How did these 5 early-season showdowns impact the title race?
Ahead of Chelsea v Manchester City, we assess the consequences of Premier League giants meeting in the first few games of the season.
Newcastle 5-0 Manchester United, October 1996
When Newcastle were promoted from the First Division in 1993, Kevin Keegan said: “Watch out Fergie, we’re after your title.”
And while his rallying cry encapsulated the desire required, years on, to tear into Manchester United and beat them 5-0, it was the same emotional overload that saw his team ultimately fall short in the 1996/97 title race.
These days, onlookers would have been falling over themselves to declare the Magpies champions, as Philippe Albert’s chip crowned an adrenaline-fuelled rout.
Keegan’s rant later in the season – “I would love it if we beat them” – represented their implosion, as the title-winning machine that was United moved up the gears in the second half of the season and cruised to the main prize.
Significant evidence that early victories against title rivals counts for little.
Manchester United 0-0 Arsenal, September 2003
The ‘Battle of Old Trafford’ took on even more significance by the time Arsenal had avoided defeat in the following 32 matches.
But the 0-0 draw, the best example of the bad blood between the two most successful sides of the era, must be one of the most thrilling English football has seen.
When Ruud van Nistelrooy crashed an injury-time penalty against the crossbar, Martin Keown led the charge of goading Gunners leaping with delight in the Dutchman’s face. Eight players were charged as a result of scenes everybody likes to see.
And when reflecting on their invincible season, Arsene Wenger surely recognised Van Nistelrooy’s late miss as his side’s most significant let-off.
Manchester United 2-0 Chelsea, September 2007
Though losing at Manchester United in their first game without Jose Mourinho – the manager who briefly wrestled Premier League dominance away from Old Trafford – was significant, it did not define Chelsea’s 2007/08 title pursuit in the way that it might have.
Indeed, under Avram Grant, the Blues registered one more point than the eventual champions between the conclusion of that match and the end of the season, falling just two short in a more competitive title race than anticipated.
Though, clearly, a further example of an early defeat far from disheartening title challengers, the result had a tangible effect on the destination of the trophy.
Had they secured a point in Grant’s first match in charge, Chelsea, in theory, would have secured their third league title in four seasons.
Manchester City 3-0 Chelsea, August 2015
Chelsea’s slump was already evident, but this Etihad humbling was the first sign that, just months after lifting the Premier League title, the champions were in disarray.
Sergio Aguero set the tone with the first goal after a flurry of chances, and Chelsea, as would become their Autumn trademark, capitulated.
It took a Guus Hiddink revival to swerve the champions clear of relegation danger in the second half of the season.
More remarkably, though, Manuel Pellegrini’s elite squad – along with several others – fell to sleep, and did not wake up until Leicester were inexplicably champions, and Spurs had badgered their way to third.
Complacency riddled that City side, and their response to such a significant early victory should serve as a warning to the winner of the same fixture this weekend.
Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City, Sept 2016
After their 6-1 win at Old Trafford proved decisive in winning the 2011/12 title, many thought that City’s victory in this astonishingly-hyped Manchester derby had all but sewn up the title just four matches in.
It turned out to be an exercise in smoke and mirrors.
As is the danger with drawing early conclusions, neither side went close to living up to expectations, with City’s teething problems under Pep Guardiola soon to emerge, and United developing a penchant for slipping up against mediocre opposition.
As they did so, Chelsea – who lost 3-0 at Arsenal later that month – got their act together to embark on a 10-match winning run that all but sealed the deal.
Above all early showdowns, this one proved the folly of reading too much into early results.
The only clear difference made for winners of early showdowns is the simple value of the points come the end of the season.
Manchester United held off Chelsea by two points in 2008 after beating them early, while City’s 6-1 win at Old Trafford in 2012 influenced the vital goal difference that ended up splitting the sides.
So the result of Saturday evening’s game between Chelsea and City will prove pivotal if the two are neck-and-neck come May.
The psychological impact on the loser, though, is unlikely to prove too damaging, with a significant boost for the winners also improbable.
Both sides contain the title-winning experience that United boasted when they recovered from a 5-0 defeat at closest-challengers Newcastle early in the 1996/97 season, while Chelsea were not deterred by defeat at Old Trafford in 2007, despite their managerial woes.
Arsenal’s draw at Old Trafford was significant in the history it helped create, but was hardly a template for the way they played that season, while complacency was the only consequence of City’s victory over Chelsea in 2015.
A victory for either side on Saturday, then, could prove useful, but will not tell the story of their season.