From Atletico To Moyes' Man United: Ten Of Football's Worst Ever Title Defences

Los Colchoneros are not the first defending champions to have a very poor follow-up season
16:45, 17 Feb 2022

This season is looking bleak for Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid in La Liga. On Wednesday night the defending champions were defeated by bottom-of-the-table Levante and the result saw them fall out of the top four. 

Considering how well they performed last year to claim the title, it is surprising to see how poorly they have fared in their quest to retain it. They are currently at risk of having a catastrophic campaign that could end up with them missing out on Champions League football next year. They are currently fifth, level on points with Barcelona in fourth, but the resurgent Catalan giants have a game in hand.

Atletico Madrid are not the first defending champions to have a very poor follow-up season, and they certainly won’t be the last. We take a look at the worst title defences in history.

Chelsea (2015-16)

After Jose Mourinho guided the Blues to the Premier League title in 2014-15, their follow up season was nothing short of a disaster. For all the high-calibre Chelsea players at his disposal, the ‘Special One’ could not command a strong title defence as they finished 10th.

It was a pathetic season for the Blues, and it was clear in the first few months that the Portuguese coach had lost the dressing room, a trend that has followed him ever since. He was subsequently fired and it was left to Guus Hiddink to pick up the pieces.

For a club with the financial strength that Chelsea have, this was an inexcusable title defence and it will likely go down as the worst one ever recorded.

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AC Milan (1996-97)

Fabio Capello was hot property in the 90s as he won titles with Real Madrid and the Rossoneri. However, the title defence that Milan led at San Siro was underwhelming. They just could not appear to handle the pressure that the season before brought them and they pitifully finished 11th, with 30 points less than their title-winning total the year before. 

Having won three consecutive titles with Milan from 1992-94, this steep decline was extremely surprising. With Capello having left after securing the 1995-96 title, it's fair to say that Milan fell apart.

Real Madrid (1997-98)

Capello left Milan for Madrid where he took over the Spanish giants and had an instant impact in the Spanish capital. His first season saw Los Blancos storm La Liga with a whopping 92 points. The magic from that debut campaign faded in his second term as Real only managed to win five of their last 17 games which saw their title defence collapse. It wasn’t too disheartening however, as they won the Champions League.

Manchester United (2013-14)

The beginning of the fall of Manchester United in recent history as Sir Alex Ferguson perfectly timed his exit, knowing that United were going to be a considerable distance behind their Premier League rivals for a while. But no one expected it to have gone on for this long. 

Bowing out with one last title, Ferguson had significant input on his successor and as a result David Moyes was appointed on a six-year contract. The Red Devils kept losing silly matches and couldn’t stop conceding sloppy goals and the 'Chosen One’ didn’t even get to see through the first year of his bumper deal as United ended the season in 7th.

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Nantes (1995-96) 

Long before Paris Saint-Germain’s dominance in Ligue 1, the division used to be a free-for-all with several clubs being in a shot of claiming the title. Nantes enjoyed some success in this era and their 79-point haul in 1994-95 won them the league. However, they could not match their gargantuan efforts in the following season as they finished with 24 points less which saw them drop to 7th. A far from ideal title defence.

Leicester City (2016-17)

There is no way this historic Premier League title win will ever be forgotten. The Foxes were outstanding in that first season under Claudio Ranieri and while their top-flight triumph was an anomaly, it was thoroughly deserved. 

That’s why it was such a shame for their expected fall back down to earth to be as rough as it was. Ranieri didn’t even get to see the season through as a run of poor results saw him reluctantly sacked and Craig Shakespeare took over on an interim basis. The Foxes ended the year in 12th, but they have managed some more success since.

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Blackburn Rovers (1995-96)

It’s hard to forget Blackburn’s sole Premier League title victory and it was the only title that the league’s record goalscorer Alan Shearer won. The incredible strike partnership of Shearer and Chris Sutton was explosive but the spark went out in the follow-up season as Sutton was plagued with injuries and he was unable to register a single league goal. Despite Shearer’s best efforts without his partner, he could only fire his side to 7th, before leaving to join Newcastle.

Montpellier (2012-13)

Famously known as the ‘Olivier Giroud’ title, Montpellier stunned the world in 2012. It has since been eclipsed by the Leicester City fairytale. but this incredible story shouldn’t be overlooked. Giroud scored 21 goals in Ligue 1 to help fire his side to the title and his impeccable form in front of goal earned him a move to Arsenal. Not that anyone would have expected Montpellier to win back-to-back titles, but Giroud’s departure had a huge impact on the French outfit. A ninth-placed finish is what followed their historic title win and a steep 30-point decline.

Leeds United (1992-93)

The last champions of the bygone era of Division One which saw Leeds rack up an impressive 82 points. However, they could not back it up to become the inaugural Premier League champions as their rivals Manchester United began their top-flight dominance. Having lost a certain Frenchman by the name of Eric Cantona to the Red Devils, the Whites quickly plummeted down the table and finished in 17th. 

Liverpool (2020-21)

Liverpool finally got their hands on the Premier League trophy in 2020 and many expected them to put up an impressive fight to retain their title in the following year. 

Jurgen Klopp’s side had some key injuries during crucial stages of the season and the disharmony the changes brought to the starting line-up had them almost struggling to make the top four. Considering how strong Liverpool’s side were, their title defence was quite embarrassing, regardless of the injuries.

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