10. Arsenal (1997/98)
Later Arsenal sides were more technically gifted, but many players who faced both suggest that Arsene Wenger’s first Arsenal champions were the best all-round side. They mixed attacking flair with physicality, essentially thanks to the combination of a modern, foreign forward line and an old-school English back four.
Indeed, rather than technical quality, this side was renowned for their physical attributes: pace, strength and stamina. The midfield quartet epitomised that; Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira bullied opponents, Ray Parlour was transformed under Wenger’s regime and shuttled up and down all game, while Marc Overmars offered lightning acceleration.
The playmaking came from the forward line: Dennis Bergkamp was the league’s outstanding individual, and his guile worked excellently with Nicolas Anelka’s sheer speed. The first half of Arsenal’s campaign was unexciting, but a run of 13 wins from 14 games, including 12 clean sheets, meant Arsenal won the title with two games to spare.
9. Manchester United (2007/08)
A truly remarkable side that simply had everything. Edwin van der Sar was back to his peak, while Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were the best centre-back combination in Europe.
Further forward, Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick were arguably the three most intelligent English central midfielders of their generation, while the attacking trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney rotated at will, keeping the opposition guessing. Ronaldo, in particular, was simply unstoppable – this campaign helped him win the Ballon d’Or.
The supporting cast were particularly impressive: the likes of Park Ji-sung, Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea weren’t the most revered players, but were intelligent tactical options who helped nullify opponents as part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s increasingly sophisticated gameplans. In truth, though, this United were a better European side than a Premier League side – they only defeated Avram Grant’s Chelsea side by two points.
8. Manchester United (1999/2000)
It seems criminal to include this side rather than the famous treble winners of the previous season – the 1998/99 side’s achievements were clearly more memorable, of course.
But in 1999/2000 Manchester United improved their points tally by 12 and scored 17 extra goals. Whereas in 1998/99 they required a final day comeback to sneak the title by a point, in 1999/2000 they triumphed by 18 points; a ridiculous margin.
It was largely the same team as the treble-winners: the best midfield quartet of the Premier League era in David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs; further forward the partnership of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke backed up by super-subs Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Mikael Silvestre provided extra pace at the back, and the only weakness was in goal, where Mark Bosnich proved an underwhelming replacement for Peter Schmeichel.
7. Leicester (2015/16)
Leicester’s remarkable title victory was so unexpected that it feels somehow impossible to compare it to the big boys’ successes – yet forget about them being underdogs, and it’s nevertheless a hugely dominant title victory, by an impressive 10 points. Leicester lost only three times all season.
Claudio Ranieri’s side ripped up the rulebook – whereas others were obsessed with possession play, Leicester were almost pure counter-attackers. Jamie Vardy broke the Premier League record for scoring in consecutive games, Riyad Mahrez was the league’s best player – capable of scoring, creating and assisting – while N’Golo Kante was a revelation, repopularising the tough-tackling, all-action defensive midfielder.
But overall this was a brilliant team, among the best defensive units the Premier League has seen in the second half of the season. When asked questions they always came up with the answers – pressing higher or going more direct with supersub Leo Ulloa. The most extraordinarily unlikely title winners, they’re also among the best.
6. Manchester United (1993/94)
Manchester United were serial title winners during the Premier League’s formative years, but this was their most dominant triumph of the 1990s: a brilliant, formidable, consistent side. They were top of the table after 40 of their 42 matches.
Tactically, it was considered a 4-4-2, although they were perhaps the first 4-2-3-1 Premier League side. Newcomer Roy Keane formed a terrifying midfield partnership with Paul Ince; both box-to-box midfielders rather than holders. Two of Lee Sharpe, Andrei Kanchelskis and Ryan Giggs provided speed out wide, while up front, the magnificent Eric Cantona orchestrated play behind a good old-fashioned targetman, Mark Hughes.
The back four was barely ever broken up – Denis Irwin was ever-present, centre-back duo Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister missed one game apiece, Paul Parker just two. Oh, and Peter Schmeichel was the league’s best goalkeeper. No one stood a chance.
5. Chelsea (2005/06)
This Chelsea isn’t held in the same esteem as their title-winning side of the previous season, but they were nearly as good: only four fewer points (thanks to two defeats when the title was already sealed) and the same number of goals scored. Frank Lampard was still firing, Didier Drogba improved and Hernan Crespo returned from a loan spell to contribute some crucial goals.
There wasn’t the same dynamism from Damien Duff and Arjen Robben, but Joe Cole became a regular and effectively sealed the title with a brilliant goal at Stamford Bridge against closest rivals Manchester United. Michael Essien, meanwhile, was probably the key addition, bringing yet more power to Chelsea’s engine room.
There’s something peculiarly lacking about this Chelsea side – perhaps some genuine flair and some more memorable moments. But in terms of their statistics and dominance over rivals, this is the most underrated Premier League title-winning side.
4. Manchester United (2008/09)
There’s a comparison with the 1999/2000 title winners to be made here: while the previous campaign is remembered more fondly thanks to United’s Champions League success, they became a better side afterwards. Whereas the previous campaign it was Avram Grant’s ramshackle Chelsea side that United narrowly overcame in the league, this time they powered ahead of Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool – perhaps the best non-title-winning side of the Premier League era.
Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t quite so fearsome, and the absence of Owen Hargreaves was a blow, but United had added Dimitar Berbatov to their attacking options. Whereas in 2007/08 they sometimes lacked a genuine penalty box presence, the Bulgarian brought both height and guile.
Most remarkable, though, was the astonishing run of 14 clean sheets from November to late February – the most impenetrable period in Premier League history. This wasn’t a spectacular side, as United scored nine fewer goals than second-placed Liverpool, and lost home and away to Benitez’s side – but they were a brilliant unit.
3. Chelsea (2016/17)
It’s occasionally difficult to place modern achievements in a historical hall of fame, but no one should doubt the scale of Chelsea’s title victory last season. In one of the most competitive Premier League seasons ever, Antonio Conte’s side recorded 93 points – the second highest in Premier League history following their 2004/05 efforts – and helped to transform the Premier League in a tactical sense too.
After a poor start, Chelsea’s autumn switch to a 3-4-3 brought a sudden run of six clean sheets and 12 straight victories which took them from eighth place to runaway title favourites. Opponents couldn’t cope with the overlapping wing-back duo of Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses, while Eden Hazard menacingly drifted inside from the left, and Diego Costa banged in the goals up front.
Defensively, the three-man unit held firm, while N’Golo Kante proved the signing of the season for the second straight season, providing boundless energy and ball-winning qualities in midfield. Conte even found a place for serial assister Cesc Fabregas, having jettisoned him in the early weeks. The Chelsea title winners of two years beforehand fell over the line, but this side kept on going.
2. Chelsea (2004/05)
Jose Mourinho’s debut season in English football was based almost entirely around a solid defence – Chelsea conceded just 15 goals and recorded 25 clean sheets, both mind-boggling figures. This remains the Premier League’s highest points total: 95.
The season started slowly in an attacking sense, with an over-reliance upon set-pieces for goals. But the autumn introduction of Arjen Robben transformed Chelsea into a brilliant attacking force too; based largely around the concept of attacking transitions, he and Damien Duff sped forward to destroy teams on the break.
Didier Drogba was yet to find his feet, but Eidur Gudjohnsen linked play excellently up front while Frank Lampard broke forward constantly to become a truly outstanding attacking midfielder. Defensive midfielder Claude Makelele, meanwhile, was the crucial part of Chelsea’s 4-3-3 – a formation which outplayed opponents in the opening weeks, and was widely replicated across the league towards the end of the season.
1. Arsenal (2003/04)
Others have triumphed with a greater points tally, or won the Champions League too. But Arsenal’s undefeated title-winning campaign remains a truly remarkable achievement: the only incidence of this happening since the 19th century.
Undefeated runs are often characterised by resilient defences, but Arsenal were an incredible attacking unit boasting the speed of Thierry Henry, the creativity of Dennis Bergkamp and reliable goalscoring on either flank from Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires.
Gilberto Silva and Patrick Vieira provided the strength often lacking at Arsenal over the last decade, while Sol Campbell was the only natural defender in a backline featuring Ashley Cole, Lauren and Kolo Toure – three players converted from more attacking positions by Arsene Wenger, summarising his emphasis upon technical skill. Jens Lehmann is remembered for his blunders, but in his debut Premier League campaign he simply didn’t lose all season.
Arsenal boasted the league’s best attack and its best defence; they could dominate possession and counter-attack brilliantly in turn. There’s a reason why Arsenal’s “L 0”, rather than Chelsea’s “Pts 95” remains the Premier League’s most revered statistic.