The five biggest ‘title deciders’ in Premier League history

Date published: Friday 8th April 2022 11:51 - Ian Watson

Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea in title deciders.

Ahead of Sunday’s potentially decisive clash at the Etihad, we’ve looked back at five previous ‘title deciders’, all of which involved Man Utd, with four proving pivotal…


Newcastle 0-1 Man Utd – 1995/96
The circumstances: Fergie’s United went to Newcastle on a Monday night having whittled down Newcastle’s 12-point lead – with a game in hand, too – to just four. Keegan’s Entertainers had lost and drawn in their previous two games but extending their advantage to seven points would have calmed the nerves on Tyneside as they chased their first title in 69 years.

The game: Newcastle burst out of the traps and had United pinned back for most of the first half. But Peter Schmeichel was in the way of everything the hosts threw at his goal. When they beat Schmeichel, the crossbar denied Philippe Albert. Then, early in the second half, they got Cantona’d…

The impact: There was still a quarter of the season left (was it really a title decider then?) but the smash-and-grab win galvanised United and made arses on Tyneside twitch terribly. Newcastle continued to cave, losing three and drawing two of their last 10 games, while United won seven of their nine, three by the same 1-0 (Cantona) scoreline. It went to the final day but United breezed past Boro while Newcastle drew with Spurs to give the Red Devils a four-point margin of victory.


Big Weekend: Man City v Liverpool, Lampard, Arsenal, Cornet


Man Utd 0-1 Arsenal – 1997/98
The circumstances: United entered March with a 12-point lead, somewhat juiced by the fact they had played more games than Arsene Wenger’s men. By the time Arsenal went to Old Trafford, the Red Devils had seen that reduced to nine after a defeat to Sheffield Wednesday and a draw with West Ham in the two games prior the welcoming the Gunners.

The game: United were second best for much of it, with Tony Adams and Martin Keown passing every test the Red Devils posed. At the other end, Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp and Nicolas Anelka caused United’s defence huge problems. It was Overmars who broke the deadlock by latching on to Anelka’s flick to coolly beat Schmeichel with 11 minutes remaining. United got desperate, with Schmeichel pulling his hamstring while retreating to his own goal after a late dash forward.

The impact: The victory left Arsenal six points off United but in control of the title race because of the three games in hand they had over the Red Devils. Fergie said it was inevitable that Arsenal would drop points – “There’s no question about that” – and they did. But only after winning eight in a row to secure the title after United drew two home matches with Liverpool and Newcastle. They were also dumped out of Europe by Monaco in their next game after the Arsenal defeat.


Chelsea 2-1 Man Utd – 2007/08
The circumstances: Only three points separated leaders United and Chelsea when the two clubs met at Stamford Bridge in the antepenultimate game of the season. But United’s superior goal difference made it a must-win for Avram Grant’s Blues.

The game: Chelsea were the better team but aside from a Joe Cole volley against the bar, they struggled to break a defence shorn of Nemanja Vidic early on after the centre-back put his face in the way of Didier Drogba’s knee. The Blues led, though, after Michael Ballack headed in on the stroke of half-time, but Ricardo Carvalho’s mistake gifted Wayne Rooney a second-half equaliser.

That put United on the front foot and prompted Chelsea to squabble among themselves. But United conceded a penalty for the first time all season when Michael Carrick handled with four minutes remaining. Ballack stepped up to send Edwin van der Sar the wrong way and pile the pressure on United with two games left.

The impact: Despite having their lead cut to goal difference, United recovered their composure to win their final two games against West Ham and Wigan and make the Chelsea defeat inconsequential, while the Blues could only draw their last match of the season at home to Bolton. Chelsea had the chance for revenge in Moscow in the Champions League final but John Terry f***ed it.


Man Utd 1-2 Chelsea – 2009/10
The circumstances: Chelsea were playing catch up again two seasons later but United’s cushion was just a single point as the two rivals met with six games left to go.

The game: United were missing Wayne Rooney who had been injured at the end of the midweek Champions League clash with Bayern Munich. In his absence, the hosts struggled for creativity and they fell behind to Joe Cole’s flick in the 20th minute. The decisive moment came 11 minutes from time when Drogba headed in a second which was allowed to stand despite the Chelsea substitute being offside. Federico Macheda pulled one back, but Chelsea hung on for a huge win.

Chelsea celebrate beating Man Utd in 2010.

The impact: Chelsea moved to the summit with a two-point lead and they stayed there through the remaining five games, despite one defeat to Tottenham. United also won four of their last five but a draw at Blackburn after the Chelsea defeat, which was also followed by a Champions League exit, allowed the Blues to claim the title if they beat Wigan on the final day. They nicked it 8-0, then won the FA Cup to claim the Double.


Man City 1-0 Man Utd – 2011/12
The circumstances: Both sides had wobbled in the title race, with City winning one in five to give United a three-point advantage when they went to the Etihad with three games remaining. United themselves had won one of their previous three before a derby from which a point would have sufficed to retain control.

The game: Knowing a draw would do while City needed the win, Fergie opted for a defensive shape, leaving Rooney to toil up front on his own. City gladly accepted the initiative and they were the better side, deserving of a victory given to them by Vincent Kompany’s header in first-half stoppage-time.

The impact: City and United both won their penultimate games 2-0 against Newcastle and Swansea respectively, setting up a final-day shoot-out. United went to Sunderland and won; City hosted QPR on just another normal day of Barclays.

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