Not having the luxury of BT sports resulted in a trip to the local pub to watch the Arsenal vs. Manchester City match last weekend. The local barstooler was once again a source of inspiration as gents either side of the bar made claims of how Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United sides thrived after Christmas. I’ve heard this claim, or very similar ones, being made many times before and have always doubted their validity.
So, is it the case that Fergie’s sides performed better in the new calendar year of a season when compared to the August to December period? If we look at it on a season by season basis the answer is no. In fact as the table below shows since the start of the Premier League (I can only access data from 1992 rather than the start of the Ferguson reign in 1986) Manchester United collected more points on average before January 1st (11 seasons) rather than after it (10 seasons). The years where they collected more points on average after the new year are marked in yellow.
If we look at the mean points in total the differences are insignificant. From 1992 to 2013 Fergie managed 425 Premier League matches from August until December, accumulating 904 points. On average that's 2.13 points per match. In the New Year Fergie has managed 391 matches in the Premier League, accumulating 848 points, an average of 2.17 per match.
So was it the case that Santa inspired Fergie’s Manchester United to improve their Premier League performance? The answer is no - given their finishing position they were pretty good all year round! The idea that United 'come good' in the new year appears to be another one for the myth list.