1992 was a milestone year for the English Premier League. The highly commercialized league was to make a break from the past once and for all. It was the turning point year when the gap between the best and the rest widened considerably. Since then the super clubs have become richer thanks to a combination of advertising deals and their involvement in the Champions League. In addition, with imported coaches, stress on physical fitness, and special emphasis on tactics, the clubs today present a vastly transformed league than what it was 3 decades back. Therefore, the scope for error now is minimal and the clubs look to start the season in top gear. In other words, fast and furious is the motto of the top clubs today right from the start block.
This point was a well-driven home by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. In an interview 8 years ago, Sir Ferguson identified a change in the approach of clubs to sometime during the middle of the 2000s. That was when Chelsea won the Premier League title 2 years in a row. The successful campaign of Chelsea forced club managers like Sir Ferguson himself to approach the season ruthlessly right from the start of the season itself. And the results were there for all to see as Man United finished on top of the table 3 years on the trot from 2007 to 2009.
This was a marked change from the time when the best teams approached the season slowly making their moves with caution. The records speak for themselves. Between 1992 and 2003 the eventual winners clocked just over 20 points after their first 10 games. This increased to an average of 24 points in the period 2003–2020. Most significantly, the percentage of the eventual winner from among the leader of the leader-board after 10 games jumped two-fold from 27% to 54% during the 2 periods.
The man who can be credited for bringing this change in the attitude of top clubs was Jose Mourinho. Then Chelsea’s manager realized that a good start to the season could unnerve the opposition and give his club a head start. In 2004-05 his club earned 23 points after the first 10 games and went on to win the title. The next year thanks to yet another blazing start at the beginning of the season, Chelsea lifted the premiership trophy despite dropping points in 7 of their last 16 games. Chelsea’s 2014-15 season was no different. It raked in 26 points after the first 10 games. As a result dropping points in 8 of the last 20 games became inconsequential.
So Mourinho made the template ready. He signaled clubs to flex their muscles right at the start of the season. The philosophy was simple to get enough in the tank before the team tires out by the fag end of the season. In other words, establish a lead over rivals so that you can afford the luxury of dropping points towards the end of the season.
This is a template which has now been successfully replicated by the big powerhouses of English football. Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Manchester City have led the 10 game boards since 2003. The benchmark is clear. If you want to win the title, get a minimum of 25 points in your first 10 outings.
Not surprisingly this model reflects in the way teams are now approaching the Champions League. With the top 4 EPL teams in the race for the Champions League group stage, the model set in motion by Jose Mourinho has been well recognized by clubs in contention for a place there. After the 2010-11 seasons no side that was 4th in the points table after their first 10 games finished below 6th place at the end of the season.
With the top 4 places virtually monopolized by the rich and powerful clubs like Chelsea, Liverpool, Man United, Everton, and Arsenal, clubs at the bottom half have realized that the key to a good summer in the EPL depends on the way they start. In other words, if a club has to avoid relegation and finish with a respectable place on the points table, a fiery start to the season is a basic requirement.
Finally, the model for survival and hope to finish in the top 4 is simple. Statistics have proven that with a minimum of 15 points at the end of the 10th game, the club has a very good chance to avoid relegation. If the points table shows between 12 -14 points, the chances are even. And if the club comes up with anything less than 12 points after its 10th game of the season, it’s a struggle for survival in the league.
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