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Premier League bottlers: Who are football’s specialists in failure?

As the Premier League season passes the halfway point, it looks like the title race may already be over.

However, there are certain clubs – and individuals – in the top flight who seem to be specialists in throwing away a seemingly strong position, whether that be a commanding lead in the table or a good cup run.

Here, we’ve identified the worst bottlers in the Premier League era, so that there will be no unpleasant surprises in May.

In the Premier League

Being top at Christmas tends to be a good omen in the title race, but there have been 10 clubs who have thrown away a post-Christmas lead of five points or more. Newcastle famously blew a 12-point advantage in Manchester United’s favour in 1996, but the Red Devils’ managed the same unwanted feat just two seasons later in allowing an Arsenal surge to rob them of the title. United are also one of two English top-flight sides – the other being Liverpool – to have missed out on four titles despite having led the standings with five or fewer matches remaining.

In the modern era, missing out on Champions League football is arguably an even bigger sin than throwing away the title, such is the drop in income that this precipitates. There have been 10 Premier League clubs who were at least five points clear of the team in fifth place after Christmas yet allowed themselves to be displaced, with Newcastle again standing out. The Magpies had built up a 10-point cushion when they sat third in early March 1995 but finished the season in sixth place, missing out on the UEFA Cup by a single point.

In cup competitions

Few things stoke the fires of optimism more than a strong showing in the Champions League group stages, but few tournaments have provided more brutal wake-up calls in the modern era. Under the current competition format, only a quarter of the teams with the best record in the group stage have gone on to win the trophy, with Barcelona, Tottenham and Porto in the last three seasons not even reaching a semi-final between them. Seven teams have even finished above the eventual winners in the group stage in the Champions League era, including Bayern Munich before Manchester United defeated them in the memorable 1999 final.

Arsenal have the unwanted distinction of having reached the knockout stages of the Champions League on 15 separate occasions without winning the trophy. While there are nine other sides to have done so more than five times, Lyon’s 10 failures is the only other tally which has reached double figures.

Players and managers

Arsenal have also stood out among the Premier League also-rans in recent years, with Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna the only two players to have failed to win the English top flight despite their team sitting top after Christmas in four separate seasons. The Gunners’ legendary manager Arsene Wenger and his great rival Sir Alex Ferguson each threw away six Premier League titles despite having guided their team to the top of the table after Christmas, although both tasted enough success to mitigate these failures. Spare a thought for David O’Leary, though, who twice topped the league after December 25th but missed out on silverware both times.

Pep Guardiola is the only one of the seven managers to have topped the Premier League table after Christmas more than once and not bottled at least one of these opportunities, while a further 12 bosses – including Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp – have topped the post-Christmas table once without keeping their team there for the rest of the season.

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