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Chelsea’s Historical Christmas Advantage Demands a Historic Response

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The Blues have the biggest Christmas lead in a decade and are crushing favourites to win the league. Accepting that doesn’t end the season for Liverpool or Manchester City.

Everton v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead. For those unfamiliar with basketball, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors were in the league finals last season, a best of seven series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They were up three games to one after four had been played and needed to win only one of the remaining three to be named champions.

They lost all three, becoming the first team in the history of the NBA to lose the finals after leading 3-1. Teams have blown such leads in earlier playoff rounds before, but it’s rare. Rare enough to be noteworthy. Rare enough that when the Warriors did it in the final, they became a joke for it and 3-1 enjoyed a brief life as a meme.

Right now, were Chelsea to lose the Premier League title despite leading the league by six points at Christmas, they would be doing the equivalent of blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA finals. Acknowledging as much doesn’t mean it’s time for everyone else to give up. It’s simply acknowledging the unlikely, monumental task they face.

Over the past ten seasons, the club leading the Premier League at Christmas has gone on to lead the league in the final table 70% of the time. In those three seasons where the leader at Christmas hasn’t gone on to win, Liverpool have failed to hold on to top spot twice and Arsenal once. In all cases, though, their lead was more narrow.

Premier League Christmas Leaders

Season Top at Christmas Advantage Final Position
Season Top at Christmas Advantage Final Position
2015-16 Leicester City 2 1
2014-15 Chelsea 3 1
2013-14 Liverpool 0 2
2012-13 Man United 4 1
2011-12 Man City 2 1
2010-11 Man United 2 1
2009-10 Chelsea 4 1
2008-09 Liverpool 1 2
2007-08 Arsenal 1 3
2006-07 Man United 2 1

The average advantage of the three sides that lost the title after holding it at Christmas was 0.67 points. In 2007-08, Arsenal were up by one. In 2008-09, Liverpool were up by one. In 2013-14, Liverpool were ahead on goal differential. That 30% of the time when the Christmas leader has been beaten, their lead has been razor thin.

By comparison, the seven times when the Christmas leader has held on, they have had an average advantage of +2.7 points in the table. In the past ten years, nobody has had a lead as large as Chelsea’s current six point advantage. The team that’s top at this stage, historically, has a 70%+ success rate. And Chelsea have a historically large lead.

As far as EPL title winners, expectation, and probabilities go, we’re in the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead territory here. That’s what we’re hoping for as fans of Liverpool Football Club. That’s what Manchester City fans are hoping for, too. Acknowledging the difficulty of the task ahead for the chasers doesn’t make the task impossible.

Rather, it accepts that should Liverpool or City go on to upset Chelsea and win the league this season, it would be more than just winning the league—as monumental as that would be, especially for Liverpool. More than even that, it would mean beating out the strongest mid-season leader the league has seen in more than a decade.

In fact, one has to go back to 2000-2001 to find a team with a stronger hold on top spot at Christmas, when Manchester United had an eight point advantage at the top of the table. They went on to stretch their lead to ten points in the final table. That’s the sort of history that Liverpool and Manchester City are fighting against.

And that’s the expectation. That at least 70% of the time, Chelsea will now go on to win the title given the position they’re currently in. Given the size of their lead, it might actually be that their chances stand somewhere north of 80%. If they fail to win, it will be a bigger collapse than the Warriors throwing away a 3-1 lead.

Recognise the difficulty of the task; embrace it. For one thing, it’s the simple reality of the current situation for Liverpool and City. But far more importantly, it would make managing to unseat Chelsea and steal away a title that at this stage looks well and truly theirs all the better.