The Premier League has often been described as a marathon and not a sprint, but those quick off the mark are more likely to be in the mix come May than those who flinch at the starting pistol.
It may be a gruelling 38-game campaign, with the prospect of a congested winter schedule and two domestic cups to contend with, but the Premier League can be an unforgiving division for those that sleepwalk in the opening weeks — at least that’s the pattern that has emerged courtesy of research by Betway.
Sir Alex Ferguson once stated that his Manchester United side used to “start the season slowly and build up to the second half” but he changed his mindset in the mid-2000s following the emergence of Chelsea as a super club. “We had to change our pre-season approach,” Ferguson mused. And that meant more intensity from the off.
Indeed Ferguson had that rare ability to adapt and acclimatise to new landscapes, moving with the times and not behind the curve. And that is exactly why he was so successful. But, a strong start is not just important for those chasing titles and locked in top-four tussles, it matters just as much at the opposite end of the table.
Since the first Premier League season to feature 20 clubs (1995/96), those who only pick up between 3-5 points in their opening 10 games have a 42.3 per cent chance of staying up, while 6-8 points acquired in that same timeframe only offers a 55.7 per cent chance of safety. Fine margins for those with tough opening games.
There is a 0 per cent chance of survival for clubs who pick up just 0-2 points in the first 10 matches, but that is surely not worth thinking about, right? With that, we’ve assessed the current ‘relegation candidates’ for the 2020/21 season and looked at who may be in for a rough ride when things get underway in the Premier League this weekend.
Opening 10 matches: Leicester (h), Everton (a), Chelsea (h), Southampton (a), Burnley (h), Brighton (a), Fulham (a), Spurs (h), Man Utd (a), Sheff Utd (h)
The fixture list has not looked favourably upon the Hawthorns, with three of the traditional ‘Big Six’ impending in the opening 10. Slaven Bilic will be earmarking matches against Burnley, Brighton and Fulham as winnable games, but first they must get past that rather ominous looking opening three fixtures against Leicester, Everton and Chelsea, ouch!
Opening 10 matches: Arsenal (h), Leeds (a), Aston Villa (h), Wolves (a), Sheff Utd (a), Palace (h), West Brom (h), West Ham (a), Everton (h), Leicester (a)
Not bad for Fulham, who face the prospect of just one ‘Big Six’ club, and they get them out of the way in their opening match. The distribution of so-called tough games (let’s face it, they’re all pretty tough in this division) are evenly dispersed for the Cottagers, but Scott Parker has a real opportunity here to get off to a fast start, and that could prove the difference between safety and despair come May.
Opening 10 matches: Sheff Utd (h), Fulham (a), Liverpool (h), Leicester (a), Leeds (h), Southampton (h), Arsenal (a), Brighton (h), West Ham (a), Newcastle (h)
Another club who have avoided the dreaded ‘run of death’. There is a dearth of real elite opposition lying in wait for Villa, who survived last term by the skin of their teeth, apart from reigning champions Liverpool and Arsenal. They faced Spurs, Arsenal and Man City in their opening 10 last campaign, and it showed, as they were deep in relegation trouble at the end of the season. Dean Smith will be thanking his lucky stars the fixture list has offered an easier run this time round.
Opening 10 matches: Southampton (h), Man Utd (a), Everton (h), Chelsea (a), Brighton (h), Fulham (a), Wolves (a), Leeds (h), Burnley (a) Newcastle (h)
It’s hard to envisage a scenario in which Roy Hodgson drops out of the division with Palace, such is his experience and tactical nous at this level, but a run of eight winless games – including seven defeats – towards the end of last season paints a pretty dismal picture in south London. With Man Utd and Chelsea to face in the opening four, a slow start could elicit fear within the fanbase.
Opening 10 matches: West Ham (a), Brighton (h), Spurs (a), Burnley (h), Man Utd (h), Wolves (a), Everton (h), Southampton (a), Chelsea (h), Crystal Palace (a)
Steve Bruce worked wonders last season amid the backdrop of unrest behind the scenes, and he has strengthened considerably this window with the acquisition of Jeff Hendrick to bolster his midfield, as well as Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser to add potency to his frontline. But, with three of the ‘Big Six’ coming up in the opening 10, a slow start could cause further apprehension among the Toon Army, and then they’ll be playing catch up.
Betway’s* Premier League 2020/21 relegation odds:
- West Brom: 19/20
- Fulham: 1/1
- Aston Villa: 15/8
- Crystal Palace: 2/1
- Newcastle: 5/2
*You have to be 18+ to gamble. All odds and offers within this article are accurate at the time of writing (17:00, 08/09/2020). BeGambleAware.
Top half of the table
Returning to the upper slopes of the division, both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp will be mindful of Liverpool’s fast start last season. The Reds won their opening 10 matches (they were unbeaten until February, in fact) and were pretty much out of sight by Christmas.
Doubts emerged at the Etihad as early as mid-September after Norwich City pulled off a giantkilling, and they never really recovered from that. The graphic below highlights the absolute importance of a strong start nowadays for those challenging at the top — no more scope to ‘build into the season’ as Ferguson once alluded to.
It’s incredible to think that the percentage of teams to win the title since the Premier League’s inception who were leading after 10 games has jumped from 27 per cent between 1992 and 2003, to 59 per cent between 2003 and 2020. The average points tally has also been bumped up by 3.2 points, showing just how high Klopp and Guardiola have raised the bar.
The graphic below also highlights an interesting trend for the top-four race. With the gulf between the traditional ‘Big Six’ and the ‘rest’ widening with every given season, it is no surprise to see the numbers of teams in fourth after 10 games drop from eight to, surprise surprise, six.