Premier League title races are often tense, fraught affairs. The general consensus is it’s better to lead the way with the points in the bag then have to make up ground.
But sometimes the pressure of being the team everybody is chasing has become too much for some clubs, and they have ultimately finished empty handed.
We’ve looked back at seven times those leading the table couldn’t get the job done, featuring surprise title challenges from the likes of Aston Villa and Norwich City.
Manchester United 1997-98
In February of 1998 some bookmakers were paying out on all bets for United to win the title, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men 11 points clear of Arsenal at the top of the table.
By March that gap had extended to 12 points, though the Gunners did have three games in hand and also had to visit Old Trafford.
Arsenal put together a run of 10 consecutive victories, including a 1-0 win at Old Trafford, to snatch the title from the grasps of the Red Devils by a solitary point.
Newcastle United 1995-96
A campaign defined by quite possibly the most famous post-match interview of all time.
With 15 matches remaining, Kevin Keegan’s entertainers led Manchester United by 17 points as their cavalier approach appeared set to be rewarded with the championship.
Between February 21 and April 8, Newcastle lost five of their eight Premier League fixtures, including a 1-0 defeat to a United side inspired by the return of Eric Cantona.
This would be the season which cemented Fergie’s status as a master of mind games.
— Af (@0kunola) October 3, 2015
In the space of two results Liverpool managed to go from ‘f*cking hell, they’ve won this’ to ‘f*cking hell, they’ve lost this’.
First there was Steven Gerrard’s slip in the 2-0 defeat to Chelsea, and that was swiftly followed by Luis Suarez’s tears at Crystanbul.
It must be said, this was pretty spectacular.
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) February 26, 2018
Manchester United 2011-12
Having a title snatched away is always going to hurt. Having it snatched away by your local rivals is agonising.
Manchester City’s 6-1 win at Old Trafford suggested that the title would end up in the blue half of Manchester, only for two defeats and two draws in March to allow United to go top at the business end of the season.
With six matches remaining, Fergie’s side had an eight point advantage, and yet surprisingly stumbled with a shock defeat at Wigan.
The Red Devils then let a 4-2 lead slip in the final 10 minutes against Everton, allowing City to return to the top of the table on goal difference with a tense victory over their rivals.
The drama, of course, did not stop there, and while United thought they had won the title with victory at Sunderland on the last day of the season, they will always be haunted by one word: “Aguerooooooooooo.”
Possibly the most obvious example of an injury changing the course of not just one match but a whole season.
Arsenal headed to St Andrew’s five points clear at the top of the Premier League in February 2008.
Only three minutes into the match, Eduardo suffered a horrific leg break following a shocking challenge by Martin Taylor, and Arsenal’s season imploded from thereon in.
A 2-1 lead was scuppered by a late James McFadden penalty, William Gallas become the physical manifestation of the mental blow by throwing a tantrum on the pitch, and Arsenal ended the season in third place, four points off top spot.
Arsenal – 2007/08
One of my favourite seasons ever. Pain from an old wound. pic.twitter.com/DSepyJXkSQ
— Dostoyevsky (@KozielloEN) January 9, 2018
Norwich City 1992-93
The inaugural Premier League season was a strange place.
Manchester United were trying to to end a 26-year title drought with Fergie under pressure to deliver success.
Reigning champions Leeds United were embroiled in a relegation battle and failed to win away from home all season.
And the top seven of the division featured Aston Villa, Norwich City, Blackburn, QPR and Sheffield Wednesday.
Starting the season among the favourites for relegation, Norwich were eight points clear at the top in December, only to falter in the second half of the season and be overtaken by Villa and eventual champions United.
They did at least win at kits.
— Sporting Index (@sportingindex) April 29, 2017
Aston Villa 1998-99
With reigning champions Arsenal leading 2-0 at Villa Park on December 13, it appeared Aston Villa’s early-season flirtation with the top of the Premier League was coming to an end.
Dwight Yorke had been sold to Manchester United, and the Red Devils had moved to the summit of the table with a draw against Tottenham the previous day.
But then Julian Joachim pulled a goal back, and Dion Dublin completed a remarkable turnaround with a brace to stun the Gunners, and raise expectations in the Midlands.
“Maybe Aston Villa are something more than pre-Christmas pretenders,” The Guardian’s David Lacey wrote. “Certainly they are championship material if powers of recovery are anything to go by.”
Sadly, their powers of recovery escaped John Gregory’s men, and a run of 10 matches without a win, including seven defeats, brought their title hopes to an abrupt halt.