The 10 best teams that DIDN’T win the Premier League

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Arsenal 1999

The table never lies, but it doesn’t always tell the whole story...

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

While there’s no such thing as an undeserving Premier League champion, plenty of teams have come close to tasting top-flight glory only to fall at the final hurdle.

Featuring late-season slip-ups (both figurative and literal), managerial meltdowns and some sudden dips of form – these are the best teams not to win the Premier League...

Arsenal 1998/99

Arsene Wenger came close to pulling off back-to-back doubles in 1999, only to be denied on both fronts by Manchester United. With Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka both in the form of their lives, Wenger bolstered his ranks with the additions of Freddie Ljungberg, Nelson Vivas and, in January, Nwankwo Kanu.

And though Ryan Giggs’s solo strike in the FA Cup semi-final replay ended their double hopes, Arsenal had the league title in their own hands despite being level on points with United with two games remaining.

But then came a disastrous 1-0 loss to Leeds which crippled their campaign, made all the more frustrating by United dropping points against Blackburn a day later. It left the Gunners praying for Tottenham to take something from Old Trafford on the final day, but Les Ferdinand’s opening goal was rendered useless by strikes in reply from David Beckham and Andy Cole.

Newcastle, 1995/96

Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers had raced into a 12-point lead by mid-January 1996, albeit having played a game more than rivals Manchester United. With the likes of Keith Gillespie, Les Ferdinand and David Ginola propelling the Magpies to 20 wins from their first 27 matches, title success looked imminent. 

But the old adage about attack being the best form of defence proved to be Newcastle’s undoing – mainly because defenders like Philippe Albert’s spent too much time attacking and not enough, well, defending.

A 1-0 defeat to Manchester United in early March had cut the gap to four points, and it was after a 1-1 draw against Nottingham Forest in their next match when Keegan let rip with his famous “love it” rant.

By that point it was a matter of when, not if, they’d be overtaken. Defeats to Arsenal, Liverpool and Blackburn – within four matches – contributed to them finishing four points behind a resurgent Red Devils, spearheaded by the returning Eric Cantona after his eight-month suspension for karate-kicking a fan.

Liverpool, 2008/09

While Rafa Benitez’s rampant Liverpool side of 2008/09 is best remembered for the dynamic duo of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, the truth is the Reds had class all over the pitch. Pepe Reina was a fine goalkeeper, Jamie Carragher marshalled the defence, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano patrolled central midfield, while even players like Yossi Benayoun and Dirk Kuyt made important attacking contributions. By Christmas they were top, having lost just once.

They would suffer defeat only once more in the league too, but a clutch of drab results in January and February left them 10 points off the summit. Rafa Benitez had directed his ill-judged and infamous “facts” rant at mind games master Ferguson early in the new year, and despite a 4-1 win over United at Old Trafford late in the campaign, their rivals retained the upper hand and won the league with a game to spare.

Norwich, 1992/93

The Norfolk side had won just 11 games during the 1991/92 season, finishing three points clear of the drop zone, but inexplicably led from the front during the inaugural season of the Premier League.

Experienced pros like Mark Robins and emerging talents like Ruel Fox and Chris Sutton combined as Norwich earned famous comeback wins over Arsenal and Chelsea early on in the campaign.

The Canaries were flying heading towards Christmas, having established an eight-point lead at the top by early December. Despite some patchy form, Norwich managed to climb back to the top of the standings by early February. They were still second with six games to go, but a 3-1 home defeat to title rivals Manchester United clipped their wings and a rotten run of results left Mike Walker’s side 10 points adrift by the end.

Despite the disappointment, Norwich finished a credible third to secure UEFA Cup football. And then came Jeremy Goss in Munich…

Manchester United, 2011/12

Though United fans will have fond memories of Newcastle’s collapse that handed their team the title in 1996, the truth is that the greatest Premier League capitulation came from Old Trafford.

Fired on by the goals of Wayne Rooney, United had established an eight-point lead over second-place Manchester City with just six games to go in 2012. But a shock defeat to relegation-threatened Wigan, coupled with a 4-4 draw with Everton in which United blew a 3-1 lead, meant City could go top with victory in the Manchester derby.

A Vincent Kompany header duly delivered the necessary 1-0 win, and Roberto Mancini’s side were back on track. Yaya Toure’s double sunk Newcastle in the penultimate game, teeing up a final-day clash against QPR that proved far more entertaining than it should have been.