Mythbuster: Why this season is not the closest title race in recent memory

The top five teams may be separated by just four points, with holders Manchester United 10 points off the leaders, but the race for the title is no closer than recent seasons
By Sam Lee

It's the most open Premier League title race in years, they say. Well, they said that at the start of the season and they're not going to budge on that prediction now.

When people have a narrative to push and hyperbole is in full flow, it can be tempting to push aside any inconvenient little quirks: why let facts get in the way of a good story?

That is what's happening RIGHT NOW. This Premier League title race is certainly competitive, but it's hardly anything new.


1. Arsenal
2. Liverpool
3. Chelsea
4. Man City
5. Everton






Once Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United back in May, a number of teams were eyeing the title and the thought of the most competitive season in years, perhaps even ever, was readily accepted. Chelsea had Jose Mourinho back, Manchester City had a new manager and expensive new players, Tottenham had rebuilt and United were going into the unknown. Liverpool weren't really getting much attention back then as they were worrying about Luis Suarez's future, but they've definitely thrown themselves into the mix since. That's five teams who can win the league, and Everton aren't bad either.

But when was the last time this happened? When was it last so close? Do we have to go back decades? Was it December 19, 1936, when Sunderland topped the table with 24 points, separated from 11th-placed Everton by just four points? Four points between 1st and 11th?!

No it wasn't. It was just three years ago. On December 19, 2010, Manchester United were top with 34 points. Defending champions Chelsea were fourth with 31, sandwiching in Arsenal and Manchester City.

City had bought Mario Balotelli, Yaya Toure, David Silva, James Milner and Alexandar Kolarov that summer, while Edin Dzeko arrived in January. Could United, after losing the league to Chelsea the year before, handle that big spending after they had only bought in Bebe, Chris Smalling and Chicharito? Would Carlo Ancelotti, the decorated Italian coach who swept all before him in Serie A, lead the Blues to a second consecutive title? Could Arsenal finally... you know the rest (they couldn't). Anyway, it was apparently "the closest title race in years".

The 2009-10 season was just as close at this point in December. Chelsea were top, on their way to winning it, with 40 points. United were second with 37, while Arsenal and Aston Villa (not a typo) were on 35. Spurs were threatening with 33, as well. Liverpool, expected to be right in the mix, were struggling in 7th.

It had, of course, also been billed as "the closest title race in years": United had just sold Cristiano Ronaldo, Chelsea had hired Ancelotti, City had spent big bucks (again), Liverpool had come so close the season before, and could Arsenal finally... you know the rest (they couldn't).

33/1 Everton are 33/1 with William Hill to win the title this season
Okay, I hear you furiously type, but United are well out of the title race this season, that must mean something?! Well, in 2009-10, Liverpool were 13 points off the leaders despite being backed to go all the way. United may have 25 points at this moment in time, but Hull City had 26 from the same amount of games in 2008-09 when it looked like Liverpool were running away with it. West Brom had 26 points from 16 games last season, as well, and that was two more than Arsenal had.

If it's a genuinely competitive league you're after, I suggest Ligue 1. In the last six years France has enjoyed six different winners. Lyon won their last of seven consecutive titles in 2007-08, opening the door for Bordeaux, Marseille, Lille, Montpellier and Paris Saint-Germain. Now the multi-billionaires have arrived in Paris and Monaco however, this ever-changing landscape is likely to become a bit more predictable.

The last time six different teams won the English top flight in as many years was between 1958-59 and 1964-65, when in fact seven clubs (Wolves, Burnley, Tottenham, Ipswich, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United) took it in turns.

So while this season is likely to be close, it's not on course to be "the closest in years". It's not especially competitive either, though it should still be fun.