Finish strong or all goes wrong? How Premier League sides perform in the second half of the season

With a strong record in the second half of the season, a top-four finish is on for West Ham, while Leicester can ill-afford a repeat of recent collapses.

At the midway point of the 2020/21 season, Southampton sat in 10th position fresh off the back of a 1-0 victory over Premier League champions Liverpool. After a remarkable start to the campaign, with the Saints even finding themselves top of the league after eight games, hopes of a European finish were still very much alive around St Mary's.

Fast forward five months and Southampton would trudge to a miserable 15th-placed finish after picking up just 14 points from their last 19 games of the season. If they had performed like that over the entire campaign they'd have been destined for the drop.

It's just one example of a club that has experienced a huge disparity between the first and second half of their season, which begs the question - do teams usually perform better before or after the halfway point? As it turns out, there are clear examples of both situations.

Leicester's lacklustre finishes

James Maddison disappointed after missing a chance for Leicester City

Leicester City have been notorious in recent years for falling away towards the end of the campaign and missing out on a Champions League spot, a feat that they have not been able to achieve since their remarkable title-winning year.

In fact, for the last four consecutive Premier League seasons, Leicester have gathered more points in the first 19 games than the second, with an average points-per-game (PPG) of 1.74 in the first half of the season compared to 1.25 in the second half.

In the 2020/21 season, the Foxes lost three of their last four which saw them drop out of the top four and into the Europa League. So, is there a reason for this downward trend?

Well one possible explanation is that between January and the end of the season, Leicester's squad was hit hard by injuries, with five of their starting XI all sidelined at the same time. Injuries to star men James Maddison and Harvey Barnes weakened Brendan Rodgers' attacking options leaving him with Ayoze Perez and Cengiz Under, who both struggled to find the net.

But to have lost their way at the end of four consecutive seasons puts bad luck into doubt and suggests that Rodgers' side starts to feel the pressure.

West Ham's iron nerves

West Ham celebrate scoring against Brighton, Premier League

In contrast, West Ham are a team who favour the second half of the season, surpassing their first half points tally in four of the last five campaigns.

The January transfer window offers clubs the opportunity to strengthen their side midway through the season, and West Ham have certainly taken advantage of that in recent years.

The signing of Jarrod Bowen from Hull City in January 2020 aided the Hammers' fight for survival that season, while loaning Jesse Lingard at the start of 2021 proved to be a stroke of genius from David Moyes, who sparked a resurgence in the 28-year-old's career as he went on to bag nine goals in just 16 games.

Title winners tend to start strong

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola gestures on the touchline during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester.

Manchester City have been crowned champions three times over the last five seasons. During their record-breaking centurion season of 2017/18, Pep Guardiola's team won all but one of their opening 19 games, picking up 55 points from a possible 57.

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool replicated this feat in the 2019/20 season, with an average of 2.89 PPG in the first half of the season, only dropping points in a 1-1 draw with rivals Manchester United.

This, along with Chelsea's remarkable start to their 2016/17 campaign, suggests that eventual title winners almost always stamp their authority on the trophy in the first half of the season.

Relegation-battlers knuckle down after Christmas

Newcastle United's Javier Manquillo (left) and Miguel Almiron celebrates their side's first goal during the Premier League match at St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne

It's a completely different story towards the bottom of the table, though. Of the 15 teams relegated in the last five seasons, nine of them racked up more points in the second half of the campaign.

A simple explanation for the trend is that as the season's end draws closer, the threat of relegation to the Championship focuses the minds more.

Many clubs also turn towards new managers as it becomes increasingly clear that their top-flight status is under threat. A lot of them improve with a new boss at the helm, but don't quite pull off a great escape.

How this will affect this season

Ralph Hasenhuttl, Southampton, Manager odds

With this information in mind, how can we expect the table to look at the end of this season? Well, it's good news for West Ham, who after an outstanding opening 20 games find themselves in fifth place. If previous years are anything to go by, then they may climb even higher if they spend wisely in January.

It's not so promising for Leicester City, however. Down in tenth place with just 25 points, they will need a strong second half of the campaign to threaten the European places and have even less wriggle room for an end-of-season collapse.

Relegation-threatened Newcastle will be confident that their new-found wealth can produce a more point-laden second half of the campaign. But such has been their bad start, it will require quite the turnaround if they are to avoid the dreaded drop.

And, what about Southampton, who sit 14th in the table after 19 games. At this point in the 2020/21 campaign, Saints were riding high in seventh. A repeat of last season's second-half slump makes relegation a scarily real prospect.

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