Top of the PSL or EPL at Christmas? It’s not good a good omen for winning the league

There’s an old superstition in the Premier League that the team sitting top at Christmas won’t be gifted the trophy at the end of the season. Just how much truth is in that?

Kaizer Chiefs top the PSL table at Christmas, but recent history suggests the title is far from secure. Few teams who have led on 25 December in recent years have gone on to win the league.

Despite Kaizer Chiefs’ convincing lead at the top of the South African Premier Division heading into Christmas, recent history suggests the title race is far over. Only five of the last 12 South African league leaders have gone on to lift the title — even fewer than in England’s Premier League.

Only 14 out of England’s 27 Premier League era champions have led at Christmas. The curse has been lifted somewhat lately and the last 12 seasons have seen eight festive season leaders go on to win the division.

PSL vs EPL: Top of the league at Christmas winners vs non-winners

PSL data only taken from the 2007/08 season.

Epl Vs Psl Xmas Top Vs Winners Nonwinners
Photo: Extra Time Media

Liverpool led at Christmas for the fifth time in the Premier League era, but have never won the title. Three of their squandered Christmas leads have come since 2008-09. Arsenal in 2007-08 were the last team to relinquish a festive advantage before them.

PSL vs EPL: Final league position of team top at Christmas

PSL data only taken from the 2007/08 season, for comparison purposes, this graphic only uses EPL data from the same season.

Top At Christmas Vs Final Position Epl Vs Psl
Photo: Extra Time Media

The same timespan in South Africa has seen Ajax Cape Town (two), Mamelodi Sundowns (two), Kaizer Chiefs, SuperSport United and Wits all fail to win after leading at Christmas.

PSL: Team’s final position after leading at Christmas

PSL data only taken from the 2007/08 season. This graphic starts with Ajax in that season and goes clockwise through to the 2018-19 season. It shows the PSL teams that were top of the league at Christmas and their final league standing.

Psl Teams Top At Xmas Final Posisition
Photo: Extra Time Media

There is good news for the Amakhosi faithful: the last time Chiefs led the title race at Christmas was in 2014-15 and they won the league that season under Stuart Baxter.

Wits topped the Premiership at Christmas last season, but ultimately slipped behind Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates in the title race.

Sundowns have become particularly adept at dethroning league opponents late in the season. They have won the title four times under Pitso Mosimane despite having only led twice at Christmas since he took charge in 2012.

Since 2007-08, Sundowns are also the only team to have led at Christmas and improved their points per game afterwards. This happened in the 2015-16 season, which saw them set a Premiership points record.

PSL: Average points per game of the team top at Christmas – before and after 25 December

Epl Vs Psl Points Before And Aver Christmas
Photo: Extra Time Media

EPL: Average points per game of the team top at Christmas – before and after 25 December

Epl Points Before After Christmas For Team Top At Xmas
Photo: Extra Time Media

Masandawana are often forced to postpone their league fixtures early in the season due to congestion caused by the CAF Champions League. This tends to leave them playing catch-up as the season progresses.

Pitso Mosimane’s men have usually risen to the challenge. Whether or not they can do so again in 2019-20 remains to be seen.

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Leonard Solms
Leonard Solms is a freelance South African multi-sport journalist who has written for a number of regional, national and international newspapers and websites. He won a Rhodes-Investec Top 100 Award in 2018, the year in which he completed his Bachelor of Journalism at Rhodes University.