In 1889, when Queen Victoria was still on the throne and Birmingham was granted city status, the Football League began. In its inaugural season, Preston North End went unbeaten for the entirety of the competition - fans back then perhaps didn’t realise that the sport would develop in the way it did for the following century, let alone that such a record would stand for 115 years.
When Arsenal managed a league campaign of 38 games without losing in 2004, there were some that claimed it would never happen again in our lifetimes. Arsene Wenger’s side reached 49 matches in total without defeat,
Some 16 years later, many of us thought a dominant Liverpool side - having previously dropped just two points all season - would eclipse Arsenal’s achievement.
One Saturday night at Nigel Pearson's Watford undid all of that. But where does Jurgen Klopp’s side rank in the all-time Premier League unbeaten runs?
=9. Nottingham Forest (1995) - 25 matches
It might seem hard to believe that Nottingham Forest would take points from the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City to go unbeaten in the league for almost an entire calendar year. But this was 1995, Stan Collymore was at the top of his game and Nottingham Forest were setting all kinds of records.
Forest were promoted in 1994 and remained unbeaten from the February onwards until the climax of the 1994/95 season. They finished third - beating Blackburn Rovers’ two-year-old record for the best season of a newly-promoted Premier League team - and remained unbeaten long into the new season, when Blackburn got one back. Rovers’ revenge came in the form of a 7-0 drubbing.
=9. Manchester United (2016-17) - 25 matches
Jose Mourinho’s first season at Old Trafford was a mixed one for Manchester United. They completed a treble (sort of) by winning the Community Shield, League Cup and Europa League, but finished sixth.
After a 4-0 hammering on Jose’s first return back to Stamford Bridge with another Premier League club, United went on a 25-match undefeated streak, with David De Gea drawing plaudits for his role.
It wasn’t the most breathtaking run - United drew 12 of the 25 games - but it eventually came crashing down with back-to-back defeats away in North London, to Arsenal and Spurs.
=6. Manchester United (2010-11) - 29 matches
An altogether more impressive unbeaten run, the Manchester United side of the early decade avoided losing from the start of the 2010/11 season until February.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were unbeaten for the five remaining matches of the previous campaign, and managed to go a further 24 games without defeat, including a 7-1 demolition of Blackburn in which Berbatov scored five times, and wins against Liverpool and Arsenal. A shock 2-1 loss away to Wolves ended the 29-match streak, but United still sauntered to the title.
=6. Chelsea (2007-08) - 29 matches
2008 will forever be remembered as Chelsea’s bridesmaid year - the Blues came second to United in the league and lost the Champions League final to them in Moscow. They also lost on penalties to United in the Community Shield and, to top things off, finished as runners-up in the League Cup to London rivals Spurs.
Despite such miserable luck, Avram Grant guided Chelsea to 29 matches unbeaten, following a defeat at Arsenal in December 2007, which stretched into the following campaign. This bizarrely included two 4-4 draws, but was ended by a Xabi Alonso winner at Anfield in October 2008.
=6. Manchester United (1998-99) - 29 matches
The Class of 92 excelled themselves in 1999, with Sir Alex Ferguson guiding Manchester United to an unprecedented treble in the English game. But while most remember the heroic Champions League final against Bayern Munich or Ryan Giggs’ incredible solo effort in the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, United’s unbeaten league run of that period was formidable.
In a congested Christmas fixture pile-up, United lost 3-2 at Old Trafford to Middlesbrough, before building momentum in the second half of the season. The Red Devils smashed Leicester 6-2 and Forest 8-1 on away days to the Midlands. The run came to an end in a shock 5-0 pummelling away to Chelsea in October 1999.
=4. Manchester City (2017-18) - 30 matches
Manchester City set a multitude of records in 2018. They racked up the most points in a season (100), most away points (50), most wins (32) and most consecutive victories (18) - but they couldn’t manage an entire league season without a loss.
After steamrolling the entire Premier League 30 matchdays in a row - dropping just eight points while doing so - Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool beat them 4-3 in a pulsating January clash at Anfield. It was to be the first of three defeats to the Reds that season, that also saw City crash out of the Champions League.
=4. Arsenal (2001-02) - 30 matches
In 2002, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger declared to a press conference that it was his dream to see his side go unbeaten for the whole season. His side hadn’t lost since December the previous year, to Newcastle, and had done the double that May. Still, the journalists present laughed at the Frenchman’s ambitions.
They were right to - at least this time. Arsenal’s breathtaking run of 30 matches without defeat had seen them rack up 13 consecutive wins en route to the league title - which they confirmed with an epic 1-0 victory at Old Trafford. The dream came crashing down for Wenger in October 2002 though, when a 16-year-old Wayne Rooney scored his first of 208 league goals, a 90-minute winner for Everton at Goodison Park. It's not a bad way to end it, in fairness.
3. Chelsea (2004-05) - 40 matches
Back before Jose Mourinho was the Malcolm Tucker of the Premier League, he was a charming, well-spoken purveyor of continental sophistication. His first season in English football was near-flawless; just 15 goals conceded all term, beating old masters Ferguson and Wenger to the Premier League title, and just the one defeat, away to Manchester City, pre-money.
This was Chelsea’s golden era. The Londoners waltzed to the crown without losing a single match at Stamford Bridge, amassing 95 points, made the semi-finals of the Champions League - losing to eventual winners Liverpool - and won the League Cup.
The unbeaten run would end to United the following season, but it wasn’t enough to kill Mourinho’s momentum - the Portuguese retained the league title and didn’t lose a single home game in his entire first spell as manager of the Blues.
2. Liverpool (2019-20) - 44 matches
Well, who saw that coming? With 12 games left of the season – and the title seemingly wrapped up – Liverpool had dropped just two points.
And then, in a twist that precisely no one expected, Nigel Pearson's Watford happened.
Let's repeat that: Nigel Pearson's Watford happened.
Jurgen Klopp's side will go down as one of the greatest Premier League sides ever. They may yet break the record for most points in a Premier League season; but they won't go unbeaten.
Only one team in the Premier League era has done that.
1. Arsenal (2003-04) - 49 matches
In April 2004, Arsenal were 2-1 down to Liverpool at half-time. They’d crashed out of the Champions League to Chelsea and the FA Cup to Manchester United recently and now, their 33-match unbeaten run was under threat.
Customary for that era, Thierry Henry put the Gunners on his back, netted a hat-trick and turned the game into a 4-2 win. Wenger had made no secret of his desire to go unbeaten, and as Arsenal proved too powerful for everyone else that season - Henry scored 30 goals alone - Arsenal ended up settling for more and more draws, holding the likes of Manchester United at home and Spurs away in games where they were dominant.
The latter at White Hart Lane was to be the game they lifted the league title for the third time under Wenger. The Invincibles were to be famously rendered mortal though by a controversial 2-0 to arch-rivals Manchester United, with Wayne Rooney again helping to end the Gunners’ run. Arsenal haven’t won a Premier League title since.
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