Every team dreams of winning their league in proper, barnstorming style with a big fat points margin (see: Liverpool in 2019-20). But hey – a win is still a win, even if your total haul of points or goals is a bit… meagre. Here are some so-so squads that came out on top in less-than-spectacular ways.
1 Manchester United, 1996-7
Current Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is likely to have very fond memories of the 1996-7 season, because this was when he joined the team as the so-called “Baby-Faced Assassin”. He lived up to the nickname, becoming the top goal scorer of the season. Yet, despite the efforts of the bolshy Norwegian, as well as the presence of a rising young star named David Beckham, this Manchester United side only managed to rack up 75 points – which still stands as the lowest ever haul for a Premier League-winning side.
Not only was this a rather lacklustre league victory for the Red Devils (who had triumphed the previous season with 82 points), but they also crashed and burned in the FA Cup, being knocked out early on by Wimbledon. In retrospect, this season could be regarded as a transitional period for the club, with Beckham blossoming and Eric Cantona making the shock decision to retire from football aged just 30. Two seasons later, a reinvigorated Manchester United would enjoy the greatest chapter in their history, becoming the first English side to win the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble.
2 AIK, 1998
Stockholm side AIK are undoubtedly one of the most formidable clubs in Sweden’s top flight Allsvenskan league. Since the turn of the century, they’ve finished in the highest three spots more frequently than their rivals, and they last won the league in 2018 with a healthy 67 points. Exactly two decades before this triumph, they came out on top in less stellar circumstances, scraping to victory in 1998 with 46 points while scoring fewer goals than any other team in the league
At the time, AIK were arguably weakened by top players including Magnus Hedman and Pascal Simpson departing for new pastures. Their first ten league games featured six draws and two defeats, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the season. But, spurred on by new manager Stuart Baxter, the side turned things around after the shaky start.
What followed was a string of draws and low scoring wins which was enough to seal the league title, despite a meagre goal tally. Their mediocre form made for a nail-biting finish to the season, though, with their league victory depending on rivals Helsingborg losing a match against Hacken. When this happened, the man who scored Hacken’s two goals in that fixture – Mathias Larsson – was actually invited as a guest of honour to AIK’s league title party.
3 Wolfsburg, 2008-9
It feels like Bayern Munich have had an iron grip on Germany’s top league, the Bundesliga, since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. However, some of us can just about recall Borussia Dortmund stealing wins in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Looking back even further, we have the unique 2008-9 season, when plucky underdogs Wolfsburg – who had begun as a team of Volkswagen factory workers in the 1930s – won the league for the first and only time in their history.
It was undoubtedly a noteworthy achievement, even if their haul of 69 points pales in comparison to what Bayern have been amassing year after year over the past decade. Despite the arrival of former Bayern manager Felix Magath, the side’s path to victory in 2008-9 was not a smooth one, and they were trailing at ninth in the league halfway into the season. Brushing aside this poor form, Magath – a famously tough taskmaster – managed to steer his ship back on course in the new year. Wolfsburg would eventually take the title a mere two points ahead of their nearest rivals.
4 Benfica, 2004-5
Lisbon club Benfica clambered to the top Portugal’s top flight Primeira Liga in 2004-5, amassing a not-so-special tally of 65 points that season. One of Portugal’s “Big Three” clubs alongside Porto and Sporting, Benfica didn’t kick off their league campaign in the best of spirits that year, having been booted from the Champions League by Belgian side Anderlecht just days before, and greeted by jeering fans when they returned to Lisbon.
While Benfica managed to hunker down and secure several wins at the start of the Primeira Liga season, there was an early loss at home in the “Classico” – the famed Benfica/Porto derby – which paved the way for a number of disappointing draws and losses. This rocky patch included a 4-1 away match demolition at the hands of Belenenses, which was Benfica’s worst performance there since the 1940s. Benfica’s own manager called it a “humiliating defeat”. Yet, despite their dodgy form, and being repeatedly knocked down several spots in the table during the season, Benfica would ultimately confound the naysayers by winning the title in the end.
5 Juventus, 2019-20
Yes, Juventus just bagged their ninth consecutive Serie A title, but rarely have the Turin titans looked more dreary in victory. The stats speak for themselves: Juventus had the worst points haul of their winning streak of seasons (83, if you’re wondering) and conceded the most goals (a hefty 43). The fact that they suffered back to back defeats in the final two league games of the season (including a 1-3 thrashing by Roma) just highlighted how uninspired they’ve been looking of late.
As the season progressed, it became painfully clear that new manager Maurizio Sarri hadn’t managed to invigorate the veteran champions of Italian’s top flight. As one football journalist put it, “It’s said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and that’s the Bianconeri right now – bored dogs with no desire to change.” Being knocked out of the Champions League was the final straw, and Sarri was sent packing in August. With all this in mind, anyone now going onto TopRatedBetting to wager on the prospective winners of the current Serie A season will have to ponder long and hard if Juventus actually have it in them to pull off a tenth win in a row.