Whisper it, but the 2020/21 Premier League title race could be amongst the closest yet if Liverpool and Manchester United maintain their current form and the likes of Manchester City and Leicester City continue to chase hard from the pack.
These are still early days, of course, but just seven points separate the Red Devils in first and Southampton in seventh ahead of the crunch Liverpool vs Manchester United clash on January 17.
In the past we have seen two or three teams going at it hammer and tongs into the business end of the campaign, but seven sides? That would be truly extraordinary.
That said, there’s a long way to go before the 2020/21 serves up the trouser-shredding nervousness and excitement of these….the closest Premier League title races of all time.
Manchester City on Goal Difference (2011/12)
Most football fans around the world can remember where they were when Martin Tyler’s howl greeted one of the most jaw-dropping late goals in Premier League history.
Manchester City were looking for their first ever top-flight win since the First Division was rebranded, and after winning 14 of their opening 17 games they looked set to do so at a canter.
But dropped points over the festive period allowed their Manchester rivals back into the mix, and as spring sprung Sir Alex Ferguson’s United had taken top spot.
A 1-0 win for City when the pair met at the Etihad handed them the initiative, although only the narrowest of margins separated them heading into the final day of the campaign.
On a warm Sunday in May, Roberto Mancini’s men simply had to beat relegation-threatened QPR to win the title on goal difference – assuming that United won at Sunderland (which they did).
Simple? Far from it. The Hoops charged into a 2-1 lead, and even when Edin Dzeko equalised in injury time it seemed all too late – there were tears in the stands as City fans realised their dreams were over.
But then the ball somehow wriggled its way through to Sergio Aguero, and one of the Premier League’s all-time leading goalscorers did the rest. City fans were in raptures – when the initial gobsmacked phase wore off – while there were tears for QPR and Manchester United supporters when they realised that they hadn’t dreamed what had unfolded in front of their very eyes.
Manchester City by One Point (2018/19)
Manchester City never make things easy for their fans, do they?
A handful of years after the most extraordinary final day of a Premier League campaign saw them crowned champions, they were at it again in 2018/19 in yet another title race that went right to the wire.
Heading into the last day of the season, City had a one-point lead over Liverpool and a superior goal difference, so all they had to do is match the Reds’ result – or win handsomely, ideally – against a Brighton side that was celebrating avoiding relegation.
But once again, City made life difficult for themselves and went a goal down to the Seagulls….a few hundred miles north, Liverpool were in the lead against Wolves through Sadio Mane. Everything has changed….they couldn’t, could they?
They could not. City equalised less than a minute later through that man Aguero, before further goals from Aymeric Laporte, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez wrapped up a comprehensive 4-1 victory. Pep Guardiola’s men had done it….but for a while there, it looked like their hopes were going to be shattered on the south coast.
Blackburn Rovers by One Point (1994/95)
New football fans or those of a younger vintage will probably be doing a double take here. Blackburn Rovers….Premier League champions?
It happened alright, as in the days before foreign investment flooded the English game it was Blackburn who were bankrolled by a millionaire of their own in Jack Walker.
Managed by Kenny Dalglish, who had assembled a squad of solid pros powered by the deadly strikeforce of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, Rovers were irresistible and wrapped up a first top-flight win in 80 years. But they nearly made a complete hash of it….
They had a narrow lead heading into the final day of two points, which while clearly surmountable ensured the Lancashire outfit had their fate in their own hands. But they stumbled, losing to Liverpool at Anfield, and they could only hope that nearest challengers Manchester United failed to win at West Ham.
And the Red Devils were in absolutely dominant mood….but they couldn’t find a way past the Hammers, who held out for a 1-1 to confirm Blackburn’s title triumph. Some 25 years later, it’s scarcely believable that Rovers were able to reach such heights.
Arsenal by Goal Difference (1988/89)
|1||Arsenal||+37 (73 goals scored)||76|
|2||Liverpool||+37 (65 goals scored)||76|
While not strictly of the Premier League era, no review of the greatest title races of all time can pass by without mention of Liverpool’s scarcely believable glory in 1988/89.
We’ve mentioned seasons that have gone down to the final day, but where the two protagonists at the top of the table are playing each other? That’s priceless for the neutrals, and a day of knee-knocking terror for fans of the respective teams involved.
Those were Liverpool, three points clear at the summit, and Arsenal, who needed to win by two clear goals in front of a packed Anfield to wrestle the trophy away from the Merseysiders.
A tense first half ended goalless, and the sensation among Liverpool fans was almost tangible – they were almost home and dry. But when Alan Smith scored for the Gunners just after the break, the pressure was ramped up a few notches once more.
Time passed by incredible slowly for Reds fans, and they watched agonisingly as the scoreboard ticked over the 90 minute mark.
And then IT happened. Michael Thomas danced through the Liverpool defence in injury time and scrambled home the messiest of winners – Arsenal had upset all of the odds to steal the First Division title away from the leaders in literally the last minutes of the season.