The Six Best Teams Who Failed To Win The Premier League

The Six Best Teams Who Failed To Win The Premier League
Apr 4, 2019

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With this year’s Premier League title race set to go right down to the wire, one of Manchester City and Liverpool will miss out – and there’s a good chance both will finish with 90+ points. This would break Manchester United’s record of 89 points, set in 2011-12, for the highest tally ever from a second-placed team, and leave the unlucky runner-up in 2018-19 as a strong contender for the best side ever to fail to bring home the title.

In anticipation of this, we’re taking a look at six of the best teams from the Premier League era who couldn’t get over the line to be crowned champions of England. As a Liverpool fan, I must be some sort of sadist to actually think up a list such as this, let alone go into detail on a subject of such torment, but here we go…

*A quick qualifier first of all: Because virtually the same group of Manchester United players, under the same manager, actually won the league either side of that hugely unlucky 2011-12 campaign, their 89-point season will not be included. For similar reasons, the Chelsea side which achieved 83, 85 and 83 points between 2007 and 2009 will not be included (the same core group won the league in 2006 and 2010), while Arsenal finished as runners-up three years on the spin around the turn of the century, but secured the title at either end of this run too – they have been omitted on the same grounds.

Liverpool, 2001-02

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And so it begins. In the 2000-01 season, Liverpool had achieved the ‘mini treble’, winning the League Cup, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup. While the lethal attacking trio of Fowler, Owen and Heskey up front had fired them to these cup glories, they came up a fair way short in the league, only scraping into third place after taking 19 points from a possible 21 in the final month of the season. Having performed a clean sweep of every other trophy available to them, Gérard Houllier’s men set about trying to secure that elusive first Premier League title.

And for a large percentage of the 2001-02 campaign, Liverpool did look like champion-material. An impressive start to the season saw them top of the league as late as December, but after a disastrous slump in form around the turn of the year (one win in nine games) they tumbled down to as low as fifth in the table. A superb second-half to the season allowed the Reds to save some face, and finish as runners-up, but there’s no doubt this had been something of a missed opportunity. The 80 points they accrued has been enough to win the title in multiple seasons during the Premier League era, and the hugely underrated centre-back pairing of then-captain Sami Hyypiä and Stéphane Henchoz had made Liverpool the best defensive unit in the land, with a league-low 30 goals conceded.

No doubt about it – Arsenal proved they were the best team in the country in 2001-02, as they won the FA Cup, knocking Liverpool out in the process, to complete a domestic double, as well as finishing seven points clear in the league. However, if it hadn’t been for that horrendous dip in form through December and January, Liverpool could’ve mounted a serious challenge as Arsenal’s closest competitors, and at the very least pushed them all the way for the title. Was that slump due to fixture congestion? Or the fact manager Gérard Houllier missed five months of the season after being admitted to hospital with a heart condition in October? Either way, they had given themselves far too much to do in the second half of the season, and it was nearly a decade before Liverpool put together another serious title bid.

Tottenham Hotspur, 2016-17

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This wasn’t the first time this group of players had missed out, and thanks to a sharp dip in form over the last few weeks, it looks almost certain not to be the last time either. Having pushed Leicester all the way the previous season only to endure a torrid final few games and slip down into third, Spurs produced an even better campaign in 2016-17. They scored more goals and conceded fewer than champions Chelsea (just as they had done in relation to Leicester the year before), but an indifferent start to the season and the fact their London rivals racked up 30 wins had made it a near-impossible task.

Spurs may have failed to master that crucial knack of getting results, come rain or shine – an area where Antonio Conte’s Chelsea had excelled – but they still earned 86 points, a tally which would’ve been enough to see off Leicester the year before, and is comfortably their highest return since the formation of the Premier League. Back to front, they were such an impressive side too – Lloris, Kyle Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Ben Davies and Danny Rose formed the best defensive line in the country, while Harry Kane netted 29 times in the league to retain the golden boot. And with a midfield containing the likes of Dele Alli, Moussa Dembele and Christian Eriksen, it’s hard to see a genuine weakness in that Tottenham team.

Although it might sound like a bit of a cheap, over-simplified explanation at this point, Spurs just didn’t quite have the bottle and the title-winning mentality and experience which their Blue-clad rivals relied upon to get the job done. Never was this more harshly exposed than when Spurs’ frustrations boiled over in a 1-0 defeat to West Ham, just a week before Chelsea ground out an ugly win by the same scoreline away at West Brom to be crowned champions. This grit and ability to handle the pressure extends to the managers of both sides as well – Conte had already won three Serie A titles at this point, whereas Mauricio Pochettino was (and still is) searching for his first trophy in management.

Liverpool, 2013-14

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There’s little doubt this remains the best attack ever to fail to win the Premier League. The electrifying Luis Suárez and co. bagged over 100 goals in that ill-fated campaign, winning 3-0 at Old Trafford, 5-0 at White Hart Lane and scoring four in the first twenty minutes at home to Arsenal along the way. As prolific as that ‘SSS’ attack of Suárez, Sturridge and Sterling was, they were let down by an incredibly leaky defence. Of course, everyone fixates on Gerrard’s slip and the resulting defeat to Chelsea when glory was within touching distance, followed by that inexplicable 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace, but Liverpool shipped 50 goals in 2013-14 – fuelling the old adage that ‘defence wins titles’.

2013-14 saw one of the most dramatic title races in Premier League history, and few teams have come as close as that Liverpool side only to stumble on the home straight. Seven points from their final three games would have been enough to bring the trophy to Anfield, and all three of those fixtures looked very winnable beforehand. Suarez tears’ at Selhurst Park before the race was even mathematically over, along with the fact Gerrard says that critical slip against Chelsea still haunts him to this day shows just how devastating the conclusion to that campaign was. 11 wins on the trot in the latter stages of the season may have put the Reds on the brink, and the general consensus is that they threw it away, but Manchester City were truly exceptional – they outscored Liverpool, had a significantly better defensive record, and showed real grit to clinch it when presented with the opportunity in their final three games.

Because they were so close to becoming champions of England, this team could’ve actually been higher, but Brendan Rodgers’ Reds were one of the least balanced and solid sides ever to seriously mount a title charge. At times the ferocity of their attacking football papered over the difficulty in controlling games and defending well on a consistent basis. Ultimately, you cannot concede 50 goals in a Premier League campaign and walk away with the title. Although they so nearly did.

Arsenal, 2007-08

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Most of the remaining members of the ‘Invincibles’ squad had been moved on prior to the start of this season – Henry, Ljungberg and Reyes were all sold in the summer. Make no mistake about it, this was a completely different Arsenal team, and it was also arguably the last great Gunners side Arsene Wenger put together. With star man Cesc Fàbregas registering seven goals and 20 assists in the league, and the likes of Adebayor, Gallas and Alexander Hleb emerging from the shadows of those departing club legends, this team was capable of some truly breath-taking football.

The early signs were extremely good too. They topped the table for much of the first half of the season and were tipped by many to be crowned champions in May. However, a horrific injury to striker Eduardo da Silva, sustained against Birmingham in February, seemed to deal a sickening psychological blow. At the time of the Croatian’s brutal leg break, Arsenal were five points clear at the summit, but several players were visibly disconsolate after they conceded a late goal to drop points in that fixture at Birmingham – most notably captain William Gallas – and they went on to draw their next three games in a row before losing to Chelsea to slip below them in the table.

The first and only team on this list to actually miss out on second place as well as first, the Gunners came third, behind Manchester United and Chelsea, with 83 points. Staggeringly, they were top of the table for roughly two-thirds of the entire Premier League season. As good as Manchester United and Chelsea were that year, going on to contest the Champions League final in Moscow, all the evidence suggests Arsenal could well have maintained control of the title race and made it over the line, had it not been for that Eduardo injury. They were a phenomenal team, quite possibly the best to ever come third in a Premier League season, but their eleven draws also went a long way to putting a top spot out of reach. Especially when they were going up against the master of digging in and turning draws into victories, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Newcastle United, 1995-96

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They finished as runners-up in the following season as well, but missing out in 1995-96 was an especially painful affair for Newcastle players and supporters alike. Another side who had a very healthy lead at the top as late as January, Kevin Keegan’s dynamic, attacking outfit surrendered a 12-point lead courtesy of a torrid run of five defeats in eight between February and April. Losing home and away to eventual champions Manchester United, as well as conceding a last-gasp winner in that extraordinary 4-3 encounter with Liverpool was the undoing of the Magpies, and it sparked arguably the most iconic rant in footballing history as manager Keegan began to really feel the heat. And just like the majority of sides on this list, they had fallen foul to the mind games and unrelenting pressure from Fergie.

Newcastle possessed two midfield magicians in the mid-90s, with David Ginola and Peter Beardsley, and played some superb football en route to their brush with Premier League glory. Les Ferdinand enjoyed a terrific season up front too, with 25 league goals and a subsequent Player’s player of the year award, while at the other end of the pitch was Phillipe Albert – one of the best defenders ever to come through the doors at St. James’ Park. In fact, although it’s believed to have been a shaky defence which cost Newcastle, they only conceded two more goals than champions Manchester United, and just five more than Arsenal, who boasted the best record in the division. Truthfully, the only real explanation for them not getting the job done was that total collapse in the final half of the campaign which was so costly, having started the season in devastating form.

New gaffer Kenny Dalglish and the hottest striker in the country Alan Shearer were both brought in at different points during the following season, but they could not replicate what they’d achieved in winning the title with Blackburn two seasons prior – once again the Magpies missed out to Ferguson’s side, despite famously beating them 5-0 and exacting a modicum of revenge in October 1996. 1995-96 remains the closest Newcastle have come to winning the Premier League, and few teams have ever squandered a position as strong as the one they put themselves in around Christmas during the campaign.

Liverpool, 2008-09

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They may have already won the Champions League and FA Cup in previous years under the Spaniard, but this was the best, and most complete Liverpool side Rafa Benítez put together during his time at Anfield. With the spine of the team consisting of Reina, Carragher, Mascherano, Xabi Alonso, Torres and a prime Steven Gerrard, they were ready to challenge the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United for the title, having spent a number of years somewhat off the pace. And challenge them they did.

Chelsea were unbeaten at home in the league for four and a half years before Liverpool’s 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge in October, and they added to this in the second half of the season with a sensational 4-1 victory at Old Trafford to keep pace with the leaders. In fact, the Reds did the double over both their title rivals in 2008-09 and finished the season with 86 points – four off champions Manchester United, and three off the Red Devils’ current record as the highest tally for a second-placed team. Liverpool were also unbeaten in the league at Anfield, but once again it was the steady influx of frustrating draws (11 in total) which allowed Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to edge it yet again. The likes of Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun had stepped up when the talismanic Torres was injured, and Gerrard produced some herculean efforts from midfield to keep Liverpool on track, but it was always going to be a huge ask to better a team featuring an explosive quartet of Cristiano Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez AND Berbatov.

Liverpool were top even in late January before a glut of those frustrating draws caught up to them and allowed United to move in front,  having mastered the art of grinding out wins in exactly those types of matches. Despite finishing as league-high scorers, the underwhelming contribution of Robbie Keane up front coupled with Torres’ intermittent fitness meant Liverpool struggled for goals in vital moments, and it was ultimately this which led to them missing out once more. While their efforts in 2013-14 may have seen them come tangibly closer to the title, this was the best Liverpool side of the Premier League era (possibly barring the current crop), and it’s extremely tight between them and the Newcastle team of the mid-90s as the best to never to win the Premier League.

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