Only five clubs have lifted the Premier League trophy since its inception in 1992 - Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City - but which title-winning side was the greatest of all? We rank the 23 Premier League champions.
23. Manchester United, 1996/97
Key players: Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
The least remarkable of Sir Alex Ferguson’s 13 title-winning sides. 75 points remains the lowest total for a Premier League winner, as does their +32 goal difference. The spectacular arrival of David Beckham onto the Premier League scene – with a goal from the halfway line on the opening day – was a highlight, as was the goalscoring exploits of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Otherwise, signings such as Karel Poborsky and Jordi Cruyff proved underwhelming.
22. Blackburn Rovers, 1994/95
Key players: Alan Shearer, Chris Sutton, Tim Sherwood
Despite the generous spending of owner Jack Walker, and the goals of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, Blackburn’s dramatic final-day title win in 1995 did not herald the emergence of a new Premier League power. Defeats, home and way, to challengers Manchester United almost let their title challenge slip before securing the championship by a single point. Their title defence was non-existent; Blackburn slumped to 7th place the following season.
21. Manchester United, 2000/01
Key players: Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Teddy Sheringham
If some of their other league triumphs had been rollercoasters, it was a relative walk in the park for Manchester United to secure their third Premier League title in succession. United were never in danger: the mathematics were confirmed with five games to go and Arsenal finished a distant second, 10 points behind. Only Teddy Sheringham – double Player of the Year – particularly caught the eye, but a 6-1 trouncing of the Gunners at Old Trafford was a memorable rubber-stamping of United’s domestic superiority.
20. Manchester United, 1992/93
Key players: Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Paul Ince
Despite lifting the inaugural Premier League title – and ending a 26-year wait for a championship triumph – Manchester United toiled in the early stages of the 1992/93 season, winning only five of their first 15 matches. Norwich City and Aston Villa mounted improbable challenges for the title before United – having signed Eric Cantona from Leeds United in November – finally gathered some steam and secured the title in early May, finishing 10 points clear.
19. Manchester City, 2013/14
Key players: Yaya Toure, David Silva, Sergio Aguero
While neighbours United toiled under David Moyes, Manchester City produced a thrilling campaign to claim their second Premier League title, but it began unsteadily with four defeats in their first 11 games. The leadership changed hands no fewer than 25 times over the course of the season – Arsenal led the way from September to February before fading, Chelsea’s title challenge collapsed in April and Liverpool looked set to secure their first league championship in 24 years. Then, Steven Gerrard slipped at the worst possible moment and City were suddenly thrust into pole position. Having racked up 102 goals along the way, City were worthy champions, but relied heavily on the misfortune of others to get over the line.
18. Manchester United, 2010/11
Key players: Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov
A 29-game unbeaten run propelled an otherwise unremarkable Manchester United side to the title, nine points clear of defending champions Chelsea. A formidable home record – only two points were dropped at Old Trafford – contrasted sharply with their form on the road, where they only won five matches. Ultimately, Chelsea’s mid-season collapse paved the way for United to claim their record-breaking 19th title.
17. Manchester United 2012/13
Key players: Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Robin van Persie
Reclaiming the Premier League title from the clutches of neighbours Manchester City will rank among the most satisfying of Alex Ferguson’s triumphs, but it was one which often had to be ground out with slender, late wins. A 12-point lead had been established by mid-February, though and – with 26 goals from the emphatic Robin van Persie - that proved enough to see off City’s challenge. Ferguson retired, having steered United to a 20th league title, but David Moyes was given a huge task to revamp this squad the following season.
16. Manchester United, 1995/96
Key players: Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Andy Cole
"You can't win anything with kids… the trick of winning the championship is having strength in depth, and they just haven't got it."
Alan Hansen was wrong on two counts there: Manchester United’s title challenge relied heavily on the vast experience of Peter Schmeichel, Roy Keane, Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce and Eric Cantona, and they timed their charge to the finish line perfectly, reeling in Kevin Keegan’s freewheeling Newcastle side. From being twelve points behind in January, United (led by the imperious Cantona) embarked on a run of 13 wins in their last 15 games as Newcastle disintegrated. The Double was secured with an FA Cup final win over Liverpool, but other defeats to the mighty York City and Rotor Volgograd blotted Alex Ferguson’s cup-competition copybook.
15. Manchester United, 2002/03
Key players: Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy
Just as Arsenal thought they had Alex Ferguson’s number, back came the old master again to reclaim the title from a new challenger. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s arrival proved the difference, and his astonishing burst of 13 goals in the final eight games completed United’s comeback from eight points behind. An 18-game unbeaten run, peppered with some customary ‘Fergie time’ winners, finally brought them top of the table by mid-April and secured the title with a game to spare.
14. Chelsea, 2014/15
Key players: John Terry, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard
That Chelsea had the best attack, the best defence, the best individuals and – ultimately – the best team is perhaps as much of an indictment on the competition as it is testament to Jose Mourinho’s latest triumph. New signings Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa hit the ground running as the Blues began the season in rampant form – with 15 goals in their first four Premier League games – and they led the table from start to finish. While Manchester City ran out of steam and Arsenal found their rhythm too late, the champions’ only concerns were the chants of “boring, boring Chelsea”. In truth, they aren’t vintage title winners, but they are formidable ones.
13. Arsenal, 2001/02
Key players: Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry
Arsene Wenger’s precursor to his Invincibles side set some impressive records of their own, becoming the first Premier League team to be unbeaten away from home and score in every single game. Thierry Henry stepped up a gear in his third season at the club, topping the goalscoring charts with 24, Robert Pires claimed the Football Writers’ Player of the Year award, and Sol Campbell’s rather brave Bosman move across north London paid instant dividends. 13 straight wins from February to May – including a decisive 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford – secured the title, with runners-up Liverpool seven points behind.
12. Manchester United, 2008/09
Key players: Patrice Evra, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov
A healthy points haul of 90 was amassed largely thanks to a well-drilled defence, who conceded only 24 goals, while Edwin van der Sar went a record 14 games without conceding. Rafael Benitez came close to finally restoring Liverpool to their perch, but United held on to claim three Premier League titles in a row for the second time. Their strength in depth was demonstrated by a dominance of the PFA Player of the Year nominations – there were five United men on the six-stong shortlist, with the evergreen Ryan Giggs winning the vote at the age of 36.
11. Arsenal, 1997/98
Key players: Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal 1.0 – moulded into Double winners in his first full season in charge – provided the first significant threat to Manchester United’s Premier League stranglehold, but were a far more conservative unit than his later sides. Their 68 goals makes them the least prolific title-winners since 1992/93 and they posted the second-lowest title-winning points total in Premier League history. However, they boasted the undoubted star of the season in the immaculate Dennis Bergkamp – ably supported by Ian Wright and the jet-heeled Marc Overmars – and they gave Alex Ferguson a taste of his own medicine by eating away at United’s 12-point lead to storm to their first Premier League title.
10. Manchester United, 2006/07
Key players: Rio Ferdinand, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney
Arsenal and then Chelsea had kept Alex Ferguson waiting three seasons for a Premier League title in the mid-2000s, but he now had a fully-developed weapon of mass footballing destruction at his disposal: Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese scored 17 goals in the league, and took home both the PFA’s Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards, while the pride of Chelsea - and Jose Mourinho – was given a huge dent.
9. Chelsea, 2009/10
Key players: Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka
Where Jose Mourinho’s first spell in charge at Stamford Bridge had set incredible standards of defensive organisation, Carlo Ancelotti’s debut season in the Premier League finally gave Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich the free-flowing attacking football he craved. The Double winners rattled in a record 103 goals – and managed an unmatched goal difference of +71 – thanks to some swashbuckling home displays. Seven goals were put past each of Sunderland, Aston Villa and Stoke at Stamford Bridge, before the title was secured on the final day with an 8-0 annihilation of Wigan.
8. Manchester United, 1993/94
Key players: Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes
Vastly improved from the stuttering side that had won the title the previous season – and with the record signing Roy Keane installed in midfield – United were the league leaders from August right through to May. Eric Cantona thrived up front – scoring 18 league goals and winning the PFA Player of the Year award – as they finished eight points clear of Blackburn Rovers, adding the FA Cup for their first ever Double.
7. Chelsea, 2005/06
Key players: John Terry, Claude Makelele, Frank Lampard
Jose Mourinho refused to fix what wasn’t broken as they defended their first Premier League title with a steely resilience, finishing eight points clear of Manchester United. Chelsea won 18 and drew one of their 19 home games but failed to set pulses racing in attack - only Frank Lampard broke the 15-goal mark.
6. Manchester City, 2011/12
Key players: Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero
A thrilling Premier League title race went down to the wire, when a stoppage-time winner by Sergio Aguero against QPR handed Manchester City the title over a disbelieving United. Aguero’s 23 goals – allied with the rock-solid Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany at the other end – ensured that City’s goal difference was comfortably superior. Any doubts that they deserved the trophy were quashed by home and away wins over United, including a 6-1 thrashing at Old Trafford, but other competition for the title was virtually non-existent.
5. Manchester United, 2007/08
Key players: Rio Ferdinand, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez
With Arsenal and Chelsea now well-equipped to provide long-term challenges, Manchester United were forced to find an extra gear. Cristiano Ronaldo continued the momentum of his breakthrough of the previous season, hitting 31 league goals. Carlos Tevez also chipped in with 14 in his first season with the club, and nobody could match United for attacking power while, at the other end, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were immense. European glory was secured in Moscow with a penalty shootout win over Chelsea, but a careless FA Cup sixth-round defeat to Portsmouth denied United the chance of an eminently achievable treble.
4. Manchester United, 1999/2000
Key players: Paul Scholes, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole
Second only to Jose Mourinho’s first title-winning Chelsea side in terms of points (91), Manchester United followed up their treble season by pummelling the Premier League into submission, winning the title by a massive 18 points over Arsenal, who had established themselves as bitter domestic rivals. Despite a defensive record that would make Mourinho wince – the post-Schmeichel era began with the most porous Premier League-winning defence conceding 45 in 38 games – United scored goals like they were going out of fashion, setting a record of 97 that would survive for a decade.
3. Chelsea, 2004/05
Key players: Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard
Jose Mourinho announced himself as a “special one” and immediately set about moulding an expensively-assembled Chelsea squad into an immoveable object, setting records for the most points (95), fewest goals conceded (a ludicrous 15), while Petr Cech kept 21 clean sheets. Chelsea secured the title with three games to spare, ending the campaign 12 points clear of defending champions Arsenal.
2. Arsenal, 2003/04
Key players: Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry
Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles remain the only Premier League side to go a whole league season unbeaten, providing the perfect response to the challenge laid down in the summer of 2003 by Roman Abramovich’s big-spending Chelsea. An unusual total of 12 draws certainly contributed to Arsenal remaining undefeated, but the irresistible 30-goal Thierry Henry retained his Player of the Year award and they secured the title in gloriously mischievous fashion – at the home of north London rivals Tottenham. Nearest challengers Chelsea – after spending £120m on a new squad – were left 11 points behind.
1. Manchester United, 1998/99
Key players: Roy Keane, David Beckham, Dwight Yorke
“The most important thing was the spirit of this team. They just never gave in, they don't know how to. They've got that beast inside them and they found it when it mattered. People will never forget this team.” - Alex Ferguson
The greatest Premier League side? Alex Ferguson’s treble-winning squad boasted a midfield without equal – Giggs, Keane, Scholes and Beckham – and a quartet of strikers who would each make a telling contribution to Manchester United’s quest for success on all three fronts. Pushed all the way in the Premier League by holders Arsenal and upstarts Chelsea (with only 10 defeats between them) United went unbeaten from Christmas and finally secured the title at Old Trafford on the final day. New signings Jaap Stam and Dwight Yorke elevated them from a domestic force to a European giant, while captain Roy Keane was the beating heart of a team that would go down in history.
In the closing stages of Chelsea's final march to the title yesterday, Jose Mourinho turned to the seats behind his dugout and discreetly rolled his eyes at the effort of it all, at the sheer bloody-mindedness required to see one last home victory over the line.
A coach of ours once kept us in the dressing room after a game for what seemed an eternity. He was hammering into us the importance of being able to win 1-0. We had just conceded a late equaliser and drawn the game 1-1. "Teams don't win leagues if they can't win 1-0," he said. "Teams that can't keep clean sheets in tight games don't succeed."
Last Monday night at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea won the FA Youth Cup for the third time in four seasons. Chelsea's opponents this time were Manchester City, something which may be of significance. In the last three finals (they lost in 2013), Chelsea have played Blackburn Rovers, Norwich City and Fulham, suggesting that there was some variety to English football, at least at levels below the elite.