The festive period is in full swing and is regarded as the most intense and challenging part of the season for all English Premier League teams. With most sides playing up to three games within a seven-day stretch, the pressure on players and managers to produce points at this time of the year is overriding. Unlike Europe’s other major leagues (Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1, Serie A), the Premier League does not afford a winter break – which has been up for debate for many a year - and instead it is the most intense part of the season. Therefore, here at TSZ we will compare league placings on January 1st compared to the final table in ever season since 1995/16. Specifically, we will focus on the top four teams and those in the relegation places.
Since the league was reduced to 20 teams from the 1995/96 season, only once have the eventual champions been placed outside the top four on New Year’s Day (Arsenal were fifth at this stage in 1997/98). Furthermore, on just four occasions has a team been lower than second at the turn of the year and gone on to be crowned champions. The last time a team won from lower than second was Manchester United in 2008/09 (fourth) and again in 1998/99 - just twice in the previous 18 seasons. Furthermore, only once in Premier League history has a team been leading on New Year’s Day and finished outside the top four (Leeds United finished fifth in 2001/02). Additionally, on nine occasions a team has been leading on January 1st and gone on to be crowned champions – a conversion rate of 43%.
Teams that finished the season in second place have on six occasions been leading on New Year’s Day, including the two previous campaigns. Only once has a team finished outside the top four when placed second at this stage (Aston Villa finished sixth in 1998/99)
Teams that finished the season in third place have on just four occasions been leading the table on New Year’s Day, with the last being Arsenal in the 2007/08 season. Only three teams have finished in third position from being outside the top four on January 1st. The lowest position this was achieved from was sixth place from Arsenal during the 2014/15 season.
Notably, teams that finished the season in fourth spot had on just two occasions been leading the Premier League on New Year’s Day. Moreover, on nine instances a team placed outside the top four at the turn of the year has gone on to finish fourth, with the lowest being Leeds United, who during the 2000/01 season climbed from 13th position.
On average, teams leading the table on New Year’s Day have finished second and teams second have finished first. The same is true for teams finishing third and fourth respectively. Furthermore, teams inside the top four positions on January 1st have finished there on 70 occasions, with a conversion rate of 86%.
Arsenal over recent years have been laundered with the tag of a team who is mentally weak due to their inability to win the Premier League since 2003/04, and perhaps this tag is justified. Of all the teams that have been winning the league on New Year’s Day but not at the end of the season, Arsenal have done so on four occasions - two more than Manchester United and Liverpool. During the 2013/14 season, Arsenal were leading on January 1st and went on to finish fourth, with Liverpool the only other team in Premier League history to do so. With the league now more competitive than ever and the gap between the top six decreasing, has Arsenal’s opportunity to win again under Wenger passed them by?
Since the 1995/96 season, 39 of the 63 teams (62%) in the relegation zone on New Year’s Day were relegated at the end of the season. The highest league position by a team on New Year’s Day to be relegated is 10th (Blackpool 2010/11), and although it is rare that a team is relegated from such a strong position midway through the season, clubs with smaller squads and finances are always at risk.
On just one occasion (2013/14) since 1995/96 have all three teams in the relegation positions on New Year’s Day survived at the end of the season, whereas there have been four occasions (1995/96, 2001/02, 2002/03 and 2012/13) where all three teams ended up going down. Noticeably, Tottenham Hotspur (2008/09) and Fulham (2010/11) were placed 18th on January 1st and climbed a mammoth 10 places to both finish their respective seasons in eighth spot. Teams placed 20th and 19th on New Year’s Day have survived on just five occasions each, whereas teams placed 18th have survived 13 times. Chelsea’s commanding run of performances this season have left them in a strong position to be crowned champions, and with a similar squad to that which triumphed just two seasons ago, their position at the top will be hard to remove. Nevertheless, each team in the top six all have the squads and finances to be challenging at the end of the season but one thing that will be true come May, two of England’s biggest clubs will miss out on Champions League football. With this in mind, even predicting the top four from previous seasons is more difficult than ever. Conversely, for clubs at the bottom of the table, it is probable that at least one of the three teams will be relegated. On the other hand, it is even more likely that one of the three teams will survive, also leaving relegation battling fans, players and managers fighting until the final match.