Tottenham tend to start slowly, but they have improved by an aggregate of nine positions between games eight and 38 over the past five seasons. That bodes well for this season, with Spurs currently one place outside the Champions League positions and ...and more »
It's still very early days. Not even a point splits the Premier League's current top three, while two more sides are in close pursuit just two points behind. Huddersfield, Newcastle and Cardiff, without a win between them, might look dead and buried at the bottom of the table, but we're still only midway through October. It's far too early to make conclusions about the season, right?
Well, yes, to an extent, but recent history shows some clear patterns in what tends to happen over the months from November to May.
The title race
Manchester City are typically fast starters, but the memory of last season, when they marched relentlessly from start to finish racking up a record-breaking 100 points, shouldn't mask what usually happens. They are top the table after eight games for the fourth successive season but of the previous three, 2017/18 is only time they have gone on to win the league.
Of the league leaders at the eight-game mark in the last five seasons, just two have won the title. The other three - Arsenal in 2013/14, and City in 2015/16 and 2016/17 - dropped off significantly, finishing the season fourth, fourth and third.
This season, particularly given just how tight it is at the top of the table, nothing should be taken for granted in the title race.
City have, at times at least, looked much like they did last season, but with Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham in hot pursuit, there could be a big swing at the top.
Tottenham tend to start slowly, but they have improved by an aggregate of nine positions between games eight and 38 over the past five seasons. That bodes well for this season, with Spurs currently one place outside the Champions League positions and looking for improvement.
A top four spot might be out of reach already, though. Three quarters of the teams occupying the top four positions at this stage of the last five seasons have retained a top four slot come the end of the season. Clearly, once a team is in the top four, it is difficult to dislodge them. It is almost impossible to overtake one of the 'big six'.
Of the 20 teams making up the top four in week eight in each of the last five seasons, only five [one quarter] have ended up finishing outside the Champions League positions. Those five teams are Southampton and West Ham in 2014/15, Crystal Palace in 2015/16, Arsenal in 2016/17 and Watford in 2017/18.
Which positions stay the same?
For smaller clubs that have made a strong start to the season, staying in the top four is extremely tough. West Ham fell eight places to finish 12th; Crystal Palace dropped 11 placed to finish 15th; Watford fell 10 places to finish 14th. Perhaps there is such a thing as too strong a start to a season for the Premier League's 'lesser' clubs? Complacency may set in, or perhaps opponents raise their game against an in-form team?
Whatever the reasons, Watford, who have already tailed off after winning their first four games of the season, and Bournemouth, who are two points off the top four, should beware of allowing all their good early-season work go to waste.
Fear not Huddersfield, Newcastle and Cardiff fans! There's time to turn this around! All you have to do is... sack your manager!
In 2013/14, Sunderland and Crystal Palace, 19th and 20th after eight games, both sacked their managers and finished the season 14th and 11th, respectively. In 2014/15, Newcastle, having been 18th at this stage, sacked Alan Pardew and finished safely in 15th.
Sunderland, 19th after eight games in 2015/16, got rid of Dick Advocaat and survived the drop. Swansea rose from 19th after eight games of 2016/17 to 15th after changing manager. Then last season, both Crystal Palace and Leicester jumped nine places after sacking their managers having been in the relegation zone after eight games.
Crystal Palace are the most erratic team in the Premier League - the relative comfort of mid-table should not be taken for granted Credit: Reuters
In the last five seasons, there are only two instances of a club jumping out of the drop zone without a change at the top. When teams stay in the relegation zone, they have usually chosen not to change manager or, as was the case with Norwich in 2013/14, QPR in 2014/15 and Newcastle in 2015/16, the change came when it was too late and the damage had already been done.
So, David Wagner, Rafa Benitez and Neil Warnock, watch out. You may not be responsible for your side's malaise, but you are certainly dispensable and removing you may be the solution.
Crystal Palace should also be wary of a change in fortunes. Between games eight and 38 in the last five seasons, they have moved eight places up, six places up, 11 places down, five places down and nine places up. They are by a distance the most erratic club in the Premier League in this regard. They are 14th now, which basically means they will finish somewhere between fifth and 20th...
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