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The Invincibles II? A look at the longest unbeaten run at the start of every Premier League season

Liverpool face Norwich this weekend, another potential rung of their unbeaten ladder - but who have the longest unbeaten starts to a season ever?

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1992-93 Ipswich Town, 8 games

Final Position: 16th

First Defeat: Oldham 4-2 Ipswich, 19 September 1992

Newly-promoted Ipswich navigated their first eight games back in the top flight without a loss, but six of them were draws. They hit better form after their first loss to Oldham, embarking on a winning run that lifted them to 4th by the end of January. Soon after, things started to go badly wrong, plummeting down the table thanks to a 13-game winless run. In fact, it was Norwich City, their East Anglian rivals, who were the story of the season, finishing in 3rd place.

1993/94 Coventry City, 8 games

Final Position: 11th

First Defeat: Coventry City 0-2 Leeds United, 25 September 1993

An excellent 3-0 opening day defeat of Arsenal kicked off Coventry’s unbeaten start. However, three losses in four games led manager Bobbie Gould to expectedly resign. His replacement, Phil Neil guided them to 11th.
 

1994-95 Nottingham Forest/ Newcastle United, 11 games

Final Position: Forest 3rd; Newcastle 6th

First Defeats: Nottingham Forest 2-0 Blackburn Rovers, 29 October 1994; Manchester United 2-0 Newcastle United, 29 October 1994

An eleven-game unbeaten run launched a fairytale season for newly promoted Forest, in which they finished 3rd, the highest a team has ever finished in their first season in the Premier League. They went on another unbeaten run in the final 11 games of the season, winning nine of them.

Attacking-minded Newcastle were amongst the title favourites until things started to unravel with the sale of Andy Cole to Manchester United, spending the second half of the season in near-free-fall, finishing in 6th.

1995-96 Nottingham Forest, 12 games

Final Position: 9th

First Defeat: Blackburn Rovers 7-0 Nottingham Forest, 18 November 1995

Forest would go one better the next season, despite selling star striker Stan Collymore. However, their run came to a crushing end thanks to a 7:0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers, with recently departed Lars Bohinen scoring twice. Their league form stuttered, but they did perform better than any other English club in Europe, reaching the UEFA Cup quarter-finals.

1996-97 Manchester United, 9 games

Final Position: 1st

First Defeat: Newcastle United 5-0 Manchester United, 20 October 1996

Another unbeaten run to come to a crashing end - Newcastle exacted slight revenge on United for stealing last season’s title by smashing five past them. United would go on to concede even more in their following game, a 6-3 defeat to Southampton. Still, they wrapped a second consecutive title with a modest 75 points.
 

1997-98 Arsenal, 12 games

Final Position: 1st

First Defeat: Derby County 3-0 Arsenal, 1 December 1997

Arsenal’s first full season under Arsene Wenger, with a diet revolution in full swing - a first loss came in the newly built Pride Park, inciting a run of three defeats in four games. However, a record ten-match winning run between March and May confirmed Wenger as the first foreign-born manager to win the Premier League.
 

1998-99 Aston Villa, 12 games

Final Position: 6th

First Defeat: Aston Villa 2-4 Liverpool, 21 November 1998

A remarkable season for Villa, perhaps lost in the narrative of United’s treble. They started brilliantly, unbeaten until late November and top at Christmas - even without Dwight Yorke, who departed to Manchester United at the start of the season. However, a startling reverse in fortunes in January saw them lose seven in eight games, eventually finishing in 8th. 

1999-00 Manchester United, 9 games

Final Position: 1st

First Defeat: Chelsea 5-0 Manchester United, 3 October 1999

Although not as famous as the previous year’s heroics, this was Sir Alex Ferguson’s most dominant year in the Premier League, accumulating 91 points, 18 more than runners up Arsenal - both records at the time. They would only lose three games in the league, winning all of their final 11 games.

2000-01 Leicester, 8 games

Final Position: 13th

First Defeat: Leicester City 0:3 Manchester United, 14 October 2000

A surprise unbeaten streak saw Peter Taylor’s Leicester occupy top spot at the start of October, leading the league for the first time since 1963. Their form would tail off, eventually losing nine of their final ten games of the season, finishing well into the bottom half of the table.

2001-02 Leeds United, 11 games

Final Position: 5th

First Defeat: Sunderland 2-0 Leeds United, 18 November 2001

Leeds had invested heavily under David O’Leary and led the league for much of the first half of the season. However, a shock defeat to Division 2 side Cardiff City in the FA Cup proved the catalyst for a two-month winless period, bringing their title challenge to a miserable end.

2002-03 Liverpool, 12 games

Final Position: 5th

First Defeat: Middlesbrough 1-0 Liverpool, 9 November 2002

Having finished runners up the season before and with Ballon d’Or winner Michael Owen in their ranks, Liverpool fans were dreaming of a first Premier League title in 2002. Delirium turned to disaster in the blink of an eye, after defeat to Middlesbrough in November snapped a seven-game winning run and incited a freefall in which they failed to win any of their next 11 league matches.

2003-04 Arsenal, 38 games

Final Position: 1st

First Defeat: Undefeated

Led by the likes of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp, Arsene Wenger’s finest-ever team remain the only team to go an entire league season undefeated. They were awarded a gold Premier League trophy and have been immortalised as “The Invincibles.”

2004-05 Arsenal, 9 games

Final Position: 2nd

First Defeat: Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal, 24 October 2004

Arsenal started the next season as they finished the last, winning eight of their first nine Premier League games. They fell one short of 50 Premier League games unbeaten after losing at Old Trafford - a game later remembered as “Pizzagate” after tempers boiled over in the tunnel and Cesc Fabregas threw a slice of pizza at Sir Alex Ferguson’s face. Arsenal would eventually fall well-short of Chelsea’s record-breaking 95 points. 

2005-06 Chelsea, 11 games

Final Position: 1st

First Defeat: Manchester United 1-0 Chelsea, 6 November 2005

Jose Mourinho comfortably led Chelsea to a second consecutive title, winning ten of their first 11 games. A loss to Manchester United in November would be one of only five all season.

2006-07 Aston Villa, 9 games

Final Position: 11th

First Defeat: Liverpool 3-1 Aston Villa, 28 October 2006

Villa made an impressive start to life under Martin O'Neill, winning three and drawing six of their first nine league games. An 11-match winless streak between November and January pushed them down the table, although O’Neill’s good start would prove a precursor for the following season, in which they finished 6th.

2007-08 Arsenal, 15 games

Final Position: 3rd 

First Defeat: Middlesbrough 2-1 Arsenal, 9 December 2007

Arsenal were initially unfazed by losing legendary striker Thierry Henry to Barcelona, opening up a four-point lead over Manchester United before losing to Middlesborough in December. They lost ground on Manchester United and Chelsea during a shaky March, eventually finishing four points off the top.  

2008-09 Liverpool, 10 games

Final Position: 2nd

First Defeat: Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Liverpool, 1 November 2008

The closest Liverpool came to winning the title under Rafa Benitez, in which they won nine of their first 11 games. They won ten of their final 11 games, but their 86 points weren’t enough to deny Manchester United their third consecutive title.

2009-10 Chelsea, 6 games

Final Position: 1st

First Defeat: Wigan Athletic 3-1 Chelsea, 26 September 2009

Chelsea’s six-game winning start to the league season was halted by a shock loss to Wigan Athletic. They exacted revenge on Wigan on the final day of the season when, with the title on the line, they thrashed them 8-0. It was the fourth time they’d scored seven or more goals in the Premier League that season.

2010-11 Manchester United, 24 games

Final Position: 1st

First Defeat: Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 Manchester United, 5 February 2011

The longest unbeaten start to the season since the Invincibles came to a shocking end when Kevin Doyle’s winner consigned United to an embarrassing loss to bottom-placed Wolves. It was one of only four losses all season as United sealed the title, although their season would be largely remembered for their 3:1 loss to Barcelona in the Champions League final.

2011-12 Manchester City, 14 games

Final Position: 1st

First Defeat: Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City, 12 December 2011

One of the most famous Premier League seasons; whether the “noisy neighbours” City could win their first Premier League title was the question on everyone’s lips. A near-perfect beginning to the season was ended by Chelsea in December, but City’s form was consistent until a three-game slip between the end of March and beginning of April appeared to have ceded the title to United. The pendulum would swing one final time thanks to the most famous comeback in Premier League history.

2012-13 Manchester City, 15 games

Final Position: 2nd

First Defeat: Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United, 9 December 2012

City seemed well-poised to defend their maiden Premier League title before losing a home Manchester derby in December. They would ultimately finish 11 points off Fergie’s last United side, but haven’t finished below them since.

2013-14 Everton, 6 games

Final Position: 5th

First Defeat: Manchester City 3-1 Everton, 5 October 2013

The joint-shortest run in this list: Everton made an impressive start to life under Roberto Martinez, having lost David Moyes to United after 11 years under the Scot. 

2014-15 Chelsea, 14 games

Final Position: 1st

First Defeat: Newcastle United 2-1 Chelsea, 6 December 2014

Chelsea were heavily fancied in the second season of Jose Mourinho’s second spell, having recruited Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas in the summer. By their first loss of the season in December, they were already six points clear. They would only lose two more league games, as Chelsea cantered to a third Premier League title under Mourinho.

2015-16 Leicester, 6 games

Final Position: 1st

First Defeat: Leicester City 2-5 Arsenal, 26 September 2015

A six-match unbeaten streak to start the season is far from what Leicester’s title-winning season is remembered for. Although people were more focused on Jamie Vardy’s consecutive scoring streak, it was a forewarning to one of history’s great sporting stories, as Leicester stormed to the most unlikely of Premier League titles. 

2016-17 Tottenham Hotspur, 12 games

Final Position: 2nd

First Defeat: Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur, 26 November 2016

Part of a two-year period where Spurs were the closest contenders in one-sided title races, Spurs won six and drew six of their first 12 games, but fell seven points short of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side in the final standings.

2017-18 Manchester City, 22 games

Final Position: 1st

First Defeat: Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City, 14 January 2017

City were smashing all in their path before losing a classic at Anfield in January, a game which foreshadowed the rivalry the two teams would share the following season. They would only lose one more game that season, becoming the first Premier League team to reach 100 points.

2018-19 Liverpool, 20 games

Final Position: 2nd

First Defeat: Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool, 3 January 2019

Invincibles aside, no side other than Liverpool last season and Chelsea in Mourinho's first season have only lost one Premier League game. It was still not enough for a maiden Premier League title as City won their final 14 games of the season. Yet, it could have been so different, with John Stones’ goal-line clearance denying Liverpool a result at the Etihad by mere centimetres. 

2019-20 Liverpool, 25 games-

Final Position: TBC

First Defeat: Undefeated

By beating Southampton, this season’s runaways leaders now possess a longer unbeaten streak than all those who have failed. Of course, they still have to visit the Etihad on 4 April - by then, another “Invincibles” season could well be on the line.

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