The 2021-22 European season finally ended, with explosive finishes in two of the top-five leagues. Manchester City edged out Liverpool by a single point, coming from two goals behind to win against Aston Villa, to seal their fourth title in five years. Pep Guardiola has cemented his legacy as one of the greatest managers ever in the Premier League. Serie A saw its own race go down the wire, as AC Milan pipped Inter to the crown after 11 years. Let’s dive a little deep into history to find out the tightest title races across the top five leagues in Europe.
10. The three-way race – 2001/02 Bundesliga
68, 69 and 70. The points of Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and champions Borussia Dortmund respectively. 40, 39 and 29. The goal difference of each of these teams respectively. A stark contrast between the point tally and the goal difference. According to the odds, Bayern Munich were the supposed champions with Leverkusen the next candidate. Surprisingly, Borussia Dortmund clinched the title with just a single point. Probably one of the most iconic and tightest title races in Germany.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…"
The 2000s were most notably marked by our 2001/02 season which ended in a treble of runner-up finishes (Bundesliga, DFB Pokal, and UCL). pic.twitter.com/fRl0mF8S40
— Bayer 04 Leverkusen (@bayer04_en) June 30, 2019
Bayern Munich’s loss to Werder Bremen on matchday 13 saw them lose the top spot to Bayer Leverkusen. A succession of poor performances saw Bayern Munich fall to the fifth spot. Borussia Dortmund seized this opportunity to draw level on points with Leverkusen at the top of the table.
On Matchday 20, Dortmund finally took pole position albeit by one point. Borussia Dortmund travelled to Bayer Leverkusen on matchday 24 and lost their lead after succumbing to a four-goal thrashing. Leverkusen finally increased their lead by four points when Dortmund slipped up against VfB Stuttgart on matchday 29. The lead further increased to five points on matchday 31 and everyone in Germany thought Leverkusen were going to be the runaway Champions.
In an incredible turn of tales, Leverkusen threw their efforts out the window as they lost their next two matches. The Yellow Wall knew their team had to win to take the lead as Bayern Munich were also close in pursuit. Heading into the final matchday, it was a must-win situation for all three clubs. All three clubs played at home and all three won their respective matches by a one-goal margin. Thus, Borussia Dortmund crowned the official Champions of Germany.
9. Three-way race 2.0 – 2001/02 Serie A
Coincidently just like in Germany, Italy also had a crucial title race in the 2001/02 season. Chievo Verona, a club that was promoted to Serie A for the first time were at the top of the table for six weeks. However, they eventually lost their form and dropped to fifth on the final day.
32 – #Spezia have picked up 32 points in Serie A this season: the best tally for a side at their first historical campaign in the top-flight since Chievo (47) in 2001/02. Surprise.#SpeziaCrotone pic.twitter.com/Yl8xcpXLPJ
— OptaPaolo 🏆 (@OptaPaolo) April 10, 2021
Inter Milan were the prime title contenders at the start of the season and had exchanged places with Chievo several times in the first half of the season. On Matchday sixteen, AS Roma beat Chievo to gift Milan top spot while they took the second spot by a lone point margin.
Inter did not take advantage and Roma took over as league leaders. Once again, the lead kept shifting to and fro, only this time between Roma and Inter. Matchday 22 would have been the deciding day for Roma when they could finally cement the lead. Inter lost in the afternoon against Bologna and Roma could have extended the lead by 4 points.
But, Juventus stood in their way that night, holding them to a draw and clinching the second spot. Only a point separated each of these teams at the end of the day.
4 – The last Serie A season to see four or more players with 14+ goals after 21 Matchdays was 2001/02. Equilibrium. pic.twitter.com/2R0diot0VJ
— OptaPaolo 🏆 (@OptaPaolo) January 23, 2017
With just three games remaining, the title seemed at arm’s reach for each of these teams, with Inter closest to the title. However, Inter ironically was held by Chievo and Roma suffered the same fate at the hands of AC Milan. Juventus closed the gap by one point, while Roma trailed in third two points adrift of Inter.
On the final day, when it mattered most Inter Milan lost. Roma was level at halftime and Juventus had a two-goal advantage against Udinese. Inter Milan headed into the tunnel with a scoreboard that read 2-2 against Lazio. Sadly, knowing too well they had to win, they conceded two goals in the second half, granting Juventus the title.
8. The Gerrard slip – 2013/14 Premier League
Arsenal were the league leaders for most parts of the 2013/14 campaign with Chelsea and Manchester City as the prime contenders. Towards the end of January, Manchester City overtook the Gunners as league leaders. However, Chelsea soon took over as Manchester City dropped to third. All this while, Liverpool was contesting for a top-four position, oscillating between third and fourth.
— Premier League (@premierleague) April 15, 2018
Liverpool forward’s Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge was absolutely stunning as they slotted in goals for fun. By the end of March, these goals paid dividend as Liverpool went top of the table alongside Manchester City. The Citizens leading on goal difference.
A 78th minute Philippe Coutinho goal against the Citizens helped Liverpool take the lead in the League for the first significant time. Liverpool were set on winning their first league title since the 1998/99 campaign. Brendon Rodgers had done a phenomenal job at Anfield and all the Liverpool supporters were in the best times of their lives.
On the 27th of April, 2014, Liverpool faced a Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side that played the old park the bus football. Although Liverpool lost the match by two goals, it was the opening goal and the manner in which it was conceded that made headlines. Captain Fantastic, Steven Gerrard slipped in his own half, allowing Demba Ba to open the scoring. Liverpool ‘slipped up’ on the title as well.
7. The title defence – 2002/03 Ligue 1
The French Division 1 was renamed to the Ligue 1 in this particular season which saw an expansion in the number of teams from 18 to 20. Amassing 68 points, Olympique Lyonnais lifted the first Ligue 1 trophy. They were also the last team to lift the French Division 1. They defended their title in the re-named league and did so under immense pressure from the many title challengers.
— Olympique Lyonnais 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@OL_English) May 11, 2021
Only six points separated Lyon and the seventh-placed Guingamp. Three teams finished with 64 points in the fourth, fifth and sixth positions. Marseille finished with sixty-five points in third and AS Moncao with sixty-seven points. The course of the season saw several different league leaders including Monaco who were tipped to steal the title from Lyon. A competitive title race that featured more than just the usual two or three challengers.
The Ligue 1 kicked off its incredible history with the tightest race it would ever see. On Matchday 37, Marseille trailed Lyon by three points. Monaco had the golden opportunity of closing the gap on the leaders. However, Monaco lost their game and even though won Lyon lost the final fixture, they hung on to the cushion that Monaco granted them. A worthy title defence!
6. The other Madrid- La Liga 2013/14
Diego Simeone’s men lifted Atletico Madrid’s first La Liga title of the century in the 2013/14 season in one of the closest and exciting title races in Spanish history. Barcelona’s famous El Clasico victory that featured another Messi hattrick was the defining moment of the season. The defeat let the ‘other Madrid’ team level on points with Real.
ATLETICO MADRID are the 2013/14 La Liga CHAMPIONS! It's their first league title since 1995/96! pic.twitter.com/GapVo0L44X
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 17, 2014
The Madrid teams had 70 points each at the end of matchday 29 and Barcelona was trailing by just one point. As usual, the rest of the league were competing in a race of their own fourteen points adrift.
Real Madrid subsequently lost their next match and handed Atletico a clear lead. By matchday 34, Atletico Madrid had a four-point advantage over closest rival Barcelona. Matchday 36 was one of the most exciting days of the season. Barcelona drew against Getafe and allowed Atletico to extend the lead. However, Atletico lost the next day and thus allowed the neighbours Real Madrid to close the gap. Los Blancos bottled their opportunity and only managed a point courtesy of a 90th-minute equaliser by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Real Madrid lost their next match and Atletico once again failed to capitalize as they drew their match. This time giving Barcelona the golden opportunity to catch up to the leaders. A goalless draw did not help the cause of the Catalans. Thus, ensuring Atletico Madrid the La Liga crown.
5.Pep vs Klopp 2018/19 Premier League
One point!!! Just one point decided the 2018/19 Premier League campaign title. Liverpool and Manchester City were oblivious to the rest of the league as they bullied and shrugged the rest of the teams to clinch each valuable point. The two lost just five games between them and failed to gain only 33 points. The closest team to them was Chelsea, who were 25 points behind Liverpool.
— Premier League (@premierleague) April 1, 2019
Dramatic? Yes! Nail-biting? Yes again! Premier League decided to replicate the trophy. The real trophy sitting at City’s cabinet to be brought to Brighton and an identical one to be brought to Anfield. If City had lost, Liverpool would have been crowned champions.
As a manager, Pep Guardiola has now won 26 trophies in 581 games, a trophy every 23 matches.
That is outrageous. pic.twitter.com/LL3x5jkm8Z
— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) May 13, 2019
With 97 points, Liverpool became the highest point-scoring team to finish second in the league. Their only defeat all season was to none other than Manchester City. Jurgen Klopp’s men had the better numbers barring that one defeat.
Going into the final matchday, Ederson had 19 clean sheets while Allison had 20. Mo Salah was the league’s top scorer with 22 goals while Sergio Aguero and Sadio Mane had 20 goals each. Both the Liverpool full-backs, Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold had eleven assist each while Leroy Sane had 10.
Best title race ever in my opinion and two of the best teams the Premier League has ever seen.
Such a shame there could only be one winner. Congratulations to Man City.
Only three months until we do it all again! 😜
— Michael Owen (@themichaelowen) May 13, 2019
Sadio Mane scored two goals on the final day to share the golden boot with Mo Salah and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. An astonishing season that left the whole league in awe of the quality of these two teams. Liverpool won the Champions League the very season after an unforgettable night at Anfield against Barcelona to go through to the finals. Undoubted the best two teams in Europe that campaign led by the best managers, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.
4.The Spanish Giants -2006/07 La Liga
Who doesn’t love a good old el-Clasico? It is one of the most-watched football matches in the world. Barcelona were the League leaders and were keen on winning yet another La Liga to cement their position as the best in Spain. Los Blancos was however ready to respond as Florentino Perez acquired new faces for the Galacticos. Van Nistelrooy, the newest addition. In the first El Clasico, Barca travelled to the Bernabeu and lost by two goals to none. Nistelrooy and Raul scored the two goals for the home side.
A teenage Lionel Messi however stepped into the picture in the second half of the season. Real Madrid looked like they were going to come up with a famous upset at Camp Nou. But the young Lionel Messi slotted in his first el Clasico hattrick for a 10-man Barcelona to level the scoreline.
However, Messi’s incredible haul against Madrid proved to be short of the requirement. Barcelona started losing games with regularity and threw away the lead they had. As the final day of the campaign approached, both teams were level on points. Barcelona had to win, so did Real Madrid, and both did so. Madrid had a goal difference of just 26 while Barcelona had 45. Barcelona was better in terms of goals scored and conceded, yet it was of no use.
La Liga does not take into consideration the goal difference and instead chooses the head-to-head results of the two teams. The El Clasico proved too costly an affair for the Catalan outfit and Real Madrid were crowned champions on the final day of the season.
3.Bayern’s title defence – Bundesliga 2000/01
Borussia Dortmund held Bayern Munich late into the second half of the season and tipped an opportunity for Schalke 04 to ponder. FC Schalke travelled to Munich and took on leaders Bayern Munich in what can be described as a title defining moment of the season, or so they thought. Schalke scored two goals in the second half to secure a win that helped them go top of the table with a two-point advantage.]
May 19, 2001: the most dramatic Bundesliga finale ever
Bayern needed a point in Hamburg to secure the title, but went down 1-0 in the 90th minute
Enter Patrik Andersson, who scored a 94th minute indirect free kick to win the league for Bayern and break Schalke hearts
— Bavarian Tweets (@BavarianTweets) May 19, 2020
Bayern Munich were hot in pursuit and did not leak a result and eventually capitalised on the league leader’s mistake. Bayern regained a three-point advantage at the top of the table just weeks after losing against Schalke.
The two teams were level on points with just two games remaining. Schalke had the superior goal difference and was hopeful of denying Bayern another title. VfB Stuttgart killed their hopes in the very next match as they lost by a lone goal. Bayern had already won their match and confident of being crowned German champions once again.
On the very final day, at half-time, both teams were level on the scoreboard against their respective opponents. Schalke kept their hopes up and went on to win the match.
Hamburger SV opened the scoring against Bayern with a 90th-minute header from Sergej Barbarez. Bayern looked like they had bottled their only chance of defending the title. The Schalke fans were already celebrating as the header went in. But, a miraculous equaliser four minutes into injury time by a well-worked goal by Patrik Andersson levelled the scoreline and helped Bayern clinch the crucial point. The single point by which they successfully defended the title.
2.THE kings of Manchester- 2011/12 Premier League
28 wins, 5 draws and 5 losses. Both teams from Manchester United recorded the same numbers in the 2011/12 campaign. Both ended up with 89 points. The Premier League has been witness to some of the closest title races in history and this is right up there. What makes it more interesting is the two teams involved in the race. A true test to decide whether Manchester was Red like the Red Devils claims so or if it is indeed blue like the Citizens protests.
Both teams had 86 points heading into the final day of the season. All City had to do was match the result of United and they would be crowned champions of England. Both teams ended halftime with a one-goal lead over their respective opponents.
However, the Citizens blew their lead in the opening minutes of the second half. To their dismay, 10 men Queens Park Rangers, who were battling relegation, came from behind to score another in the 66th minute. Tears were already flowing down in the stands of the Etihad Stadium. City were on course to lose the league and that too against their nearest rivals.
As the ninety-minute mark approached, the board was raised for an additional 5 minutes. The defining five minutes of the City’s history. If there ever was a five minute more valuable than this one, it is worth a fortune.
Mario Balotelli headed the ball in the 91st minute from a corner only for Kenny in goal to save once again. Another corner and another header. Only this time, it was Eden Dzeko and it went in. Just as when everyone thought this wasn’t their day. The Etihad erupted. Fans went crazy and the players were pumped. They had three more minutes to find the winner. Three minutes that could change their lives forever.
City were relentless, throwing bodies in and putting pressure on the nine men opposition inside the box. Manchester United had finished their match and had won it. All they could now do was wait. On the very cusp of injury time, the man of the moment, Sergio Aguero slotted in the winning goal.
Happy Agueroooooooooo day everyone 🇦🇷 pic.twitter.com/ANprZv9rnU
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) May 13, 2021
To the belief and disbelief of the Citizens and their rivals in Manchester, Citizens flared the streets with shades of blue. An absolute cracker. A season that was defined at the very last minute. Down to the wire!!! A goal etched in the hearts of every soul in Manchester.
What is it with Man City and an eye for last-minute title wins?!!
1. “St.Michael’s Day”- 1988/89 First Division
Talk about dramatic!! If the Manchester race kept you on the edge of your seats, this one that played out in the final game of the 1988/99 season is sure to top it all!
Unlike Man City, Liverpool’s penchant is on throwing away the league title and it all started this very year. On 15 April, 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster. A tragic scene that still horrors the Anfield supporters.
Liverpool went on to lift the FA Cup against Everton that year and were set to play Arsenal six days later in what is the title-deciding match. The rare occasion on which the two henchmen faced each other on the final day to decide the league.
Liverpool’s only task was to avoid a defeat by a margin of 2 or more goals. The Arsenal match was set to take place weeks earlier but the disaster delayed it to the 26th of May. Arsenal headed to Liverpool, to a stadium they haven’t won in 15 years in the hope to clinch the title from their rivals.
Liverpool eyeing a domestic double were keen on winning the game in front of their famous Kopites. The first half remained stale but the second half proved immense. Alan Smith scored the opener in the 53rd minute to give the Gunners hope and belief. However, they did not manage a breakthrough as the 90-minute mark approached.
In the first minute of injury time, midfielder Michael Thomas received the ball just outside the Liverpool box and hung on to it to the very last second before putting it in the back of the net. Everyone in the Arsenal dugout, the players and the travelling fans were screaming at the top of their lungs, asking the number 4 to get the shot away. He did so at last, and what a goal it was.
There was no time for a response, Liverpool lost. The two teams ended with the same number of points, 76. They had equal goal difference as well. The Gunners won the match due to their superior goals scored. The very final kick of the match deciding the outcome to the dismay of the 40,000 strong Liverpool supporters.
Liverpool wouldn’t win the league for another thirty years. Their longest wait to lift the title! Arsenal won their first League title in 18 years! A movie title 89 was made on the epic moments that unfolded during the season.