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Recent Premier League history shows why Roberto Mancini's team can put the champagne on ice as they hold the festive advantage over fierce rivals United

ANALYSIS
By Chris Myson

In the build-up to the busy festive programme of fixtures, both Roberto Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson - the managers of Manchester City and Manchester United - have reflected on the importance of being top of the table at the halfway stage of the season.

The Italian, ahead of his side's 3-0 win over Stoke City at Etihad Stadium, had spoken of his determination for the club to maintain their current position on top of the standings, while Sir Alex said after the recent win over QPR that he wanted his side to be in first place in time for the new year.

Victory over Stoke ensured Mancini's men will be top of the pile when they are enjoying Christmas dinner, but a slip could have allowed United to pounce after they achieved an impressive 5-0 triumph over Fulham at Craven Cottage.

With such small gaps between the leaders and still almost six months to go until the Premier League trophy is handed out in May, it may seem unusual to be so keen on being top at this stage of the campaign - but how important can being the Christmas No.1 really be?

Goal.com decided to look into the matter and discovered the reason why: recent history shows the side sitting top at this stage of the season has gone on to win the title in five of the last seven campaigns.


              Bragging rights | Both Manchester clubs were chasing the Christmas No.1 spot

After having a look at the detail behind that headline statistic, it becomes clear that the win over Stoke on Wednesday night could eventually mean a lot more to Man City than just some additional Christmas cheer.

2004-05
December 25th
End of season
Pos

P
PTS
Pos

P
PTS
1 Chelsea 18 43 1 Chelsea 38 95
2 Arsenal 18 38 2 Arsenal 38 83
3 Everton 18 37 3 Man Utd
38 77
4 Man Utd
18 34 4 Everton 38 61

The 2004-05 season was the dominant first year of Jose Mourinho's reign at Chelsea. Trying to dethrone Arsenal's 'Invincibles', the Blues knew they had to start fast to prove beating such a strong side to the title was possible. They had the lead at Christmas after a ruthless start to the season, which set the tone for what was to follow. They never let go from then on, finishing as champions by a clear 12 points.

2005-06
December 25th
End of season
Pos

P
PTS
Pos

P
PTS
1 Chelsea 17 46 1 Chelsea 38 91
2 Man Utd
17 37 2 Man Utd
38 83
3 Liverpool 15 31 3 Liverpool 38 82
4 Tottenham 17 31 4 Arsenal 38 67

As champions, Mourinho's men made an even faster start to the season in 2005-06 and had three points more than the previous year, having played a game less. Remarkably, they led by nine points by the time of festive celebrations and even though their final points tally ended up being lower than before, the gap was far too big for their demoralised title rivals to recover from.

2006-07
December 25th
End of season
Pos

P
PTS
Pos

P
PTS
1 Man Utd
19 47 1 Man Utd
38 89
2 Chelsea 19 45 2 Chelsea 38 83
3 Liverpool 19 34 3 Liverpool 38 68
4 Arsenal 19 33 4 Arsenal 38 68

Chelsea went into the next season as hot favourites to make it three Premier League titles in a row, but Sir Alex Ferguson was a man on a mission and said publicly that to beat the Blues, his side would have to get ahead of them early. Despite being traditionally slow starters, United were able to go on an incredible run of 47 points from a possible 57 to start the campaign and led by Christmas before seeing through a vital title triumph.

2007-08
December 25th
End of season
Pos

P
PTS
Pos

P
PTS
1 Arsenal 18 43 1 Man Utd
38 87
2 Man Utd
18 42 2 Chelsea 38 85
3 Chelsea 18 37 3 Arsenal 38 84
4 Man City
18 34 4 Liverpool 38 76

One of the two years where the leaders at Christmas did not go on to be crowned champions. Arsenal led but then imploded in the second half of the season, winning just one out of eight games in a disastrous spell that included the infamous collapse at Birmingham. Even though the festive leaders didn't go on to secure glory, the 2007-08 season at least proved that if you do lead at Christmas, then it really is your title to lose.

2008-09
December 25th
End of season
Pos

P
PTS
Pos

P
PTS
1 Liverpool 18 39 1 Man Utd
38 90
2 Chelsea 18 38 2 Liverpool 38 86
3 Aston Villa
18 34 3 Chelsea 38 83
4 Man Utd
16 32 4 Arsenal 38 72

At first glance, this campaign appears to make a mockery of the claim you need to be well placed at Christmas to stand a chance of winning the crown. United went from being fourth to champions after a famous late-season surge to deny Liverpool, but in reality things had been close all the way - they held two games in hand over the festive period due to their Club World Cup commitments, having won the Champions League the year before.

2009-10
December 25th
End of season
Pos

P
PTS
Pos

P
PTS
1 Chelsea 18 41 1 Chelsea 38 86
2 Man Utd
18 37 2 Man Utd
38 85
3 Arsenal 17 35 3 Arsenal 38 75
4 Aston Villa
18 35 4 Tottenham
38 70

After three successive United titles, Chelsea knew they had a tough task on their hands if they wanted to stop it from becoming four in a row. New boss Carlo Ancelotti made an impressive start to his career at the helm and he was toasting a four-point lead as he enjoyed his Christmas dinner. That early cushion proved decisive in the end, as only a point separated the two sides come the end of the campaign.

2010-11
December 25th
End of season
Pos

P
PTS
Pos

P
PTS
1 Man Utd
16 34 1 Man Utd
38 80
2 Arsenal 17 32 2 Chelsea 38 71
3 Man City
18 32 3 Man City
38 71
4 Chelsea 17 31 4 Arsenal 38 68

This time last year, things were looking very tight in the Premier League at Christmas. Just three points separated the top four, who were all dropping points at an alarming rate, but United had a two-point lead and a game in hand at the top. That advantage, combined with a trademark strong finish to the season, gave them the league by nine points over Chelsea and City in May.

2011-12
Current table
End of season
Pos

P
PTS
Pos

P
PTS
1 Man City
17 44 1 ??? 38 ??
2 Man Utd
17 42 2 ??? 38 ??
3 Tottenham 15 34 3 ??? 38 ??
4 Chelsea 16 32 4 ??? 38 ??

Victory over Stoke has given Man City the festive top spot this time around, taking them onto 44 points, which is the highest tally at this time of the year any side has managed for five seasons.

Given how well the other chart-toppers at this time of the season have done, being ahead of even those past champions could mean this strong start will be decisive for City. A very merry Christmas for the club's fans should, if recent history repeats itself, turn into an even bigger celebration in May. That victory against Tony Pulis' side has just become a little bit more important...

...BUT UNITED WON'T GO QUIETLY
Joe Doyle at Craven Cottage: "While history may be on City's side, Manchester United are looking back to their dangerous best after putting together some good wins, scoring lots of goals, but most crucially, not conceding as many as they were at the beginning of the season.

"Since the infamous defeat at home to Manchester City, United have won seven of their eight Premier League matches, drawing the other against Newcastle and keeping six clean sheets.
 
"While they haven’t been having much luck with injuries, with Nemanja Vidic out for the season and a lengthy absence for one of the influential players at the beginning of the season, Tom Cleverley, they have slotted some admirable young players into unfamiliar roles with good levels of success.
 
"Added to this the resurgence of players such as Nani and Antonio Valencia. The wingers have been playing well for United recently, contributing both goals and assists. They became a devastating combination as Valencia slotted in at right-back against Fulham, with Martin Jol pinpointing the flanks as United’s major strength."

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