Football Throwaways: teams that have bottled the league

The fate of the 2015/16 Premier League has been sealed, with Leicester City claiming their first ever league title with two games to spare. The spirit and drive of the team, led by star player Jamie Vardy, has seen them win the title and join the sporting hall of fame.

Leicester’s achievements this season are well worth celebrating. Had this happened in the Fantasy Sports World, it would have been barely believable and punters would simply not have accepted it. Such odds are never built to be realised! Beginning as high as 5000-1 towards the start of the season, as this time last year they were staring relegation in the face having only been promoted the year before.

Since then, however, they’ve only lost twice, to Liverpool and Arsenal, and fan support has been so great that they even caused a mini earthquake. While they are the winners this year, it could do no harm if Claudio Ranieri and his team took a moment to reflect on some of the other teams that have seemed to be cruising to victory in the past before finding their legs taken out from under them.

For example it was around this time two years ago that Liverpool were on their way to winning the league title that had eluded them for 24 years. In a crucial match against Chelsea, Steven Gerrard’s famous defensive slip allowed Demba Ba to help the Blues on their way to a 2-0 victory, dashing Liverpool’s hopes and making them settle for the runners-up place.

Given Newcastle United’s sorry season it’s hard to imagine that back in January ’96 they were a full 12 points clear of Man Utd, and manager Kevin Keegan was confident that the club’s first title for 70 years was well within reach. What he wasn’t allowing for was the Manchester rival’s tenacity and skill, led by players like Eric Cantona and Andy Cole. So over the next three months that lead was whittled away, and eventually overcome, to leave Man Utd champions with Newcastle trailing in their wake.

However the boot was on the other foot in the 2011/12 season when the Reds were feeling confident that their 20th league title was in the bag. The season was especially meaningful as the main rivals were the resurgent Manchester City whose season had got off to an unbelievable start with them winning no less than twelve of their first fourteen games. But as the season progressed City seemed to falter with a series of draws and losses leaving United even more convinced that the title was theirs. Confident, that is, until a defeat by Wigan and a draw with Everton meant City could edge ahead to win the league on the very last day of the season.

And we only have to look at FC Barcelona’s dramatic collapse this season to see that no matter how great the team, a wobble’s always possible. As recently as March they were Champions League contenders and 8 points clear at the top of La Liga while now, they’ve been dumped out of Europe by Atletico Madrid and only lead the same team by goal difference at the top of the league.