The early match on the last Saturday of 2013 will be remembered for being the 'Nicolas Anelka Celebration' game.
It is a pity because the contest, which ended 3-3 between West Ham and West Brom, was a highly entertaining affair.
The first half alone gave all us all three possible result scenarios alone - draw, home team leading, away team leading.
West Brom began the second half in the lead. Finally. Anelka's second goal of the contest in the 45th minute gave the Baggies their first lead in over a month.
They coped with this well and looked the better team as the game came close to its final third but, suddenly, West Ham grabbed an unlikely equalizer.
At 2-2, West Brom restarted the match stunned that they had allowed another lead to slip. They had not won a Premier League match for eight weeks, despite having been in front against Chelsea and Aston Villa. Here they were again, collapsing when they should have been at their best. Seconds after the restart, West Ham had the ball again. One minute and 55 seconds later they were ahead 3-2. Two minutes after that West Brom were back level having played more direct and determined, once they were losing, than they did when they were in front and, most certainly, level.
We do not hear often about a team's performance relevant to the scoreline within the game. Football matches come and go, usually thought of directly by the final scoreline that gave the game its master title. How a team got to the victory can be watched on highlight shows but usually by the next day, and definitely by the next week, most people judge a team by whether or not they won a match.
However, watching how a team responds when they have taken the lead is fascinating.
Earlier this season I wrote a column on this site about how hard it is for a Premier League club to win when trailing 1-0, which included this stat:
Last season in the Premier League, there were 33 matches that ended scoreless, and, subsequently, 347 occasions when a team took a 1-0 lead. The minute in which the goals were scored matters, of course, but of those 347 1-0 leads, only 54 times did those leads give the winning team no points. This means a team who took a 1-0 lead, had a 84.4 per cent chance of not losing the match.
How a team plays when they are winning is essential for success.
Last season, Chelsea had two different managers, two different identities but the exact same problem. Jose Mourinho speaks of that side like a rude, uncomfortable in-law. When he is asked of them, his face turns sour, he looks disgusted and bemused at what they were.
Chelsea finished a distant third last season but led in 1,417 Premier League minutes, second only to champions Manchester United. In fact, these two teams were the only teams to lead in over a third of their minutes last season (1,140 minutes). Yet, when the Blues were in front, they were far from automatic winners. They were everything Mourinho believes a side shouldn't be, surrendering an incredible 14 leads. Manchester United and Manchester City gave away leads just six times all season, Arsenal eight times.
Chelsea played over 330 more minutes in the lead of matches than City but still couldn't beat them in the table, giving away 17 points from winning positions. They lost the league by 14 points.
A statistical look at teams in winning positions in 2013-14
It is not exactly the halfway stage in the season but, with the FA Cup played last weekend, it feels like it. All teams have now played exactly 20 matches, and all have 18 to go. In total, 200 Premier League games have been played, resulting in 153 wins and 47 draws. All teams have played 1,800 Premier League minutes (* injury time in each half is counted as '45 and '90).
Although only two teams led for over a third of their season last year, currently five teams are above this threshold in 2013/14.
The fab five
Manchester City 949 mins (52.7 per cent)
Liverpool - 911 mins (50.6)
Arsenal - 779 mins (43)
Chelsea - 681 mins (38)
Manchester Utd - 606 mins (33.7)
United's low placement obviously stands out but it is actually surprising that they are on this list at all, given that they have only taken the lead 13 times so far this season. Here is a look at the amount of leads teams from this group have taken so far:
Manchester City - 21
Chelsea - 19
Arsenal - 18
Liverpool - 17
Manchester United - 13
To lead often can lead to more opportunities to surrender such leads and it is interesting to see Chelsea still having issues in this area under Mourinho.
Chelsea (7) - The Blues have given up the most amount from this group but have also gotten the most back, claiming an impressive five wins back from the seven surrendered (71 per cent). This continues to go against Mourinho's philosophy and it is interesting to watch his team improve in this area as the season has gone on.
Man City (6) - Manuel Pellegrini's side have turned 50 per cent of these scenarios back into three points with the three games they failed in all coming before the end of October.
Liverpool (5) - The Reds have had a very successful season so far but with just one lead recovery from a possible five attempts, they are becoming known as a momentum team who struggle to wrestle the game back their way when the other team is on top.
Arsenal (4) - The Gunners have a very impressive record of surrendering just four of 18 leads so far and those four include two more lead recovery wins, meaning the only game, since the opening day loss to Aston Villa, they failed to win when leading was the home game against Everton.
Man Utd (3) - United have the least amount of leads surrendered because they have only led 13 times. While the other four have at least 12 games where they have led, kept the lead, and won, United have just 10. This is down to their inability to score early. Only five times this season have they scored the game's opening goal before the 45th minute and gone on to win the game. They did it 16 times in 2012-13.
Last season, United got a lot of headlines for their ability to claim points while behind but what went under the radar was their ruthlessness when leading. They were ahead in 31 Premier League matches last season, going on to win 28 and draw three. Quite simply, the moment they got anywhere close to leading, they believed they would win. This season, United remain unbeaten when they are leading but their biggest problem has been the lack of time spent in front. Their current average of 33.7 per cent is a massive drop off from the 48.2 per cent they achieved last season. This has allowed doubts to creep in, taking away their confidence and handing other teams more opportunities (i.e. time) to take advantage of United when the game is scoreless.
The three draws from winning positions last season meant United dropped just six points from winning positions in 38 matches (Swansea, Tottenham and WBA all away). It is no wonder a team that led in 1,647 Premier League minutes dominated so much.
Points dropped from winning positions this season:
Liverpool (10) - Second with 911 minutes led, this is why the Reds are not higher in the table, particularly the three points each they handed recently to Chelsea and Man City when they were winning 1-0 in both games.
Man City (6) - These all came before the end of September, with losses at Cardiff and Aston Villa.
Chelsea (5) - West Brom and Stoke were able to overturn deficits to earn points against Mourinho's men who would be at six if it wasn't for referee Andre Marriner's decision to allow a late penalty to give them a 2-2 draw against the Baggies.
Arsenal (5) - As stated above, these came in home games to Aston Villa and Everton.
Man Utd (4) - David Moyes saw his side surrender leads against Southampton at home and at Cardiff (twice), forcing them to accept draws instead of wins.
Best of the rest - Percentage of time spent winning this season
Newcastle - 595 mins (33.1 per cent) - Alan Pardew's men just miss out on the top category down to total minutes led but surpass Manchester United in other categories. The Magpies have taken the lead 17 times this season (tied for fourth). The high number is reached because they have surrendered seven of those leads but went on to claim four lead recovery victories (57 per cent), which has helped them get to 595 minutes. Incredibly, they need to lead for just 29 more minutes this season to pass their entire total from last season.
Tottenham - 528 mins (29.3) - Spurs are also tied for fourth having taken the lead 17 times this season but, because they have struggled to score goals, many of their games (like Man Utd) have seen them take the lead late, meaning they have been unable to show they can keep a lead for a long time. They have only won four matches when they have scored the game's opening goal in the first half.
Hull City - 441 mins (24.5) - This is why Steve Bruce's side are in the top half. It is also why he thinks his team should be higher than 10th. Their fast starts in matches have given them a real opportunity to play a lot of games in front. Over a halfway through the season, the Tigers have more first half minutes led than Manchester United (167-161). It says a lot about the champions but also quite a bit about the newly promoted side who know early leads are the key to their success. They have led 11 times, given up five and only got one lead recovery win but that was a special one for Hull, beating Liverpool 3-1.
Southampton - 437 mins (24.3) - Despite their high position on this list, and in the league table, the Saints have taken the lead (eight times) no more than the likes of Crystal Palace and Sunderland. Yet, when they do get in front, they do tend to hold on to leads and that is a good thing because in the two matches they surrendered leads in, they actually went on to lose, albeit against tough opposition in Chelsea and Tottenham.
Everton - 429 mins (23.8) - This is a fascinating case study. Everton sit fifth in the table, having won exactly 50 per cent of their games this season (10 of 20) but have led in less than a quarter of their season, placing them 10th on this list. They are tied for fourth with 17 leads but, like Newcastle, have given up seven leads and gained four lead recovery wins (57 per cent). No team in the league has spent more time drawing in games than Everton, at a rate almost two thirds of their minutes played, and it has been their ability to stay in games that has allowed them to do their damage late in matches, picking up points while not spending too much time in front. Ten first half goals compared to 22 in the second half tells the story.
Norwich City - 385 mins (21.4) - It may not be as interesting as Everton, but for a team to lead in just eight games, give up three leads and claim none of them back, Chris Hughton's side have done well to get above 21 per cent in minutes led so far (last season they finished on 18.3 per cent). Hughton preaches a need for his defence to be solid and with leads lasting 77, 68, 60 and 56, so far this season, it shows the Canaries play confident when they get ahead early.
Stoke City - 370 mins (20.6) - The above description could be assigned to Stoke teams of the past but their identity is changing under Mark Hughes. Stoke have led as many times as Manchester United (13) this season but have been unable to hold leads, giving up 12 points from winning positions already this season. Continuing with their evolution theme, they have managed to score more goals which has helped them claim three lead recovery victories.
Swansea City - 291 mins (16.1) - There is a significant drop-off between Stoke and Swansea and this reflects the struggles for Michael Laudrup's team in front of goal this campaign. Swansea led in 22.7 per cent of their season in 2012-13 but are almost two hours behind that pace this season, taking just eight leads on the season, while giving four of them back. In truth, they are fortunate to be this high. Alarmingly over half of their time winning games came in two matches, wins at West Brom and Crystal Palace back in September.
West Ham - 290 mins (16.1) - West Ham have led more times than Swansea (10) but are tied for the league lead in wins surrendered with seven. They play nervous when they lead because they know they don't have the firepower to kick on. The team cannot score enough goals to recover from those blows, coming back to gain just two lead recovery wins (29 per cent), meaning they are top of the table no team wants to be - 14 points lost from winning positions.
Sunderland - 282 mins (15.7) - The Black Cats have four games this season where the minutes led was 50 or more and they won just two of them. They have led eight games but given up five leads and have lost 11 points from winning positions.
West Brom - 281 mins (15.6) - Last season, they led in over 25 per cent of their season but now two games are responsible for half of West Brom's minutes led. One of those, when they led Aston Villa for 70 minutes, wasn't even a victory, one of five leads given up, with just two being recovered into wins.
Fulham - 271 mins (15.1) - For the final 485 minutes of Martin Jol's reign, Fulham led for exactly zero minutes. Under Rene Meulensteen, they have led in four of their last seven games, holding the lead for good in each of their last three. Fulham are traditionally terrible the moment they go behind, so they must start games better and the new manager has already improved that key area.
Aston Villa - 270 mins (15) - Only twice this season have Villa led in a game for longer than 33 minutes - at Norwich and Sunderland. Their leads against Swansea and Sunderland over the festive period took their percentage from a dismal 10.8 per cent to a less dismal 15 per cent, which is still a far cry from the 23 per cent rate they finished last season with. They sit 11th but unless they can start playing better when they are ahead, a drop down the table looks likely.
Crystal Palace - 246 mins (13.7) - Under Ian Holloway in the first eight games, Palace led for just 105 minutes, conceding 19 goals. Tony Pulis has now been in charge for eight games and has tightened up their defence, conceding just a goal per game, while finding a way to get leads. Four of their eight leads have come since Holloway departed and each one of them has turned into a win.
Cardiff City - 204 mins (11.4) - Much was made about the great job Malky Mackay did for Vincent Tan but when he departed after 18 games, his team had led in just 7.4 per cent of their season. A lead for 84 minutes over Sunderland followed, until the visitors scored an equalizer in the last minute. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a bigger job on than many seen to think.
Later this week, I will have Part II on this study - a statistical look at how Premier League teams perform when they are losing.