Best non-title winners
While there’s no such thing as an undeserving Premier League champion, plenty of teams have come close to tasting top-flight glory only to fall at the final hurdle.
Featuring late-season slip-ups (both figurative and literal), managerial meltdowns and some sudden dips of form – these are the best teams not to win the title...
Arsenal were the team to beat in 2002/03, having won a Premier League and FA Cup Double the previous season. Gilberto Silva proved a fantastic addition alongside Patrick Vieira in the engine room, while French duo Thierry Henry and Robert Pires were in dazzling form going forward as Arsene Wenger’s charges opened up a five-point lead over Manchester United in March.
A 2-0 loss to Blackburn cut their advantage, however, and draws with Aston Villa, United and Bolton handed the Red Devils the edge. A 3-2 defeat by Leeds in early May was the final nail in the coffin, even though the Gunners recovered to win their final two matches.
Avram Grant was seen as an uninspiring replacement for Jose Mourinho in 2007/08, but the Israeli came close to winning an unlikely Premier League, Champions League and League Cup Treble at Stamford Bridge. The Blues lost out to Manchester United and Tottenham respectively in the finals of the latter competitions, and they also failed to overhaul United in the league despite amassing 85 points.
At the time, that was a record tally without winning the title in a 38-game season. The efforts of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Joe Cole and co. weren’t quite enough, as the Red Devils finished two points clear at the summit.
Leeds are gunning for the Championship title this season, but they had a fine chance to win the Premier League back in 1999/00. David O’Leary’s young side was full of talent, with Alan Smith, Jonathan Woodgate, Harry Kewell and Michael Bridges all impressing as the Yorkshire outfit climbed to top spot in October.
They began the new millennium top of the Premier League, but couldn't hack the pace: defeats by Liverpool and Manchester United saw them slip down to second. Leeds then lost four games in a row in March and ultimately finished a distant third, 12 points adrift of champions United.
While Rafa Benitez’s rampant Liverpool side of 2008/09 is best remembered for the dynamic duo of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, the Reds had class all over the pitch. Pepe Reina was a fine goalkeeper, Jamie Carragher marshalled the defence, and Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano patrolled central midfield.
By Christmas they were top, having lost just once. They would suffer defeat only once more in the league too, but a clutch of drab results in January and February left them 10 points off the summit. Despite a 4-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford late in the campaign, their rivals retained the upper hand and won the league with a game to spare.
Arsene Wenger came close to pulling off back-to-back doubles in 1999, only to be denied on both fronts by Manchester United. With Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka both in the form of their lives, Wenger bolstered his ranks with the additions of Freddie Ljungberg, Nelson Vivas and, in January, Nwankwo Kanu.
And though Ryan Giggs’s solo strike in the FA Cup semi-final replay ended their double hopes, Arsenal had the league title in their own hands with just two games to go. But then came a disastrous 1-0 loss to Leeds, which put the championship in the Red Devils’ hands – an opportunity they duly snapped up.
Liverpool began the 2013/14 campaign as outsiders for the top four, having ended the previous season down in seventh spot. They briefly went top after a 3-1 victory over Cardiff just before Christmas, but a title challenge didn’t seem to be on the horizon as they sat in fourth in late February.
A Luis-Suarez inspired side then went on a magnificent run, however, winning 11 matches on the bounce – including a memorable 3-2 victory over fellow challengers Manchester City – to take control of the race. A 2-0 home loss to Chelsea proved pivotal, though, as the Reds missed out by two points.
Manchester United, 2011/12
Though United fans will have fond memories of Newcastle’s collapse that handed their team the title in 1996, the truth is that the biggest ever Premier League capitulation came from Old Trafford. Fired on by the goals of Wayne Rooney, United had established an eight-point lead over second-place Manchester City with just six games to go in 2012.
But a shock defeat to relegation-threatened Wigan, coupled with a 4-4 draw with Everton in which United blew a 3-1 lead, meant City could go top with victory in the Manchester derby. A Vincent Kompany header duly delivered the necessary 1-0 win, and Roberto Mancini’s side held their nerve to scoop the prize.
Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers had raced into a 12-point lead by mid-January 1996, albeit having played a game more than rivals Manchester United. With the likes of Keith Gillespie, Les Ferdinand and David Ginola propelling the Magpies to 20 wins from their first 27 matches, title success looked imminent.
Curiously for a team who are still celebrated today for their attacking abandon, Keegan’s side possessed a similar defensive record to United but scored seven fewer goals. A 1-0 defeat by Alex Ferguson’s men in March cut the gap to four points, and subsequent losses to Arsenal, Liverpool and Blackburn proved costly. Kevin Keegan did not love that.
The Norfolk side had won just 11 games during the 1991/92 season, finishing three points clear of the drop zone, but inexplicably led from the front during the inaugural season of the Premier League. Experienced pros like Mark Robins and emerging talents like Ruel Fox and Chris Sutton combined as Norwich earned famous comeback wins over Arsenal and Chelsea early in the campaign.
The Canaries were flying heading towards Christmas, having established an eight-point lead at the top by early December. They were still second with six games to go, but a 3-1 home defeat by title rivals Manchester United clipped their wings and a rotten run of results left Mike Walker’s side 10 points adrift by the end.
Tottenham may have ultimately finished third in 2015/16, but they were the only real challengers to shock title hopefuls Leicester. Like the Foxes Mauricio Pochettino’s side were a revelation, with a crop of young players including Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen putting them in the conversation at the top of the table.
Spurs kept 13 clean sheets and, along with Manchester United, conceded the fewest goals in the division. Their slow start and sloppy finish gave Leicester the edge, though, and dropped points against West Brom, Chelsea, Southampton and Newcastle late on saw Tottenham finish below Arsenal.
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