x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The strategies that have produced Premier League champions

Ahead of the start of the new Premier League season, Richard Jolly looks at 10 different ways to win the title.

Targeting Robin van Persie's goalscoring prowess at Arsenal helped make Manchester United champions in 2012/13.
Targeting Robin van Persie's goalscoring prowess at Arsenal helped make Manchester United champions in 2012/13.

Lead from the front

This is particularly pertinent because it was Jose Mourinho's preferred method of domination during his first spell at Stamford Bridge.

In his debut season in charge of Chelsea, the Portuguese's team were already seven points ahead of Manchester United after eight games. They were even quicker out of the blocks the following year, winning each of their first nine games and boasting a nine-point lead in the first quarter of the campaign.

It was only when United, normally primed to peak in the closing stages of a season, responded with a fast start of their own, in 2006/07, that they regained the title.

Leave it late

The most dramatic and, perhaps, satisfying way of winning the league is with a perfectly timed surge past the flagging front-runner. Perhaps the finest example of the Premier League years came from Arsenal.

When they drew with West Ham United on March 2, 1998, they were 11 points behind Manchester United. By then reeling off 10 straight wins, they clinched the title - in time for them to lose their last two matches.

United themselves were probably the role models: in 1996, they were 12 points behind Newcastle United with 15 games to go and responded by taking 40 points from a possible 45 to overhaul the Magpies.

Beat the best

Glance at the league table and the most obvious aspect of Chelsea's triumph in 2009/10 is the number of goals scored: 103, the most by any top-flight team in almost half a century.

Actually the key lay in whom they beat. Back in the days when "the Big Four" was part of the football lexicon, Carlo Ancelotti's team beat Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool home and away, taking 18 points from the summits of the superpowers.

Liverpool, who slumped to seventh, were falling from grace but Chelsea's 2-0 win at Anfield was required to all but secure the title.

Beat the rest

Chelsea were the opposite of the team they deposed as champions. Manchester United's title win in 2008/09 was based on their ruthlessness in disposing of the lesser lights.

Sir Alex Ferguson's team began the season with a 1-1 draw against Newcastle: it proved the only time they failed to beat anyone who finished outside the top eight.

By taking 70 points from a possible 72 against the rest, they ensured it mattered not that their return against the best - 20 points from 42 - was undistinguished, or that they lost home and away to runners-up Liverpool.

Hammer your closest rivals

Manchester City's triumph in 2011/12 featured perhaps the most remarkable conclusion to a season ever, Sergio Aguero scoring the title-winning goal 200 seconds into stoppage time in the final game of the campaign.

Yet the determining factor was the 7-1 aggregate score in their two meetings with Manchester United. The division was decided on goal difference and City's was eight better.

In particular, United could reflect on injury time at Old Trafford, which proved disastrous for them as Edin Dzeko (twice) and David Silva scored to turn a 3-1 win into a 6-1 thrashing.

Sign the best player

If it seems an obvious formula, sometimes the simplest solutions are the best.

While Manchester City were the top team in 2011/12, Robin van Persie took the individual honours, winning both Footballer of the Year awards and the Premier League Golden Boot.

So Sir Alex Ferguson moved for the Dutchman and saw Manchester United finish 11 points clear of their closest rivals last season as, once again, Van Persie proved to be the most prolific player in the division.

Go unbeaten

Of all the ways of demoralising opponents, this may be the most effective.

The Arsenal team of 2003/04 were both unbeaten and unbeatable, ending the campaign with 26 wins and 12 draws from their 38 league fixtures.

Their nickname - "the Invincibles" - was both obvious and a throwback to the only other English side to complete a league season without a loss, Preston North End's class of 1888/89.

Total domination

If Manchester United's treble-winning team of 1999 will go down in history as among the greatest sides seen at Old Trafford, they were actually more dominant in domestic football the following season.

A glance at the statistics shows why: they won the Premier League by a record 18 points, with one of the highest points totals, 91.

They were alone in going unbeaten at home, picking up most points (49) and scoring the most goals (59).

On the road, their three defeats were the fewest and their 13 wins the most and once again they top-scored (38 goals). Along the way, they had two runs of six straight wins and one of 11.

Defy footballing orthodoxy

Perhaps the two best Premier League sides of the 21st century had something in common: they did not have a striker. Or not a conventional one, anyway. Before "false nine" entered the sport's vocabulary, both the Arsenal team of 2003/04 and the Manchester United side of 2007/08 had no one playing as a target man or a penalty-box poacher.

Arsene Wenger deployed Dennis Bergkamp between the lines while Thierry Henry spent much of his time on the left, cutting in to devastating effect. Sir Alex Ferguson paired Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, twin workhorses who would scurry around the forward line, but again the principal scorer came from the flanks, with Cristiano Ronaldo veering infield to deliver goals.

However, while Barcelona and Spain have popularised the idea of playing without a striker, it is something only the best teams can do successfully.

The final piece in the jigsaw

Many sides seem one player away from being a title-winning team. Some actually are, but finding that footballer is often the hardest part. Occasionally, it can happen by chance.

When the Leeds United chairman Bill Fotherby phoned his Manchester United counterpart Martin Edwards to ask about Denis Irwin in November 1992, Sir Alex Ferguson quickly responded by asking if Eric Cantona was available.

The Frenchman was and United had the catalyst to end their 26-year wait for a league title.

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