“Manchester United do ‘it’ to teams every year” Really?

It was a few weeks ago. Sunday EPL games just ended and Manchester United had opened up a 5-point lead over local rivals Manchester City.

Fans, journalists, some TV announcers and even some stats geeks on my Twitter timeline seemed to be saying the same thing.

“Manchester United do it every year to their rivals around this time of the year.”

“It” means a surge to win the title coming from behind. I got curious. Even after assuming that “doing it every year” is probably an exaggeration for “majority of the time” I couldn’t quite believe it. I looked at some data.


We tend to remember events better than numbers. Some events are more memorable than the others.
I hypothesized that this might be a case of selective memory due to the dramatic nature a few events like this comeback of Man United against Bayern München in 1999.

I analyzed the Premier League tables from the inaugural season in 92-93 through 2011-12.

As I had expected, the data painted a different picture.


1. Look at the top-4 of the standings for every season at the end of the months January, February, March, April and May(end of the season).
2. Plot the points differential between the leader and the rest.
3. Look at the # of times the lead changed hands in the seasons that Manchester United won the title (from the end of January to May)
4. Look at seasons where Manchester United lead early on but did not go on to win the title.


1. Ignore teams below 4th place, to reduce noise. I have also ignored the 4th place in 2003-04 where there were 4 different teams that were 4th at the end each month, I ignored them to reduce noise.
2. Plotted only point totals at the end of the last 5 months, to reduce noise – Deeper analysis (on a week-to-week basis) in seasons with close title run-ins  will be done as a follow up.


1. Manchester United is a great champion and won 12 of 19 titles, but in quite a few cases they had comfortable leads from end of January through May (see images below)

Season Lead changes after January
1993-94 0 – Led from week #4
1996-97 0 – Led from week #23
1999-00 0 – Led from week #21
2000-01 0 – Led from week#10
2006-07 0 – Led from week #7
2008-09 0 – Led from week #20
2010-11 0 – Lead from week #15

2. They were 5 seasons where they made a title push coming from behind to win the title.

  • 1992-93In the inaugural Premier League season they took the lead in Mid-March and led the rest of the way to a title
  • 95-96: Newcastle lead the table into mid-March but United overtook them and went on to win the title

  • 98-99:Closest run-in of all. They lead Jan through Mid-March, gave up the lead briefly to Arsenal but pipped them at the end by a point. If you want to talk about late comebacks, this has got to be the poster child, although they did wobble a bit towards the end.
  • 02-03:Came back from 3rd at end of January to overtake Arsenal in mid-March
  • 07-08: Interesting chart. Were level on points with Arsenal at the end of January. Took over the lead from Arsenal in Feb. Chelsea chased them down in April but Man United prevailed by 2 points in the end. Not a major comeback in my book just playing cool with the lead.
  • 11-12: Jury is still out on the current season

3. They lost 4 titles after leading the table post January

  • 97-98: United lead till from January through mid-April where the lost the lead to Arsenal. Arsenal’s rise is slightly exaggerated in the chart as the had 3 games in hand at the end of February.
  • 01-02: The bottom literally fell-off for United in late March
  • 03-04: After leading at the end of January, United were never in it. The “Invincibles” season of Arsenal. I dont have a 4th place team in this because there 4 different teams in 4th and the graph was getting busy.

  • 09-10: Great title race with Chelsea, but Man United came up short by a point in this one.

Other seasons

  • 04-05: They were never in contention

  • 05-06: They were never in contention
  • 94-95: Blackburn prevailed despite United running them close


It is clear that they don’t come from behind always, not even close.

  • There were 5 instances where they came from behind between end of January & May to go on to win the title. (Not counting the current season)
  • There were 4 instances where they lost a lead between end of January & May to go on to lose the title.
  • There were 7 instances where they led end-to-end between end of January & March

In all there were 12 seasons in which they fell behind at some point between end of January and May.

Titles won after trailing 5/12 = 41.66%

Titles lost after leading 4/12 = 33.33%

Never lead 3/12 = 25%

All data from http://www.premierleague.com
You may follow me on twitter @AnalyseFooty & @aupasubmarino

Charts for seasons where they led from end of January through May

  • 93-94

  • 96-97

  • 99-00

  • 00-01

  • 06-07

  • 08-09

  • 10-11
Leave a comment


  1. Dave

     /  April 17, 2012

    It would be interesting to see from the beginning of the Christmas period, as I have always thought it was then that they kicked on. Good analysis nonetheless 🙂

    • Ravi Ramineni

       /  April 18, 2012

      Thanks for the feedback Dave. There is some variance in the christmas time games over the years. It was hard to get a trend there.

  2. van jayda

     /  April 17, 2012

    what u have failed to take into comparison are the stats on points against the first half of the season…

    It has been said that United are traditionally stronger in the second half of the season.

    Not your chosen hypothesis that wud validate the preconceived notion that United r no different

    • Ravi Ramineni

       /  April 18, 2012

      Great point. I havent taken them into account but you can draw those conclusions indirectly because the you can see how they are performing relative to opponents in the last 4-5 months of the season. i.e if they are making up ground or losing it. United’s 1st half vs 2nd half performance would be good topic for some interesting analysis.

  3. joe

     /  April 17, 2012

    what your analysis shows is not a surge ‘at this time of year’ but that UTD are likely to be consistently good to excellent in the final months and weeks. i.e. if they are ahead, they will retain consistent good form to stay there, and if they are behind they will improve their form to get on top. this has been the case for 12/19 or 63.158%. therefore ‘at this time of year’ Utd do ‘do it to their rivals’ as their consistency cannot be matched. hence the 37 from previous 42 pts availalbe this season.

    • Ravi Ramineni

       /  April 18, 2012

      Well what I tried to was if there is any truth in the statements that United pulls away at this time of the year. As you can see there were years where they did that and there were years where they didnt. I didnt see a trend. Somethings I havent taken into account are the nuances of individual seasons like injuries, tight schedule wit Champions league etc..

  4. jatt

     /  April 17, 2012

    yeah i agree with van jayda
    take in points per game avgs per month or something

    • Ravi Ramineni

       /  April 18, 2012

      Avg pts/month seems like an interesting option. But we need to be careful as the # of games in a month varies from year to year and in some cases varies per team as well.

  5. dan

     /  April 23, 2012



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