There are times when, even after almost an entire season of action, two teams cannot be separated. And when the fixture gods are feeling particularly generous, they pair those sides together on the final day.
In this slideshow, we pick out seven of the most nail-biting deciders between direct rivals, including title tussles and relegation showdowns…
Bayern Munich vs Schalke (1971-72)
Bayern were just a point ahead of Schalke before this final-day showdown, and as such needed only a draw in what would be the first competitive match at their shiny new Olympiastadion filled with 80,000 supporters.
They did slightly better than that though, seeing off Schalke's early pressure before Gerd Muller, Franz Beckenbauer & Co. demolished their rivals 5-1 to ensure the Bundesliga title. The Bavarians went on to win the next two championships; Schalke, meanwhile, are still awaiting their first top-flight crown since 1958.
Manchester City vs Luton (1982-83)
Manchester City required a draw against Luton on a glorious May afternoon to preserve their top-division status for an 18th successive year. The hosts put the visitors under early pressure, but Town soon settled into a rhythm and gradually took control of proceedings at Maine Road.
It took until the 85th minute for them to make the breakthrough, however, with substitute Raddy Antic volleying home from the edge of the box to break City hearts and see David Pleat indulge history’s foremost example of a pitch-invasion/dad-dance crossover.
Arsenal vs Liverpool (1988-89)
This fixture had originally been scheduled for April 23, but following the Hillsborough disaster on April 15 it was understandably postponed. This led to the match being pushed back to May 26, after the FA Cup Final, and became one of the only final-day title deciders in English football history.
All Liverpool needed to do was avoid a two-goal defeat at Anfield against Arsenal; for a title-winning machine like the Reds, this appeared straightforward. But if the words “It’s up for grabs now” and the name ‘Michael Thomas’ mean anything to you, you’ll know it didn’t quite work out that way.
The Gunners took the lead seven minutes into the second half, but they failed to find the all-important second – until Thomas popped up in stoppage time, that is.
Hereford vs Brighton (1996-97)
Brighton knew they would drop out of the Football League if they failed to pick up a point from their final Division Three game of the season at Hereford; if Albion got the draw, it would be their hosts who went down.
Hereford made the early running, taking the lead on 21 minutes through a desperate own goal from Brighton's Kerry Mayo. The home side continue to press at 1-0 and had a couple of penalty shouts waved away, but the gods were with their opponents: Brighton snatched a dramatic second-half equaliser through Robbie Reinelt and ultimately survived the drop.
Chelsea vs Liverpool (2002-03)
This was referred to as ‘the £20m match’, with the victors set to seal a place in the lucrative Champions League. In hindsight, this tag hugely downplayed the financial importance: had Chelsea lost, we would likely be talking about a very different club in 2018.
When Sami Hyypia scored with a deftly flicked header in the 11th minute, it looked like Liverpool might get the win they needed. Marcel Desailly equalised almost immediately, though, before Jesper Gronkjaer became the Blues' hero with a curling effort into the bottom corner.
The sting in the tail came just a few weeks later with the news that Roman Abramovich, who rather fancied owning a club competing at Europe's top table, had decided to buy Chelsea. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sheffield United vs Wigan (2006-07)
Going into the final round of Premier League fixtures, Paul Jewell’s Wigan found themselves in dire trouble: three points behind their relegation rivals, West Ham and Sheffield United. They would end the season with a winner-takes-all (or draw-will-do for Neil Warnock’s Blades) clash away at Bramall Lane.
It started well for Wigan as Paul Scharner's strike put them 1-0 up inside 15 minutes, only for a Jon Stead header to level matters on 38 minutes. Yet a David Unsworth penalty gave Wigan the lead again in the second half, and they held out for 40 nervy minutes to retain their top-tier status.
Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid (2013-14)
Atletico, seeking their first La Liga title in 18 years, went head-to-head on the final day with the only team who could deny them.
For a while it looked like they would get the three points they needed, Alexis Sanchez opening the scoring with a quite ludicrous strike from an acute angle. But Diego Simeone had fashioned an obdurate, mentally strong side – and in the 49th minute, Diego Godin’s header restored parity.
Cue over 40 minutes of resolute Atletico defending, the opposition goalkeeper (Jose Manuel Pinto) coming up for a corner in a desperate attempt to win the game – and Atletico getting the result they required to win the title.
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