The Premiership Big 6 in Numbers
Posted 7th October 2019
Since the 1995/96 season Premiership teams have played 38 games. Here, I have made a comparison of the performance of the big 6 teams since that time: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United. With the exception of Manchester City, all teams have competed in every 25 seasons, up to and including the current one, for a total of 920 games. Whilst Manchester City were members of the Premiership in 1995/96 and 2000/01 I have restricted their analysis to just their consecutive seasons beginning 2002/03.
The charts below show the 38-game running total points for the teams, that is to say their points total for their previous 38 games after every game. Obviously, the series begin at game 38, and game 304 for Manchester City. They allow us to make some generalized observations.
Broadly speaking, the period can be broken into three parts: early Premiership where Manchester United and Arsenal were dominant, mid Premiership where Chelsea replaced Arsenal as Manchester United's main title challenger, and late Premiership that has witnessed the meteoric rise of Manchester City and latterly Liverpool.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United were the top dog. Their long-term average running points total was consistently between 80 and 90 points, historically considered to be title winning performance. During this period, they won 11 titles (and 2 more when the Premiership was larger in the first 3 seasons). Their dramatic fall in running points after his departure is evident, from where it has never properly recovered, averaging a good 15 points lower.
Arsenal have probably been the Premiership's most consistent performer, never really straying much below 70 points nor above 80 points. Unfortunately, this was possibly 5 points below what was needed to deliver a better haul of titles over the period. Nevertheless, 3 of their 4 spikes close to or over 90 points coincided with titles; on this basis we might argue that Wenger got the most out of a team with less money to spend than either Manchester United or Chelsea at the same time as building a stadium. They were possibly unlucky not to win in 2013/14. Having peaked at 90 in February 2014 they did the classic Arsenal thing of throwing away a lead. By May, they were down to 78 and Manchester City won the second of their 4 titles with 86. Since Wenger departed the team has failed to rekindle the former glory days and has yet to rise above 80 points again. Surely a lesson to fans looking for managerial change: be careful what you wish for, especially when arguably the one you had was 'pound-for-pound' the Premiership's greatest. Interestingly, their best running total in their "Invincibles" season of 2003/04 was only 91, 11 short of Manchester City's and Chelsea's best figures of 102, and Liverpool's 101.
Manchester United v Arsenal
We can see over the period that Ferguson just had the edge on Wenger, more particularly in his latter years. It is noticeable that since the rise of Manchester City, both clubs have lost some ground and have been averaging around 70 to 75 points per 38 games.
Under Abramovich, Chelsea became a dominant force in the Premiership beginning with two title in 2004/05 and 2005/06 under Mourinho, during which time they became the first team to surpass 100 points as a running total. Between 19th September 2005 and 12th March 2006, they didn't drop below 96 points. They have also been the most erratic performers, falling as low as 50 at the end of the 2015/16 season. Perhaps that is a lesson for the owner: having a conveyor belt of managers doesn't build consistency. However, with 5 titles, bettered only by Manchester United, perhaps Abramovich is happy with his high variance strategy.
Liverpool have been the Premiership's perennial bridesmaid, never having won it. They might consider themselves to be the unluckiest of the big 6. Broadly speaking they have matched Arsenal's long-term points performance. Perhaps they just haven't been quite there at the end of the season. Twice they have missed out to Manchester City, in 2013/14 and 2018/19, with points totals that would have won in many other seasons. Their consolation is 2 Champions League wins (in 4 finals) and being the only other team other than Manchester City and Chelsea to join the 100-point club which they joined last weekend when beating Leicester City in injury time. Despite all their titles, Manchester United's best tally is 97.
Liverpool v Manchester United
Arguably the most significant football rivalry in English football, Liverpool will now also take some consolation in the huge gulf that has appeared between the two teams since the arrival of Klopp. Whilst Liverpool are on 101 points, Manchester Untied are in freefall at 62, just 4 more than their lowest ever. Again, the board should take note: managerial quick fixes don't build title winning dynasties.
Based on running points, new arrivals to the Premiership top table Manchester City are possibly the greatest ever team. Under Guardiola they have played beautiful football and been rewarded handsomely. Since 2nd December 2017, a stretch of 70 games, they have dropped below 90 points just once, with the period averaging an incredible 96 points, a figure greater than Chelsea's record haul (at the time) in the 2004/05 season (95).
Manchester United v Manchester City
For so long the second team in the city of Manchester, the fortunes of the two clubs have seen a dramatic reversal. Manchester United might decry the gulf in spending power. The rest of the Premiership might tell them not to throw stones in glass houses.
Like Liverpool, Tottenham have never won a Premiership title. Unlike Liverpool it's questionable whether they would have deserved to. For at least half the 38-game Premiership era you might not have even regarded them as a top-6 team. Under Pochettino their fortunes have improved, consistently averaging about 70 points and more recently 80 points. Unfortunately, this has coincided with the era of the big 2 of Manchester City and Liverpool. Whilst once they would have been vying for title wins, today this leaves them 15 to 20 points short. Most recently their performance, like that of Manchester United's, appears to have regressed dramatically.
Arsenal v Tottenham
Tottenham's only crumb of comfort lies in the fact that they have recently been outdoing their main London rivals Arsenal, after a long period of relative underperformance. However, unless Pochettino can rekindle the confidence of his players, that period might be about to end.
A final point is worth making. Whilst the big 6 have seen lots of ups and downs over the history of the Premiership, today is possibly unique in the gap between the top 2 and the next 4. Even when Manchester United and Arsenal and then Manchester United and Chelsea were battling, others were not so far behind. Today Liverpool are on 101 and Manchester City on 94. The next best in Arsenal on 67. Manchester United on 62 are over a full point per game behind Liverpool. Such is the dominance of Liverpool and Manchester City. We might very well expect some mean regression to take place. However, I thought that would start happening in August. We are now nearly a quarter of the way into the latest season and Liverpool have amassed 24 points from a possible 24, and stretching a little further back a total of 51 from a possible 51. Beat Manchester United on the 20th October and they will equal Manchester City's record of 18 consecutive wins. We live in strange times indeed.