From seven points clear on New Year’s Day, to second at the start of February, Liverpool’s mini-slump has been well documented. Yes, they’ve won their game in hand, but memories of 2014 and the infamous slip are being evoked all the same.
Still, the Merseysiders wouldn’t be the only team to fritter a league title away. The Premier League has seen its fair share of bottle jobs and here are five that prove it’s not just a Scouse complaint.
5 – Tottenham (2016)
Not a bottle job in the true sense of the word, since Tottenham never actually reached the Premier League summit, but this was such a cataclysmic capitulation that it had to included. As the title run-in reached a fever pitch, Tottenham were the only challengers to Leicester’s surprise title charge, but they wilted badly under the pressure.
Big wins over Manchester United and Stoke had previously closed the gap at the top to five points, prompting Harry Kane to post a picture of a lion stalking its prey on Twitter. With Leicester’s lack of experience of a title race and Spurs boasting a much easier run-in, many predicted that Leicester would be caught by the London club. Instead, Spurs rolled over and allowed Leicester to stroll to the memorable title win.
Firstly, Spurs threw away a lead to draw at home to West Brom before they lost the head completely at Stamford Bridge, wasting a two-goal lead in one of the dirtiest games in recent memory. Hands were stamped on and eyes were gouged as Spurs showed their true colours with their title challenge in tatters.
A home defeat to Southampton and a 5-1 hammering to already relegated Newcastle followed, allowing Arsenal to leapfrog Spurs into second place. Spurs truly did finish third in a two-horse race.
4 – Arsenal (2008)
Things might have been different for Arsenal if they’d managed to win their fourth Premier League title in 2008. They wouldn’t have gone nine years without a major trophy for one, and there might not have been such a need for Arsenal Fan TV for another. The Gooners probably wouldn’t be the genuine meme they are today had they just kept their nerve 11 years ago.
Leading by five points at the end of February, Wenger’s side appeared unrelenting in their quest for a first league title in four years. When they travelled to St Andrew’s to play Birmingham, however, things started to go badly wrong. The match is infamous for Martin Taylor’s horror tackle on Eduardo that left the Croatian on the sidelines for over a year, but it also marked the beginning of the end of Arsenal’s title challenge.
Despite going a goal down, Arsenal appeared to be on course for another victory thanks to two Theo Walcott strikes, but then Gael Clichy conceded a stoppage-time penalty. James McFadden converted and Arsenal dropped two points. Under normal circumstances that wouldn’t be such a big deal considering they still led by three points. It was the inexplicable tantrum from captain William Gallas that proved to be the issue. The Frenchman was in hysterics at the final whistle and teams sensed that Arsenal might be mentally weak.
They went on to draw three games in a row following the Birmingham game before losing to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. In the blink of an eye they were six points behind Manchester United and realistically out of the title race. Rarely has one player’s actions had such drastic consequences.
3 – Manchester United (1998)
United, under Ferguson, had become synonymous with putting teams under pressure in title races, with the Scot famous for his mind games. It’s surprising that they allowed an 11-point lead slip with just nine games remaining. Something about Arsene Wenger’s arrival into English football seemed to really irk Ferguson and it told in 1998. United dropped eight points in just three games to blow the title race wide open.
Losing first at Hillsborough to Sheffield Wednesday, United then drew with West Ham and lost to Arsenal themselves to make the title race a two-horse race. Further draws against Liverpool and Newcastle allowed the Gunners to overtake United in April and they never looked back, winning their first league title in nine years.
Arsenal’s 10-game winning run prevents this bottle job from being further up the list, because that is genuinely impressive and deserves at least some recognition.
2 – Manchester United (2012)
Often overlooked as a bottle job because of Manchester City’s last day dramatics but make no mistake; United handed City their first Premier League title on a platter. Leading by eight points with six games remaining, this was a bottle job of spectacular proportions.
United’s first slip up came at the DW Stadium against relegation-threatened Wigan, who they had never even dropped a Premier League point against, never mind losing a game. United had scored 21 goals in their last five games against the Latics for the concession of no goals yet fell to a 1-0 defeat on an April evening.
Despite steadying the ship by thrashing Aston Villa at Old Trafford, United handed further initiative to their fierce rivals by throwing a two-goal lead away to draw at home to Everton with just seven minutes remaining, allowing City to close the gap to three points ahead of the Manchester derby. City subsequently won that courtesy of a Vincent Kompany header and hit the front in the title race on goal difference. United won their last two games, but it was too little too late.
1 – Newcastle (1996)
The bottle job to define all bottle jobs. In fact, if you look up bottle job in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Kevin Keegan’s anguished face. Well you’ll actually see nothing as bottle job isn’t in the dictionary, but the idea is nice.
The Great Entertainers held a 12-point lead over Manchester United in mid-February but picked up just seven points from their next eight games as the pressure got to them. No one felt the pressure like Keegan, however. One of the first real victims of Alex Ferguson’s mind games, Keegan gave one of the most infamous rants of all time after his side had just beaten Leeds at Elland Road to keep their now slim title challenge alive.
The rant was a direct reaction to Ferguson’s claims that Nottingham Forest would put up less of a challenge against Newcastle than they did against United, despite the fact that United had beaten Nottingham Forest 5-0.
Keegan took the bait, however, and “I will love it if we beat them” has gone down in Premier League folklore.
Who could also forget the image of Keegan slumped over the advertising hoardings after Stan Collymore scored a last minute winner for Liverpool.
As it transpired, Nottingham Forest drew with Newcastle despite Ferguson’s fears and United won the league by four points.