Over its 28-year history, the Premier League has established itself as one of the most competitive football leagues in the world. The aggressive, as well as the ruthless nature of the league, has sometimes taken it right till the very last gameweek to decide the champions of the season.
And while the fate of the ongoing league season is all but decided, with Liverpool needing just two wins to be crowned new champions, the race to acquire the Champions League spots remains an absolute treat for the fans.
Over its history, there have been several record-breaking tenures, including Arsenal’s Invincibles era, where the team went an entire season unbeaten.
Some teams have managed to go on to win the league by a landslide, like Manchester City, who in 2017/18 Premier League season, gathered 100 points before being crowned champions. On the other hand, there has been a single match which has turned out to be the turning point for a team’s title charge.
On this note, let’s look at five best season deciding matches of the Premier League era:
1997-98: Wimbledon vs Arsenal (December 1998)
Manchester United were the dominant force for much of the Premier League during the 1990s, having won four of the previous five Premier League titles. However, the tides were seemingly changing, and a new manager by the name of Arsene Wenger was building a legendary team.
The 1997-98 season was the Frenchmen’s first season in charge at North London, taking over from Bruce Rioch. While he had a near-perfect start to life on the English shores, with six wins and six draws in his first 12 games, four losses in the next six matches meant the Gunners were sitting on sixth by the time they played away at Wimbledon in December.
The significance of this away fixture wasn’t seen as much as the match was abandoned due to faulty floodlights. However, with the team sitting sixth on Christmas, and his job at stake, he made sweeping changes to the team, and eventually went on to get 45 out of a possible 51 points post-Christmas, including 10 straight wins. Their 16-match unbeaten run was finally broken as they lost their last two games, but beat Manchester United to the trophy by a single point.
2011-12: Manchester City vs QPR (May 2012)
After a change in helm in 2008, Manchester City took little time to really assert their dominance in English football.
After finishing third in the 2010/11 Premier League season, the 2011-12 season saw both City and the Red Devils battle for league supremacy since the beginning of the league, leaving the rest of the teams way behind.
With the season to be decided on the final day of the season, Manchester United ended their fixture with a 1-0 away win against Sunderland, while Manchester City were trailing 2-1 at home against relegation candidates QPR at the beginning of the injury time. The team went on full attack, with late goals from new signings Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero etching their names into history as the duo ended City’s 44 years league trophy drought.
Both the teams finished level on points (89), but for the first time in the history of the Premier League, City were crowned champions by virtue of having a superior goal difference.
2013-14: Liverpool vs Chelsea (April 2014)
Liverpool were on the dream run during the 2013-14 season and were pipped to win the Premier League title for the first time during the league’s era. Led by Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge up front, the team was destined for the trophy under the able leadership of Brenden Rodgers and other star players like Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and skipper Steven Gerrard.
The Reds were on a 16-game unbeaten streak and a 10-game winning streak when they played Chelsea at home in what would have sealed the title at Merseyside.
However, things did not go as planned at Anfield, with two goals in the injury time of both halves by Chelsea sealing the fate of Liverpool. However, much like Aguero’s injury time goal, this match is etched in Liverpool fan’s minds,a albeit for less pleasurable reasons, as the match witnessed the infamous Gerrard slip.
The legendary skipper who had barely put a foot wrong the whole season seemingly ‘slipped’ during injury time of the first half to let Chelsea striker Demba Ba on goal and open the scoring in the game. This match was also the downfall of the team, who drew their next match, while Manchester City capitalized on Liverpool's failings by winning all of their last five games to seal their second Premier League title in three years.
2015-16: Chelsea vs Tottenham (May 2016)
Besides fairytale finishes, the Premier League is also known for another thing – the ‘Elite Six’. These teams are Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. While only four of these six teams have managed to win the title during the Premier League era, these teams are generally the ones who finish in the top six. However, only twice in Premier League history does a team outside the elite six has won the trophy. The 2015-16 season witnessed the second of those dream runs.
While Blackburn’s title win during the 1994-95 season was extraordinary as well, they were a top side when the Premier League era began in 1992. The significance of Leicester City’s title triumph was that the foxes had been promoted just in the 2014/15 season, and finished their run at a lowly 14th that year.
Claudio Ranieri led the charge, which had players like N’golo Kante, Jamie Vardy, Kasper Schmeichel and Riyad Mahrez amongst their ranks, all of whom had little experience of top-flight football.
However, the team faced stiff competition from Tottenham for the title all through the season.
Spurs saw some strong form from mid-January to the end of February, threatening The Foxes’ dream run. However, after a draw against West Brom, they needed to win their final three games of the season.
When they met Chelsea in early May, they made a dream start, scoring two goals in the first-half itself. All that was needed was to hold on to their advantage, but the Blues hit back with two to set up a dramatic climax. The draw ensured Leicester were crowned new champions, capping one of the best title runs in the history of English football.
2016-17: Arsenal vs Chelsea (September 2016)
Antonio Conte was appointed as Chelsea’s new head coach ahead of the 2016/17 season after the dismissal of Jose Mourinho in 2015.
Conte had a dream start after winning the first three matches of the season, but lost his first match against Liverpool, who easily carved open Chelsea’s defence, winning the game 2-1, and when Chelsea took on London rivals Arsenal, they came out as the second best yet again, losing the tie 3-0. Fielding almost the same team again, three first-half goals sealed the deal for Arsenal, with Conte’s future seeming bleak. However, this loss turned the tide for the west London club.
For the next game against Hull City, Conte changed his team’s tactics – he fielded a back tree of Cesar Azpelicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill. Chelsea then embarked on a record-breaking season – equalling the Premier League records for consecutive wins in a season at 13. They also managed to break the record for the number of wins in a season after winning 30 of their 36 matches, till Manchester City broke both these records the next season.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Ben Stansall