Five teams that threw away the Premier League title

With six games to go, Chelsea's stranglehold on this season's Premier League title appears to be loosening with Spurs coming up the rear hoping to right the wrongs of 12 months ago.

Five teams that threw away the Premier League title
Chelsea can't throw away the league title now can they? (Getty Images / Michael Regan)

It’s looked like a foregone conclusion for the majority of the season with Chelsea having led the table since a 5-0 win over Everton in November and never looked back but their 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford and with Tottenham Hotspur on a seven game winning run (having only dropped points three times since mid-December), the seeds of doubt are starting to creep in.

If Spurs can overturn a seven point deferential so late in the season, it may be one of the biggest title throwaways by the Blues of all time.

It’s still rather unprecedented for sides to lead the table for so long and not come away with the Premier League title but it’s not unheard of and here’s a list of five teams that Chelsea wont want to be joining.

Newcastle United 1995/96

In August 1995, Manchester United looked as if they'd fallen on hard times, in May they had conceded the title to Blackburn Rovers on the final day of the season and during the close season key players Paul Ince, Mark Hughes, top scorer of the previous season Andrei Kanchelskis and Steve Bruce were all sold with little coming in the other direction.

Although Sir Alex Ferguson had been able to talk the mercurial Eric Cantona out of quitting English football, he remained suspended until October.

On the opening day, a youthful United went down 3-1 at Aston Villa and were lambasted by pundits and written off for the title.

Taking their place at the top was Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United, having signed Les Ferdinand, David Ginola and Warren Barton before the start of the season, Keegan’s side were free-firing and branded ‘the Entertainers’ and raced into a lead at the top of the table.

Losing only three games up until 1996 and despite their last being to Fergie’s United, the Magpies led by seven points thanks to Man United being winless in five before that.

United lost 4-1 at White Hart Lane four days later and fell as far as third at the start of January as Newcastle kept on winning, bouncing back from the Old Trafford defeat to win their next five and by February 10 were nine clear of Fergie’s side with a game in hand over them too.

Adding Parma’s Faustino Asprilla and Blackburn's David Batty made Newcastle look like a lock for the title but the wheels started to fall off by the end of February, losing 2-0 at Upton Park being held 3-3 by relegation threatened Manchester City and finally losing to Manchester United at St. James’ Park.

By March 4, a Cantona inspired Manchester United had closed to gap back to just one point, although Newcastle still held their game in hand.

It got worse for Newcastle though, losing three of their next five games, including a 4-3 defeat at Anfield viewed as one of the greatest games of the Premier League era, despite the Magpies leading twice in the game.

Going into their game in hand with Nottingham Forest, Newcastle were three points adrift of United, knowing anything but a win would make it improbable that they would overtake Ferguson, who himself started playing mind games in the media which led to Keegan’s infamous “I will love it if we beat them” rant on Sky.

A 1-1 draw took the title to final day but they failed to beat Spurs at St James’ whilst United comprehensively beat Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium 3-0 to seal their third title in four seasons.

Manchester United 1997/98

At the end of December 1997, Manchester United looked like they would finally emulate Huddersfield Town of the 1920s, Arsenal of the 1930s and Liverpool of the 1980s and win three successive league titles.

Five points clear of nearest challengers Blackburn Rovers, they seemingly had nothing to fear even without new captain Roy Keane who had been injured since September and would miss the rest of the season.

In North London, Arsenal had improved under Arsene Wenger in the Frenchman’s first full season in charge but a start to the winter months which had seen defeats at Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday and at home to Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers saw them in sixth place and 12 points behind United at the turn of the year with nobody predicting a title challenge.

By the end of February 1998, they’d extended their lead on Rovers to 11 points and some bookmakers had even started paying out, nobody quite foresaw the stunning collapse coming at Old Trafford.

Thanks to an abandoned game at Wimbledon in December and several FA Cup replays, the Gunners had amassed three games in hand on United going into March and were on the start of the run to the title.

Starting with a 1-0 win at Wimbledon in the re-arranged fixture, Wenger’s team started their ten straight wins, the catalyst being a 1-0 win at Old Trafford, Arsenal’s first win and first goals during the Premier League era at Manchester United and at the same time capped off United’s mini-hiccup that saw them lose at Sheffield Wednesday and draw with West Ham just before the Arsenal defeat.

The hiccup had suddenly swung the momentum, Arsenal’s win at Old Trafford closed the gap to six and the Gunners retained their three games in hand.

Despite the fixtures mounting up, Arsenal held their nerve as United faltered, falling to two consecutive 1-1 draws to Liverpool and Newcastle, the latter of which saw Arsenal overtake them into top spot and wouldn’t look back.

United won out their final three games but it was for nothing as Arsenal secured the title with a 4-0 win over Everton at the beginning of May.

Arsenal 2002/03

1998 in reverse this time, in between a double success in 2002 and an unbeaten season in 2004, it’s hard not to view Arsenal as the best team in England between those years and 2003 really should have linked the two titles to make it three in a row.

The swashbuckling, free-scoring Gunners were seen by many as the best team in the league and started that way, going nine games unbeaten, breaking Manchester United’s previous record of 30 and had already scored 24 goals.

By contrast, United looked to be faltering, 2002 saw their lowest Premier League finish of third at that time and having already lost to Bolton Wanderers and Leeds United were nine points behind Arsenal after nine games.

Losses to Everton and Blackburn snapped the Gunners' unbeaten run but United struggled to capitalise and although United exercised some demons beating the Gunners at Old Trafford, Arsenal were still five points clear.

It would also be their last defeat for three months but instead of the long winning run of seasons previous, Arsenal stuttered with several draws and a loss to Blackburn Rovers pulled the gap in to two thanks to United being unbeaten since Boxing Day and Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s run of scoring in 12 of their last 18 games.

Arsenal desperately needed to win at Highbury in mid April to overtake United but a 2-2 draw and a red card for Sol Campbell is all they could manage and when Bolton came back from two down to draw 2-2 with the Gunners two games later, the title race was all but over.

Mark Viduka’s 88th minute winner for Leeds kept the Yorkshire side in the Premier League but ended Arsenal’s title challenge as they surrendered the title to Manchester United.

Manchester United 2011/12

The nouveau riche Manchester City had been threatening to challenge for the league title for a while now having finished third the previous season, the acquisitions of Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy to their already stacked squad made them near solid favourites but they’d have to overcome the juggernaut down the road in Manchester United.

Both teams started almost equal going eight games unbeaten but City ran riot at Old Trafford, putting six past United and remained unbeaten until they were beaten by Chelsea in mid December.

Both Manchester sides remained neck and neck throughout but when Swansea won 1-0 against City with ten games to go, United took the advantage.

City would go onto win their next game but drew the two afterwards and a damaging 1-0 loss at the Emirates saw United go eight points clear with six games to go.

The title race veteran, not many thought United would throw this away so close to the end of the season but a shock 1-0 loss to relegation threatened Wigan Athletic and a stunning 4-4 draw at home with Everton having at one stage led 4-2.

Coming next was the Manchester derby which Vincent Kompany won with a header just before half time, City went ahead on goal difference with two games to go.

A 2-0 win at St. James’ meant City went into the final day needing to only match United’s result to win the title and in the knowledge that no team had gone into the final day in top spot and not secured the title since 1989.

Equally, City themselves could have made this list as United went 1-0 up early, City self destructed against QPR, 10-man Rangers going 2-1 up with 25 minutes left.

In the end it would take injury time goals from Edin Dzeko and Aguero to overturn the result and in the most dramatic moment in Premier League history won the league in the last minute of the game.

Liverpool 2013/14

Twenty games in on New Years Day, Liverpool were six points behind leaders Arsenal and outside the top three of the Gunners, Manchester City and Chelsea.

2014 would be an emotional year on Merseyside, marking 25 years since the Hillsborough disaster that claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans and for so long looking as though it would mark their first league title since 1990.

From New Years Day until April 20, Liverpool went on a 16 game unbeaten run, including some stunning results like 5-1 against Arsenal, 4-0 over Spurs and 6-3 at Cardiff City.

Although their defence wasn’t all that, conceding 50 goals (for context 11th place Crystal Palace conceded less), they scored 101 goals, a top flight record for the Reds thanks to the exploits of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling the front three bagging 61 goals between them on top of 13 from captain Steven Gerrard.

On the back of an eleven game winning run, with three games to go, Liverpool led the table by five points over Chelsea and six over City (who did have a game in hand).

An emotional 3-2 win over City that saw them race into 2 goal lead before being pegged back and then taking the lead again, two days before the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough made them favourites.

A win over Jose Mourinho’s side would end Chelsea’s title bid and for the moment would have put them nine clear of City who would be praying for miracles to overturn the deficit.

As it was, a Steven Gerrard mistake let Demba Ba in and Chelsea scored a second as Liverpool threw everyone forward for an equaliser to win 2-0 and end Liverpool’s unbeaten run and be the beginning of the end to their title hopes as City beat Palace 2-0 at Selhurst Park hours later.

City’s 3-2 win over Liverpool’s rivals Everton put them in pole position going into both side’s last two games on goal difference and Liverpool knew they had to win and outscore City by nine.

At 3-0 up against Crystal Palace, it looked for a moment like they could put up big numbers and really put pressure on Manuel Pellegrini’s team but Tony Pulis’ side unprecedented comeback should the fragility of the Red’s back line as they scored three goals in nine of the last eleven minutes to draw 3-3 and all but kill Liverpool’s title hopes.

Two nights later, Manchester City put four past Aston Villa to go two points clear and extend their superior goal difference to 13, it ultimately meant a draw against West Ham at home would secure the title unless Liverpool could find a way to score 13 against Newcastle at Anfield.

A 2-1 win at Anfield was all they could manage but it was in vain anyway as City won 2-0 against West Ham to seal their second league title in three years and keep Anfield waiting.


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