Is This The Closest Premier League Race Ever?

Feb 16 2014, 3:32pm CST | by

This was an FA Cup weekend but with the top four clubs drawn against each other it was hard to escape the grasp of the Premier League. When the league reached the half-way stage during the packed holiday schedule many pundits pointed to at least seven teams that had a realistic chance of winnining the 2014 Premier League.

Here is a look at the Premier League table on December 29, 2013.

Position Team

P

Pts

1

Arsenal

19

42

2

Man City

19

41

3

Chelsea

19

40

4

Everton

19

37

5

Liverpool

19

36

6

Man Utd

19

34

7

Tottenham

19

34

8

Newcastle

19

33

Although Newcastle sat only nine points behind leaders Arsenal only the most optimistic of Newcastle fans would have questioned why seven contenders rather than eight.

Seven weeks later, only one third of the season remains and this is the current position.

Position

Team

P

Pts

1

Chelsea

26

57

2

Arsenal

26

56

3

Man City

25

54

4

Liverpool

26

53

5

Tottenham

26

50

6

Everton

25

45

7

Man Utd

26

42

8

Southampton

26

39

Southampton have taken the place of Newcastle and there has been a shift in some positions. But more importantly the race for the title looks to have narrowed from seven teams at New Year to no more than five.

Everton fans may argue that they remain in contention but losses to Liverpool (4-0) and Tottenham Hotspur (1-0) appear to have put paid to that dream – even with a game in hand.

Manchester United also retain a mathematical possibility of retaining the title but the maximum number of points they can reach is 78 and it is likely that the mathematical possibility may finally  evaporate with five or so games remaining in the season.

A Champions League spot – reserved for the top four finishers – is now a more achievable option but even then United are going to have to engineer a tremendous turnaround in form while hoping that some of the teams above them drop a few gears or that the Cup competitions produce the “right” winners and in the case of the FA Cup, runners up.

Nonetheless, we constantly hear that this is the closest Premier League race ever…. but is it?  The Premier League stats vault has been prised open in an attempt to discover how close the 2014/15 race actually is and whether past seasons can tells us anything about how this season might finish.

 Is this the tightest Premier League ever at this stage?

The answer depends on the range used. Currently the top four are separated by just four points. But in 2001/02 there was just three points between Newcastle United (52), Manchester United (51), Arsenal (51) and Liverpool (49).

This season only has a 5 point differential between top spot and #5 (2001/12 was 8 points). Take it to seventh and this season the gap is 15 points while in 2002 it was just 14.

Probably the safest position to take is that we haven’t seen so much congestion at the top of the Premier League for least a dozen years.

 How does each teams’ points totals at this stage compare to other seasons?

It is a case of the league giveth and the league taketh away. The current top two of Chelsea (57) and Arsenal (56) are nowhere close to the record points total at this stage for their positions. The 2005/06 version of Chelsea holds the record with 66 points after 26 games while Manchester United sat second in 2011/12 with 61 points.

Should Manchester City win their game in hand Arsenal would set a new high of 56 points after 26 games while dropping to third – Chelsea had 55 points and sat third in 2007/08.

However, Liverpool, Spurs and Everton blow away comparable records.

Liverpool 4th and 53 points beat Aston Villa’s mark of 51 in 2008/09.

Spurs are four points better than any team has ever been in 5th. Chelsea once again the previous best but this time in 2000 and they had 46 points.

Everton have a game in hand but have already bettered Aston Villa’s 44 points in 2007/08.

Only one other team sitting 7th after 26 games has ever collected more than Manchester United’s total of 42 points and that was Manchester City with 44 in 2007/08.

 In that case has any other Premier League leader had fewer than Chelsea’s current tally of 57 points?

It seems that we have been seduced over the last few years with one or two teams running away from the others. Averaging the previous 18 seasons the average number of points for the league leaders is 59 points (59.39) which is only two points more than Chelsea have.

In 2001/02 and 1998/99 Arsenal and Manchester United set a low mark of 51 points. The same teams had only 53 points in 1997/98 and 1996/97 while United had 57 points in 1999/00 and 2010/11.

 Given a current gap of 15 points between #1 and #7 is the gap likely to shrink by the end of the season?

It seems very unlikely. History shows that gaps normally widen as seasons draws to a close. Out of the 18 seasons analyzed not once has the gap from 1 to 7 shrunk over the last third of the season.

In 2000/01 and last season the gaps remained the same but over the other 16 seasons the gap widened, some by a considerable margin.

 Which seasons have had the strongest finishes?

2008/09 is one that stands out. With a maximum of 36 points to play for Manchester United registered 28 while Liverpool and Chelsea collected 31 in the first, second, third finishes.

However, seven years before matched or possibly exceeded that run in. Arsenal won their last 12 games (part of a 21 game unbeaten streak of 18 wins and 3 draws) and took the maximum 36 points. Liverpool finished as runners-up and dropped only 5 points during the run in.

In 1999/00 Manchester United bagged 34 points out of 36.

 So what was the closest finish to a Premier League season?

It is probable best to look at this from the context of the points that separated the winners from other positions 2 through 7.

Season Position Team Position Team Pts. Diff
2011/12 Winner Man City Runner Up Man United 0
2007/08 Winner Man United 3rd Arsenal 4
1996/97 Winner Man United 4th Liverpool 7
1996/97 Winner Man United 5th Aston Villa 14
1996/97 Winner Man United 6th Chelsea 16
1996/97 Winner Man United 7th Sheffield Wed. 18

For reference, in 96/97 Newcastle finished as runners up Manchester United with 68 points while Arsenal dropped to third on goal difference and Liverpool also collected 68 points.

But what about 2001/02 when the top seven were only separated by 14 points with 12 games remaining?

There-in is a cautionary tale of how things can change dramatically. Come the end of the season Arsenal led runners up Liverpool by seven points and the gap from top to #7 had exploded to 34 points.

So what about this season, how will it finish?

After analyzing the data, burning out a calculator and throwing darts at a board here is how things might turn out.

38 Game season

26 Game season

2013/14

Position

Record points

Average pts

Present

Average pts

Projected Finish

1

95

86

57

59

83

2

89

79

56

54

82

3

83

73

*54

50

80

4

76

68

53

46

75

5

72

63

50

43

70

6

64

60

*45

41

65

7

63

57

42

39

61

*Game in hand

But who will finish one through seven?

I will let you come up with that answer.

 *Historical stats are for 38 game seasons that commenced in 1995/96.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

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