Finishing second represents progress for Manchester United. But they are still the Premier League’s third-worst runners-up……
7) Manchester City 2014/15 (79 points)
Top of this list on goal difference are a meek Manchester City side who were no match for Chelsea in full second-season Mourinho mode. But they were somehow within three points of the Blues on Boxing Day and still within five points at the end of February. But then came a run of four devastating away defeats that left City down in fourth place with just six games left to play. That they then recovered to take the runners-up spot was commendable, but a 12-match unbeaten winter run really had promised so much more.
6) Chelsea 2003/04 (79 points)
You’re always going to look a little bit sh*t in comparison to the Invincibles, but even that’s not the kind of sh*tness that Roman Abramovich was going to tolerate after spending all of the money in the summer of 2003. So Claudio Ranieri was sacked just weeks after finishing second with 79 points, even though he managed to reach the Champions League semi-finals with a team featuring Scott Parker and Jesper Gronkjaer, which was pure sorcery. Astonishingly, Chelsea were actually still in the title race in early April but a four-game winless run featuring defeats to Aston Villa and Newcastle cost them a true challenge and Ranieri his job.
ON THIS DAY: In 2004, Claudio Ranieri was sacked as Chelsea manager.
4,354 days later he won the Premier League. pic.twitter.com/1NueLtL9OF
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 31, 2016
5) Arsenal 2002/03 (78 points)
“Of course we want to win the league but I think the most difficult thing for the club is to be consistent and we have been remarkably consistent. We are in the cup final; we lose the league to a team who spends 50% more money every year – last year they bought a player for £30m pounds when they lost the championship. They will do the same next year and we [have] done miracles just to fight with them,” said Arsene Wenger in rejecting the idea that finishing second to big-spending Manchester United meant failure. But when you turn an eight-point lead into a five-point deficit in two months, we cannot talk about it in any other terms.
4) Manchester City 2012/13 (78 points)
Having won the title for the first time in 2011/12, City responded by buying Javi Gracia, Matia Nastasic, Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair and Maicon in a perfect illustration of money only being an advantage when you spend it wisely. Roberto Mancini was a dead man walking for much of the season, which started with far too many draws and then suffered a Robin van Persie last-minute blow in a 3-2 classic that already felt like a title decider against Manchester United in December. They were then six points behind and never really looked like recovering, losing to Sunderland on Boxing Day and then dropping points to QPR, Liverpool and Southampton to leave themselves 12 points behind with 12 to play. Having Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez and somehow only scoring 66 goals was quite rightly a sacking offence.
Feb: “If Manchester City should sack me, the other 20 teams in the Premier League should be without a manager.”
— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) March 16, 2015
3) Manchester United 2020-21 (74 points)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side finished above the ‘bad champions’ and a runners-up spot is genuine progress in the manager’s second full season in charge following a third-place finish last term. And Solskjaer could win his first trophy as a manager in the Europa League, so the outlook is generally positive. But they have a massive void to fill between themselves and Manchester City, especially since the 12-point deficit doesn’t tell the whole picture. And if City get their hands on Harry Kane next season… still, a title challenge must come next for Solskjaer, one that lasts longer than the brief, dizzying spell United spent at the top of the league in January. If they can replicate their away form at home, they might be in business.
2) Chelsea 2010/11 (71 points)
There’s definitely a theme here that retaining the title is really, really hard. And also that finishing second can cost you employment if you happen to work for very, very rich men. There were no signs in the early part of the season that anything was amiss, with 21 goals scored and just one conceded in the first five games of the season. But winter brought a run of eight games with only one victory (1-0 v Fulham) which left them down in fourth and just two points ahead of Bolton. This was not what Abramovich paid for. He did then pay for Fernando Torres and David Luiz in January in an attempt to rescue a title challenge – which emerged in late April when a controversial late win over Tottenham left them just three points adrift of Manchester United. But they could barely lay a glove on Manchester United at Old Trafford a week later and Chelsea were spent, ending the season limply at Goodison Park, where Carlo Ancelotti was ruthlessly sacked in the tunnel just a year after winning the title.
1) Arsenal 2015/16 (71 points)
They were such poor runners-up that barely anybody remembers they were actually runners-up, remembering instead that it was Tottenham who threw away the chance of a title that ludicrously went to Leicester City. But the Gunners were joint-top with Manchester City at the end of October before November brought no Premier League wins and a drop to fourth place. There was some more topsy in January before another hefty dose of turvy as Mesut Ozil discovered he could not win the Premier League all on his own, with a poor run culminating in March defeat to Swansea which left them six points behind the Foxes and in rotten form. They did not lose again over the final ten games of the season but the fans singing “it’s happened again” in celebration at finishing above Spurs in second was frankly pathetic.