England's tense title finales
Chelsea and Manchester United face off on Sunday in what is one of the most anticipated Premier League title-deciders in recent years. With goal difference currently level and Chelsea trailing United by three points, a win for the Blues would blow the championship race wide open.
In light of this, FIFA.com takes a look back at some of the greatest climaxes to an English top flight season, with some of the best final-day nail-biters and too-close-to-call run-ins fans have had to endure.
1949/50 – Portsmouth
Portsmouth triumphed by one of the slimmest winning margins since World War II, but their goal average* victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers wasn’t the whole story.
Matt Busby’s Manchester United had left Portsmouth leading the First Division table, but just three points separated a tight top six as it went into the final few games. A 2-0 defeat to Arsenal in Pompey’s penultimate match set up a nail-biting finale, with the south coast side, Wolves, Sunderland and Blackpool all in with a chance of clinching the championship.
*The method used prior to goal difference: ‘Goals for’ divided by ‘Goals against’.
This season is best remembered because it was Derby County’s, and a 37-year-old Brian Clough’s, first top-flight trophy, but the final stages were a titanic four-horse race that went right to the wire. With the end of the season in sight, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester City and Derby were all tussling for control.
City lost ground, but with their final game flung the title-race wide open by beating County 2-0. Clough’s side won their last match at Liverpool to go top and keep their own title hopes alive. Leeds and the Reds, trailing by one and two points respectively, both had a game remaining, however, with the league there for the taking.
Clough decided not to wait for the final outcome, instead sending his team on holiday to Majorca, while he took to the Isle of Scilly off the English coast. A telephone call to him and his team revealed that Liverpool had drawn 0-0 with Arsenal and Leeds lost 2-1 to Wolves, meaning they were champions.
1988/89 – Arsenal
In a match postponed because of the Hillsborough disaster a month earlier, leaders Liverpool faced second-placed Arsenal in a dramatic final-day championship-decider that has gone down in English football folklore.
The Gunners trailed the all-conquering Reds by three points and four goals, meaning George Graham’s side needed a two goal victory at what was a rocking Anfield. A goalless first half left Kenny Dalglish’s formidable side full of confidence, but Alan Smith popped up just after half-time to make it a tense final 30 minutes.
Arsenal failed to find that crucial second goal until, with 90 minutes played, Michael Thomas broke through the Liverpool defence and slotted the ball past Bruce Grobbelaar to take the title to North London on goals scored with the final kick of the season.
1994/95 – Blackburn Rovers
With an expensive squad boasting the likes of transfer record-breakers Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, Blackburn looked intent on bettering their second-placed finish of the previous year. However reigning champions Manchester United ensured the title race still went down to the final day, despite Rovers holding a six-point lead with five games to go.
Come the last day of the season, Blackburn sat two points ahead of United, with manager Kenny Dalglish needing just a draw against former club Liverpool. However a 2-1 defeat for Rovers left the door open for United to snatch the title at the death, only for Andy Cole to be thwarted late in a 1-1 draw with West Ham that sent the title to Ewood.
1998/99 – Manchester United
It may have been the year of Manchester United’s historic treble, but they could have fallen at the first hurdle in another tense title-battle. With two games remaining Arsenal and United were level on 75 points and level on goal difference.
However, a defeat to Leeds for Arsenal left Manchester United in the ascendency going into the final day, where they faced Tottenham Hotspur. Anything but a win would have allowed Arsenal to pip Alex Ferguson’s side to the title and, trailing 1-0 five minutes before half-time, it looked as if the Gunners' old rivals were going to do them a favour. However goals either side of half-time from David Beckham and Andy Cole saw the Red Devils secure their first trophy of a memorable fortnight.
2007/08 – Manchester United
The feeling of deja vu for Manchester United and Chelsea fans must be strong ahead of this season’s climax, with an almost identical situation having unfolded in 2008, as the sides’ third-to-last game again pitted them against each other.
A 2-1 win for Chelsea saw the sides draw level on points with two to play, but a vastly superior goal difference left the ball firmly in United’s court. Wins for both sides in their penultimate games saw the fight come to the final day, with Chelsea set to pounce should United fail to win.
However, the Blues were held to a 1-1 draw by Bolton Wanderers and United held their nerve against Wigan Athletic to win 2-0 and claim their tenth Premier League title.