It is that time of year again. Christmas, New Years, alcohol, food, family and a guarantee of at least 4 episodes of Match of the Day within the space of 10 days to annoy your sister. Hallelujah and praise Jebus.
It’s exciting, stressful, awe-inspiring and teary eyed. That’s just the visit to the pub on Christmas Eve.
It is the hardest time of the year for your mother and for a football league manager. With the opportunity of around 4-5 fixtures within such a short space of time, it can make or break a career. It is what lost Andre Villas Boas his position at Chelsea last year and I imagine someone will feel the ice cold guillotine of a tumultuous leader in January.
The be all and end all to a successful festive period is the ability to perform a bounty of squad rotation without an alarming drop in quality. It is why when you think of the great Premier League team of Christmas past, you will notice around two players for each position. It is this depth which defines success. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, any Manchester United squad and the Arsenal Invincibles all had solid grounding. Pascal Cygan was even an international defender at this point. Learning from the past creates an inevitability of success, in the present or the future. David Moyes has begun to utilise this method this season. He has brought in Bryan Oviedo from FC Copenhagen to ease the strain on Leighton Baines and Kevin Mirallas (Olympiakos) to add greater options on each flank. Certainly this year, the oncoming period may be the most important for Everton football club under Moyes.
It is not just Everton who will be looking for a strong points tally. Tottenham, Arsenal and everyone pushing for the Champions League will be looking to really kick on now to the end of the season. A strong performance this weekend will create a domino effect over the next 10 days. The same can be said at the other end of the table.
Even though QPR have only just won their first game of the season, a Premier League record, it could not have come at a better time. Fixtures against Newcastle, West Brom and Liverpool in their next three ties present a great opportunity to build on the excellent performance given against Fulham. Two wins here will undoubtedly show they have the capability to move out of the relegation zone before the end of the season. Harry Redknapp’s man management and their new found belief after ending their terrible run, will give a vast quantity of hope to the clubs fans.
It is the title which I now turn my attention to. Sir Alex Ferguson always states the need, the desire to do well over the Christmas fixtures. It is the prequel to the infamous ‘squeaky bum time’, determining how much squeak you get per pound at Easter. Especially with the top teams, it is the ultimate test of your squad. It shows how well they will deal with the pressure in the final echelons of the seasons when the multiple competitions come to a close. Playing big games, 3 times a week for a large proportion of the spring calendar with the Champions League, Europa League and FA Cup at the business end of their stories, truly examines the mental and physical strength of the squad of players. It can of course lead to knee-jerk reactions in the January transfer window.
In examining the last decade of results over the Christmas periods, some trends have been found. If you are a fan of either Manchester club then it is probably best to read on and decide for yourself the outcome at the end of the season.
The criteria for the study were as follows. To make sure it was a fair test I have selected a set arrangement of fixtures to include. These are from the first game prior to boxing game up until the FA Cup third round fixtures, simple enough. The amount of fixtures ranges from 3-5 games depending on the alignment of the moon.
Secondly, I have narrowed it down to the results of the teams which finished first and second at the end of the season as it seems highly unlikely that any other club will separate the Mancunians.
Thirdly, as aforementioned the study is over the last ten seasons of the Premier League.
Initially, the first noticeable trend is that of the teams involved. From United-Arsenal, to Arsenal-Chelsea, Chelsea-United and finally where we are today, the Manchester impasse. Some fantastic teams and individuals have circled over the past decade and we should feel blessed to have witnessed the talents of Oleg Luzhny, David Bellion and Gael Kakuta. Superb.
The most consistent rivalry has been Manchester United and Chelsea. Ever since Abramovich’s money entered the fray in the summer of 2003 with top buys such as Geremi, the contest has been fiercely fought. I decided to start here and see how the two have fared in relation to each other.
The first six seasons are split 3 each but since 2008, Ferguson’s men have outscored the Blues every time. Some may argue this is due to the lack of continuity at the club and the period for which a lot of unrest is caused by John Terry. I don’t mean to single a scapegoat but… It is the Red Devils who score an average of 1.5 more points per season over this period. A further statistic is that Chelsea is the only team to score maximum points (15 from a possible 15) and go on to win the title. Both under Jose Mourinho and both by a large margin. In the 2004/5 season Chelsea won the title by a meagre 12 points over Arsenal.
Now, to the more important matter of predicting what will happen in May. The results are posted in the table prior. These are the points gained by the teams that finished first and second since the 2002/3 season.
The clear answer is that the title winners outscored those around them by an average of 1.4 points. This is only a small margin, but it is clearly a significant enough one. Specific seasons can really prove how key this period is.
In the 2010/11 season Manchester United claimed 8 more points over Chelsea at Christmas. The title was won by 9 points.
In 2006/7, Chelsea dropped 6 points. One win and three draws from four games. Ferguson’s men won the title by 6 points.
We all now the outcome of last season. AGUERRROOOOOOO. The yuletide resulted in City claiming one more point the United. The Red Devils lost to Blackburn and Newcastle over this period. Grant Hanley’s header with five minutes left at Old Trafford won it for Blackburn and lost the champions a valuable point.
Out of the ten seasons, the champions have outscored the runners-up 6 times to 3 with one stalemate. Therefore, you are 50% more likely to be crowned Barclays Premier League winners if you can outscore your closest challenger over Christmas and New Years. I like this stat and it could be the answer for anyone wondering who will be superior at the end of the season. I am not saying it is the Mystic Meg of stats, but if City can outscore United over the next 4 games, then it will be without doubt as close as last year. Maybe there will be another hero on the lips of a Sky Sports commentator. BUTTTNNERRRRRRR…