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Most Exciting League In The World? History Shows Premier League Title Race Is (Usually) Quite Dull

04/04/2017 16:14

​For the last 10 years, the Premier League has been hailed as the best domestic league in world football. The arrival of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea in 2003 earlier added a third genuine force to the title race after Manchester United and Arsenal had dominated, while Sheikh Mansour's money at Manchester City did similar from 2008.

The Premier League has been THE league of the 21st century. Television companies are now paying into the multi-billions for broadcast rights, selling the product on its excitement value - anything could happen on any given Saturday...or Sunday, or Tuesday night.

That was perfectly illustrated when relegation threatened Crystal Palace, having gone a goal behind early on, managed to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this past weekend. No one expected the league leaders, the 10 points clear, to lose, at home, against a side that until recently had looked destined to playing their football in the Championship next season.

But beyond just being an exciting one-off result, Saturday's 1-2 score-line at Stamford Bridge also kickstarted 'what if' nonsense. Chelsea's advantage at the top was cut from 10 points to seven, so if they lose another, and if they another after that, the title race is...back on?

There is similar noise around this time every season, when people imagine certain scenarios in which the leaders can be caught. Usually, it's empty hype.

Chelsea, the team that has lost four times in 29 games and won a record equalling 13 consecutive matches before Christmas, are not suddenly going to lose (at least) three times and throw the title away in the last nine games. It doesn't work like that. And that's before adding it also requires a challenger to win every remaining game as well - highly improbable based on everything that has come already over the last eight months.

Not even the lead that Kevin Keegan's infamous 1995/96 Newcastle threw away was as big as Chelsea's is now this late on. Having held a 12 point lead in January that season, the Magpies were actually caught and overtaken by Manchester United in mid-March, no later. You'd be looking at an unprecedented collapse for Chelsea to lose it now.

Recent history has demonstrated that, for the most exciting league in the world, top spot doesn't actually change hands very much if at all when each season gets down to the critical 'run-in' - after January, when the frantic Christmas and New Year period is out of the way and there are just 10 or 11 weeks of the campaign left to play.

In the 21st century, going back to and including the 1999/00 season, 11 of the 17 Premier League champions have gone top and stayed top before the end of January. That means there has been no change of lead after January in 65% of completed Premier League seasons this century - only six lots of champions have gone top of the table for the final time any later.

Leicester's title win in 2015/16 wasn't a smash and grab job right at the end. The Foxes latched onto first place never to overtaken on 16th January. In 2014/15, Chelsea went top and stayed there from the ridiculously early date of 30th August - in the opening month.

The Blues had done the same a decade earlier in 2005/06, hitting top spot and staying there on 24th August. Manchester United went top never to be caught on 24th November when they last captured the Premier League trophy in the 2012/13 campaign, while 27th November was the all-important date for going top two years earlier in 2010/11.

Chelsea rose into first place for the final time on 6th November for their first Premier League triumph in Jose Mourinho's debut season in 2004/05.

Of all the last 17 champions, Manchester City are the only club to have exclusively left it late. Having led for much of the season and then thrown away a handsome lead, City's maiden title win in 2011/12 came after irreversibly reclaiming top spot on 30th April.

Two years later in 2013/14, the most dramatic and therefore somewhat anomalous title race this century, City went top on 3rd May, while the lead changed three three times and was held by four different clubs - Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, City - after January.

Only one other time since 2000 has the lead been held more than two clubs after January. That was in 2001/02 when Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal were all top at one stage, but there were only two lead changes in total. 2010/11, 2009/10 and 2007/08 are the only remaining seasons in which there have been even two lead changes after January, and never after early April.

Chelsea may have seen their lead marginally cut at the weekend, but it changes absolutely nothing in terms of where the Premier League trophy will end up come May. When it comes to the most exciting league in the world, the title race is, usually, rather dull.

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