The 7 most nail-biting final-day deciders between direct rivals
Chelsea vs Liverpool (2002/03)
The build-up to this final-day fixture at Stamford Bridge had it referred to as ‘the £20m match’, with the victors sealing a place in the lucrative Champions League. In hindsight, this tag hugely downplayed the financial importance: Chelsea were in financial trouble, with players likely to be sold to balance the books if they lost.
Liverpool, behind Chelsea on goal difference, knew that only a win at Stamford Bridge would do. When Sami Hyypia scored with a deftly flicked header in the 11th minute, it looked like they might get just that.
Marcel Desailly equalised almost immediately, however, before Jesper Gronkjaer became Chelsea’s hero with a curling effort into the bottom corner.
2.15 for the Gronk's crucial strike
The sting in the tail came just a few weeks later with the news that Roman Abramovich, who rather fancied owning a Champions League football club, had decided to buy Chelsea.
Rather than having to sell to survive, they instead bought all of the players for all of the money, while Liverpool signed Anthony Le Tallec and Carl Medjani as the Houllier era stumbled into its final season.
Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid (2013/14)
Atletico, seeking their first La Liga title in 18 years, found themselves head-to-head on the final day with the only side that could deny them. Barcelona were three points behind Diego Simeone’s side, and knew that a win at the Camp Nou would do the trick.
Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring with a quite ludicrous strike from an acute angle
For a while, it looked like they would get just that; Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring with a quite ludicrous strike from an acute angle. But Simeone had fashioned an obdurate, mentally strong side – and in the 49th minute, Diego Godin’s header drew them level.
Cue 40-plus minutes of resolute Atletico defending, the requisite keeper (Jose Manuel Pinto) coming up for a corner in a desperate attempt to win the game – and Atletico getting the result they required to become the first side in a decade to break the Real Madrid and Barcelona duopoly.
Manchester City vs Luton (1982/83)
Only a club with a long and distinguished record of foot-shooting need have worried. Oh.
Manchester City required a draw against Luton Town at Maine Road on a glorious May day to preserve their top-division status for an 18th successive year. What could possibly go wrong? Only a club with a long and distinguished record of foot-shooting need have worried. Oh.
The home side put Luton under early pressure, which allowed Town’s keeper Tony Godden’s strong look (green top, blue shorts and orange socks) to get some well-deserved exposure. In truth, though, Luton were the better side throughout, peppering the City goal time and again.
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.
Skip to 2.30 to avoid the fashion disaster and get to the money shot
Arsenal vs Liverpool (1988/89)
The most famous of the lot. A 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford saw Liverpool fall nine points behind George Graham’s Arsenal side on New Year’s Day, 1989. Yet Kenny Dalglish’s men kicked into gear in the second half of the season, topping the First Division table for the first time in mid-May.
All Liverpool needed to do was avoid a two-goal defeat at Anfield against Arsenal
This fixture had originally been scheduled for April 23, but following the Hillsborough disaster on April 15, it was understandably postponed. This lead 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 on Friday, May 26, 1989. For a title-winning machine like Liverpool, 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.
It was 0-0 at half-time with few chances, but Arsenal grabbed one just seven minutes into the second half, an Alan Smith header making it 1-0. That’s the way it stayed until the clock ticked past 90 minutes and into injury time. And then...