What are the Premier League’s biggest title comebacks?
Manchester City are eight points behind leaders Arsenal with a game in hand; history suggests Pep Guardiola’s men could yet win the title.
Can Arsenal do it? If you told most Gunners fans after their last Premier League win in 2003-04 that they would have to wait a minimum of 19 years for another league title, they would’ve laughed you out of the house. After Arsène Wenger’s arrival in England in 1996, they won the league three times in seven seasons. Not quite Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson, but better than anyone else had managed until Chelsea and then Manchester City came along.
The argument for a Manchester City comeback
The Londoners head into the final stretch of the 2022-23 season with a healthy-looking eight point lead at the standings. There are a few potential stumbling blocks, however. Arsenal aren’t exactly used to being in this position and as recently as last season, also under Mikel Arteta, looked odds-on to clinch a Champions League spot only to collapse in the final weeks of the campaign.
The fact that City are the team chasing them probably doesn’t help either. Pep Guardiola’s men have consistently shown they are capable of stringing together lengthy winning streaks. They also have a game in hand (10 left for Arsenal, 11 for the Sky Blues), while the Etihad will host the second league meeting of the teams this season; City won the first one fairly convincingly at the Emirates. Oh, and they have Erling Haaland, which must work in their favour too.
The Gunners also have to travel to play Liverpool at Anfield, while their title rivals don’t have any especially tricky away games, at least on paper.
The Premier League’s greatest title comebacks
An Arsenal victory is far from being a foregone conclusion, then, although the current champions have some serious work to do if they are to make up the ground to pip the Gunners to the post. History suggests that it has been done before, though…
Compiling this list of Premier League title comebacks was complicated slightly by the nature of the fixture scheduling in the English top-flight. Unlike other leagues around the globe, it’s not unusual to see clubs having several games in hand on others at different points of the season, which has been a significant factor of some of these ‘biggest’ comebacks (the * below denotes a game in hand).
2002-03: Manchester United overtake Arsenal (8 points*)
To immediately prove my point, Manchester United were in the exact position City are in now – eight points behind Arsenal with a game in hand, albeit on this occasion that was in the second week of March. After a fairly poor start to the season by their own high standards, the Red Devils won 15 and drew three of their last 18 league games from Boxing Day onwards and ended up topping the table by five points. If the Gunners had managed to beat United at Highbury in April rather than draw, things could have ended differently.
2012-13: Manchester City overtake Manchester United (8 points)
The most dramatic ending to a Premier League season we’ve ever seen (and probably ever will see) as Sergio Agüero’s injury-time winner against QPR won City a first league title in a million years. What a fairytale story it was, too…
This time it was United who were eight points ahead and there were only six games left to play. They couldn’t mess it up, surely? Well, they did, losing to Wigan and Everton before a fatal 1-0 defeat to their title rivals. Yet they were still only seconds away from lifting the trophy on the final day…
2013-14: Manchester City overtake Liverpool (9 points**)
Manchester City came back to win the title from nine points behind Liverpool with five matches left to play, although those numbers are misleading as they had two games in hand on the Reds, who had actually beaten them just before the run-in really got going. Manuel Pellergini’s side won their last five leagues games, while Steven Gerrard slipped over against Chelsea and Liverpool threw away a three-goal lead at Crystal Palace and indeed the Premier League title.
1997-98: Arsenal overtake Manchester United (12 points***)
Similarly, much has been made over the years of how Arsenal came from 12 points behind Manchester United to end up on top at a time when the Red Devils hoovered up trophies. Once more, that gap stood when the Gunners had 13 matches left, with United having just 10. Not to take any credit away from Wenger’s men, though, who recorded a crucial victory at Old Trafford in March, one of 10 straight victories, which saw them clinch the title with two games to spare.
1995-96: Manchester United overtake Newcastle United (12 points)
On 20 January 1996, Newcastle United – “The Entertainers” as they were christened – held a 12-point lead over both Liverpool and Manchester United. There were still 15 matches left to play, but Kevin Keegan’s side had a hand-and-a-half on the trophy, which would’ve been their first league title since 1927 and their first piece of major silverware since 1955. The Magpies, however, hit a brick wall towards the end of February and went on to suffer five defeats in eight matches, including a crucial loss at home to the Red Devils. By contrast, Ferguson’s men won 13 of their last 15 games and sealed their league triumph on the final day of the season.