Festive Cheer Or Christmas Nightmare? A Guide To Premier League Yuletide Form

Now that the festive season is upon us and we approach the most intense part of the footballing calendar, here at TSZ we have delved into the stats to look at which teams fans could have reason for further celebration this Christmas and whose fans will be thinking the New Year can’t come soon enough. The dates we have considered to be part of the festive period include any matches played between 19th December and 5th January. Depending on the season this can incorporate as much as Gameweeks 17 – 20 of a Premier League season.

As it currently stands, Chelsea are set to top the table come Christmas Day. In the last 10 seasons, seven of the 10 sides who were top at Christmas have gone on to win the Premier League title in May – a run which includes Chelsea’s title winning seasons in 2009/10 and 2014/15. However, despite these ominous signs there is some potentially encouraging news for the chasing pack. Over the past 10 seasons, Chelsea have performed the worst out of the so-called ‘big six’ over the Christmas period. Although they have a fairly favourable schedule with home fixtures against Bournemouth and Stoke, they also have the unenviable task of travelling to Spurs, a side that are unbeaten at White Hart Lane over the Christmas period since a 1-0 defeat by Liverpool on 30th December 2006.

Arsenal in particular will be looking to take advantage of their traditionally excellent form over the festive period. Although beaten in their last two Premier League fixtures, over the past 10 seasons they’ve averaged a league leading 2.19 points per game (PPG) at Christmas. With this year's Christmas fixture list including home games vs West Brom and Crystal Palace and a visit to Bournemouth, the Gunners will be hoping to put their recent poor form behind them and return to winning ways.

Like Arsenal, Manchester City have often found their best form when the games come thick and fast. With an away trip to Anfield on the 31st of December sandwiched between a visit to the KC stadium to play Hull and a home match against Burnley, they will be looking to finish the year strongly, whilst also taking points off one of their main title rivals.

*Given are the average points per game clubs have acquired over the last 10 seasons when the fixtures over the festive period are removed.

At the other end of the table, the festive period offers a chance for sides to put a run of form together and pull away from the bottom three. That being said, this time of year also offers the prospect for sides to be pulled down into a relegation battle or cut adrift at the foot of the table. As of the end of Gameweek 17 the bottom six of Premier League table looks like this:

Of these clubs, fans of Sunderland and Swansea have reason to be optimistic as their form over the festive period is traditionally quite good – particularly when compared to the other four sides (Leicester, Burnley, Crystal Palace and Hull). Leicester fans in particular will be hoping that an already disastrous title defence doesn’t get any worse, whereas Burnley have the unceremonious honour of being the worst performing club over the festive period out of the teams currently in the Premier League.

Sitting just above the bottom six are West Ham and Middlesbrough. While the Hammers are usually strong over Christmas, Middlesbrough has traditionally failed to perform and the sides below will be hoping to drag them back down towards the bottom three. With three games to be played between 19th December and 5th January, if all clubs match their traditional form over the festive period the table on January 5th will look like this:

* Points have been rounded to the nearest point.

The stats suggest that not much will change at either end of the table. Chelsea will still remain six points at the summit, whereas down below, the bottom three will continue to consist of Sunderland, Swansea and Hull. However, whilst not many teams change places, Hull could potentially start to be cut adrift at the bottom, while the rest of the clubs above them start to bunch up even further.

Home Advantage?
The advantage of playing at home is well known, so how pronounced is this over the festive period? Given the short turnaround between matches, any excessive travelling would no doubt have a negative impact on a team’s results. It is therefore perhaps surprising to see that seven of the 20 Premier League clubs actually average more points per game on the road over Christmas than at home. The graph below displays the average PPG over Christmas both home and away; it demonstrates that teams towards the top of the table (Arsenal, Man Utd, Spurs, Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool) are all far more efficient at picking up the points at home than on the road over Christmas. However, the reverse is true for a number of other clubs, with the likes of Everton, Leicester, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Southampton, Hull and Burnley actually picking up more points on average when playing away from home over Christmas, then they have in front of their own fans.

Better at Christmas?
While most managers have come to bemoan the festive period for fear of injuries and burnout later in the season, there are a number of clubs who actually excel at this time of year. The graph below displays the average points per game each side gets over the Christmas fixtures when compared to the fixtures across the rest of the season:

Perhaps unsurprisingly it is the clubs fighting at the top end of the table who excel at this time of year, while the teams towards the bottom tend to perform worse. Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool, and Spurs all average more points per game over the Christmas Period, whereas the likes of Burnley, Watford, Hull, Crystal Palace and Leicester all average less points per game over Christmas when compared to the rest of their season. This statistic is likely down to one of the two following reasons. Firstly, as the bigger clubs are generally used to being in Europe, they are acclimatised to the rigours of having to play many games in quick succession. Secondly, the top teams tend to have greater squad depth than those sides towards the bottom, once again meaning they are better prepared to cope with a congested fixture list.