How much does the Christmas Day table matter?

How much does the Christmas Day table matter?

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There are plenty of clichés floating around in football about the importance of being top or bottom of the table at Christmas, but just how reliable are they in gauging how the rest of the season will pan out? We’ve looked at the last 10 Christmas Day tables in each of the ‘big five’ European leagues – giving us 50 tables in total – to look for festive patterns that predict how the rest of the season could unfold.

The title race

In the last decade, 35 of the 50 teams who topped the table on Christmas Day were still there at the end of the season, and only once has a title-winner sat outside the top four at this stage, which is good news for the clubs already occupying the Champions League places. The exception was Wolfsburg in 2008/09, who rocketed all the way up from their festive placing of ninth under future Fulham boss Felix Magath, with a memorable 5-1 win on the last day of the season seeing them snatch the Bundesliga title from Bayern.

Four of the ‘big five’ European leagues already have leaders with a comfortable points cushion, and recent history suggests that these title races are already all but over. Only one club who sat top at Christmas threw away a lead of more than three points – Bordeaux’s infamous collapse in 2009/10 – which makes it unlikely that any division other than Serie A is likely to see their current leaders displaced.

The top four

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The battle for European football is a far likelier source of drama in the second half of the season, as the margins are far finer. While more than three quarters of teams with a cushion of three or more points over the team in fifth place at Christmas have successfully defended their position, the prospects for teams with a slimmer margin drop close to 50:50.

While only two clubs in the last decade have burned through a Christmas cushion of five points or greater to slip out of the top four, there’s hope for anyone less than nine points adrift on December 25. Seven clubs have clawed back a deficit of between six and eight points on Christmas Day to end the campaign in the Champions League places, so it’s not too late for underachievers like Tottenham to salvage something from their season.

The relegation battle

In a season where the Premier League in particular is likely to see an unusually close struggle to avoid the drop, there’s plenty of hope for the teams who are currently in danger. Being inside the relegation zone on Christmas Day isn’t usually that big a deal, with over half of clubs who were adrift by three points or fewer going on to survive. Even those with a four-to-six point gap between themselves and safety have had a roughly 40% survival rate, although only one of the 18 clubs with a deficit of more than six points to make up after Christmas managed to do so.

However, being bottom of the pile at Christmas is just as telling as sitting on top, with 72% – almost three quarters – of the last 50 clubs who sat in last place on December 25 ending up in the final bottom three.

Will we have the closest Christmas table in Premier League history?

As it stands, all but four of the Premier League’s 20 clubs are within three points – i.e. a single result – of either the top four or bottom three. Leicester, Everton, Watford and Huddersfield are the exceptions, which would be the smallest such group in the 20-club Premier League era pending the outcome of this weekend’s matches. No previous Christmas Day table since 1995/96 has seen fewer than six teams out of immediate reach of both the top four and bottom three, so we could be on the verge of witnessing the tightest Premier League season in the competition’s history.

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