Top 10 title processions: Some teams have had it even easier than this season's Chelsea side
Preston (1888/89 )
In the First Division’s inaugural season, Preston North End were utterly peerless. They finished 1888/89 undefeated from 22 matches, having scored more and conceded fewer than any other side (Wolves were closest to their tally of 15 goals shipped, on 37) as they marched to a league and cup Double.
West Brom were the only other side to top the table that season. On goal average (goals scored divided by goals conceded). On the opening day of the season. But still, that was the closest anyone came to putting up a challenge to Major William Sudell’s all-conquering (and original) Invincibles.
Aston Villa (1896/97)
Aston Villa became the second side to win the league and FA Cup Double after losing only four league games. It should be pointed out that their eventual winning margin of 11 points said almost as much about the paucity of the opposition as it did George Ramsay’s innovative take on the game (essentially he introduced occasionally passing the ball – without him football could conceivably be 22 Andros Townsends running in straight lines for 90 minutes): second-placed Sheffield United won just 13 of their 30 matches.
Having dominated the latter years of the 19th century, Sunderland found themselves without a league title since 1913. Johnny Cochrane had been doing his best to arrest the club’s lack of success, steadily building the side since joining as manager in 1928 and leading them to second place in 1934/35. That year they'd always been chasing Arsenal, but the following season they built an imposing lead by Christmas that they never looked like surrendering. It was to be Sunderland’s last top-flight title to date, but at least they did it in style, winning by eight points from Derby (15 if converted into three points for a win).
Now this is how you dominate an entire season. Bill Nicholson’s wonderful Spurs side of Blanchflower, Smith et al ended the title race before it had even begun by winning 15 of their first 16 games, rapidly opening up a gap that the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Wolverhampton Wanderers never looked likely to bridge. Spurs scored 115 goals and won an exceptional 16 of 21 games away from White Hart Lane. They also lifted the FA Cup, thus winning the Double for the first time since Aston Villa in 1897.
After drawing three successive games in February 1970, Everton found themselves second in the table to Don Revie’s reigning champions Leeds. If the Toffees were going to win a first title in seven years, it looked as though they would have to do it the hard way. It was then that they found their best form of the season, winning eight of their final nine matches, including a famous 2-0 win at Anfield. At the same time, Leeds' form collapsed and Everton ended up coasting to the title; converting old money into three points for a win would have seen them triumph by a whopping 17 points.
Nottingham Forest (1977/78)
Nottingham Forest winning their first ever league title was a hugely impressive feat. Winning it in their first season after promotion was exceptional. Winning it by seven points in the days of two for a win, losing only three of 42 games and having topped the table from October onwards was truly staggering to everyone except Brian Clough, who probably expected it. Clough had built a team in trademark style, blending journeymen, hungry youngsters and the odd lavish signing like goalkeeper Peter Shilton. That season, the more experienced likes of Bob Paisley's Liverpool couldn't get close.
The final table might show that Liverpool won the league by ‘just’ nine points, but this was a season in which the Reds dominated from start to finish. Kenny Dalglish responded to the loss of Ian Rush (to Juventus) by spending big on the likes of John Barnes and Peter Beardsley, and the results were instantaneous. Liverpool were unable to play at Anfield until mid-September due to maintenance work, and this was the only reason it took until October for them to top the table.
They remained unbeaten until Everton – who else – beat them in March to prevent their Red neighbours breaking the record for an unbeaten start to a campaign. They lost again two weeks later to Nottingham Forest, but took spectacular revenge by later beating Brian Clough’s side 5-0 in one of the finest performances in English club history. How good were they? Well, the following clip features the 1987/88 Match of the Day Goal of the Season contenders. See if you can spot a theme...
Arsenal became the first side since Preston North End in 1888/89 to go an entire campaign undefeated – unprecedented in the modern era, and unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. Arsene Wenger's side actually went into 2004 trailing Manchester United, but a mid-January 2-0 win away to Aston Villa the day after United had suffered a shock defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers saw them move triumphantly to the top of the table. And that's where they stayed, going on to win the title by 11 points. Wenger had created a perfectly balanced side boasting both beauty and guile, with French ace Thierry Henry stroking home 30 league goals in front of a stingy backline that conceded just 26 times all season.
While it was immediately clear that new boss Jose Mourinho wasn't lacking in self-confidence, many still wondered whether he had the experience to back up his boasts. Chelsea promptly beat Manchester United in his first league game in charge, didn’t lose one until October and then avoided defeat for the rest of the season. They amassed a scarcely believable 95 points, and shipped a ludicrously parsimonious 15 goals. It was the Blues' first title in 50 years, achieved at Bolton in late April thanks to a Frank Lampard brace. It served only to increase the feeling that the rest of the league might as well pack up and go home.
Man United (2012/13)
That Alex Ferguson produced a string of all-time great teams is undeniable. This, however, was not one of them – Ferguson had built an unbalanced squad lacking much of the bite that characterised his best sides. However, just as he had reacted to the tactical changes brought to the English game by the likes of Wenger and Mourinho, Ferguson had spotted a useful trend: signing someone good at scoring goals helps you win. The Reds beat Manchester City to Robin van Persie’s signature from Arsenal (an uncharacteristically short-term signing – it’s almost as if he knew he only needed him for one campaign), and a season of uninspired displays nonetheless led to win after win. They snared the league title by 11 points. Given Fergie's relatively limited resources, an argument can be made that this was his greatest ever Old Trafford achievement.