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The Statistical Significance of the Opening Premier League Games

The announcement of the Premier League fixture list is an exciting moment for many a fan. It’s that moment when you find out who your team will be facing on the opening day of a brand new season. Fans check for when they play certain teams, when their derby match is, who they play on Boxing Day, who the opponent will be at New Year and of course, who they play on the final game of the season. It’s the very beginning of trepidation for just what the new season will hold in store, the moment when the planning begins in earnest.

The Statistical Significance of the Opening Premier League Games

A lot of interest is taken in teams opening six fixtures of the season; fans look at those and try to estimate the start their team will have to the season. Probably more than the final run-in fixtures, those opening six games are concentrated upon, seen as a sign of intent for success or a sign of difficult times ahead, dependant on how those results pan out.

What is not discussed though is just how vital those opening six fixtures are for title contenders and what implication they have. For fans of clubs hoping to be vying for the Premier League crown this coming season or even just to be getting into the top four, those opening run of games are looked at to see how difficult those fixtures are on paper. But, is there a rule? Do the eventual champions have to start the season with a bang? Do a couple of defeats in those opening six fixtures mean a title win cannot typically be achieved? Certainly, the perceived wisdom is that a strong start to the season is vital for title ambitions, so I have decided to test the theory by looking at the last ten Premier League title winners’ points tally after those opening six matches of the season.

Opening six points table

Looking back over the past ten Premier League seasons, only Chelsea in 2009/10 have managed to win all six of their opening fixtures before going on to win the title. Manchester City in 2013/14 actually lost two of their opening six games, yet still went on to claim the Premier League crown. Reigning champions Leicester had 12 points after their first six matches, a popular total amongst eventual winners over the past decade and 13 points has been the average total of the past ten champions, six games into the season. What this highlights is that although a positive start to the campaign is obviously a good thing, it’s not the be-all and end-all, but it is worth noting that none of the past ten Premier League winners had less than 10 points after those opening six matches.

Opening six points graph

Opening six final graph

The two above graphs show the past ten Premier League champions’ points tally after their opening six games and their final points total. The graphs are of the same scale so that any correlation between the two can be seen visually. However, what is noticeable is that there is no direct correlation between the number of points won after six games and at the end of the season. Over the past ten seasons, Leicester’s haul of 81 points and Manchester United’s final tally of 80 points in 2010/11 are the lowest winning totals and below the 86 points average it’s taken to be champions. However, the points total after six games in both those seasons was higher than what Manchester United were on in the 2008/09 season when they ended the campaign with 90 points, the highest final total of the past ten years.

Basically, there is no direct correlation between points won after six games and final season points totals; so there is no hard fast rule. Therefore, fans of title contenders should not place too much emphasis on how a team is doing after those first six games. The statistics prove that losing one or even two of those opening fixtures do not mean a title challenge must be ruled out. Whilst it’s great to get the season off to a strong start, not all eventual champions in recent years have enjoyed spectacular starts to their campaign; so even if it’s not all going to plan early on, it will still all be there to play for.

Andy Wales
Andy Wales
Football writer and podcaster. Family man and Liverpool fan.
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