Investigating whether it’s better to lead or chase at this stage of a PL title race

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Liverpool and Manchester City are embroiled in a tense title race this season – but who does history suggest is in the more favourable position?

The Reds are currently two points ahead of City having played one game more than their rivals, leading to the question of whether it is better to lead or chase going into the final stages.

We’ve taken a look back at the previous Premier League title races decided by fewer than six points to see how they developed in the run-in to see if there are any clues about what to expect this term.

Manchester City 2013-14

A season Liverpool fans will want to forget as City to pipped them to the post. The Reds went top in April, only to relinquish first place in matchday 36 with that infamous defeat against Chelsea.

City took advantage by winning 3-2 at Everton, meaning their fate was then in their own hands. The title was all but secured in midweek as City thrashed Aston Villa 4-0 after Liverpool had collapsed against Crystal Palace.

Position at this stage: Chelsea 1st, Liverpool 2nd, Man City 4th.

Manchester City 2011-12

Another closely-fought title race, and another in which the pivotal fixture came in matchday 36, as City went top with a tense 1-0 victory over rivals Manchester United.

City held their nerve – just – to claim their first championship for 44 years, although they were given a huge helping hand by United unusually buckling under the pressure of leading the way.

Position at this stage: Man Utd 1st, Man City 2nd.

Chelsea 2009-10

Eventual champions Chelsea led the way for much of the season under Carlo Ancelotti only to drop from first to third in matchday 30 with a 1-1 draw at Blackburn, meaning they were four points behind Manchester United with a game in hand.

But the Blues responded by winning seven of their remaining eight fixtures, including a crucial 2-1 victory at Old Trafford in matchday 33, to snatch the title by a point.

Position at this stage: Man Utd 1st, Chelsea 2nd.

Manchester United 2008-09

United were always in the commanding position in the run-in to the end of the season, but fixture scheduling often saw Liverpool play first and temporarily leapfrog the Red Devils at the summit.

Back-to-back defeats in March had given Liverpool hope, but United ultimately held firm by winning eight of their last nine fixtures.

Position at this stage: Man Utd 1st, Chelsea 2nd, Liverpool 3rd.

Manchester United 2007-08

United fell behind Chelsea in the title race for a four-game stretch but reclaimed first place in the middle of March with a tense victory at Derby and never relinquished the position from there, despite dropping points at Middlesbrough and Blackburn plus suffering defeat at Chelsea.

Position at this stage: Man Utd 1st, Arsenal 2nd, Chelsea 3rd.

Manchester United 2002-03

A poor start to the season saw United languishing in fifth at the end of November, but they went unbeaten after Boxing Day, dropping points just three times, to finish five points ahead of Arsenal.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side didn’t hit the top until matchday 33, keeping Arsenal at arm’s length with a 2-2 draw at Highbury the following week. The Gunners could not keep up the pressure, drawing at Bolton before losing at home to Leeds to effectively hand the title to the Red Devils.

Position at this stage: Arsenal 1st, Man Utd 2nd.

Manchester United 1998-99

Despite claiming the Treble that season, it took until the end of January before United spent a prolonged period at the top of the table.

And United dropped to second at the end of April with only five games remaining, albeit having played one match fewer than Arsenal. A win at Middlesbrough, coupled with Arsenal’s defeat to Leeds, saw United return to first place, and they wrapped up the title on the final day of the season.

Position at this stage: Man Utd 1st, Arsenal 2nd.

Arsenal 1997-98

Perhaps the most famous example when it comes to debating whether it’s better to have the points on the board or games in-hand, bookies were paying out on United winning the title with Arsenal 12 points behind at the end of February.

The Gunners crucially had played three games fewer than United, with the two sides still to play each other at Old Trafford. Marc Overmars scored the only goal of the game as Arsenal went on a 10-match winning run to snatch the title by a single point. Emmanuel Petit views that game as the most memorable of his entire time at Arsenal.

Position at this stage: Man Utd 1st, Arsenal 2nd.

READ: Emmanuel Petit: Marc Overmars scored the goal that changed everything

Manchester United 1995-96

By mid-January, Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle were 12 points clear of Manchester United, yet by March they had been overtaken, with the Red Devil’s being able to afford defeat at Southampton as Kevin Keegan’s side spectacularly lost their way.

Position at this stage: Newcastle 1st, Man Utd 2nd.

Blackburn 1994-95

While Blackburn were forced to hope results went in their favour by winning just two of their final six fixtures, Manchester United were second for the majority of the season and ultimately left themselves with too much to do, with three draws in their final seven matches seeing them fall short by a point.

Position at this stage: Blackburn 1st, Man Utd 2nd.


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