5 Best Teams in Premier League History
Having looked at the worst sides ever served up by Premier League last week, it's only fair that we examine the other end of the spectrum.
The Premier League has battled for the title of Europe’s top league since its creation in 1992. In the late '90s, it was Italy's Serie A that provided the chief competition. Then came the rise of La Liga, peaking with the Barcelona teams of Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola. In more recent times, the Bundesliga has threatened, at least in the entertainment stakes.
The result of the league being so consistently strong for more than two decades is that it's featured some truly outstanding sides.
This rundown of the five greatest sides ever to grace the Premier League is judged on more than just the points they earned over the course of the campaign.
Their pre-season expectations, their participation and performance in other competitions, and the staunchness of the opposition that they faced in the league have all been factored in. Winning the league is not a prerequisite, but unsurprisingly, all the teams here were crowned champions.
5. Manchester United 1998/99: 79 Points
Taking the Premier League in isolation, doing the league and FA Cup double seems a fairly common feat, having been achieved three times in just six seasons by 1998.
However, these figures aren't representative of the true picture. In the 92 years of league football that preceded the Premier League, the double was achieved just five times.
Clearly, just managing the double is an impressive achievement. In 1999, however, Manchester United did what many had deemed to be impossible, becoming the first English side to win a league, FA Cup and European Cup treble.
Having lost the talismanic Eric Cantona after the 1996/97 season, United went trophyless the next campaign as they adapted to life without their French captain. In 1998/99, the now-legendary Class of '92 truly came of age, with the likes of Gary Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs playing pivotal roles.
What made the 1999 United vintage even more remarkable was their resilience and ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. They pipped Arsenal to the title by a single point, having trailed with three games to go. This was largely thanks to an unbeaten run from Boxing Day, which catapulted them up the table from fourth.
Their FA Cup run was, by the season's standards, relatively straightforward, although they did require Giggs' famous extra-time winner to see off Arsenal in the semi-final.
Their truly remarkable turnaround came in the Champions League where they overcame the odds to defeat Juventus, then famously scored twice in the dying seconds to defeat Bayern Munich in the final.
4. Manchester City 2011/12: 89 Points
Speaking of comebacks, fourth on our list is also our most recent team. Manchester City may not have excelled elsewhere in the 2011/12 season, with the closest they came to more silverware being a semi-final berth in the League Cup, but they more than made up for it with the manner in which they won the league.
After several false starts under first Thaksin Shinawatra and then the Mansour Group's ownership, the club finally seemed to be finding their feet among the Premier League elite by finishing third in 2010/11.
They began the 2011/12 campaign in imperious fashion, dropping just two points in their first 12 games, a run which included a 6-1 derby thrashing of Manchester United at Old Trafford. Three games without a win saw them fall eight points behind United in mid-April, but they clawed it back to hold their destiny in their own hands as they entered the final game.
Their opponents that day were QPR, who were teetering on the brink of relegation. What should have been a routine win quickly became a dramatic upset in the making.
Heading into stoppage time, QPR led 2-1, despite having played much of the second half with 10 men, before goals from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero won them their first Premier League title in incredible fashion.
United set the record for the most points ever earned by a Premier League side not to win the title with 89 points. Their quality, combined with City's resilience, is enough to ensure the latter's place on the list.
3. Chelsea 2004/05: 95 Points
The 2004/05 season saw West Brom break the Premier League record for the lowest amount of points earned while still escaping relegation, with just 34 points. The upsetting of the traditional points distribution across the league was thanks to that season's champions Chelsea, whose haul of 95 points remains the most ever.
Several factors made Chelsea's side that year a marvel to behold. Not only did they usurp Arsenal's "Invincibles" side—gaining five more points than the Gunners had the season before—but they nearly matched the feat themselves, losing just once to Manchester City.
Chelsea's nearly impenetrable rearguard was the chief reason for their success. Petr Cech won the Golden Glove after keeping a record 21 clean sheets, and the team conceded just 15 times, less than half the number let in by Arsenal, who finished second.
Making Chelsea's achievements this season even more impressive is the fact that it was manager Jose Mourinho's first with the club and in English football in general. The Portuguese brought in several players who were to shape Chelsea in this season and beyond, none more so than Didier Drogba.
2. Arsenal 2003/04: 90 Points
Their reputation may have been enhanced in recent years thanks to Arsene Wenger's failure to recreate their success, but Arsenal's "Invincibles" side were a truly majestic team.
As their nickname suggests, they went an entire season unbeaten in the league—an achievement that no other Premier League team has matched.
They had become only the second side in English football—after Preston North End in 1889—to go unbeaten in every away fixture two seasons earlier and had begun the 2002/03 campaign in superb form, leading Wenger to suggest they could complete an entire campaign undefeated.
Those dreams were shattered by a young Wayne Rooney, but the next season, with the overall quality of the squad improved by the arrivals of Jose Reyes and Jens Lehmann, and the coming of age of several players, Arsenal achieved the impossible, eventually going 49 games unbeaten.
Arsenal also benefited from a team that had grown with each other. Cole, Martin Keown (in his second spell at the club) and Ray Parlour had all been part of the youth set-up at the club. Dennis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljungberg, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry had all been at the club for five years. Their chemistry was evident in the flowing brand of football the team was famous for.
As well as being a formidable unit, the team was blessed with brilliant individuals in all areas of the pitch.
This was the season that Henry truly staked his claim to being the world's best striker, breaking the 30-goal mark which had—at the time—only been surpassed by Andy Cole, Alan Shearer and Kevin Phillips, the former pair both doing so in a 42-game season.
1. Manchester United 2007/08: 87 Points
The Premier League has featured some incredible sides, capable of going toe to toe with any team in history. However, one squad stands out above the rest.
Manchester United's team of 2007/08 may not have set any records for points totals, but the staunchness of the opposition they faced—and their extra-curricular exertions—made this championship-winning team the greatest the Premier League has ever seen.
Both Arsenal and Chelsea pushed United the whole way, with the Gunners top at the start of March. United, however, roared back, eventually eclipsing the London club and ably holding off the challenge of Chelsea.
In the end, United were fired home by their formidable front trio of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, who contributed 57 of the team's 80 goals. At the other end of the pitch, the Red Devils boasted possibly the best defence ever put together by Sir Alex Ferguson, expertly marshalled by Edwin van der Sar and Nemanja Vidic.
If capturing the title wasn't enough, United also triumphed on the biggest stage, beating Chelsea on penalties to win their second Champions League under Ferguson. Their path to the final wasn't an easy one, particularly in the semi-final, where they came up against the formidable force of Barcelona.
United would win the title three more times with Ferguson at the helm, although the quality of those sides never quite matched this one.