The title races at the top of the Premier League and Championship may be going right to the wire this season, but there is always the possibility of a side throwing it away in the last few weeks. We have seen Liverpool choke in the past, but given the quality of Manchester City this season they are doing incredibly well to even be in the mix at this stage, let alone actually leading the division. However, some other teams have crumbled under the pressure of leading the way, when they seemed certain to win the title earlier in the season. We take a look at some of the best.
Ah Kevin Keegan. A maverick of a man and a decent football manager on his day, Keegan had inspired the Geordies to the top of the Premier League and they had opened a huge 12 point gap over closest rivals Manchester United by January. However, a huge choke then took place, with Newcastle losing five games out of eight, allowing Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United to overhaul them.
One of the most famous rants of all-time then followed where Keegan claimed: “I would love it, love it if we beat them.” United went on to cruise to the title by four points and Newcastle finished trophyless. They have not come this close to a title since.
This is an astonishing tale of agony. Benfica had a storming season, almost unparalleled in the Portuguese League and only lost one game over the league season but somehow finished empty-handed. Things came to a head during the second to last game of the season as Benfica went to title rivals Porto, needing to avoid defeat to keep the title in their hands.
Things started well as Lima put them ahead early on but an own goal levelled the scores before Kelvin hit a dramatic 91st-minute winner for Porto and handed the title to the hosts. Benfica manager Jorge Jesus collapsed to his knees as the title slipped from their grasps but there was still hope for the season as just three days later they took on Chelsea in the Europa League final.
Again the scores were level at 1-1 heading into the injury time but Branislav Ivanovic rose highest from a corner to give Chelsea the trophy and break the hearts of Benfica once more. But despite these two heartbreaking losses, weeks later there was still the final trophy up for grabs.
Benfica took on Vitoria, who had finished ninth in the league and 37 points behind them so they went into the game as heavy favourites. Gaitan gave them the lead and once again they were just over 10 minutes from glory. Predictably they threw it away and lost the game 2-1 making it a hat-trick of late defeats, taking them from potential treble winners to trophyless. Ouch.
This is a bit of a different scenario. Liverpool were the top side in England during their 80’s and they had put together an incredible sequence of results in the second half of the 1988/1989 season. That had fired them to the top of the league and they would take on Arsenal on the final day to decide where the title ended up.
The Reds had already won the Charity Shield and the FA Cup that season so it was far from a failure ala Benfica, but the league title was the big prize. All they needed to do to scoop that prize was avoid losing by two goals to the Gunners. Any other result would see them victorious and as they were on a run of 24 games unbeaten, confidence was high.
However, Arsenal more than held their own and went 1-0 up in the second half thanks to a goal from Alan Smith. Late on Anfield was a nervous place and heading into the 92nd minute the unthinkable happened. Michael Thomas raced through and stabbed the ball home, sparking wild celebrations and leaving Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish gutted.
Real Madrid 2003/04
The Galacticos. This team on paper was simply untouchable. Roberto Carlos, Zidane, Raul, Ronaldo, Figo, Beckham, Guti. Surely this team would beat everyone in their path and romp to Premier League and Champions League glory?
That is not quite how it turned out. Real Madrid were flying with seven games to go and they were well in contention for the league title, competing with Valencia, Barcelona and Deportivo. However, a run of results that is nothing short of disgraceful for this team followed as they lost six of their last seven league games and finished in fourth.
They also went out of the Champions League at the quarter-finals stage and finished the season trophyless. A disgrace in modern football for this talented squad.
Bayer Leverkusen 2001/02
This is a tough one to take. Like Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen were on for an incredible treble with a young, talented and exciting squad featuring Michael Ballack, Dimitar Berbatov and Ze Roberto. With three games to go they lead the Bundesliga by five points, but somehow they lost their next two games and handed the title to Borussia Dortmund, who took advantage of the slip-up.
They lost the league title by just a point and to add to their misery, they also came up short in the DFB Pokal final. Schalke demolished them 4-2 which just left Leverkusen in the Champions League final, taking on Real Madrid.
They played out a cracking final in Glasgow, but Real Madrid took the trophy after Zinedine Zidane's corking left-footed volley took the European Cup back to Spain. Three heartbreaking defeats that prove once you start losing, it is hard to stop.