Top 10 best teams who didn’t win Premier League has an obvious slippy No. 1

Dave Tickner

After you all enjoyed – and unanimously agreed with – our list of the 10 best Premier League teams ever we thought it needed a follow-up: the 10 best Premier League sides who didn’t win the title. 

Some ground rules. Some of these are easy, because their clubs have never won the Premier League. Others, though, are fiddlier; these are teams who never won the league, not clubs. We’ve carefully and scientifically applied wildly subjective criteria to determine whether specific sides from your Arsenals and your Chelseas or the Manchester United Football Clubs of this world are eligible or not, so you don’t need to worry about it.

Again, we’ve picked out single standout seasons but the award can often reflect a couple of seasons really but most importantly if a similar squad had won (or would go on to win) the league within our arbitrarily applied timeframe and measure of squad similarity, they can’t be members of this gang. Essentially: Liverpool 2013/14 – yes, Liverpool 2018/19 – no, Arsenal 2022/23 – to be confirmed.

The bestest teams are here, if you still haven’t been riled up by it. So let’s get on with the very best of the shameful losers.


10) Aston Villa 1992/93
2nd: P42 W21 D11 L10 GF57 GA40 Pts 74

The first ever Premier League season established one key early trend: Manchester United winning the league.

But the rest of the table now looks gloriously absurd to our weary old Big Six-accustomed eyes. For much of the season, United’s biggest challengers were Norwich, who still finished third despite a late collapse and have the distinction of being the highest-placed Premier League finishers with a negative goal difference and who themselves make a compelling case for a place on this list. Blackburn were fourth in a bit of foreshadowing with QPR in fifth, Sheffield Wednesday seventh, Tottenham eighth, Arsenal 10th and Chelsea 11th. Those who claim Manchester City were irrelevant before winning the dodgepot lottery will no doubt feel pretty silly to learn they finished ninth in that inaugural season right in there among their future Big Six colleagues.

But the actual inaugural runners-up were a first-rate Aston Villa side, who earned a spot in the UEFA Cup first round for their troubles. Again, it was a very different time.

Best XI: Spink; Barrett, McGrath, Teale, Staunton; Richardson, Houghton, Parker, Froggatt; Saunders, Atkinson

Other notables: Bosnich, Cox, Small, Yorke, Regis, Daley


9) Arsenal 2014/15
3rd: P38 W22 D9 L7 GF71 GA36 Pts 75

The 2016 side may have finished a place higher, but they will forever be haunted by the fact they really shouldn’t have allowed the Leicester fairytale to happen. Arsenal were a seasoned top-four side by then and should have jumped all over the brief void opened up by Manchester City and Chelsea both being in flux.

A year earlier, Arsenal never really threatened to win the title but were in their way much more impressive than the side that followed, the last truly top-tier side of the Wenger era.

The first half of the season was sketchy, with just two wins from their first eight games putting paid to any title ambitions, but there was nobody better than Arsenal in the second half of that season.

They won the FA Cup, beating Villa 4-0 in the final having beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford in the last eight, while in the league they lost just twice after New Year’s Day and dished out plenty of harsh treatment along the way.

This was perhaps also the peak for Arsenal trying to ‘walk it into the net’, something they nevertheless managed to achieve 71 times.

Best XI: Szczesny; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Cazorla; Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez; Giroud

Other notables: Welbeck, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gibbs, Coquelin, Ospina, Rosicky, Walcott, Wilshere, Debuchy, Podolski, Arteta


8) Manchester United 2017/18
2nd: P38 W25 D6 L7 GF68 GA28 Pts 81

We all laughed at Jose Mourinho when he said finishing second to Manchester City in 2018 was among his finest achievements. And now we all owe the miserable sod a grudging apology.

Best XI: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Young; Matic, Herrera, Pogba; Rashford, Martial, Lukaku

Other notables: Lingard, Mata, Lindelof, Fellaini, Mkhitaryan, McTominay, Bailly, Sanchez, Shaw, Roko, Darmian, Blind


7) Leeds 1999/2000
3rd: P38 W21 D6 L11 GF58 GA43 Pts 69

Leeds undoubtedly had a better squad the following season, when Olivier Dacourt, Mark Viduka, Rio Ferdinand and Robbie Keane all came in for what turned out to be unsustainably hefty transfer fees, but it was the 1999/2000 season where Young David O’Leary’s Young Leeds Side actually threatened to do something remarkable in his first full season in charge.

After early defeats to Manchester United and Liverpool, Leeds roared to the top of the table with a run of 12 wins, one draw and a single defeat to Wimbledon in 14 games from late August to Boxing Day. They won 10 home games in a row starting with a 2-1 victory over Spurs.

It all fell away, though, as these things are wont to do. Four defeats in six at the turn of the year knocked them out of title contention, while four straight defeats in March and April threatened their Champions League hopes with only the top three making it in those far-off days. But two wins and three draws in their final five games proved enough to squeeze out Liverpool, with Leeds getting an unlikely favour from local rivals Bradford – who beat Liverpool to secure their own survival – on the final day.

Leeds’ season was ultimately defined by off-field events. The infamous Majestyk incident involving Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate is too close to the falling-off of Leeds’ form to be a coincidence, while the death of two fans before the UEFA Cup semi-final first leg against Galatasaray was a tragedy whose impact is still felt at the club.

There was some good news, though. Not long after the season finished, midfielder Alf-Inge Haaland welcomed a baby boy into the world.

Best XI: Martyn; Kelly, Woodgate, Radebe, Harte; Bowyer, Batty, Bakke, Kewell; Huckerby, Bridges

Other notables: Smith, McPhail, Wilcox, Mills, Hopkin, Haaland, Duberry, Jones


6) Chelsea 1998/99
3rd: P38 W20 D15 L3 GF57 GA30 Pts 75

The best of the pre-Abramovich Chelsea sides, led by player-manager Gianluca Vialli in the last season where he combined the roles, and with Gianfranco Zola at his absolute best as the side’s talisman.

They were particularly strong defensively, with World Cup winners Frank Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly forming a formidable central-defensive pair.

They lost at Coventry on the opening day but were beaten only twice more as they produced what was at the time a rare challenge to the United-Arsenal duopoly that ruled the Premier League summit. Ultimately they would finish behind both with four draws in their last seven games proving costly. Chelsea were only five points away from rewriting history and denying Manchester United their treble.

Chelsea, Cup Winners’ Cup holders, began the season by winning the UEFA Super Cup against Real Madrid and ended it by qualifying for the Champions League for the first time.

Best XI: De Goey; Petrescu, Desailly, Leboeuf, Le Saux; Goldbaek, Wise, Di Matteo, Poyet; Zola, Flo

Other notables: Ferrer, Babayaro, Duberry, Morris, Lambourde, Forssell, Casiraghi, Nicholls, Vialli, Newton, B Laudrup


5) Liverpool 2001/02
2nd: P38 W24 D8 L6 GF67 GA30 Pts 80

The first but very much not the last very good Liverpool side of the noughties and… teenies? to try and fail to win the Premier League title that all at the club so craved, having scooped the ‘Tinpot Treble’ the previous season.

The big ‘what if?’ about 2001/02 for Liverpool was one to remind everyone that football is only the most important of the unimportant things with manager Gerard Houllier kept out of the dugout and replaced on an interim basis by Phil Thompson between October and March after falling ill with a heart condition.

Thompson still led the team to top spot after a run of three straight wins in November and for a while there appeared a genuine prospect of a proper four-way title fight involving Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Newcastle.

Newcastle were the first to fall away, while Liverpool did briefly regain top spot with just five matches to play. But Arsenal had two games in hand and were in the midst of a 12-match winning run that would get them over the line with plenty to spare.

The Reds did at least get the not-inconsiderable consolation prize of knocking Manchester United into third after winning 13 of their last 15 games around the time of Houllier’s return.

Another remarkable thing about 2001/02 is that it was Liverpool’s first season in the Champions League since it replaced the European Cup, a fact which seems very slightly mad.

Best XI: Dudek; Henchoz, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise; Murphy, Diao, Hamann, Gerrard; Heskey, Owen

Other notables: Traore, Diouf, Baros, Smicer, Cheyrou, Kirkland, Biscan


4) Liverpool 2008/09
2nd: P38 W25 D11 L2 GF77 GA27 Pts 86

Beaten only twice all season – at Spurs in November and Middlesbrough in February – Rafa Benitez’s side were ultimately undone by too many draws in the middle of the season. Seven draws – three of them goalless and the others all 1-1 – between November 22 and January 28 saw Liverpool cede control of the title race to Manchester United, with the Middlesbrough defeat proving too much to come back from.

Liverpool ended the season like a train, winning 10 of their last 11 following the Middlesbrough defeat, with the other game an absurd 4-4 draw against Arsenal – for whom Andrey Arshavin scored all four goals – that briefly returned the Reds to the summit on goal difference while simultaneously denting their chances, because United had two games in hand.

This was, of course, also the season in which Benitez became neither the first nor last manager to have his brain melted entirely away by being in a title fight with Sir Alex Ferguson. Facts.

Best XI: Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio; Alonso, Mascherano; Benayoun, Gerrard, Kuyt; Torres

Other notables: Riera, Babel, Lucas Keane, Agger, Dossena Hyypia, El, Zhar, N’Gog, Insua


3) Newcastle 1995/96
2nd: P38 W24 D6 L8 GF66 GA37 Pts 78

Surely the most fondly remembered of all runners-up, if not quite actually the best. The entirely of the on-field action for that season has obviously been entirely supplanted in the memory of all Premier League watchers by the infamous Kevin Keegan “I will love it” rant which is very funny but also a bit of a shame because this was a cracking team before it all went Devon Loch.

Nor is it fair how they’ve been characterised in popular memory as gung-ho dafties who couldn’t defend. But that is a battle now long lost thanks to the blowing of a 12-point lead held in January via a run of five defeats in eight games between February and April.

They were still in title contention on the final day, but their 1-1 draw with Spurs was rendered moot because Alex Ferguson and Manchester United did indeed go to Middlesbrough and get something – a 3-0 win and a third Premier League crown.

Best XI: Hislop; Barton, Peacock, Albert, Beresford; Gillespie, Lee, Batty, Ginola; Beardsley, Ferdinand

Other notables: Clark, Howey, Hislop, Watson, Srnicek, Asprilla, Kitson


2) Tottenham 2016/17
2nd: P38 W26 D8 L4 GF86 GA26 Pts 86

The peak of Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs, a truly excellent side with quality everywhere in the starting XI and some useful squad depth outside it. Eric Dier managed to appear in 36 games, for instance, without being first choice in any single position.

Of course, this side’s greatness is inevitably shot through with the sheer Spursiness of it all. They were wounded from having famously ‘finished third in a two-horse race’ the previous year but kicked on again and undoubtedly hit their absolute best in 2016/17. No team scored more goals. No team conceded fewer. Harry Kane won the Golden Boot.

But for all that, Spurs were never really title contenders thanks to the 13-game early-season winning run that pretty much sealed the deal for a rejuvenated Chelsea side led by… Antonio Conte.

Our favourite thing (of many) about this Spurs team is that they won 17 and drew two of their 19 league games at White Hart Lane, which was promptly bulldozed to the ground. Only Spurs could follow up their best home season ever by voluntarily playing no home games for almost two years. The new ground is very shiny and nice and all, but you do wonder what might have been had the demolition of the Lane been delayed another year. Wonder no more: they’d have finished second to Manchester City in 2017/18, probably.

Anyway, more on why we love this team is here if you want it.

Best XI: Lloris; Walker, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Rose; Wanyama, Dembele; Eriksen, Dele, Son; Kane

Other notables: Dier, Janssen, Sissoko, Davies, Winks, Trippier, Lamela


1) Liverpool 2013/14
2nd: P38 W26 D6 L6 GF101 GA50 Pts 84

Other runners-up on this list have got more points, conceded fewer goals and lost fewer games but there can be no doubting this Liverpool side as the best to not win a Premier League title and that the ghosts of 2013/14 were the biggest ones slain by the eventual 2020 triumph. Even the absurdity of their 2019 ‘failure’ to get past an absurd Manchester City side was but a fraction as infuriating as this one, because 2013/14 was the season when Liverpool had it right there in front of them.

And then they let it slip.

It’s easy, now that this team and specifically Steven Gerrard have been condemned evermore to meme status, to forget just how bonkers and thrilling a side this was. Their 38 games featured 151 goals, a tick under four per match, and in terms of pure entertainment of every kind probably even have Newcastle’s Great Entertainers beaten.

The run that took them to title favourites before The Chelsea Incident is one of the more batshit runs of sustained form in Premier League history. Again, it’s no record-breaking winning run or unbeaten run but it is surely a record-breaking run for utter absurdity.

Between a pair of defeats to Chelsea in December and April, Liverpool won 14 and drew two of 16 Premier League games while scoring 52 goals and conceding 21. There has never been anything quite like it. They had 5-3 and 6-3 wins away from home. There were three 3-2 wins and a 4-3. Spurs, who had already been beaten 5-0 at White Hart Lane earlier in the season, were thrashed again 4-0 at Anfield. Arsenal were battered 5-1, Everton 4-0, and Manchester United 3-0.

Luis Suarez (31) and a never-better Daniel Sturridge (21) were absurdly lethal, collecting just over half Liverpool’s 101 league goals between, while the fact vowel-hating centre-back Martin Skrtel scored seven goals seems to say a lot about this team’s approach to both attacking and defending.

The post-Chelsea 3-3 draw at Palace, in which Liverpool let a three-goal lead disappear late on while making an improbable and futile attempt at overhauling Manchester City’s goal-difference advantage, was really the game that best summed up this team’s utter joyful absurdity.

We really shouldn’t have let a team this fun be memed into oblivion. We all let it slip.

Best XI: Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Toure, Flanagan; Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson; Coutinho; Suarez, Sturridge

Other notables: Sterling, Allen, Agger, Moses, Sakho, Cissokho, Aspas, Alberto, Enrique