As it stands there is a fascinating title race unfolding in the Premier League, with Manchester United, Manchester City and current champions Liverpool pulling away from the chasing pack and battling it out at the top of the Premier League table. The 2020-21 season is developing into an intriguing tussle at the top and could perhaps become one of the best in the Premier League era? It is certainly a great excuse to look back on some of the closest Premier League title battles of yesteryear and remind ourselves how they played out.
- 1994-95: Blackburn win by 1 point despite final day defeat
- 1995-96: Manchester United overturn 12 point deficit to Newcastle United
- 1998-99: Manchester United edge Arsenal in treble winning season
- 2011-12: Aguero clinches title for Manchester City after final day drama
- 2013-14: Manchester City capitalise as Liverpool fall at the final hurdle
- 2015-16: Leicester cause upset in wide open title race
- 2018-19: Manchester City triumph in historic title battle
1994-95: Blackburn Clinch It On Final Day
Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United fought for this title with great Scots Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ferguson going head-to-head. Reigning champions United saw themselves usurped by the cash-backed Rovers. Alan Shearer led the Lancastrians’ forward line superbly, forming an effective “SAS” partnership with Chris Sutton. The season could have panned out differently had Eric Cantona not missed months of action for his “Kung-fu” antics against Crystal Palace. This was the only one of his five seasons at United when he did not win the title.
The outcome of the title came down to the final day. Liverpool went up against Blackburn, resulting in Liverpool fans celebrating a goal that would have inadvertently hand the title over to their Manchester rivals. United’s draw against West Ham, however, meant that regardless of the result at Anfield, after a gruelling 42-game season, Blackburn’s tight squad lifted the clubs’ first top division trophy since the first world war. Blackburn ended up on 89 points with United having to settle for second place on 88 points.
1995-96: Magpies Miss Out On Silverware
As was often the case during Alex Ferguson’s tenure, Manchester United did not have to wait long for their next piece of silverware. The Red Devils recaptured the title, but it was a story of so near yet so far for the Geordies. The Newcastle side of the 1995-96 season captured the imagination of so many neutrals. Kevin Keegan had assembled a squad brimming with attacking talent, David Ginola oozed class with Les Ferdinand banging in goals throughout the campaign.
Newcastle were 12 points clear with 15 games left to play, and the infamous capitulation began. Keegan felt the pressure, rising to Fergie’s mind games in his renowned outburst given to Sky Sports exclaiming, “I would love it if we beat them! Love it!” The run-in saw Newcastle almost inexplicably fall off the pace, including what is widely touted as one of the best games in Premier League history, a 4-3 defeat at Anfield. The enduring image of Keegan slumped over the advertising boards summed up the feelings of all Magpies: pure deflation. Manchester United won the double that season, pipping Newcastle by four points in the end with a typically strong late run.
1998-99: Class Of ‘92 Come Of Age In ‘99
Manchester United and Arsenal were at the beginning of a rivalry that would enthral English football for years to come. Arsene Wenger’s champions of 1997-98 embarked on their quest to retain their title. In their way was the would-be treble winners of Manchester. Arsene Wenger possessed the class of a Dennis Bergkamp mixed with the core group of warriors such as the likes of Tony Adams and David Seaman. Meanwhile, Fergie’s men relied on the famous ‘Class of ‘92’ as the core of their side, while the interplay of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole up top would prove crucial.
At the halfway mark of the season, only six points separated the top six that season. The Gunners and the Red Devils would pull away towards the end of the campaign, with the location of the title undecided until the last day of top-flight action in May. The Reds’ were behind against Tottenham on the final day and the title looked set to be heading to Highbury. United, though, managed to turn it around with goals from David Beckham and Andy Cole earned them a 2-1 victory which won them the title and set them on their way to their famous treble, leaving Arsenal dejected having lost the title by a single point.
2011-12: ‘The Noisy Neighbours’ Triumph
Immortalised for the final day heroics of a certain Argentine striker, this season had more twists and turns than just that fateful day in May. Roberto Mancini’s men, fully embracing the noisy neighbours’ moniker, set out to clinch their maiden Premier League crown, and first English top division title since the 1967-68 season. Sergio Aguero was the marquee signing and made an immediate impact with 23 goals that season. Mario Balotelli’s infamous ‘Why Always Me’ celebration was the cherry on top of a 6-1 victory at Old Trafford, a result that proved significant with the title ultimately being decided on goal difference.
There were scenes of dejected Man United fans at the Stadium of Light, hearing news of the unlikeliest of comebacks at the Etihad Stadium where City were hosting QPR. After Joey Barton’s sending off for the visitors, City scored two goals in injury time to overcome a 2-1 deficit and win the match 3-2 and the league title with it, sending the crowd into raptures. Perhaps the most iconic moment in Premier League history, in what was undoubtedly the tightest title race ever, only a few goals (and seconds) separating the sides. The Red Devils side was packed with league winners of yesteryear, but it was City’s exuberant newcomers that would triumph this time around.
2013-14: Man City Snatch Title After Liverpool (And Gerrard) Slip
In a season where Hull City qualified for Europe and Paolo Di Canio brought his calming presence to Sunderland, Liverpool had their best opportunity since 1989-90 to win the league. Spearheaded by their ‘SAS’ duo of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, Liverpool posed an ominous goal threat with deadly pace up front aided by the youthful Raheem Sterling. Led from midfield by club legend Steven Gerrard, it all seemed written in the stars for the title to finally return to Merseyside. Liverpool and Manchester City fought all the way, with Jose Mourinho’s ‘little horse’ Chelsea chasing close behind.
This season conjured up an incident ingrained in the memory of many a football fan… and especially supporters of Liverpool. In a cruel sporting twist, Steven Gerrard’s impassioned speech after a monumental result against Manchester City, demanding that Liverpool “must not slip” came back to haunt all those of a Liverpool persuasion. Chelsea then arrived at Anfield with a rotated side and inflicted a damaging defeat after Demba Ba capitalised on a horrendous and almost inexplicable Gerrard slip in possession. A defeat to Crystal Palace all but sealed their fate, with Manchester City able to capitalise.
For all the furore surrounding Liverpool’s season, little acknowledgement is given to the excellence of Manchester City that season. Manuel Pellegrini’s Citizens played some football of the highest order, outscoring free-scoring Liverpool by 102 goals to 101 and amassing 86 points (two more than Liverpool) during that campaign. Yaya Toure was phenomenal with 20 goals from midfield and they were led by the imperious Vincent Kompany at the back to their second Premier League title.
2015-16: Leicester Defy The Odds
This season did not have the same dramatic denouement of other seasons in terms of the closeness but it brought a result that shocked the footballing world, so we thought we’d throw it in for good measure. The intrigue began with the early season form that saw Leicester competing alongside Arsenal and Spurs. Fans and pundits alike marvelled at the consistency of a side that had only just escaped relegation the previous year.
Ranieri’s Foxes’ continued to defy expectations with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez adding the stardust to a resolute backline. A fine defensive record set the Foxes on their way to a historic season, which allowed them to capitalise on many of the traditional top six clubs misfiring. They were priced at astronomical Odds of 5000/1 at the start of the season to win the league, but Leicester pulled off a remarkable sporting accomplishment, ending the season 10 points clear of their nearest challenger, Arsenal.
2018-19: Guardiola Bests Klopp In Record-Breaking Season
Two of the top five highest points tallies in Premier League history and two of the most renowned and sought-after managers in the world. This title race was box office. Renewing their previous rivalries when at the helms at Munich and Dortmund respectively, Pep Guardiola’s and Jurgen Klopp’s sides pushed each other to extraordinary levels of performance. Liverpool lost only one game in the league all season, yet still failed to win the coveted prize. The sustained excellence of both Manchester City and Liverpool during this season ensured that only the finest of margins separated the two. There was slight final day tension as City went 1-0 down at Brighton, before recuperating to a storming 4-1 victory and a second league title in as many years.
Runaway winners the season before with a record 100 points, City continued with their relentless efficiency in front of goal with Sterling and Aguero starring. Fittingly in his final season, Vincent Kompany all but secured the title with a scorching 30-yard strike against Leicester. Liverpool’s prolific trio of Mane, Firmino, and Salah kept them in the hunt, but a slump in form during February whilst clear at the top proved costly in a highly competitive season. Klopp’s team would at least have the comfort of a Champion’s League win to soften the blow of Guardiola’s triumph.
If the current 2020-21 season carries with its current levels of drama, then these last few months of the truncated season will be remarkable. Will Bruno Fernandes lead Manchester United to glory, can Jurgen Klopp’s ‘mentality monsters’ march to a successive title, or will Pep’s fluid football provide a third title in four years for The Sky Blues? Whatever happens, it could certainly be very close.