By Brian Sears
14 March 2014
Seven clubs have been ever-present (EP) in the 22 seasons of the Premier League and six of them are in the top seven in the current table; this is no coincidence.
Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal in first, second and third place before this weekend’s games, as well as Tottenham, Manchester United and Everton (in fifth, sixth, seventh) are all ‘big’ clubs relative to most other clubs in England, by trophies, attendance, income or pretty much any other measure. Aston Villa (11th currently) are the seventh EP club and also fit that bill.
Manchester City, whose recent prominence has been fuelled by Abu Dhabi petrodollars and start the weekend fourth, are the only non-EP team in the current top seven.
Six of the EP teams face each other this weekend, which makes them a topical subject. Villa host Chelsea on Saturday before Manchester United and Liverpool reprise the most significant long-term rivalry in English football on Sunday ahead of Tottenham hosting Arsenal in the north London derby.
Before the current season started, the seven EP teams had each played the others combined 252 times in the Premier League, or six matches at home and six away against six opponents for 21 years.
And this first graphic demonstrates how their record against each other, overall, equated quite well over time to their success in the Premier League era. In other words, Manchester United dominated the ‘EP games’ – and the league in the era. Then Arsenal and Chelsea fared next best in the EP games, and shared next most success overall. Then Liverpool were fourth best in EP games and had the best finish (second) outside of the title-winning clubs, followed by Tottenham, Villa and Everton.
For readers too young to remember, Villa were runners-up in the first Premier League season; and they have not been close to that since. Tottenham and Everton have peaked as high as fourth place. But things are changing, as we’ll see in a moment.
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This season, Chelsea are the leading team in the ‘inter EP’ matches, winning five and drawing three of their nine games so far against their EP rivals for a total of 18 points in these games or two points per match on average. They are followed closely by Liverpool, with Everton a step back in third. These three teams are all ‘trending’ better in performance terms this season than they have over the 21 Premier League seasons previously as a whole.
In contrast Arsenal and United are both doing worse against their EP rivals this season than typically, United much worse. And Tottenham are doing better this season in points per game against their EP rivals but the same relatively (fifth of seven); and Villa are doing worse than their long-term average, and worse relatively compared to all the other teams.
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When we add the records for the 21 completed seasons before this campaign to this season’s records we get the table below.
This shows a few things clearly:
1) There is a ‘big four’ within the EP seven and they are United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. We might argue English football has a big six or aspirant seven or many other things, but this ‘big four’ plus arrivistes City remain for now the ‘Big 5′ in English football.
2) Chelsea are on the brink of usurping Arsenal as the second force of English football behind United over the PL era as a whole. Right now they are virtually level pegging with 407 points at 1.56 PPG each from 261 EP7 games apiece (as well as three PL titles apiece), with Chelsea having just risen above Arsenal in the all-time EP7 table on goal difference. What happens between now and the end of the season will determine which of the pair ends this campaign in second place to United.
3) United require just a point against Liverpool this weekend to become the first of the EP7 teams to take 500 points from the others combined in the PL era.