Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United finally back on Premier League summit

Tom White and Ben Mayhew, PA
·3-min read

Manchester United moved top of the Premier League for the first time since September 2017 with a win at Burnley on Tuesday.

Barring one day in a false first position – after beating Leicester in the season-opening Friday night fixture on August 10, 2018 – United have been waiting more than three years to look down on the rest of the division.

They have had to watch their closest rivals Liverpool and Manchester City dominate the league in that time.

Here, the PA news agency assesses how United and their rivals have fared.

United’s ups and downs

Son Heung-min celebrates scoring Tottenham's fourth goal in their 6-1 win at Old Trafford
Tottenham’s Old Trafford romp this season dropped United to 16th (Oli Scarff/PA)

PA has looked back over the league table at the end of every day during the Premier League season since September 16, 2017, when City ended United’s last spell at the summit. The close seasons have been excluded, as has the three-month coronavirus-induced stoppage during last season, leaving 896 days.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have continued to challenge at the top during that time, spending more time – 255 days – in second than any other position and almost 35 per cent of their time in the top four.

However, they have occupied every position down to 16th at some stage with over half their time spent between fifth and 10th and shockingly, almost 12 per cent in the bottom half.

They have started each of the last three seasons poorly, that opening-day win over Leicester notwithstanding, and were 16th as recently as October 16 after their 6-1 defeat to Tottenham and the subsequent international break.

That was after three games and they were 13th at the same point in 2018-19, again after Spurs won at Old Trafford, while last season saw them down in 14th after nine games – virtually a quarter of the season. They recovered to finish third.

Dominant duo

Jurgen Klopp, left, and Pep Guardiola bump fists
Jurgen Klopp, left, and Pep Guardiola have largely shared top spot since United’s last stint there (Martin Rickett/PA)

Liverpool and City have won the last three titles between them in commanding fashion and it is no surprise to see them top for the vast majority of United’s absence.

Jurgen Klopp’s side lead the way with 426 days at the summit to City’s 372, a combined 89 per cent of the period under scrutiny.

Interestingly, the best of the rest are two teams from outside the established ‘big six’, with Everton spending 30 days at the top and Leicester 25.

Tottenham are just behind on 23 with 10 for Chelsea, seven for Arsenal and even Southampton, with two, exceeding United’s one schedule-assisted day at the top.

Arsenal the odd team out

Mikel Arteta, right, leaves the field after defeat to Everton
Arsenal have rivalled United’s troubles in recent times (Clive Brunskill/PA)

The Gunners have fallen from grace in recent years and their record compares poorly to their big-six rivals.

While Liverpool and City have spent 88 and 85 per cent of their time respectively in the Champions League places and Chelsea over 64 per cent, for Arsenal that figure is only 16.4 per cent – 147 days out of 896.

That is barely a third of north London rivals Tottenham’s share of almost 47 per cent, and less than half that of United – and Arsenal too have spent 12 per cent of their time in the bottom half, with a week spent just one place above the relegation zone in August 2018.

Chelsea spent a week in 19th in August 2019 but 95 per cent of their time in the top half, with Liverpool, City and Spurs also in the 90s for that figure. Liverpool’s only two days in the bottom half were the product of the same scheduling that took United top to start 2018-19 – they moved top by winning their Sunday opener 4-0.