After 27 games, just two points separate the top three sides in the Premier League. We look back through Premier League history to see whether that has ever happened before, and also try to learn some lessons from previous three-team title races.

In 2024, the top three sides in the Premier League have won the following number of points:

Liverpool: 21 from 24

Manchester City: 22 from 24

Arsenal: 21 from 21

The form that Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal are displaying at the moment is as breathless as it is ludicrous.

As well as the league table, the underlying performance data shows that Jürgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta are in charge of teams that are in a complete world of their own.

Only three sides have an expected goals difference (xGD) per game of over 1.0. In order, they are Arsenal (+1.4), Manchester City (+1.1) and Liverpool (+1.0), with Aston Villa the next highest side on +0.5. Villa are on course for their best top-flight finish since the late 1990s, but are still half a goal per game behind Liverpool on xGD.

The gulf between the top three and the rest of the league is chasmic.

Liverpool, City and Arsenal have 186 combined points so far, which is the joint-second highest total for the most combined points of three sides 27 games into a Premier League season. In 2018-19, Liverpool had 66, Man City had 65 and Tottenham had 60 points (191), while in 2019-20 Liverpool had 79, Man City had 57 and Leicester had 50 (186).

But although there’s a big difference between the current three and the rest of the league, the difference between each of the three sides is microscopic. And that is what could make this one of the most thrilling title races in Premier League history.

After 27 games of the season, just two points separate Liverpool in first and Arsenal in third.

Only four Premier League seasons in its 20-team league history have seen the top three teams in the table separated by fewer than two points after 27 games: 1998-99, 2001-02, 2009-10 and 2013-14, where the top three were split by just a point.

With 27 games played this season, 2023-24 has the smallest points difference between first and third at this stage of the competition or later since 4 May 2014, almost a decade ago.

Of course, the climax of the 2013-14 campaign brought us the infamous Steven Gerrard slip against Chelsea, and Liverpool’s subsequent capitulation against Crystal Palace. It was Manchester City, though, not Chelsea who were able to take advantage, with Manuel Pellegrini’s men rattling off five consecutive wins to claim their second Premier League title.

One (or Two) of These Teams Could Get Historically Unlucky

Chelsea, for their part, finished in third place with 82 points that year. That tally is the second-highest a third-place Premier League side has ever ended a campaign with (tied with Liverpool in 05-06).

The record for the most points won by a team eventually finishing in third place in the Premier League is jointly-held by Arsenal (2007-08) and Chelsea (2008-09) – both 83.

If the current third-place team, Arsenal, maintain their points-per-game rate in 2023-24 of 2.26, they’ll end the season on roughly 86 points.

That would break the Premier League record and make them the unluckiest third-placed team ever. In fact, a total of 86 points would have been enough to win the league in seven of the 28 seasons (25%) to feature 20 teams. This year, it might only be good enough for third.

Two of these three teams are going to miss out on the trophy despite having objectively fantastic seasons. Of course, Liverpool know all about that having racked up mammoth points tallies in 2018-19 (97) and 2021-22 (92) and finishing second to City on both occasions.

Is It Going to Stay This Close?

So we can see it’s pretty rare for there to be a three-horse race this late in the season. But can history tell us about anything about whether it will stay this close?

Firstly, it’s important to say that it’s unlikely to stay this close between all three teams right until the very end. There’s not been a single Premier League season on record where three teams could still win the title going into the final game.

In fact, the last time three teams could win the top flight with one game left was back in 1971-72, when Leeds United, Derby County and Liverpool were separated by just a point with one game left to play. Derby eventually won the title by beating the Reds in their final game.

But we can look at the tightest seasons in the above table to see how close each of them eventually were.

1998-99: Undeniably thrilling, 1998-99 was just the second Premier League season to go down to the final day, with Manchester United and Arsenal separated by just one point.

United ultimately took advantage of Arsenal’s 1–0 defeat at Leeds in the penultimate match of the season and, despite going 1–0 down against Tottenham on the final day, came back to win 2–1 and clinch the title.

Chelsea were technically still in it after 36 games – four points off the top – but a 2-2 draw with Spurs in their penultimate game ended their hopes.

2001-02: Dripping with narrative as Arsenal famously won the Premier League on the penultimate matchday of the season with a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford. The Gunners won their final 13 games of that campaign, which meant the title was always in their hands.

2009-10: Arsenal had recovered well after suffering back-to-back defeats to fellow title chasers, Manchester United and Chelsea in Jan-Feb, rattling off six straight wins to keep the league title alive. But Arsène Wenger’s side won just two of their remaining seven games, leaving Man Utd and Chelsea to battle it out.

The title day went down to the final day, with Chelsea’s emphatic 8-0 mauling of Wigan confirming their victory. The most important result in the run-in was the Blues’ 2-1 victory at Old Trafford in April, which saw Carlo Ancelotti’s side go top. It was a position they would not surrender.

2013-14: One of the most thrilling and the last – and maybe only time – we’ve seen a genuine three-horse race go extremely deep into the competition. Separated by just two points, all three of Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea had a realistic shot at winning the title with two games to go.

As it was, this was another campaign that was decided on the final day, with City sealing it thanks to a 2–0 victory over West Ham. Liverpool had looked on course to win it with two weeks to go, but a loss and a draw in two of their last three matches, combined with City winning their final five league matches, proved pivotal.

With Manchester City travelling to Liverpool this weekend, Arsenal visiting the Etihad at the end of the month, and teams like Tottenham – who still need to play all three title-chasing sides – capable of getting a result against any of them, it is unlikely that the battle at the top stays this close for much longer. History tells us as such too, with one team usually falling away as we get into April and May.

But until that happens, long may the neutrals among us pray for draws between the three sides so that we can continue to enjoy the best three-horse title race in 10 years.

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