Tuesday 20 February 2018

Look away Man City fans... Top five football meltdowns

Manuel Pellegrini expects Manchester City to win the title on Sunday but if something went wrong it wouldn't be the first time
Manuel Pellegrini expects Manchester City to win the title on Sunday but if something went wrong it wouldn't be the first time

If Manchester City fail to get the draw they need to claim the title at home to West Ham it will go down as a true football meltdown. Here are five more to get City fans' knees rattling.

1. Premier League 1995-96; Champions: Manchester United; Runners-up: Newcastle United

Manchester United's implosion in the face of Wenger-inspired Arsenal pressure in 1997-98 bore an uncanny resemblance to Ferguson's sinister hunting of Newcastle at the back-end of the 1995-96 season.

Going into the last week of January, Newcastle were 12 points clear, by 20 February they still sat on a nine-point cushion and Faustino Asprilla & Co continued to feast on defences.

And then, long before Keegan's oft-regurgitated "I would love it" rant, Newcastle panicked (see video below).

Three games later the lead was down to one point and United would drop only two more points over the last 12 games. By the time Keegan publicly succumbed to Ferguson's baiting, he was not losing the plot but ranting at the dying of the dream.

2. Division One 1988-89; Champions: Arsenal; Runners-up: Liverpool

With three games to go Arsenal held a two-point advantage over Liverpool with home games coming up against teams with nothing left to play for in Derby and Wimbledon.

Liverpool did not have it so join-the-dots easy; they had to host QPR and face a West Ham side playing for top-flight survival.

The pair met at Anfield in the final game of the season and by the time it kicked off on 26 May 1989, it looked like Arsenal had squandered their title opportunity with a defeat and a draw in their last two home matches while Liverpool beat QPR 2-0 and dismantled West Ham 5-1.

Liverpool were three points clear, with a superior goal difference. But, a late title clinching goal from Michael Thomas (pictured) proved it was a game too far for an emotionally battered Liverpool side.

3. La Liga 1993-94; Champions: Barcelona; Runners-up: Deportivo La Coruna

If this season's title chasers are searching for precedents outside the English game, they could start in Spain by looking at the evidence of the collapse of Deportivo la Coruna.

La Liga was still played under the old two-points-for-a-win system back in 1994 when Deportivo held a three point advantage with four games to go.

All they had to do to hold off the Catalan superstars of Guardiola, Bakero, Koeman and Laudrup was win two out of their remaining four matches, but three nil-nil draws saw the underdog's origami-dream unfold before their eyes.

In the last match of the season, at home to Valencia, Deportivo were awarded a penalty with minutes left and the score at nil-nil. Brazilian Bebeto (pictured) refused the title-clinching chance, leaving it to Serbian Miroslav Dukic. He missed.

4. Bundesliga 2001-02; Champions: Borussia Dortmund; Runners-up: Bayer Leverkusen

Five games to go and Leverkusen had just extended their lead over Borussia Dortmund to a convincing four points, hitting four goals past Kaiserlauten in the process.

Then past failings began whispering doubts into the ears of Michael Ballack (pictured) and his teammates.

Two season's earlier the now Chelsea midfielder put the ball past his own 'keeper as Leverkusen lost to the now unknown Unterhaching, and in doing so surrendered the title to Bayern Munich on the last day of the season.

Those doubts held them to a draw with Hamburg but a day later Dortmund lost to flaky Kaiserlauten and Leverkusen's initial choke had turned into a hearty bellow and a five point lead with three to play.

Back in 2002 Ballack was Europe's most complete footballer and, alongside the Samba trio of Ze Roberto, Emerson and Lucio, he had steered Leverkusen to the brink of the Bundesliga title and into the German and European Cup finals.

A defeat to relegation threatened Nuremburg saw their five point lead turn into a one point deficit and Dortmund's win over Werder Bremen on the last day of the season was enough to rob Leverkusen of a trophy that had seemed locked-up, alarmed and CCTV-protected.

Within ten days they had lost the lot: Bundesliga to Dortmund, German Cup to Schalke and European Cup to Zidane's perfect volley.


5. Serie A 2001-02; Champions: Juventus; Runners-up: Internazionale

Just like a riderless horse leaving his unwitting but indelible mark on a steeplechase finish, so occasionally a floating team with no chance of winning anything leaves a lasting mark on a title race.

In Italy in 2002 it was Lazio, in England in 2010 Sir Alex will be hoping Liverpool might be the horse to unseat his jockey and cause equine chaos.

In 2002, with six games to go, Lazio held Juventus to a draw at the Stadio delle Alpi and an Inter win over Fiorentina extended the Milanese team's lead to six points.

The pundits wrote off Juventus but no one was expecting Hector Cuper's Inter to drop five points over the next four games, including a home defeat to Atalanta, while Juventus claimed a maximum 12 points to cut Inter's lead to one with just one to play.

Inter's final game of the season was against Lazio and a win would guarantee the Scudetto.

Inter negotiated the early hurdles and were about to take a 2-1 lead into the break when Lazio bucked the jockey; three goals in the next thirty minutes turned the game and Inter's title chances on their heads, leaving their world player of the year Ronaldo (pictured) in tears.


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