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Top Tenner: English title defences

As Manchester City embark on the defence of their Premier League title this weekend, we look at 10 other great teams that retained the title down the years...


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10. Preston North End, 1889-90

After Aston Villa director William McGregor corralled the disparate football clubs of England together to form the nascent Football League, he probably had something a little more competitive in mind than the league's first two seasons. Preston sashayed to the title in the first campaign, going unbeaten and finishing 11 points clear of Aston Villa, which is pretty impressive when you consider it was two points for a win in a 22-game season.

The following season they gobbled up the trophy again, in slightly less emphatic fashion, pipping Everton by two points, but at that stage it looked like this newly-formed organisation of English football would be dominated for years to come by one team. Given Preston haven't won the title since, that turned out not to be quite the case.

9. Sheffield Wednesday, 1929-30

Five teams have retained the English title more than once. Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Aston Villa are the four obvious ones, but the missing answer to this pub quiz question is Sheffield Wednesday. Known simply as "the Wednesday" when they won back-to-back titles in 1902-03 and 1903-04, they kicked around in the mid-parts of the division for a couple of decades, before very nearly going down in 1928, only surviving thanks to a miracle late run of eight wins and a draw from their final 10 matches.

They bounced back with some gusto the following year by winning the league, and celebrated by adding the "Sheffield" prefix to their name, a moniker that obviously agreed with Robert Brown's team as they retained the title in style, 10 points clear and with 105 goals in the bag.

8. Manchester United, 2008-09

Manchester United's legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has had his share of successful title defences.

The late part of the 21st century's first decade was a slightly curious time. Manchester United won the Premier League three times in a row, one of four teams to do that in the history of English football, with Liverpool, Arsenal and Huddersfield Town being the other three.

However, that United side is unlikely to be remembered as a "great" team -- they were, to be slightly reductive, basically an impenetrable defence, with Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra at their peak, and Cristiano Ronaldo approaching his.

Still, the third of that "threepeat" was probably the best, a breathless title race in which Liverpool simultaneously pushed them all the way while at the same time always just looking like they would fall short. The previous season, when they also won the Champions League, was clearly better for United, but on purely domestic terms, 2008-09 was more exciting.

7. Liverpool, 1922-23

There is perhaps a slight misconception that Liverpool were a tinpot shambles of a club before Bill Shankly took over at Anfield. But while the Scotsman undoubtedly shaped the modern version of Liverpool, they already had five league titles to their name when Shankly took over in 1959, retaining the league title for the first time in 1923 under Matt McQueen, after strolling to success the previous year.

McQueen took over in February of that season after the improbably-moustachioed David Ashworth left to return to Oldham, who were second-bottom of the league at the time, his motivation partly financial and partly to more effectively look after his sick wife. McQueen guided Liverpool to the title (despite a game against Bolton in which the Anfield Road Stand caught on fire; remarkably nobody was hurt and the game continued), while Ashworth's Oldham were relegated.

6. Chelsea, 2005-06

Many people thought that Jose Mourinho's "special one" chatter was unnecessary when he gabbed his way into English football back in 2004. By the time they sauntered to the Premier League title, Mourinho celebrating by calling his wife from the dugout at Bolton, even those who disliked the man recognised that he was the real thing.

This was reinforced when Chelsea retained the title, finishing eight points ahead of Manchester United, their sterling defence based on, well, a sterling defence, with John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho, Petr Cech et al. permitting opposition teams to score just 22 goals, an astonishingly miserly figure.

This perhaps wasn't the most impressive title win in that Chelsea didn't exactly fight off a number of hugely strong opponents, but it was more a magnificent display of leading from the front, Chelsea winning 15 of their first 16 league games to basically be out of sight by Christmas. It was like David Rudisha, powering to the front of a race early on and not for a minute looking like that lead would be relinquished.

5. Liverpool, 1976-77

Liverpool's Bob Paisley celebrates after the team retained its title.

Liverpool have retained the English title five times, so there's a fair amount to choose from for inclusion on this list.

In 1984 they recovered from Bob Paisley's retirement to fight off a clutch of clubs and win for a third time in a row, in 1980 Paisley's men kept a determined Manchester United at bay and in 1983 they sauntered to the title, finishing 11 points clear of Watford.

The best, though, is usually the first, as Paisley did what Bill Shankly couldn't quite manage and won back-to-back First Divisions in 1976 and 1977. The season started with just two defeats in their opening 16 games, a run that saw them sit astride the table by early autumn, but a blip reeled them in by Christmas, with Ipswich of all teams supplanting them at the summit. However, their post-New Year form was better and they managed to fight off a strong challenge from Manchester City to win the league by a single point. And then, to put a bow on their season, they won their first European Cup, too. Most satisfactory.

4. Wolverhampton Wanderers, 1958-59

Most decades have a team that defines it -- the 1930s had Arsenal, the 1970s and 1980s it was Liverpool, the 1990s and beyond Manchester United, but in the 1950s it was Wolves. In 1954, before the advent of the European Cup, Stan Cullis' English champions beat a Honved side that contained many members of the era's great Hungary team in a friendly, a victory which caused the Daily Mail (displaying an early talent for reckless hyperbole) to declare them "champions of the world."

Perhaps their greatest (and more official) domestic triumph came a few years later, when the team led by Billy Wright retained the league title, finishing six points ahead of Manchester United. They would very nearly manage a third, finishing second the next season while also winning the FA Cup, a feat which would've been the first double of the 20th century.

3. Huddersfield Town, 1925-26

What would we make of Herbert Chapman if he was around today? The essence of his first triumphs, with Huddersfield, was rigid tactical discipline, organising his team when few other managers really bothered with things like formations and whatnot. Chapman introduced an extra defender into his teams and played a rapid counterattacking game that might not have been groundbreakingly entertaining, but it was certainly effective. Would those of us who crave entertainment and scorn the likes of Sam Allardyce and Jose Mourinho stand for that now?

Chapman guided Huddersfield to their first league title in 1924, repeated the trick the following season but left to manage Arsenal in the close season. Cecil Potter took over and carried on Town's success, making them the first team to win the title three seasons in a row, finishing five points ahead of Chapman's Arsenal. They also became the first club side to score direct from a corner that season -- it was just success after success for Huddersfield.

2. Arsenal, 1933-34

After Chapman laid the foundations for the first team to win three titles in a row, he did so again at Arsenal, but like with Huddersfield he wasn't there to complete the treble. It took a while for his methods to take hold at Highbury, as they had to wait eight years for their first league title, in which time Chapman narrowly escaped censure for a scheme to circumvent maximum wage restrictions (chairman Sir Henry Norris was banned from football) and recruited Cliff Bastin, who would go on to be Arsenal's record goal scorer.

Arsenal would win the league in 1932 and 1933, but in January of the following season, with his side well on their way to a third success, Chapman contracted pneumonia and passed away. Understandably shaken by their manager's death, Arsenal lost the next three games, but under caretaker Joe Shaw they recovered and won 11 of their final 15 matches to finish four points ahead of Sunderland and lift another title.

1. Manchester United, 1999-2000

The way Manchester United steamrollered everyone before them in the post-1999 seasons is sometimes framed as an implicit criticism of Sir Alex Ferguson's side, that because they battered their opposition so that meant the rest of the league was useless and thus tainted their success. They won the title for the third time in 2001, but it was in 1999-2000 that they were most merciless, finishing a full 18 points ahead of Arsenal in second, losing just three times -- only once after October -- and dropping a mere six points after Christmas.

So dominant were United that after they collected that third title a year later (winning that by a piffling 10 points) it almost looks like the sale of Jaap Stam and purchase of Laurent Blanc and Juan Sebastian Veron in 2001 were self-handicaps, a bit like Roger Federer playing left-handed just to keep things interesting. It probably didn't seem like that at the time, though.


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