1998-1999: Treble joy for Red Devils
|Champions||Manchester United||Biggest Win||Nottingham Forest 1-8 Manchester United|
|Runners-Up||Arsenal||Highest Scoring Game||Nottingham Forest 1-8 Manchester United|
|Third Place||Chelsea||Top Goalscorer||Dwight Yorke, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Michael Owen (18)|
|Relegated||Charlton Athletic, Blackburn Rovers, Nottingham Forest||Goals Scored||963|
After being beaten to the title by Arsenal in 1998, Alex Ferguson responded by signing Dutch defender Jaap Stam for £10m and then four days into the season, paid Aston Villa £12.6m to sign forward Dwight Yorke. Both bits of business were crucial. Stam ensured the Red Devils were tighter at the back; Yorke forming one of the deadliest striking partnerships in Premier League history with Andy Cole.
United were involved in a three-way title fight for most of the season with Arsenal and Chelsea. The Blues lost on the opening day at Coventry City before embarking on a five-month unbeaten run in the league. Gianluca Vialli’s side fell away towards the end of the campaign, throwing away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at home to Leicester City. However, third was Chelsea’s best league finish to-date.
After making a stuttering start to their title defence, with four draws from their opening five matches, Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-0 in September at Highbury to signal they weren’t going to give up the championship without a fight. It was Aston Villa though who would lead the table on Christmas Day. John Gregory had put together a young side, blended with experience in Paul Merson and Dion Dublin in attack that was getting fans at Villa Park very excited.
Villa faded badly though in the New Year and ended up in a distant sixth spot. Leeds United lost manager George Graham at the start of October as he filled the vacant manager’s role at Tottenham Hotspur. David O’Leary stepped up to the hotseat at Elland Road and spearheaded a stunning sequence of seven successive wins as the Yorkshire side finished fourth. West Ham recorded their best-ever Premier League finish of fifth, securing a UEFA Intertoto Cup spot in the process.
The title race took many twists and turns and the last one came on the final week. Arsenal lost to a late Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink header at Leeds and that handed Manchester United the initiative. On the final day, Gunners’ supporters needed a favour from deadly rivals Tottenham to help them retain their title. Arsenal beat Aston Villa 1-0 but it wasn’t enough. Despite trailing at home, Manchester United fought back. David Beckham and Cole scored the goals to defeat Spurs 2-1 and ensure a fifth Premier League title in seven seasons. It also ensured they were the last champions of the 20th century. Manchester United followed up league glory with a comfortable FA Cup final win over Newcastle United, and then sensationally beat Bayern Munich in the Nou Camp to add the UEFA Champions League to their collection and complete a magnificent treble.
At the other end of the table, Blackburn Rovers slipped out of the Premier League, just four seasons after winning the title. Brian Kidd left the assistant manager’s post at Manchester United in December to try management but he couldn’t keep the club in the top-flight. Nottingham Forest went straight back down and Ron Atkinson retired from football management. Charlton Athletic also made an instant return to Division One; relegated on the final day after Southampton beat Everton and the Addicks lost at home to Sheffield Wednesday.
The 1998-1999 season was when all of Alex Ferguson’s dreams really did come true.