How much does the Christmas league table matter?

How much does the Christmas league table matter?

Being top or bottom of the Premier League on Christmas Day is often viewed as an omen for how the rest of the season will turn out, but just how good has the Christmas league table been as a predictor?

We’ve looked at every previous Premier League season to see how closely the top and bottom of the division on December 25th resembled the final state of play.

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Christmas number ones

Starting at the top of the table, history suggests that whoever is sitting there on Christmas Day has a 50-50 chance of going on to claim the title. In 12 of the previous 24 iterations of the Premier League, the title has been won by the Christmas leaders, which bodes well for current incumbents Chelsea: their current title odds of 6/5 are less generous amid a competitive field of challengers.

Even more encouraging for the Blues is how often this has happened in recent years, with six of the last seven clubs to have topped the division on Christmas Day successfully claiming the title. The exception were Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool, who were top of the festive table on goal difference during 2013/14 before a late collapse saw them finish two points behind Manchester City.

Top-four fancies

Even if Antonio Conte can’t maintain his side’s grip on top spot, he is very likely to be overseeing Champions League football at Stamford Bridge next season if they can cling on for a few more weeks. Only one club in Premier League history has ever topped the table at Christmas and ended up outside the top four: Aston Villa slipped to sixth place way back in 1998/99.

Previous seasons also suggest that Chelsea’s challengers for the title are unlikely to come from beyond the top four, with the vast majority of past title winners already sitting within it by Christmas. However there is hope for former Blues boss Jose Mourinho as he seeks to turn around a disappointing start at Manchester United: both the Red Devils – fifth on Christmas Day 1996 – and rivals Arsenal – sixth a year later – have won a Premier League title despite finding themselves outside the top four when presents were being exchanged.

Most United fans would probably be content with a top four finish at this point and – encouragingly for them – there’s plenty of precedent for this. In addition to the two aforementioned title wins, there have been 15 other occasions when a team sitting fifth or sixth at Christmas was able to break into the final top four.

Festive flops

The other end of the festive table is also a useful guide to how the rest of the season will play out, which is bad news for whoever is sitting in 20th on Christmas morning.

Since the Premier League was reduced to 20 clubs in 1995/96, only three clubs have ever survived being bottom of the pile on December 25th – the other 17 seasons saw the side at the foot of the table go down, more often than not in last place. Swansea currently occupy 20th position but have the chance to leapfrog Sunderland – along with current relegation favourites Hull – when the two teams meet at the Liberty Stadium this weekend.

However the battle to avoid the other two relegation spots is far trickier to predict at this stage. In the 20-club era, as many clubs have been relegated to the Championship after sitting in the three spots immediately above the relegation zone on Christmas Day as were sitting in either 18th or 19th.

Both sections of the table have contributed 18 clubs during the last 21 seasons, with only nine falling from further up, so the likes of Burnley – currently in 15th – shouldn’t start counting their chickens, or turkeys, just yet. Membership of the top half during the festive period tends to confer safety though: only Blackpool – who narrowly sat 10th at that stage in 2010/11 – have ever been relegated after sitting in the top half at Christmas.

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