Ranking every Premier League title decider: Aguero to Battle of Bridge and Manchester City letdowns
Manchester City have had a couple of memorable title-clinching moments but then a load of damp squibs too. Man Utd are masters of unremarkable crownings.
What follows is a ranking of the game which secured the Premier League title for each champion. These are not judgements of the season or the team as a whole, but of how they were officially crowned.
31) Manchester City 2020/21
The deciding game: Manchester United 1-2 Leicester
They deserve far more credit but it must be quietly infuriating – or perhaps a life-affirming example of confirmation bias – to see Manchester United and Liverpool discourse dominate the aftermath of a Premier League title triumph. It was silly of Manchester City not to secure their own fate against Chelsea three days earlier, leaving Leicester to complete the job against their bitter but weakened rivals.
30) Liverpool 2019/20
The deciding game: Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City
The coronation of the previous champions was only marginally better on the basis that Liverpool did not waste an opportunity to win it themselves. Jurgen Klopp’s side hammered Crystal Palace on June 24 last year to leave Manchester City with no room to manoeuvre against Chelsea, who won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge the following evening. It was also in front of no fans. It meant less.
29) Manchester City 2017/18
The deciding game: Manchester United 0-1 West Brom
The most dominant championship win to that point was rather undermined by the fact Jay Rodriguez was responsible for the crowning moment. His goal at Old Trafford in April 2018 helped West Brom beat Manchester United and give Pep Guardiola his first Premier League trophy. Manchester City had their chance when 2-0 up at home to the neighbours the previous week but then Paul Pogba and Chris Smalling happened.
28) Manchester City 2022/23
The deciding game: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Arsenal
They definitely used up all their title drama in 2012, because Manchester City have a proud history of their moment of glorious title conception being the dampest of squibs. Pep and his boys were yet again not actually involved in their latest crowning, instead watching from afar as Arsenal continued to not bottle it.
27) Manchester United 2000/01
The deciding game: Arsenal 0-3 Middlesbrough
As fun as the schadenfreude must have been in watching Edu and Sylvinho both score own goals in a cataclysmic four-minute first-half spell, Arsenal collapsing at home to Middlesbrough was a bit of an anti-climax for Manchester United in 2001. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side beat Coventry in the day’s early kick-off but it was the ineptitude of their closest – and very much still distant – challengers that sealed it hours later.
26) Manchester United 1993/94
The deciding game: Coventry 2-1 Blackburn
Julian Darby scored five goals in a 55-game Premier League career. His two strikes in a December 1993 defeat to West Ham, as well as a consolation during a February 1994 loss to Swindon, paled in comparison in terms of importance to his brace against Blackburn in May 1994. Manchester United had beaten Ipswich the previous day and finally saw Kenny Dalglish’s spirited resistance broken in Rovers’ penultimate fixture.
25) Manchester United 2006/07
The deciding game: Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea
“I used to have an obsession of winning in Europe but the Premiership has become a priority,” said Ferguson in celebration of his first such title since 2003. But again it was not them who dealt the final blow, beating Manchester City on May 6 before Chelsea laboured to a draw against Arsenal the next day.
24) Manchester United 2002/03
The deciding game: Arsenal 2-3 Leeds
Manchester United once more did not have a hand in the decisive match but at least there was some late drama involved. Arsenal went into their final three fixtures having played two games fewer than Manchester United, who were eight points ahead. The Gunners had to be flawless and hope for the leaders to slip against Everton at Goodison Park on the final day. But Arsenal failed in their first objective, twice equalising at home to relegation-battling Leeds before succumbing to Mark Viduka’s 88th-minute winner. It was the last Premier League defeat they would suffer for almost 18 months.
23) Manchester United 1992/93
The deciding game: Aston Villa 0-1 Oldham
The name of Nick Henry might mean absolutely nothing to the average Manchester United fan but the former Oldham midfielder and 2000 League Cup finalist with Tranmere is intrinsically linked to the club. It was his long-range shot in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final replay that seemingly bounced over the line off the bar but was not given, offering Ferguson a reprieve amid reports he would be sacked if he oversaw another trophyless season. Then three years later it was Henry who struck against Aston Villa to end their wilting title challenge and crown Manchester United, who would continue a seven-game winning run against Blackburn the following raucous day, as inaugural Premier League champions.
22) Chelsea 2014/15
The deciding game: Chelsea 1-0 Crystal Palace
At least they sealed the deal themselves but there was something ultimately soulless about Chelsea winning their first title in five years courtesy of an Eden Hazard penalty rebound just before half-time against Alan Pardew’s happily beach-bound Crystal Palace with three games left. The last touch before the final whistle was a Branislav Ivanovic header trickling out for a throw-in and that is simply incredibly appropriate.
21) Manchester United 2010/11
The deciding game: Blackburn 1-1 Manchester United
It happened to be an incredibly uninspiring script that Brett Emerton neglected to read in May 2011, opening the scoring at Ewood Park in the 20th minute to give Chelsea a morsel of title hope. Wayne Rooney equalised with a penalty in the 73rd minute to earn Manchester United the solitary point they required.
20) Manchester United 2008/09
The deciding game: Manchester United 0-0 Arsenal
“Our ambition was to win the game. United were very cautious, and we did not find an opening,” was the post-match assessment from Arsene Wenger after Arsenal ensured their hosts were made to work for their record-equalling 18th title. Ferguson called it “the longest 90 minutes in history” after watching 11 men defend behind the ball for the final ten minutes or so as Cesc Fabregas hit a post and Robin van Persie tested Edwin van der Sar. But the result was the most important thing with a second successive Champions League final on the horizon.
19) Manchester United 1995/96
The deciding game: Middlesbrough 0-3 Manchester United
Manchester United went to Middlesbrough and got something. Plenty, in fact. David May, Andy Cole and Ryan Giggs ensured it mattered not what Newcastle did on the final day of the 1995/96 season. It just so happened that the Magpies scraped a draw at home to Tottenham to add to the euphoria.
18) Manchester United 1999/2000
The deciding game: Southampton 1-3 Manchester United
A 3-0 lead after half an hour removed the jeopardy as much as having four more matches remaining as a safety net for Manchester United at the turn of the millennium. The cruise at St Mary’s came in the midst of an 11-game winning run for a side that finished 18 points clear at the summit.
17) Blackburn 1994/95
The deciding game: West Ham 1-1 Manchester United
The preference would surely have been to hold up their end of the bargain instead of having to rely on results elsewhere. But there was the perverse pleasure of both sets of fans at Anfield being made to wait nervously after Liverpool did their bitter rivals a solid by beating Blackburn, before the eruption of communal relief when news filtered through that Ludek Miklosko had weathered a Manchester United storm.
16) Chelsea 2004/05
The deciding game: Bolton 0-2 Chelsea
A fifth 2-0 win of their Premier League season felt about right when it came to the moment that delivered Jose Mourinho his first title. A clean sheet and two goals from Frank Lampard is as archetypal Chelsea 2004/05 as one can get, which is no bad thing.
15) Manchester City 2013/14
The deciding game: Manchester City 2-0 West Ham
Perhaps if Liverpool hadn’t gotten carried away with themselves at Selhurst Park six days prior, the drama would have been heightened. Manchester City capitalised on their closest rivals drawing with Crystal Palace by hammering Aston Villa to boast a two-point lead and far superior goal difference heading into the final day. By the time they broke the deadlock against West Ham at the Etihad Stadium, Liverpool were already behind to Newcastle after Martin Skrtel’s own goal. Both teams went on to win but Manchester City strolled across the finish line in the end.
14) Manchester United 2007/08
The deciding game: Wigan 0-2 Manchester United
A curious set of circumstances in May 2008 meant both Champions League finalists put out full-strength sides in their last league fixtures as both were competing for the domestic title. Chelsea, at home to Bolton, needed to better Manchester United’s result away at Wigan. That proved impossible as Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs scored at the DW Stadium, while Matt Taylor netted a stoppage-time equaliser at Stamford Bridge as Avram Grant’s best-laid plans were scuppered.
13) Manchester City 2018/19
The deciding game: Brighton 1-4 Manchester City
For 83 seconds it was happening. Sadio Mane had put Liverpool ahead against Wolves and Glenn Murray stunned Manchester City with the opener at the Amex. The Reds were in front by two points but that deficit was halved when Aguero drew Manchester City level against Brighton after barely a minute, then completely destroyed when Aymeric Laporte scored ten minutes later. Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan would add goals of their own as Guardiola’s season-ending 14-game winning run edged out Klopp’s nine-match streak.
12) Chelsea 2016/17
The deciding game: West Brom 0-1 Chelsea
It was not Diego Costa, Eden Hazard or Cesc Fabregas that confirmed Chelsea’s sixth top-flight championship but Michy Batshuayi, the second-half substitute converting a Cesar Azpilicueta cross against a determined West Brom in May 2017. Extra marks for the late winner. Extra extra marks for winning the league on a Friday, becoming the first team to do so since Arsenal in 1989. Town.
11) Manchester United 1996/97
The deciding game: Wimbledon 2-1 Liverpool
The accepted wisdom is that it is best to play in the game that secures the trophy, but there are exceptions to prove the rule. One such instance occurred in 1997 when Manchester United were edging towards a second successive Premier League crown but stuttered in no small part thanks to playing their last four games in the space of eight days; someone remind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of that the next time he pretends it is unprecedented. Draws with Leicester and Middlesbrough left the door slightly ajar for Liverpool, four points behind with two matches remaining, but Roy Evans saw his side lose to Wimbledon despite the best efforts of goalscoring debutant and future castigated midget Michael Owen. A particularly furious Liverpool Echo described it as ‘a performance that mocked Anfield’s rich traditions’ and ‘an abject display which could hardly have been worse,’ which must have only added to the Manchester United glee.
10) Leicester 2015/16
The deciding game: Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham
If you can’t quite manage to do it yourself then there might be no better way than to watch Tottenham capitulate against one of their closest rivals in the comfort of Jamie Vardy’s kitchen. Leicester had the opportunity to clinch it at Old Trafford but Manchester United avoided the ultimate embarrassment with a 1-1 draw. Tottenham proceeded to try and murder Chelsea thanks to the impeccable directorial debut of Mark Clattenburg.
9) Manchester United 1998/99
The deciding game: Manchester United 2-1 Tottenham
Les Ferdinand introduced cat to pigeons in May 1999 when Tottenham threatened to ruin the famed Manchester United Treble before it had even begun. His 24th-minute opener gave Arsenal some final day hope that the Gunners eventually capitalised on as Nwankwo Kanu scored to put them ahead against Aston Villa, yet by that point David Beckham and Andy Cole had already turned things around at Old Trafford. The FA Cup would follow six days later, with the Champions League coming four days after that.
8) Chelsea 2009/10
The deciding game: Chelsea 8-0 Wigan
There are no holes to pick in this one. Chelsea deconstructed Wigan to pip Manchester United to the post while breaking numerous records: most Premier League goals in a season (103); most Premier League goals scored at home in a season (68); best goal difference (+71); the most pure Chelsea list of scorers in a single game (Anelka, Lampard, Kalou, Drogba, Cole). It lacked peril, perhaps, but those inside Stamford Bridge that afternoon might not have minded.
7) Manchester City 2021/22
The deciding game: Manchester City 3-2 Aston Villa
Manchester City went into the final game leading Liverpool by a point, meaning Jurgen Klopp’s side needed to take care of their own final game against Wolves and then hope for a gift from the gods of narrative in the form of a Steven Gerrard-led Aston Villa putting a spanner in City’s works at the Etihad. That was not considered a likely outcome no matter how powerful the twin forces of banter and narrative might be. Then Villa went 2-0 up deep into the second half – including a further narrative-boosting goal from Philippe Coutinho – and everyone vowed never again to doubt banter or narrative. The issue was that Liverpool themselves were being held 1-1 by a Wolves team whose manager was in no way, shape or form a Manchester City legend. So what did it all mean? As it turned out, nothing. City scored three goals in the space of six minutes in a sort of quickfire lower-key AguerOOOOOO tribute act to render the two late goals Liverpools managed of their own moot. A quirk of it all was that, despite Liverpool’s win and City spending so much of the game conspicuously not winning, at no point on that final day were Liverpool ever actually top of the live table. Fun, though.
6) Manchester United 2012/13
The deciding game: Manchester United 3-0 Aston Villa
For such a dominant force in the competition, Manchester United have few memorable title-clinching moments. But their last was surely their best as Robin van Persie violated Aston Villa with a superb home hat-trick. While Ferguson had four more Premier League games to manage before retirement, this was the one he would have liked to end on. Brad Guzan is still haunted by images of that second goal.
5) Arsenal 1997/98
The deciding game: Arsenal 4-0 Everton
After being spoilt by possibly the greatest moment in title-capturing history almost a decade prior, Arsenal kept things more simple in 1998. There was no Michael Thomas and nothing really up for grabs now, then or at any stage beyond the sixth minute at Highbury on May 3, 1998. Arsenal went into their game against Everton top of the Premier League table by four points and with a game in hand over second-placed reigning champions Manchester United. The Gunners needed three points from as many matches but their last two were away at Liverpool and Aston Villa; a meeting with Everton was their only opportunity to finish the job in front of their own fans. And they did so in spectacular style, a four-goal rout completed by captain Tony Adams in the 89th minute after a Slaven Bilic own goal and Marc Overmars started proceedings and processions wonderfully early.
4) Chelsea 2005/06
The deciding game: Chelsea 3-0 Manchester United
“I told the players before the match we can’t allow a team to come here and take away the cup,” said Mourinho. “It’s ours. We deserve it.” Chelsea set about fulfilling their manager’s wishes with laughable ease when Manchester United visited Stamford Bridge in April 2006 needing a win to keep the title race on life support. It was pretty much over – nine points separated the two sides with three games remaining – but pride was at stake for Ferguson and his men. That mattered not when William Gallas, Joe Cole and Ricardo Carvalho treated their long-suffering home fans to yet another boring and pragmatic three-goal destruction of one of the world’s most successful teams.
3) Arsenal 2003/04
The deciding game: Tottenham 2-2 Arsenal
Jens Lehmann rather foolishly removed the opportunity for Arsenal to properly embarrass their hosts by conceding a stoppage-time penalty, but the rapturous celebration that met Robbie Keane’s conversion from 12 yards to equalise told a story of its own. An unbeaten Arsenal were so utterly dominant that Tottenham were delighted to simply come from two goals down and avoid defeat to them. It was their highlight of a woeful campaign for all too brief a time as Arsenal left White Hart Lane with the solitary point they needed to pull definitively clear of Chelsea and maintain their unblemished record with four games left.
2) Arsenal 2001/02
The deciding game: Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal
The Premier League title has been decided at Old Trafford on six occasions, but only thrice in Manchester United’s favour. The most humbling of games in which the trophy has finally slipped through their fingers came in 2002 when Arsenal and their five-point advantage at the summit with two games remaining visited. Ferguson and his players were seemingly aware of the gulf in quality and set about on a series of physical assaults that saw Paul Scholes, Phil Neville and Roy Keane all booked between the 20th and 26th minute. Arsenal were undeterred, however, and Sylvain Wiltord maintained their record of scoring in every game and staying unbeaten away by finishing past Fabien Barthez after the Frenchman kept Freddie Ljungberg out.
1) Manchester City 2011/12
The deciding game: Manchester City 3-2 QPR
It might never be beaten. The delicate balance of absolute despair, seeing their opportunity disappear before them at home to 10-man relegation-battlers QPR, to the sheer unadulterated ecstasy of two stoppage-time goals to flip the score on its head and finally prove too loud a noisy neighbour for Manchester United to silence. That Ferguson’s side did their part as professionally as possible by beating Sunderland 1-0 away with a 20th-minute goal only added to the occasion. They would discover their fate when the Stadium of Light exploded in impromptu celebration at news of the late drama at the Etihad. We probably never will see anything like it again. Drink. It. In.
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