Premier League title race: Are Liverpool facing the most dominant contenders ever?

Premier League title race: Are Liverpool facing the most dominant contenders ever?

In almost any other year, Liverpool would be nailed on to win the Premier League.

Only three top-flight teams in the last 113 years have recorded a better points total after 21 matches than Liverpool (re-calculating all seasons to three points for a win).

But the Reds find themselves doing this in a season in which the points totals for the teams in second and third are unprecedented.

A team with a points total as big as Liverpool’s could usually expect to have a lead in double figures at this point.

But with a gap of only four points to second-placed Manchester City, Liverpool do not have that luxury.

The Euro Club Index – a ranking of all European teams – estimates Liverpool’s chance of winning the league at 56.6%, ahead of Manchester City’s 33.5% and Tottenham Hotspur’s 8.6%.

Even fourth-placed Chelsea, 10 points behind Liverpool, cannot be written off yet as the Blues have a 1% chance of a shock title win.

In fact, Chelsea’s total of 44 points is the joint highest for a fourth-placed team at this stage.

Here is how dominant the Premier League’s top sides have been this season:

Liverpool being made to work

Recent attention has concentrated on Liverpool failing to win the league title when leading at Christmas but in each of those seasons, their lead was small.

In fact, the leads Liverpool had at Christmas in 2008 and 2013 had already been lost by this point. The only previous Premier League season in which Liverpool led after 21 matches was 1996-97 – by two points from Arsenal and four ahead of eventual champions Manchester United.

This season Liverpool are another beast altogether, recording one of the best opening 21 matches in the English top flight since 1905-1906, when 20 teams competed for the first time.

Normally such a start would result in a sizeable lead at this stage but Liverpool’s four-point cushion is the smallest of any team with at least 52 points at this stage.

Every team with at least 52 points after 21 matches has been crowned English champions, with Chelsea’s five-point lead over Arsenal in 2004-05 the smallest.

Clubs with at least 52 points after 21 top-flight matches since 1905-1906
Preston North End (1888-1889) and Sunderland (1892-1893) would also qualify but their seasons were only 22 and 30 matches long respectively. All seasons recalculated to three points for a win – information provided by Gracenote.
Season Club Points after 21 games Final position Closest challengers (points)
2017-18 Man City 59 Champions Chelsea (45)
2005-06 Chelsea 58 Champions Man Utd (45)
1960-61 Tottenham 56 Champions Wolves, Burnley, Everton (45)
2018-19 Liverpool 54 ? Man City (50)
1907-08 Man Utd 53 Champions Sheffield Wednesday (38)
2006-07 Man Utd 53 Champions Chelsea (47)
1987-88 Liverpool 53 Champions Nottingham Forest (43)
2012-13 Man Utd 52 Champions Man City (45)
1993-94 Man Utd 52 Champions Leeds, Blackburn (39)
2016-17 Chelsea 52 Champions Liverpool, Tottenham (45)
2004-05 Chelsea 52 Champions Arsenal (47)

The difference between Liverpool and dominant teams in the past is that the Reds have a genuine rival for the title, and possibly even two.

Liverpool’s contenders break records

The 2-1 victory over Liverpool on 3 January made Manchester City the first top-flight team to get 50 points from their first 21 matches and not be top of the league.

The previous best points total for a team in second at this stage was Liverpool in 1990-91, with 49 points after 21 matches, but behind Arsenal on goal difference, and Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’, who had 49 points after 21 matches in 2003-04 but were a point behind Manchester United.

To continue the pattern, Tottenham’s 48 points is the highest ever of any third-placed team. The previous best was the 46 points for Spurs in 2011-12 and Chelsea in 2013-14.

One of the key reasons for Tottenham’s points total this season is their complete lack of draws.

Tottenham are only the second post-war team to go 21 games into a season without a draw, with Burnley in 1953-54 the other.

Best of the rest

Chelsea’s 44 points is a record-equalling total for the team in fourth at this stage and only Arsenal, two seasons ago, have failed to finish in the top three after picking up that number of points for 21 games.

Even fifth place has an unusually high points total, with Arsenal’s 41 enough for a top-four spot at this point of the season in all but three previous campaigns.

Even much maligned Manchester United have a relatively high number of points for a sixth place team at this stage. Only seven teams outside the top five have managed 38 points or more after 21 matches.

With success, there comes failure

Statistics say Terriers’ are relegated – Wagner

However, with this sort of dominance from the big six, there must also be some historically low points totals.

Bottom club Huddersfield Town’s 10 points is the lowest by any Premier League team at this stage since Derby County managed seven in their first 21 matches 11 seasons ago – every team in history with Huddersfield’s current tally has been relegated from the top flight.

And it only looks slightly more optimistic for Fulham, whose 14 points is the lowest for a team in 19th position for six years. The Cottagers are one of only four teams in the 20-team Premier League era to record 14 points or fewer at this stage and not be bottom.

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