DEFEATS this past weekend for Manchester City and Arsenal meant that both sides have now lost three games in 13. Chelsea, the reigning champions, have lost seven. In the Premier League era, only one team, Blackburn Rovers, have won the title after losing seven times, and that was in a 42-game programme.
Chelsea have almost certainly said goodbye to their crown, but both City and Arsenal cannot afford to lose many more games. Both need to put together a long run that compensates for some sloppy results in the first few months of the season.
Premier champions average under five defeats a season, that’s a defeat every 7.6 games. That equates to less than two (1.71) in 13 games. This is not good news for City or Arsenal, although in a mediocre season, you might find that the number of games lost by the champions exceeds the historical trend.
City’s three defeats have been alarming: 4-1 twice against Tottenham and Liverpool, and a home loss against West Ham. Arsenal, meanwhile, may look back on their three defeats as opportunities lost: at home to West Ham, away at Chelsea and at West Brom.
Looking at the records for the “L” column, it is clear that some of the greatest teams in English football have not been as all-conquering as history would have you believe. The Spurs “double” side of 1961 lost seven games, the same number as the legendary and ill-fated “Busby Babes”. The Arsenal team of 1970-71 lost one fewer, but the media never eulogised about Bertie Mee’s double winners.
Any team that loses three or fewer games deserves the right to be called “super champions”. The first post-war team to go through the season almost unbeaten was Leeds United’s 1969 winners, who won more points than they scored goals 67 points, 66 goals. This sent alarm bells ringing as it was evidence of the increasingly defence-minded approach at the time and also the “win at all costs” mentality of Leeds, who lost twice in 1968-69.
Liverpool’s best stab was in 1987-88, with a team that was the antithesis of Don Revie’s Leeds. The team of Barnes, Beardsley and Aldridge, a joy to watch, lost twice.
More recently, the Premier champions have rarely lost more the five games, and in 2003-04, Arsenal were unbeaten, rightly earning their “invincible” status.
In all probability, the Premier will be won this season by a team that loses more than the average number of defeats. But a long, consistent run, the type that has always characterised would-be champions, can change all that.
Defeats suffered by post-war champions
11: Portsmouth (49-50); Burnley (59-60); Liverpool (63-64)
10: Liverpool (46-47); Wolves (53-54); Chelsea (54-55); Ipswich (61-62); Man.City (67-68);
09: Portsmouth (48-49); Arsenal (52-53); Wolves (58-59)
08: Man,Utd (51-52); Derby (71-72); Liverpool (76-77); Aston Villa (80-81); Liverpool (82-83); Everton (84-85); Everton (86-87)
07: Spurs (50-51); Man.Utd (55-56); Spurs (60-61); Man.Utd (64-65); Liverpool (65-66); Liverpool (72-73); Liverpool (79-80); Liverpool (81-82); Blackburn (94-95). CHELSEA 2015-16
06: Arsenal (47-48); Man.Utd (56-57); Wolves (57-58); Everton (62-63); Man.Utd (66-67); Arsenal (70-71); Liverpool (83-84); Liverpool (85-86); Arsenal (88-89); Man.Utd (92-93); Man.Utd (95-96); Arsenal (97-98); Man.Utd (00-01); Chelsea (09-10); Man.City (13-14)
05: Everton (69-70): Liverpool (75-76); Liverpool (89-90); Man.Utd (96-97); Man.Utd (02-03); Chelsea (05-06); Man.Utd (06-07); Man.Utd (07-08); Man.City (11-12); Man.Utd (12-13)
04: Leeds (73-74); Liverpool (78-79); Leeds (91-92); Man.Utd (93-94): Man.Utd (08-09); Man.Utd (10-11)
03: Nottm Forest (77-78); Man.Utd (98-99), Man.Utd (99-00); Arsenal (01-02); Chelsea (14-15) MANCHESTER CITY 2015-16; ARSENAL 2015-16
02: Leeds (68-69); Liverpool (87-88) MANCHESTER UNITED 2015-16
01: Arsenal (90-91); Chelsea (04-05) LEICESTER 2015-16; TOTTENHAM 2015-16
00: Arsenal (03-04)