2008-2009: Rivals battle goes Manchester’s way

Champions Manchester United Biggest Win Manchester City 6-0 Portsmouth
Runners-Up Liverpool FC Highest Scoring Game Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham Hotspur
Third Place Chelsea Top Goalscorer Nicolas Anelka (19)
Relegated Newcastle United, Middlesbrough, West Bromwich Albion Goals Scored 942

Manchester United’s aim in 2008-2009 was not only to win a third consecutive Premier League title, but to equal their enemies from the north-west in Liverpool FC on 18 all-time English championships. This turned into a great battle between the two giants from this part of the country.

Liverpool put up their strongest title challenge in the Premier League era. Rafa Benitez’s side played some great football, with Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres at the peak of their powers. Gerrard won the Football Writers’ Award and their 4-1 demolition of United in their own backyard in March showed their qualities.

The Reds led the table at Christmas, were the league’s top scorers and lost the fewest games (2) but dropped too many points at Anfield. There were seven home draws, including an entertaining 4-4 draw with Arsenal in April when Andrei Arshavin scored all four goals for the visitors. Rafa Benitez’s rant in January at Sir Alex Ferguson and his treatment of referees badly backfired.

United kept plugging away. Dimitar Berbatov had been added to their attacking options and Ryan Giggs continued to sparkle, winning the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award. Cristiano Ronaldo scored 17 league goals in his final campaign at Old Trafford and Edwin van der Sar broke the record for most minutes without conceding a goal in the top-flight. A goalless draw at home to Arsenal on the final Saturday of the season sealed the Red Devils’ 18th league title, drawing them level with Liverpool FC. The next target on Sir Alex Ferguson’s list was to surpass it.

Chelsea had another chaotic campaign. Luiz Felipe Scolari started the season but didn’t complete it. He was sacked in February. Guus Hiddink took temporary charge and lost just one game (1-0 at Tottenham in March) as the Blues’ finished third and won the FA Cup. Although he was asked to stay on, the Dutchman declined due to his international commitments at the time with Russia.

Aston Villa put in a serious challenge for the top four until March when their form deserted them. Martin O’Neill’s team tailed off to finish sixth for the second successive campaign, again behind Everton and Arsenal who were an anonymous fourth. For guiding Fulham to seventh spot and European qualification, Roy Hodgson was awarded LMA Manager of the Year status. Manchester City finished a distant tenth but this was the season where the Abu Dhabi Group completed their takeover of the club. They were about to become a genuine force in English football.

Hull City made an unbelievable start to life in the Premier League. They sat in the dizzy heights of third spot in October, having won away from home at Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. Phil Brown’s side then went on a downward spiral, winning just one match from January onwards. The run included a half-time team talk on the pitch infront of Hull’s supporters after an aberration in the opening 45 minutes at Manchester City.

For the second time in Premier League history, Manchester United had managed three titles in a row. Now, having equalled Liverpool FC’s number of English titles – the next aim was to beat it.