Being top of the pile on Christmas Day is always seen as an important milestone in the Premier League title race. From there, it’s all about maintaining form and composure to the finish line, having already fought hard to get to the front during the first half of the season.
Looking at the overall picture since the modern era began in 1992, history will tell you that exactly half of the clubs leading the way on 25th December have gone on to lift the trophy come May. That means that the other half have fallen off the pace, sometimes disastrously.
In 24 completed Premier League seasons to the end of 2015/16, the team on top at Christmas has gone on to be champions on 12 occasions. But what it means and the omens associated with being top at Christmas have actually changed significantly over the years, and once you begin to dig a little deeper, that soon becomes very clear.
The Premier League is hailed the world over for its unpredictability, making it the most exciting and entertaining domestic league on the planet. That image has grown exponentially in recent years as social media and ever bigger television deals make the world a smaller place, but as far as the title is concerned the eventual winner has increasingly been top at Christmas.
In the last 12 completed seasons (since the start of 2004/05), nine of the teams who occupied first place on Christmas Day have actually gone on to finish top of the pile. That means only three – Arsenal (2007/08) Liverpool (2008/09) and Liverpool again (2013/14) – haven’t managed to hold on.
As should be plainly obvious from that, the Christmas story was quite different during the first 12 years of the Premier League’s existence. It is, in fact, the exact opposite, with only three of the Christmas day leaders from the inaugural campaign in 1992/93 through to 2003/04 actually holding on to top spot until the end.
Only Manchester United (1993/94 and 2000/01) and Blackburn Rovers (1994/95) actually had the composure to hold their form and stay on course to become champions. In the nine other seasons of those first 12, another club always came through and the leader fell away.
In the halcyon days of Chris Sutton, Efan Ekoku and Jeremy Goss, it was Norwich who led the Premier League when Christmas Day came around in December 1992. The Canaries were as many as four points clear of Aston Villa only to eventually finish third as Manchester United came through from fourth place to claim their first league title since 1967.
United’s record of coming from behind effectively characterised the whole first decade. After that very first season, having not led on Christmas Day in 1995/96, 1996/97, 1998/99, 1999/00 and 2002/03 Sir Alex Ferguson’s team were always able to catch up during the second-half of the campaign to become champions.
Ironically, United themselves were caught by Arsenal in 1997/98 as the Gunners went on to complete a famous league and FA Cup double in Arsene Wenger’s first full season in charge.
United held on to an impressive 12-point lead in 1993/94, while Newcastle gave up a 10-point Christmas Day lead two seasons later. Aston Villa well and truly collapsed in 1998/99 and finished as low as sixth having led the race at Christmas – no other team that hasn’t gone to see it through has finished lower than 4th.
Chelsea’s role in all of this obviously bears the most relevance for 2016/17. New manager Antonio Conte has masterminded an incredible turnaround at Stamford Bridge in the few short months that he’s been there and his team will sit six points clears when the clock strikes midnight to mark Christmas Day 2016.
Chelsea are largely responsible for the current trend of Christmas Day leaders going on to become champions. They have led the Premier League at this point on four previous occasions and have never failed to go on and lay their hands on the trophy – 2004/05, 2005/06, 2009/10, 2014/15.
It’s a good omen in west London. What’s more, Chelsea’s current lead at the top is actually greater than it was in three of those four title winning seasons – on 25th December 2005 it was nine points.
In fact, as far as the size of Christmas leads go, only a handful of other teams have ever had a greater cushion than Chelsea do right now. The aforementioned Manchester United and Newcastle teams from the 1990s both had double digit leads, while United were eight points clear in 2000/01.
Given the circumstances and what recent history has shown is possible, it would have to be a fairly spectacular collapse from Chelsea and a serious charge from someone else for the Premier League trophy to end up anywhere other than Stamford Bridge in May 2017.
|Season||Top on Christmas Day||Final Position|
|1992/93||Norwich City (4 pts clear)||3rd|
|1993/94||Manchester United (12 pts clear)||1st|
|1994/95||Blackburn Rovers (2 pts clear)||1st|
|1995/96||Newcastle United (10 pts clear)||2nd|
|1996/97||Liverpool (3 pts clear)||4th|
|1997/98||Manchester United (4 pts clear)||2nd|
|1998/99||Aston Villa (3 pts clear)||6th|
|1999/00||Leeds United (2 pts clear)||3rd|
|2000/01||Manchester United (8 pts clear)||1st|
|2001/02||Newcastle United (3 pts clear)||4th|
|2002/03||Arsenal (2 pts clear)||2nd|
|2003/04||Manchester United (1 pt clear)||3rd|
|2004/05||Chelsea (5 pts clear)||1st|
|2005/06||Chelsea (9 pts clear)||1st|
|2006/07||Manchester United (2 pts clear)||1st|
|2007/08||Arsenal (1 pt clear)||3rd|
|2008/09||Liverpool (1 pt clear)||2nd|
|2009/10||Chelsea (4 pts clear)||1st|
|2010/11||Manchester United (2 pts clear)||1st|
|2011/12||Manchester City (2 pts clear)||1st|
|2012/13||Manchester United (4 pts clear)||1st|
|2013/14||Liverpool (goal difference)||2nd|
|2014/15||Chelsea (3 pts clear)||1st|
|2015/16||Leicester City (2 pts clear)||1st|
|2016/17||Chelsea (6 pts clear)||??|