In the modern game is easy to rule people out of the title race before it has even really started. Every defeat or draw is treated like its the end of the world, and proof that this or that club are not capable of winning the title.
With this in mind, I have analysed the last five Premier League seasons to see what it really takes to win the Premier League title, and what it means for the current title race.
To win the Premier League title, your home form must be nothing less than magnificent.
In the last five seasons, the title winners have averaged a sensational 50 points from 19 home games. Chelsea in 2005-2006 managed an almost perfect record of 18 wins and one draw, a huge total of 55 points.
The lowest winning total from the last five years came in both 2004-2005 (Arsenal) and 2006-2007 (Man Utd) with 47 points from the 57 available, still a pretty impressive set of stats.
Amazingly in five years worth of matches, the Champions have only lost three home games between them, with Man Utd losing two in 2006-2007, and one in 2007-2008. For three seasons the Champions did not lose a home league game at all.
Chelsea are fully expected to challenge for the title this season, but they need to improve their home form to do so based on the last five years averages. The Blues have already dropped points in four of seven matches. Chelsea won the title despite dropping points in five home games in 2004-2005, the most matches in which points have been dropped by the Champions.
With 12 home games left this term, Chelsea must realistically win 10 of them at least to be in with a chance of the title. They might well need to win all 12.
Liverpool and Manchester United both have title winning home form so far this term, United dropping points just once, on the opening day, and Liverpool stuttering just twice. Both clubs do have all of their toughest home tests to come though, and can't afford to rest on their laurels. Liverpool might well rue slip-ups against lowly Stoke and Fulham, but only time will tell.
With two home defeats, Arsenal have already lost as many home games as any of the Champions of the last five5 seasons. With Chelsea and Liverpool still to visit the Emirates, defeat in either game or any other will realistically be the final nail in the coffin of their title chances.
Most likely to have title winning home form: Man Utd
Still in contention: Liverpool
In the Last Chance Saloon: Chelsea and Arsenal
Only Chelsea in 2004-2005 won the title with better away form than home form, and the Blues will be buoyed by that, and their current away form, as they might need a repeat to win the title.
In winning the title last season, Man Utd only won 10 of 19 away games, with 35 points being the lowest total from the last five seasons. Fortunately for United that away stuttering was coupled with awesome home form, as it was for Chelsea in 2005-2006 as they won the title with only 36 points on the road.
That season saw Chelsea record five defeats on their travels, the highest number of the Champions. In total, the Champions have been beaten 13 times in five seasons, but 12 of those have come in the last three seasons.
In short, you can afford a few slip-ups on your travels as long as your home form is of the title winning variety, but you must make sure that you at least reach the 35 point mark to have any chance of challenging for the title. Forty points plus and you can look forward to a happy holiday.
Chelsea have shot out of the blocks on the road this term, winning all seven matches. With 12 games to go, they could well challenge their own record haul of 48 points from the 2004-2005 season. That said, they are yet to face any of their toughest away games, with Liverpool, Arsenal, Man Utd, Everton, Spurs and Aston Villa all yet to be visited.
They can though afford a few slip-ups in these games, but not too many if they drop many more points at home.
It is away from Anfield that Liverpool have shown the most improvement this term, winning five of seven games so far. They have also faced four of their toughest tests, winning at Chelsea and Everton, drawing at Aston Villa, and losing at Spurs.
With plenty of winnable away fixtures yet to come, Rafa Benitez will be quietly confident that his sides form on their travels can hold up to scrutiny.
Manchester United may have had the best start at home this season, but their away form has been a different story, with only 2 wins from 7 games. They are right to point out though that they have already faced Everton, Arsenal, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Liverpool and Portsmouth away from Old Trafford.
With Man City coming up on Sunday, and Spurs away on the 13th December, Utd would have played all of their toughest away games before the half way stage. If they can escape those two fixtures without too much more damage, they will be confident of doing enough in their remaining away games to mount a title challenge. Slip-ups must be kept to a minimum from here on in though.
Arsenal have already lost three times on the road, and still have to visit Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea, Spurs, Aston Villa and Everton. In short, its almost impossible to make a case for Arsenal displaying title-winning away form this season. You cannot write them off of course, but it would take a Herculean effort to figure in the title race now.
They will though play a huge role in the destination of the title. As one of the few teams with a more than a slim chance of beating the other members of the Big Four, the games between the rest and Arsenal with be of massive importance, starting with Chelsea v Arsenal on Sunday.
Most likely to have title winning away form: Chelsea and Liverpool
Still in contention: Man Utd
Staring down the barrel: Arsenal
With games coming thick and fast and barely time to let your turkey go down, Christmas is always a crucial time in the title race.
In the last five seasons, across some 30 matches (six per season), the title winners have only lost two games, winning a staggering 24.
In short, if you want to win the title, you have had to win at least four of your six Christmas period matches. This time round though, we only have five games over the Christmas period, which could make it less important than usual, or it could mean that any slip-up is magnified.
So who are the most likely Christmas kings this time round?
Well, looking at the fixtures, Manchester United will be playing catch up because of World Club Championship, meaning that the games they do play over Christmas are essential.
They visit Spurs and Stoke, with Middlesbrough and Chelsea at home, and four wins might be the only way to keep in the title race, or a minimum of three wins and a draw, depending on other results of course.
Chelsea face a tricky looking Christmas schedule. They face two London derbies, with West Ham (H) and Fulham (A), as well as tough away trips to Everton and Manchester United. West Brom at the Bridge is an easier looking test in the middle.
Liverpool have an easier Christmas on paper. Arsenal (A) is huge game on the 21st December, but trips to Stoke and Newcastle, and home games against Hull and Bolton give plenty of opportunity for points.
Arsenal need a storming Christmas to keep in contention, but they will have to do it the hard way. As well as Liverpool at the Emirates, they face Aston Villa (A) on Boxing Day. They kick off Christmas with a trip to Middlesbrough, and end with easier looking home games against Bolton and Portsmouth.
Most likely to light up Christmas: Liverpool
Could get by: Chelsea
Potential Christmas stuffing: Arsenal and Man Utd
The Final Countdown
So if only a killer Christmas will do, what about the final flourish, do you need to win eight in a row, or can you stumble over the finishing line?
Well the truth is, you can stumble over the line. In the last five seasons, none of the title winners have won more than five of their last eight matches, and in both 2003-2004 (Arsenal) and 2006-2007 (Man Utd), the Champions won only four of their last eight games.
The last three seasons have seen five defeats in the last 24 games of the Champions. Of course some of this can be put down to taking the foot off of the gas, after the title has already been won, but its still the case that games 31-38 are amongst the hardest to win, primarily because every opponent is either fighting for their lives, or playing without a care in the world. Both of these can be deadly.
Many people do not think that Liverpool will be able to last the pace if it comes down to the final knockings this season, but there is a pattern to how they have finished the season under Benitez.
Much will depend on whether they are still in the Champions League. The only season they have not still been in the Champions League under him come April was 2005-2006, and in that season they finished sensationally, winning all 8 of their final matches.
It could well take a relatively early Champions League exit for Liverpool to win the Premier League this season, but only time will tell.
Manchester United are traditionally considered the strong finishers, but in truth in the last 5 seasons they do not have a great record in the last eight games. Their best haul being last seasons run of five wins, two draws and one defeat. If they are still playing catch up come game 31, that finish is not likely to be enough to win the title.
Chelsea and Arsenal both usually finish with a good final run-in, its likely to be too much to make up for Arsenal this time round but Chelsea will be confident going in to the last eight matches if they are leading the way or close to the top.
Most likely to breeze in: Chelsea
Most likely to come from behind: Arsenal
Need to be already caught up: Man Utd
Need to be out of the Champions League or five points clear: Liverpool
So there you have it—who is your money on?
Personally I have fancied Chelsea for some time to win the league this season, but after reviewing the home form of the last five title winners, and their stuttering home start, now I am not so sure. They face a hellish away schedule still, and might have to win most of these games to win the league.
Liverpool will be happy that they are still in touch having faced some of their toughest away fixtures, I can see them lasting the pace, and if not in the Champions League, they really could go all the way. They are reliant on key players though, and if they face too many matches in the last couple of months they are likely to come unstuck.
Manchester United have stumbled through a bad fixture list to start the season with, and will feel pretty content with their position at the moment. From now until the end of February though they can hardly afford any slip-ups at all. If they are top at the end of March they will win the league, but I don't think they will be.
Arsenal have already slipped up too often, but they can have a massive say in where the title ends up, they play all of the big boys in the last two months of the season, and though they can't win the league themselves, they will take great pleasure in ruining the chances of any of their three rivals.
After all that, I haven't got a clue who is going to win the league! This year really is an open three-horse race in my opinion.
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