EPL

King Cantona and Arsenal's Old Trafford double – a history of Premier League title deciders

By Sports Desk April 08, 2022

The Premier League will reach a new milestone on Sunday when Manchester City face Liverpool in a titanic title tussle.

This will be the 50th match between the top two teams in the division in the competition's history, with City boasting a one-point advantage over Liverpool heading into this encounter.

Victory would move Jurgen Klopp's men top for the first time since October, having trailed by as many as 14 points back in January.

Of the 49 previous top-two meetings, the leaders have come out on top in 20, 11 have been drawn and 18 won by the second-placed team – including one of only two previous examples when City and Liverpool have been the sides at the summit. City thrashed newly crowned champions Liverpool 4-0 in July 2020.

The title race may already have been run on that occasion, but the hunters have consistently fared better than the hunted in such clashes across recent seasons.

The top team have beaten their nearest rivals in only one of the past eight matches to take place in the final 10 games of a season.

Consensus has it that victory for Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium – following that theme – would be followed by a successful title charge for the Reds.

But it has not always been so straightforward, as Stats Perform analyses a history of Premier League title deciders.

United rewarded for holding their nerve (1992-97)

Manchester United won four of the first five Premier League titles after three times holding their nerve against fellow contenders during the run-in.

Norwich City may now prop up the table, but they led the way at the start of April in the inaugural 1992-93 campaign, while United were back in third.

Although that is not the latest eventual champions have emerged from outside the top two – City were third at the start of May in 2013-14 – United had to do it the hard way by heading to Carrow Road in their next match.

Their performance there set the standard for two decades of dominance, as a scintillating first-half display saw three stunning breakaway goals in a 3-1 win. Five days later, Steve Bruce scored a pair of famous late goals against Sheffield Wednesday and United were top.

Alex Ferguson's side retained their title despite losing late in the next campaign to Blackburn Rovers, who were themselves champions the following season, but one of the most notable deciders went United's way in 1995-96. The Red Devils had trailed Newcastle United by 12 points in January but knew a win at St James' Park would trim the deficit to a single point.

That was exactly how it played out, too, as Eric Cantona – who created the first and netted the third at Norwich in 1993 – hit a winner against the run of play.

That was the start of a career-best run of six games in a row in which Cantona scored and the first of five consecutive United goals that came courtesy of their talisman – a feat since repeated only three times (Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2003, Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007 and Robin van Persie in 2013). Four of the six games ended 1-0.

Newcastle would also end 1996-97 as United's closest challengers, but it was the turn of Liverpool – who finished fourth – to blow a big lead.

The gap to United was 10 points in December, when Ferguson's side were sixth, yet Liverpool were two points behind by the time they welcomed their rivals to Anfield in mid-April. A pair of David James errors gave the visitors a precious victory en route to another title triumph.

Double delight for Arsenal at Old Trafford (1997-2004)

From the 1997-98 season onwards, United had consistent title rivals in Arsenal. And although United finished top in four of the next seven seasons to Arsenal's three, there were a pair of painful defeats for Ferguson.

While Newcastle's collapse from 12 points in front is most widely remembered – chiefly because the Magpies are still to win the Premier League – the competition record belongs to United's class of 1997-98, who allowed Arsenal to make up a 13-point deficit in the first season after Cantona's retirement.

There were still nine points between the sides before they met at Old Trafford in mid-March, but Arsenal had three games in hand and won 1-0 courtesy of a Marc Overmars goal – their first away to United in the Premier League – that capped a dazzling individual display. They led the table a month later.

That season ended with a double for Arsenal, and so too did the 2001-02 campaign, in which they again claimed a 1-0 victory at United. The Sylvain Wiltord-inspired success, days after winning the FA Cup, came in the penultimate game of the season and made Arsenal champions.

It was the first of only two occasions on which the title has been won in a match between two teams who were still in the running, while the top two in the Premier League have never met later in a campaign.

Chelsea take challenge to United (2004-2011)

Chelsea replaced Arsenal as perennial threats to United and their second consecutive title in 2005-06 was sealed with a 3-0 win over Ferguson's men, although the championship was essentially a formality at that point.

Meetings in subsequent years were more keenly contested. There was precious little between the two teams in 2007-08, when the Champions League final was decided on penalties, and a late-season Chelsea win at Stamford Bridge moved the teams level on points. However, the Blues' inferior goal difference and final-day draw with Bolton Wanderers allowed United to take the title regardless.

It was a different story in 2009-10, though. There was just a point separating leaders United from chasing Chelsea this time, and an away win at Old Trafford through goals from Joe Cole and Didier Drogba put the Blues in command, able to themselves seal the deal on the final day.

And yet the two dominant teams of this era were not done there. A May meeting back at Old Trafford the following season could have seen Chelsea snatch the championship away from United again, but Javier Hernandez scored inside a matter of seconds to set the Red Devils on course for a victory that crucially moved them six clear. That represents the last time the leaders beat the second-placed team during the run-in.

City serene since crucial Kompany winner (2011-2022)

United have won the title only once since 2010-11, while neighbours City have been crowned on five occasions in that time – and they have largely avoided the drama Ferguson's side made their benchmark.

Of course, their breakthrough triumph in 2011-12 was an exception to that, as City had to beat United even before Sergio Aguero's last-day heroics. Vincent Kompany's header moved the teams level on points, with goal difference vitally working in his side's favour.

Only four times since then have the top two faced off over the final 10 matches of the season, including Liverpool's 2013-14 defeat to Chelsea when neither team won the title and City's 2019-20 thrashing off the Reds when the league had already been settled.

City, in 2012-13, and United, in 2017-18, each claimed away derby wins that restored pride but could not prevent title processions. United's win at least denied City the delight of clinching the title against their neighbours.

The closest City and Liverpool have come to a true decider might be a January epic in 2018-19, but that should all change on Sunday.

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