughts naturally turn towards a potential title challenge. A few signings here, an improving youngster there, an admission that Jonny Evans may not in fact be the new Franz Beckenbauer everywhere – all it takes are a couple of tweaks to turn a good team into a potential league winner. That’s the common train of thought – but is it actually realistic? We’ve looked back over Premier League history to see what sort of year on year improvements eventual title winners have made.
Our wander through the history books turns up one comprehensive fact – no team that finished outside of the top three in one Premier League season has gone on to win the league title in the next season. In one fell swoop, that rules Manchester United, Liverpool and – if you’ve a tentative grip on reality – Tottenham out of winning the title. Sorry Brendan Rodgers, at least you can use that space you cleared in your trophy cabinet for your guarantee ‘Inflated Ego Not Actually Matching Genuine Achievement’ Manager of the Year Award.
No matter who has won the Premier League, they have never finished outside of the top three in the season before winning it. That includes Blackburn, Chelsea and Manchester City whose chequebooks may have given the impression that they came from nowhere to win the title. In actual fact, the improvements are more incremental and reaching the top three is an essential step in the process.
The Points Of No Return
But league positions only tell half the story. Second place can come about in a variety of ways. In 2012, all that Agueroooooooooo drama meant Manchester United finished runners-up on goal difference while in 2004 and 2013 Chelsea and Manchester City finished second, 11 points adrift of the league winners respectively. In all of the cases, the teams were able over come those deficits year on year to win the next season’s league title.
To date, that 11 point margin is the biggest any team has overcome to become champions in the next season. That’s bad news for Arsenal who finished 12 points behind Chelsea last season. Despite some promising recruiting, younger squad members performing consistently well and a steely second half to last season, that’s not good. If one manager is likely to overcome an ominous stat, then it’s most likely to be Arsene Wenger, but if the Gunners did win the league this season, he would be doing something wholly unprecedented.
It all spells good news for Chelsea and Manchester City. Or as much good news as two club with a bottomless cheque-book and limited concerns about the consequences of falling foul of Financial Fair Play rules need. Having finished second and eight points behind Chelsea, the history books suggest it’s very possible for City to regain the crown while with his settled squad and his life-sapping style of football embedded among the players, the history books give Jose Mourinho even more reason to be smug and self-satisfied than already exists.
Much like rules on spending caps in relation to your income, records are made to be broken and what’s gone before doesn’t necessarily mean something is impossible. Far be it from us to burst your pre-season optimism bubble – save that for about four weeks into the season.