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Five top of the table clashes that defined Premier League title races

Manchester United meet Liverpool this weekend in a crucial clash between the two old rivals, one that has taken on greater significance given the two club’s positions in the Premier League title race.

United’s impressive run of form over the festive period has moved the Red Devils into title contention in what is shaping as the most open season in recent memory, their 1-0 win at Burnley in midweek seeing them move three points clear of the defending champions ahead of Sunday’s meeting.

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side could make a huge statement of intent with victory against a Liverpool side currently unbeaten in 67 home league fixtures this weekend, and ahead of the clash we’ve looked back at some defining high-stakes encounters.

Here are five top of the table clashes that defined Premier League title races:

Newcastle United 0 – 1 Manchester United, 1995/96

Newcastle’s pursuit of the Premier League title in the mid-nineties has become the stuff of legend, Kevin Keegan’s entertaining side having risen from the brink of the third tier to top-flight contention in the space of just four short seasons.

The 1995/96 season looked to be the end of a long wait for a passionate one-club city, the free-scoring Magpies having compiled a seemingly unassailable 12-point lead in the title race by late January.

Newcastle had one hand on the title, though it would be a hand that would agonisingly lose its grip.

The huge lead Keegan’s side had compiled had been whittled down to just four points by the time title rivals Manchester United arrived at St James’ Park in March, a make-or-break fixture that would have a huge say on the destination of the title.

A tense home crowd were witness to a magnificent goalkeeping performance from Peter Schmeichel who kept out a succession of goal-bound Newcastle efforts, whilst Philippe Albert rattled the crossbar as the Magpies searched for a winner that would give them breathing space at the top once again.

The missed chances would prove costly as Eric Cantona struck a second-half winner for United, a result which saw Newcastle’s lead reduced to just a solitary point and a resigned atmosphere surround the north east.

Keegan’s side would fail to stop the momentum shifting towards Manchester, losing three more fixtures before the season’s end to finish as runners-up by four points.

Manchester United 0 – 1 Arsenal, 1997/98

Manchester United and Arsenal shared the Premier League’s most iconic rivalry during the late nineties and early 2000s, the arrival of Arsene Wenger in north London seeing the Gunners emerge as a genuine threat to the Red Devils’ status as the division’s dominant force.

Wenger’s first full season saw an exciting side emerge with the likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Marc Overmars starring, and it was the latter who proved the decisive figure in this top of the table clash in March 1998.

United lead their rivals by nine points but had wobbled by dropping points in their previous two fixtures, whilst Arsenal had three games in hand on their rivals and their destiny in their own hands.

It was the visiting Gunners who would seize control of the title race after securing a narrow 1-0 win at Old Trafford, Overmars – the best player on the pitch throughout – racing away to score a late winner for the visitors.

United were as short as 1/8 favourites with some bookmakers to win the title before the clash, but Overmars goal secured Arsenal the second of 10 consecutive victories as Wenger’s side powered home down the stretch to secure a first Premier League title.

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Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea, 2010/11

Manchester United were within touching distance of a record-breaking 19th league title when they welcomed defending champions Chelsea to Old Trafford in 2011, victory for the home side taking them within one point of eclipsing the title landmark they shared with Liverpool.

Chelsea had claimed a domestic double the previous season and were in hot pursuit of the Red Devils as they sought to defend their crown, and three points for the visitors would have moved them top of the division on goal difference with just two games of the season remaining.

Sir Alex Ferguson could hardly have asked for a better start from his side as Javier Hernandez opened the scoring after just 36 seconds, David Luiz’s inability to cut out a Ji-Sung Park pass allowing the Mexican a clear run on goal.

United dominated the opening exchanges and doubled their advantage after 23 minutes, Nemanja Vidic heading home Ryan Giggs’ cross to put the Red Devils firmly in control.

Frank Lampard pulled one back in the second period to set up a tense finish, though United held on to secure all three points before claiming the title with a draw at Blackburn in their next fixture.

After famously outlining his intention to knock Liverpool ‘off their f****** perch’, Fergie had finally completed the feat.

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Manchester City 1 – 0 Manchester United, 2011/12

Sir Alex Ferguson famously branded Manchester City the ‘noisy neighbours’ following the club’s sudden emergence as a force in English football, a billionaire takeover catapulting City into contention for major honours.

Ferguson had been irked by the celebrations that followed Carlos Tevez’s defection to the blue half of the city, and whilst his public putdowns of an emerging City side were humorous to the Red Devils’ faithful, the Scot was wise enough to know the threat was genuine.

City claimed a first major trophy in 35 years by winning the FA Cup in 2011 – beating United in the last four – and the following season moved into title contention, a host of signings including Sergio Aguero and David Silva having seen a superb side built at the Etihad.

United had been the early pacesetters and had an eight-point advantage with just six games remaining, only for a costly defeat at Wigan and a 4-4 draw with Everton to narrow the advantage ahead of a huge Manchester derby meeting.

Victory for City would see them move ahead of their fiercest rivals on goal difference before the penultimate round of fixtures, and it was club captain Vincent Kompany who proved the hero by powering home a header to secure all three points.

City secured a first ever Premier League title after a dramatic comeback victory against Queens Park Rangers on the final day of the season, though it was Kompany’s match-winning intervention that perhaps symbolised the shifting balance of power in Manchester.

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Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool, 2018/2019

Manchester City had claimed the Premier League title in record-breaking fashion in 2017/18 after becoming the first team in history to reach 100 points, though the following season saw Pep Guardiola’s side come under renewed threat from Liverpool.

Liverpool had eliminated City in the previous season’s Champions League and began the new season in superb fashion, heading into the New Year with a seven-point advantage after making an unbeaten start to the campaign.

The two sides met in early January with the visiting Reds having an opportunity to extend that advantage to 10 points, with City needing to win to maintain their hopes of catching the league leaders.

Liverpool had come close to opening the scoring as a desperate John Stones intervention prevented a goal-bound effort, the goal-line technology adjudging that the ball had failed to cross by a margin of just 1.12cm.

Sergio Aguero then lifted the tension surrounding the Etihad with a fierce near-post drive to open the scoring for City, only for Liverpool to hit back and equalise through Roberto Firmino’s header.

City pushed forward in search of a winner and it was Leroy Sane who snatched the three points, however, a brilliant drilled effort from the winger ensuring Guardiola’s side closed the gap to just four points.

Both sides maintained incredible levels of consistency over the second half of the season but it was City who claimed the title on the final day of the season, winning 16 of their final 17 league fixtures including their final 14 in succession to be crowned champions.

Liverpool ended the season with nine wins in a row but a number of costly draws saw them overhauled, their 97 points the highest-ever tally by a runner-up and enough to win the title in 25 of the previous 27 league seasons.

Read: Long throws and leg breaks: How Stoke vs Arsenal became the Premier League’s strangest rivalry

See Also: Why we still love the Coventry City team from the 90’s to this day

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