Defending The Crown: Why Do Premier League Sides Struggle?

Seven games into the new Premier League season, it may seem like writing off Chelsea’s chances of retaining their league crown seem premature but the defeat to Manchester City at the weekend, and recent history, suggest the Blues’ chances of glory are already down in the gutter.

No side has successfully defended the Premier League title since Manchester United in 2008/09, their third consecutive title on the bounce, and the past few years have even seen the defending champions finish way below the winners- with Leicester City finishing 12th last season and Chelsea finishing tenth in Jose Mourinho’s last campaign at Stamford Bridge.

Prior to that, the defending champions had finished runners-up in five of the previous six seasons since Manchester United’s triple-threat achievement in the Premier League and Chelsea don’t appear likely to swing the pendulum back towards the defending champions, as they sit six points behind both Manchester clubs.

The huge turn in fortune for the sides that secured success in the Premier League the prior season is evidence of the competitive nature of England’s top division, as well as echoing the belief that every club in the division wants to take points off the champions.

Chelsea lost five games in their charge to the Premier League title last season, two of which came before Antonio Conte’s switch to a five-man defensive line, and the Blues have lost two matches this season, both coming at Stamford Bridge to Burnley and Manchester City, putting them in exactly the same spot as they were last year – though there appears to be no signs of a revival.

In the 2015/16 campaign, Leicester City lost just three matches over the course of the season, defeated twice by Arsenal and once by Liverpool, then losing a massive 18 games last season – conceding 63 goals, compared to the 36 they shipped during their heroic campaign.

Whilst the previous three seasons can be attributed to immense underachievement from the two sides defending their Premier League title, with Chelsea losing 12 matches in the season Mourinho was sacked, falling short is nothing new for sides who became used to winning the year before.

Manchester City, champions in 2013/14, finished seven points off their previous tally the following campaign, despite losing just one more game, whereas Manchester United lost 12 games during the year of David Moyes’ ill-fated regime.

So why do these sides, who stormed the league the year before, struggle? Well, it actually appears to be for a varied number of reasons as each defending champion has their own reasons for falling short – some of which are surprising, whereas others were expected.

Leicester City, of course, were not expected to compete for the title again last season and will still consider their season to be a success thanks to a historic run in the Champions League. Chelsea, meanwhile, fell well short of expectations in Mourinho’s third campaign in charge.

The Blues entered the campaign with a sense of comfortability, which is always dangerous, following a summer where they signed Pedro from Barcelona as their only real major addition to the side – with Baba Rahman and Asmir Begovic both becoming squad players.

Manchester United’s season in 13/14 will obviously come down to the period of adjustment required following the departure of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, something the Red Devils are only just starting to come out strong from, so that accounts for three of the previous seven title winners since Ferguson’s side were the last to successfully defend their crown. Chelsea, last year’s winners, are excluded for now.

There was of course Manchester United’s fate in 11/12, where Sergio Aguero scored ‘that’ goal, so it leaves three championship-winning sides left to explain why they fell so short – Manchester City (twice) and Chelsea, the latter of whom seem to have an issue following winning campaigns.

Chelsea have won five Premier League titles in their history but only two of those came back-to-back, in 2004/05 and 2005/06, before the Blues slipped away to make way for another three years of Manchester United dominance.

Mourinho, as he does, left midway through his third campaign at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea finished six points behind the champions. They lost less games than their title-winning campaign the year before, losing three compared to five, but drew 11 games that season – a record only two sides in the top-half, Everton and Portsmouth, could better.

That flurry of draws adds evidence to the belief that every side wants to secure a result against the defending champions and it’s true, as you can only fall when you’re at the top. Chelsea, for their part, had just won two on the bounce so the desire to get one over the Blues was even stronger.

Manchester City then have some explaining to do. Champions in 11/12 and 13/14, the Citizens finished runners-up to Manchester United after their inaugural Premier League victory and then eight points behind Chelsea after their second win.

The first failure can perhaps to attributed to the fact that Manchester City had never been in this position in the Premier League before, especially after their dramatic title winning goal the season before meant they didn’t have the spell of domination at the top of the division, but their second campaign falling short raises eyebrows.

Again, though, Manchester City finished two points above Liverpool in a campaign that’s remembered for Steven Gerrard’s slip and the Reds’ overall collapse in the latter end of that title charge. That means that the Citizens, despite their successes, are yet to win the title by a landslide.

It therefore raises questions ahead of their push for the title this season. As they’ve never really had the experience of sitting pretty at the top of the pile, what happens this season if that occurs? Do performances slip? Does Pep Guardiola spring them into life? Or do they collapse, like Liverpool.

Either way, we certainly seem unlikely to get consecutive Premier League title winners for a while and, with that in mind, we’re unlikely to therefore have a side that’s head and shoulders above the rest in the division, which would make them contenders for Champions League glory.