Why being top of the Premier League at Christmas is the best gift of the season
Being top on Christmas Day is held in high regard in the Premier League. When Santa comes down the chimney, it will mark approximately the halfway stage of the league campaign and the middle of a hectic festive period that separates the best from the very best.
This year is no different, and we have a thrilling race to be Christmas No. 1, with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea separated by just two points as we approach December 25. But is being top at Christmas as good an omen as it seems? We dig into the stats to find out…
Premier League Winner Odds
Comebacks more popular in the 90s
A lot like Tamagotchis, it appears coming from off the pace to win the league was very cool in the 90s, but less so now. Overall teams that were top at Christmas have a 15-14 record, but a lot of those comebacks happened in the Premier League’s early days.
In the first 12 years of the Premier League, from 1992-93 to 2003-04, league leaders at Christmas were just 3-9 in their attempts to become league winners. This has flipped completely on its head more recently, as teams top at Christmas have a 9-3 record in the last 12 years.
Whether the game has changed dramatically or if teams have just gotten better at handling the weight of expectation, it certainly seems a far bigger bonus to be top at Christmas now than it did 20 years ago.
A true three-horse race
Before we look in depth at the three leading contenders, we need to judge whether any other team can get involved. Eighty-six percent of teams who weren’t top at Christmas but went on to win the league were within at least seven points of the leaders — currently West Ham in fourth are eight points away.
That’s not to say it’s impossible. Manchester United were 10 points off Newcastle in 1995-96 and went on to win the league, while two years later Man United saw their 13-point Christmas league disappear as Arsenal stunned Old Trafford.
Manchester United have won the league eight times when not top at Christmas — the 10-point overhaul of Newcastle being their biggest comeback. They currently sit 11 points off the top.
The key stat is that 93% of league winners have either been top or no more than seven points off the pace on Christmas Day.
A Blue Christmas?
Chelsea led the league for plenty of the season but conceded top spot to Manchester City last week, after losing 3-2 away to West Ham. Fans will be desperate to see Thomas Tuchel’s men reclaim top spot over the course of the next three days, because Chelsea have never been able to come from off the pace to win the league.
The good news is that they are 5-0 winning the league after being top on Christmas Day, so if they could get back there in the next two weeks, it would be a fantastic omen for the Blues.
Pre-Christmas Fixtures for Chelsea
H vs. Leeds (15th)
H vs. Everton (12th)
A vs. Wolves (8th)
Average position: 11.7
Klopp on Top?
Liverpool topping the table on Christmas Day might be a better pointer for Manchester City than it is for Jurgen Klopp’s Reds! Liverpool are 1-5 when top at Christmas, and three of those five losses have come to City.
The Citizens were behind league leaders Liverpool on Christmas Day in 2013, 2018 and 2020, and each time went on to overtake them and win the league. Last year, City overcame a seven-point deficit on Christmas to win the league by a comfortable 12 points.
Liverpool have never won from off the pace, although that might be slightly easier now after getting the 30-year monkey off their back in 2019.
Pre-Christmas Fixtures for Liverpool
H vs. Villa (10th)
H vs. Newcastle (19th)
A vs. Tottenham (5th)
Average Position: 11.3
Pep into Christmas
Nothing will phase Manchester City as they head into the Christmas period. Not only are they 2-0 when leading on December 25, but they are the only team in the last 12 years to come from off the pace, doing so three times.
They have the easiest fixtures heading towards Christmas of any of the title contenders, so it would be no surprise if they still had the lead when Santa is preparing for the night shift. Even if they aren’t top, they are going to easily be within striking distance, and that will heap the pressure on whoever may be above them.
Pre-Christmas Fixtures for Manchester City
H vs. Wolves (8th)
H vs. Leeds (15th)
A vs. Newcastle (19th)
Average Position: 14
Advantage Man City
The current league leaders have the easiest schedule pre-Christmas, and all things point to City being No. 1 on Dec. 25. They have gone on to win both times they’ve previously topped the league at Christmas, while neither Liverpool nor Chelsea have ever come from off the pace.
Pep’s team won an incredible 21 games in a row last year, starting on December 19, and a similar run this year will put this title race to bed.