Premier League Table at Christmas - History
The Premier League Table at Christmas: What Does History Tell Us?
The Premier League table typically adopts a familiar shape by the time families gather around the Christmas table to eat, drink and be merry. Half the season is in the rear view mirror and the league’s biggest teams are able to lord it up over their rivals at the top of the pile. There will be little festive cheer among the bottom three clubs, some of whom will have sacked their managers by this point in the campaign. Yet there is still a long way to go in the campaign, and any teams seeking to beat the drop or muscle their way into contention for glory can take solace from these trends.
How Often do the League Leaders at Christmas go on to Lift the Premier League Trophy?
Sitting atop the Premier League table at Christmas is a fantastic achievement due to the ferociously competitive nature of the world’s wealthiest league. However, holding onto that lofty status throughout the spring and clinching glory in May is another matter entirely. The season is a real marathon and history is littered with teams that displayed fantastic promise at yuletide, only to see their title challenge fizzle out in the ensuing months. In 13 out of 26 seasons thus far, the team top of the Premier League table on 25 December has gone on to win the title, while the other 13 have fallen away.
The inaugural Premier League season saw Mark Robins fire Norwich to the top of the table by Christmas. However, results went south in April as they lost three out of four matches and eventually finished third, 12 points behind Man Utd, who clinched their first title under Sir Alex Ferguson.
The wily Scot was at it again in the 1995/96 campaign as he played all manner of devious mind games with rival Kevin Keegan. Newcastle were comfortably top of the pile at Christmas, but Man Utd reeled them in with grim inevitability over the ensuing months. “You can tell him now, we’re still fighting for this title and he’s got to go to Middlesbrough and get something – and I’ll tell you, honestly, I will love it if we beat them, love it!” roared a defiant Keegan near the end of the campaign. Yet his passion was not enough to carry Newcastle to the title as Man Utd pipped them by four points.
Man Utd Continue to Spoil Christmas Leaders’ Party
The following season it was Liverpool’s turn to come unstuck in the face of relentless pressure from the Red Devils in the second half of the season. The famous Spice Boys side featuring Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman were top at Christmas, but they could not last the distance. Superb form from the likes of David Beckham and Roy Keane carried Man Utd to yet another title.
Ferguson’s men continued their imperious form into the 1997/98 campaign and they looked invincible by Christmas. However, that was the season that Arsene Wenger announced himself as a managerial great. His marauding Arsenal side, which blended the defensive solidity of Tony Adams and co with the midfield power of Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit and the pace up front of Nicolas Anelka, managed to overhaul Man Utd in the second half of the campaign and seize the title.
In 1998/99 Aston Villa were left to rue their decision to sell Dwight Yorke to Man Utd. They were top of the table by the time Christmas rolled around, but Yorke went goal crazy in the second half of the campaign and the Red Devils ended up sauntering to the league title. That was the season they won the treble thanks to a last gasp victory over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. Few can forget the Ryan Giggs goal that put Arsenal to the sword in the FA Cup semi-final either.
Newcastle Title Drought Continues
The team top at Christmas failed to win the league for the fifth consecutive season in 1999/2000. That year an ambitious Leeds Utd side were top of the pile as we veered towards the end of the millennium. Yet the collective might of Ian Harte, Harry Kewell, Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate was not enough to propel them to the title, as Man Utd ended up clinching it yet again.
A Newcastle side led by Alan Shearer and coached by the legendary Sir Bobby Robson went into the New Year full of confidence in 2001/02 after surging to the top of the standings. However, they suffered a late season meltdown as they lost to Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, meaning a first title since 1927 evaded them. It was an Arsenal side featuring Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp that eventually wielded the famous trophy aloft in May.
Arsenal bid farewell to defensive stalwarts Adams and Lee Dixon ahead of the 2002/03 campaign, but they still soared to the top of the table at Christmas. However, this time serial party spoilers Man Utd outstripped them down the home straight.
Arsenal then turned the tables on Ferguson’s side the following season, as the famous Invincibles were behind at Christmas but ended up cruising to the title. It took until the 2007/08 campaign for Arsenal to return to contention and they managed to lead the way on 25 December, only to fall apart in the second half of the season. William Gallas had an epic tantrum as Man Utd ended up winning the league.
Anguish for Liverpool Fans
Since then Liverpool are the only team to lead the Premier League table at Christmas and fail to lift the trophy. The grim fate befell them in the 2008/09 season, when they had one of the greatest midfields the Premier League has ever seen. Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso sat deep and allowed Steven Gerrard to wreak havoc in the space behind Fernando Torres, and it was enough to see them shoot to the top of the table by Christmas. Yet defensive failings ultimately proved to be their undoing and Rafa Benitez’s men ended up four points behind a marauding Man Utd.
Brendan Rodgers was the manager left to curse Liverpool’s leaky defence in 2013/14. The Reds went goal crazy that season, with Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge flourishing either side of Luis Suarez, but they were poor at the back and it ultimately cost them dearly. Gerrard slipped against Chelsea to allow Demba Ba to slot home a heart-breaking goal, and the rest is history. The Reds finished two points behind Man City to extend their title drought.
Liverpool then hired Jurgen Klopp as manager and invested heavily to bring Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson to Anfield. They were transformed into one of the best defensive sides in the world by the 2018/19 campaign and they ended up top at Christmas for the third time in 10 years. However, the old curse set in once again, despite leading defending champions Man City by 10 points at one stage. Pep Guardiola’s men closed the season with an epic 14-game winning streak to finish one point clear of Liverpool. The Reds secured the third highest points tally in Premier League history, but it was still not enough to end a title drought stretching back to 1990.
However, Liverpool shrugged off the disappointment and went on to win the Champions League in May 2019. They have continued on an upward curve this season and they now hold an extremely healthy lead over the chasing pack this season. They are the heavy favourites to win the title in the Premier League odds and their rivals are faltering. Will history repeat itself, or can they finally end three decades of hurt?
How Often do the Bottom Three at Christmas go Down?
Owners, managers, players and supporters alike all grow extremely fearful when they see their team among the relegation places at Christmas. However, there is still plenty of time for them to turn their fortunes around and make a successful bid for survival. Only twice in Premier League history have the bottom three teams at Christmas all gone down.
It happened for the first time in 2001/02, when Ipswich, Derby and Leicester were all in trouble as Christmas crackers were pulled, turkey was served and Mariah Carey dominated the airwaves. Derby went through three managers that season, as Jim Smith resigned in the October and Colin Todd was sacked three months later. Leicester also axed Peter Taylor and replaced him with Dave Bassett, but it was not enough to save either team as they finished in the bottom two places. Ipswich stuck with George Burley throughout the campaign and they came the closest to securing survival, but they ultimately finished four points behind 17th placed Sunderland.
In 2012/13, Wigan, Reading and QPR found themselves languishing in the bottom three at Christmas. QPR sacked Mark Hughes and replaced him with Harry Redknapp, but it was not enough to prevent them finishing bottom of the table. Reading waited until March to dispense with Brian McDermott, but incoming Nigel Adkins could not pull off a great escape. Wigan kept the faith in their manager, Roberto Martinez, and they also came the closest to beating the drop, but they finished three points below 17th placed Sunderland. However, one magnificent consolation prize arrived when Wigan somehow managed to beat the mighty Man City in the FA Cup final. It meant they played in the Europa League the following season, despite being a Championship team.
Have any Teams Avoided Relegation After Sitting Bottom at Christmas?
Just four teams have managed to beat the drop after sitting rock bottom in 20th place on Christmas Day. West Brom pulled off the miracle in 2004/05 thanks to a remarkable spring surge up the standings. They went into the final day of the campaign needing victory over Portsmouth in order to survive. Nails were bitten to the quick at half-time with the score poised at 0-0, but Geoff Horsfield finally broke the deadline in the 60th minute before Kieran Richardson banged in a second. It saw the Baggies leapfrog Crystal Palace and beat the drop by a single point.
Three teams then managed to pull off the great escape in consecutive seasons. First up were Sunderland in 2013/14. The Black Cats have a habit of surviving relegation, but that campaign saw their most remarkable Houdini act. They sacked Paulo Di Canio in October after a dismal start, and they were marooned at the bottom of the table by Christmas. A slight uptick in results in January was followed by a dreadful nine-game winless streak in which they picked up just two points. Sunderland looked dead and buried, but they then embarked on a run of five straight victories – including wins against Chelsea and Man Utd – to scrape their way to survival.
Leicester were bottom of the table at Christmas the following season and they too looked all but certain to be relegated. A 4-3 defeat to Spurs on March 21 left them hopelessly adrift, without a win in eight matches. However, Nigel Pearson’s men turned their season around in style, winning seven of their final nine games of the season. The following campaign saw them installed as 5,000/1 outsiders to win the Premier League title, with longer odds offered on them, than Prime Minister David Cameron taking over as Aston Villa boss, but they kept up that magnificent form and won the league.
That season saw Swansea bottom of the pile at Christmas. They too looked doomed after Garry Monk was sacked and interim boss Alan Curtis failed to galvanise the team. Yet they brought in Francesco Guidolin as manager in the January and it proved to be an inspired decision. He won eight of his 16 games in charge and the Swans soared up to 12th in the table.
That might provide some semblance of hope for Watford, who are on course to be bottom of the pile this Christmas. They have already sacked two managers, but in Pearson they have a new boss who knows how to pull off a miraculous escape. The Hornets look to be up against it, as highlighted by the Premier League spread betting markets, but all hope is not lost.
How Often Does the Fourth Placed Team at Christmas Secure a Champions League Berth?
For more than a decade it has been a major coup to secure a top four finish in the Premier League, as it results in qualification for next season’s Champions League. More than 80% of the teams nestled in the top four at Christmas remain there by the end of the campaign, but the fourth placed team is often vulnerable. Newly rich Man City were fourth at Christmas in the 2007/08 season, but they suffered a total meltdown and finished down in ninth, 21 points behind fourth placed Liverpool. Aston Villa were fourth on 25 December in the 2009/10 season, but found themselves overhauled by Arsenal in the second half of the campaign.
In 2011/12, champions Chelsea were fourth at Christmas and many expected them to make a concerted title challenge in the second half of the season. However, results went south and manager Carlo Ancelotti found himself sacked in May as the Blues limped home in sixth. Remarkably, Chelsea went on to win their first ever Champions League title under caretaker boss Roberto Di Matteo that month.
The following season, Spurs were up in the top four at Christmas, and fans had “Mind the Gap” shirts printed to mock struggling rivals Arsenal. Yet Tottenham struggled towards the end of the campaign and a resurgent Arsenal earned their customary top four place. It was West Ham’s turn to sit fourth in the table in 2014/15, only to fall down to 12th in the final standings following a total capitulation.
Arsenal were always seemingly assured of finishing in the Champions League places under Arsene Wenger, so supporters must have felt comfortable when their team sat in fourth place in the 2016/17 campaign, but they ended up finishing fifth just one point behind Liverpool, breaking Wenger’s long-held record.
The last two seasons have seen the fourth placed team comfortably hold onto a top spot, which could be a good omen for Chelsea this time around. However, Frank Lampard’s men face fierce competition from a resurgent Tottenham, while Man Utd are also lurking ominously behind them.
Do you think the Blues can hold onto a place in the top four now that they have had their transfer embargo lifted and they can buy players in January? Can anyone catch Liverpool? Can Watford pull off a great escape? Check out the latest Premier League odds and Premier League spread betting markets and grab yourself a stake in the action!