There’s nothing that beats the gripping drama of a Premier League title race. As the season reaches its conclusion and the pressure increases, every moment of the run-in is magnified.
Throughout the decades we’ve seen some truly thrilling title races, as teams have gone head-to-head in the race to be crowned Premier League champions. Some have wilted while others have held their nerve, with fans feasting on the action.
As Arsenal and Manchester City do battle this season, we’ve picked out six of the most exciting title races in Premier League history.
Blackburn vs Manchester United – 1994/95
Manchester United had claimed the first two editions of the Premier League, but the new division’s dominant force soon found themselves under threat from Blackburn Rovers. Jack Walker’s grand ambitions to turn Blackburn into England’s best outfit had began to take shape and the two went head-to-head for the championship in 1994/95.
For much of the season it looked set to be Blackburn who would be crowned champions, as the goals of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton propelled Rovers towards the title.
Kenny Dalglish’s side wobbled however, with defeats to Manchester City and West Ham increasing hope at Old Trafford. The final day saw Rovers’ hopes of a first league title in 81 years in their own hands, but their two-point advantage was precarious given Blackburn faced a difficult final fixture at Liverpool.
The worst fears of Rovers fans began to materialise as their side surrendered a one-goal lead to lose at Anfield, but their despair was short-lived as news filtered in from East London.
Manchester United had failed to beat West Ham despite a succession of chances at Upton Park, with Ludek Miklosko’s heroics in goal making him an unlikely Lancashire hero. Blackburn were champions, with Dalglish winning another title at the ground he had lifted eight with as player and manager at Liverpool.
Read also – Iconic Duos: Shearer and Sutton – Blackburn’s ‘SAS‘
Newcastle vs Manchester United – 1995/96
Newcastle looked set to be crowned Premier League champions after a flying start to the 1995/96 season, with Kevin Keegan’s ‘Entertainers’ racing clear at the top of the division.
The Magpies’ exciting side – containing the likes of Les Ferdinand, David Ginola and Peter Beardsley – led the league from August and swaggered to a 12-point lead by late January.
However, the wheels began to come off as Newcastle won just five of their final 13 games of the Premier League season.
Manchester United found form to narrow the gap, with Keegan’s famous rant some of the most iconic imagery of the Premier League era. Emotions high after Sir Alex Ferguson had questioned the commitment of Newcastle’s run-in opponents, Keegan launched into that unforgettable tirade.
“No, no… when you do that with footballers, like he said about Leeds, and when you do things like that about a man like Stuart Pearce, I’ve kept really quiet, but I’ll tell you something, he went down in my estimation when he said that,” Keegan famously said on Ferguson.
“We have not resorted to that, but I’ll tell you, you can tell him now if you’re watching it, we’re still fighting for this title, and he’s got to go to Middlesbrough and get something, and… and… I’ll tell you, honestly, I will love it if we beat them, love it!”
Sadly for Keegan, Newcastle’s didn’t beat them. Draws with Nottingham Forest and Spurs saw Newcastle stutter over the finish line, with Manchester United crowned champions. For Ferguson, it was another crowning moment in his mastery of mind games.
90s Gold: How Newcastle United went from Keegan’s Entertainers to Dalglish’s Dad’s Army
Manchester United vs Arsenal and Chelsea – 1998/99
For perhaps the first time in the Premier League era, three teams contested for the title until the season’s final weeks.
Manchester United (there’s a theme here) were chasing a historic treble, but faced competition from Arsenal – domestic double-winners the previous season – and an improving Chelsea.
Chelsea were the league leaders at the half-way point, but a run of three consecutive draws in April all but ended the west London side’s hopes of a first top-flight crown since 1955. It left Manchester United and Arsenal to fight until the final weekend, with the latter having edged the Red Devils by a single point the previous season.
United had strengthened their side with the arrivals of Jaap Stam and Dwight Yorke the previous summer and Sir Alex Ferguson’s side went unbeaten in the league from December 19. The final day arrived with the title in their own hands, the first of three games in ten days that would change the club’s history.
Tottenham, Newcastle, Bayern Munich.
Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League.
United knew a win against Spurs would give them the Premier League title, regardless of Arsenal’s result, and goals from Andy Cole and David Beckham saw the Red Devils come from behind to win at Old Trafford. Newcastle were then beaten in the FA Cup final at Wembley, before the pulsating drama of the club’s Champions League final win over Bayern Munich.
👏 This iconic lob from @VanCole9 clinched us the #PL title against Spurs, #OnThisDay in 1999 📅#MUFC #GoalOfTheDay pic.twitter.com/C8OzCZDAy6
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) May 16, 2020
The treble was won, a feat no English team has matched before or since.
Manchester City vs Manchester United – 2011/12
Perhaps the greatest title race of all time and certainly the most compelling conclusion to a Premier League campaign.
Manchester City had made significant improvement since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of the club, with an FA Cup success the previous season viewed as the first step towards the top.
Roberto Mancini’s side led the Premier League after a brilliant start to the campaign, one which included a 6-1 thrashing of Manchester United at Old Trafford. City, however, wobbled and allowed their cross-town rivals to overhaul them.
With six games to go it was Manchester United in complete command, eight points clear of challengers City. The defending champions fell apart however, as a 1-0 defeat to Wigan and 4-4 draw with Everton set the stage for City to beat United 1-0 at the Etihad and move top on goal difference.
City headed into the final day knowing a win over relegation-threatened QPR would crown them champions. A foregone conclusion some expected, but QPR took a shock 2-1 lead at the Etihad.
United’s win at Sunderland appeared to have handed them the title as City’s game entered stoppage-time, but Edin Dzeko’s goal set up a grandstand finish. Then came the moment, as Sergio Aguero scored the most golden of goals.
The Argentine’s late, late winner sent the Etihad into euphoria, a dramatic goal that will be replayed and recalled for decades to come. Aguero had snatched the title from his club’s greatest rivals in the final seconds of the season, delivering the greatest Premier League moment of all time.
“I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again,” Martin Tyler cried on commentary.
He was right.
Read – Unforgettable last-minute winners in Premier League history
Manchester City vs Liverpool – 2013/14
Liverpool were riding a wave of momentum during the 2013/14 campaign, as the Reds embarked on an unexpected title challenge under Brendan Rodgers.
Luis Suarez was the frontman of a brilliant band, with Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge working in harmony and Steven Gerrard setting the tempo. Rodgers’ side were cavalier and free-scoring, with an 11-game winning run – which included a 3-2 win over title rivals Manchester City – leaving their fate in their own hands.
Life, however, is famously not fair.
A perfect script which seemed set to end with Steven Gerrard getting his hands on an elusive Premier League title took a twist, with a cruel slip from the Liverpool captain contributing to a costly defeat to Chelsea.
That loss handed Manchester City the initiative on goal difference, before Liverpool collapsed at Crystal Palace – blowing a three-goal lead – to leave their dreams in tatters.
Leicester vs Tottenham – 2015/16
Perhaps not the greatest title race as such, but a run-in which remains one of the most memorable in football history.
Leicester’s stunning success during the 2015/16 campaign remains one of sport’s greatest underdog stories, a side who having just clung on to their Premier League status the previous season went on to be crowned champions.
The Foxes were 5000/1 odds to be crowned champions at the season’s start and the club’s impressive early form failed to convince the doubters that this was a genuine challenge.
But Leicester kept winning. And winning. And winning.
Jamie Vardy’s goals and Riyad Mahrez’s magic feet led their unexpected charge, before the club’s coronation was confirmed following an unforgettable game between nearest challengers Spurs and Chelsea.
‘The Battle of the Bridge’ had it all, a Chelsea comeback after Spurs raced into a two-goal lead, ugly challenges as a dozen players were booked, and a full-time whistle that confirmed a sporting miracle. Spurs had dropped points and Leicester were champions, for the first time in their 132-year history.
Manchester City v Liverpool (2018/19)
Manchester City and Liverpool have been embroiled in some brilliant tussles in recent years, with their battle for the 2018/19 title one of unprecedented consistency.
The usual drama of twists, turns and slip-ups was replaced with incredible winning runs, as each went faultless across the run-in. Vincent Kompany’s stunning goal against Leicester ensured it was advantage Manchester City as the final day approached.
Vincent Kompany's INCREDIBLE 🚀 against Leicester!
A huge moment in @ManCity's 2018/19 #PL title win 🏆
🗓 #OnThisDay in 2019 pic.twitter.com/Slihr5xzZ7
— Premier League (@premierleague) May 6, 2022
City were on 95 points ahead of the final fixtures, one ahead of Liverpool with no room for error.
Liverpool did their part after beating Wolves at Anfield, but City came from behind to win at Brighton and secure a second successive title. As for Liverpool, it was a feeling of how the title had not been won. Jurgen Klopp’s side recorded 97 points – the third-highest in English football history – and lost just once all season, but ended the Premier League campaign empty-handed.
That loss came at Manchester City, a game which saw John Stones make a goal-line clearance that stopped a goal by just 11mm. That was the fractional margin that saw Liverpool miss out.
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