It’s an absolute given that history can never be guaranteed to repeat itself but it can certainly give some encouraging signals. Manchester United has remained unbeaten in the Premier League since that controversial 2-1 defeat against eventual champions Chelsea at Old Trafford last April and have managed to finish 2010 with that 1-1 draw at St Andrews as the only team in England yet to lose a Premiership game this season. In addition, United have lost 16 points from their eight drawn matches so far, 5 fewer than Arsenal, 6 less than Manchester City and 7 than Chelsea. Not a bad advantage to take into the New Year.
Only once in the history of the League has a club led the title race with an unbeaten record on December 31 then failed to win the title. That was way back in 1899 when Sheffield United finished second to Aston Villa despite not suffering their first league defeat until losing to Bury in mid January.
So United becomes only the seventh team in history to enter the New Year unbeaten in the top division. Sir Alex Ferguson however has repeatedly dismissed the prospect of United emulating Preston in 1888-89 and Arsenal in 2003-04 by sustaining the unbeaten run throughout an entire season.
Speaking earlier this month he said “It won’t happen again. The time Arsenal did it they had 12 draws. It was a great achievement but in this present league you cannot think for a minute you will go through undefeated.”
Leeds United 1987-88 and Arsenal 1990-91 all survived defeats in the second half of their campaigns to win the league having been unbeaten at the start of January. Yet with United due to visit Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool in the second half of the campaign, the difficulty of avoiding defeat appears to justify odds of 11-1 for Ferguson’s team to remain unbeaten for an entire league season.
Veteran Ryan Giggs is chasing his 12th league title and admits that United’s traditional improvement in the New Year ensures the squad expect to sustain their form. “We hope to get better in the second half but our form over the last few weeks has been really good. We looked sharp against Arsenal and Blackburn and it was the same against Sunderland” he said “You are obviously wary though because of the way the league has been this year. Anyone can beat anyone. We are thankful that we remain unbeaten and confidence is high but we realise that nothing can be taken for granted. It is a tough league and we need to be at our best in every game.”
These are the teams who were undefeated on New Years Day and where they finished
1888-89: Preston – unbeaten all season, champions
1899-1900: Sheffield United – lost at Bury on Jan 20 ,1900, finished second to Aston Villa
1973-74: Leeds United – lost at Stoke on Feb 23, 1974, champions
1987-88: Liverpool – lost at Everton on March 20, 1988, champions
1990-91: Arsenal – lost at Chelsea on Feb 2, 1991, champions
2003-04: Arsenal – unbeaten all season, champions
While United have survived the season unscathed so far, there are a few tough months ahead in which anything can happen but history is most certainly on their side. What can be guaranteed is that Sir Alex will be celebrating New Years eve and his 69th birthday with a glass or two of his favourite red.
Should history be considered when making title winning predictions?