From Newcastle to Inter Milan: Five teams that blew a Christmas lead

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Arsenal face a daunting run of games this December, but even if the Gunners continue to fire on all cylinders in the run up to Christmas, being top of the tree come December 25th is no guarantee of glory come the end of the season.

With Arsene Wenger’s team priced at 12/5 third favourites, all eyes will be on the big-spending duo of Manchester City and Chelsea, backed at 13/8 and 9/4 respectively with Ladbrokes, to overturn the north London club’s advantage.

Here are a few examples from across Europe of when Christmas joy turned to May despair.

Newcastle United – 1995-96

The archetype for the Premier League meltdown, the Toon Army blew a 12-point lead racked up by the festive break with Eric Cantona inspiring Manchester United to new highs on the pitch, while Alex Ferguson’s tactical nous and penchant for mind games got the better of Kevin Keegan off it.

Though Liverpool would endure a similar collapse in the 2008-09 season when they held a healthy lead over the Red Devils at Christmas, the Keegan rant, late season implosions  against the likes of Blackburn Rovers and the form of United’s French maestro make this the more memorable collapse.

Inter Milan – 2001-2002

At the time Inter boasted arguably the best forward line in world football in Christian Vieri and Ronaldo and, for a while, everything was golden with the club top at Christmas and six points clear of a Juventus team who were struggling to adapt to life after Zinedine Zidane.

Inter hadn’t won a Scudetto in 13 years, and nerves soon took hold. On the final day, the Nerazzurri needed to beat Lazio to claim the title with fans of the Rome club even cheering them on. But no one told Karel Poborsky the script, with the Manchester United flop scoring two in a 4-2 win that handed the league to Juve.

Real Sociedad – 2002-2003

A year on from his Serie A woes, Ronaldo was in another title chase with Real Madrid but it was surprise package Real Sociedad who led the way at Christmas, eight points clear of Los Blancos and playing some terrific football courtesy of players like Nihat, Darko Kovacevic and Xabi Alonso.

For a long time it looked like the Basque club would claim a first La Liga crown in 21 years, but injuries, a thin squad and the relentless form of Madrid and Ronaldo saw the Galacticos overhaul that lead, with the Brazilian claiming his one and only European league title in the process.

Millwall – 1995-1996

In 1995 Millwall looked set for the big-time after manager Mick McCarthy guided the Lions to the top of Division One by the end of December. Unfortunately, this success soon saw the Republic of Ireland come calling for McCarthy, who would go on to enjoy glory as national team manager at the 2002 World Cup finals.

Millwall, however, suffered arguably the most severe slump ever seen in league football, as a dreadful run culminated in relegation on the final day in what remains the most topsy-turvy season ever seen in the English game.

Bayer Leverkusen – 2001-2002

The club nicknamed Neverkusen had possibly their best and worst season in 2002, reaching the finals of the DFB Pokal Cup and Champions League only to lose in both, with the latter defeat coming as a result of THAT Zidane goal.

Worse was to come in the Bundesliga, where Klaus Toppmoller’s side went from leaders at Christmas to a third place finish that ultimately brought an end to Michael Ballack’s time at the club. League collapses are bad enough, but after coming so close on three fronts, fans of the Bayer-backed club are still seeking a first-ever league title in the German top-flight.

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Jack Beresford

Jack Beresford is a content writer with over five years of experience in writing about sport and betting, including a two-year spell with Axonn Media. Contributes articles to HereIsTheCity and Lad Bible, while previous credits include Bwin, FTB Pro, Bleacher Report and the QBE rugby. Avid follower of tennis, rugby union, motorsport and football, Jack also writes about poker for Cardspiel.com alongside Guardian journalist Dominic Wells.