Analysing whether Man Utd’s poor record v ‘big six’ matters in title race
Each of the ‘big six’ have now played one another once, and there are some interesting results when it comes to comparing a head-to-head mini-table with the overall points on the board.
Some question the logic of separating the established elite from the rest of the pack, with the likes of Leicester and Everton upsetting the applecart, with others such as Arsenal suffering falls from grace.
But the fact remains the traditional big six are by far the biggest spenders when it comes to wages, and more often than not – with the occasional exception – tend to occupy the top six places in the table come the end of any given season. Leicester are the only non-big six side to finish in the top four since 2005, for example.
When the biggest clubs do meet, the games are often hyped up as the most decisive in deciding how the table shapes up in the end.
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That doesn’t stack up at the midway point, however, with United top of the table but winless in their five games against the rest of the big six, registering goalless draws with Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, and losing to Arsenal and Tottenham.
Liverpool, by contrast, have picked up 11 points from 15 available, remaining unbeaten in the most-hyped games, having beaten Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea alongside the draws with City and United. But Jurgen Klopp’s Reds remain six points off the top spot in fourth – and 21 points down on the same stage last season.
Could United go on and win the title while failing to beat the fellow big sides, as long as they keep on consistently getting results against everyone else? Here’s what recent history tells us. If you think Manchester United have enough in the tank to win their first title since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, back the to win the 2020-21 Premier League with William Hill.
The last five PL champions
Liverpool 2019-20: Such was Liverpool’s relentless form in 2019-20 – winning 26 of their first 27 games, drawing the other – that their results against the biggest sides ultimately didn’t prove decisive, although beating Arsenal, Tottenham, City and Chelsea and taking four points from United helped to build that initial head of steam.
Having already secured the title, they subsequently lost to City (4-0) and Arsenal (2-1) during the post-lockdown summer, but still topped the big six table with 22 points from 30 available. City took 13 points from the equivalent games but ended up 18 points behind all in all.
Man City 2018-19: The closest title race of recent years, Pep Guardiola’s side secured a second successive title on the final day, having been pushed by Liverpool to win their last 14 games in a row – ending up on 98 points to 97.
That season, City dropped 11 points to teams outside the big six (losing to Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Leicester and drawing to Wolves), while Liverpool only dropped six (draws with Everton, West Ham and Leicester).
The big six mini-league proved pivotal then, with Liverpool paying the price for only taking one point from City (a 1-1 home draw followed by a 2-0 away defeat), while also drawing with Chelsea, Arsenal and United. City topped the big six table with six wins, three draws and one defeat.
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Man City 2017-18: Like Liverpool two years later, City cruised to their first title under Guardiola, reaching a record 100 points – 19 more than runners-up United.
They only dropped 14 points in total, six of which were their only two defeats (4-3 at Liverpool and 3-2 at home to United). Still, they otherwise took maximum points from the big six opposition, topping the mini-league with five points more than United in the equivalent games.
Chelsea 2016-17: Antonio Conte’s Blues won 13 straight games through October, November and December and never let up from there, ending the season on 93 points – seven more than runners-up Tottenham.
That season, Liverpool actually had the best record in the big six head-to-head (20 points and unbeaten with five wins and five draws), but finished fourth, 17 points off the champions – ultimately paying the price for cheap dropped points elsewhere.
Chelsea had the second-best record, taking 16 points, but did lose to Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and United.
Steve Holland looks back over Chelsea's 2016/17 title-winning team who took the league by storm under Antonio Conte.
— The Coaches' Voice (@CoachesVoice) July 10, 2020
Leicester 2015-16: Not actually a part of the big six, the outsiders well and truly ruffled feathers that miraculous year, taking 17 points from 36 on offer from the old guard, going unbeaten against United, Spurs, City and Chelsea.
They did, however, lose home and away to runners-up Arsenal, but that was no matter, ending the season 10 points clear of the Gunners, who lost home and away to then-struggling Chelsea, while also dropping points to Liverpool, United, Spurs and City – as well as plenty of sides much lower down the table.
Of the big six teams in 2015-16, Manchester United had the best record in the mini-league with 18 points from a possible 30, albeit they finished a lowly fifth, 15 points behind Leicester.
Ferguson’s title winners
Solskjaer certainly wears Sir Alex Ferguson’s influence proudly, but how did his old boss approach such games, and how influential did they prove during United’s glory years? Here’s their record in their last three title wins:
2012-13: Powered by the goals of Robin Van Persie, when United last won the league, they finished on 89 points, 11 clear of their city rivals.
They suffered defeats at home to Spurs, Chelsea and City that year, while also drawing at Spurs and Arsenal, but they did the double over Liverpool and tended to steamroller everyone else with 23 wins from their other 28 fixtures.
Roberto Mancini’s reigning champions only took one fewer point (16) from the equivalent games but paid the price for a lack of consistency against sides lower down the table.
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2010-11: Three of the four league defeats United suffered that year were to fellow big six opposition – away at Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal in the spring – but they still finished comfortably nine points clear of runners-up Chelsea.
They otherwise took a respectable 17 points from 30 available against the big six – four more than Chelsea in the same games.
2008-09*: This was before the paradigm shift of City’s takeover, when the ‘big six’ wasn’t yet a thing and the ‘big four’ wrapped up the Champions League spots season after season – Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.
That year, United actually lost home and away to runners-up Liverpool and dropped five points to Arsenal. Of 18 points available, they took just five, while Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool took 14, doing the double over United and Chelsea and drawing home and away to Arsenal.
Liverpool were unbeaten against their fellow top four, but cheap dropped points elsewhere cost them as they finished four points behind.
*Top Four Only