Second Season Syndrome: The worst title defences ever

Liverpool have collected 27 fewer points than at the same stage last season, so how does their title defence compare to some of the worst in history?

Matthew Crist

After 23 games this season, Liverpool now have 27 fewer points than they did at the same stage last season, the biggest drop by any reigning champion at this stage of a campaign in English top-flight history.

The decline is also greater than any other team that have dipped this season, including Sheffield United (-22), Wolves (-7), Newcastle (-4), Leicester (-2), Crystal Palace and Burnley (both -1).

If that trend were to continue, then Jurgen Klopp’s side are on course to finish the season on 66 points with a goal difference of +25.

That would leave them outside of the Champions League qualifying places in fifth – if all the Premier League teams maintained their current points-per-game return.

Of course, a severe injury crisis in defence which saw Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, the Reds find themselves ten points off the summit hasn’t helped their cause and a record-breaking season was always going to be tough to replicate.

But with Liverpool are on course to return the third-worst title defence in Premier League history, let’s look back at some of the other sides who have struggled to retain their crown just 12-months after winning the title.

Manchester City – 1937/38

Manchester City

A Manchester City side that contained greats such as Frank Swift, Eric Brook, Alex Herd and Peter Doherty had secured the title in dramatic fashion 1937 after a storming second half to the season had seen them overtake long-time front-runners Charlton Athletic.

The next season, though, the Blues chucked it all away in pretty impressive fashion; after 17 games they were 10th, but they then lost four in a row, rallied with three wins and a draw from four games, before embarking on a run of six defeats and two draws in eight games.

City never recovered their momentum and, despite beating Leeds 6-2 in their penultimate game, they were relegated by a 1-0 defeat at Huddersfield on the final day, becoming the only champions to be relegated the following season, and the only team to go down with a positive goal difference.

Points finished behind eventual champions Arsenal: 16

Chelsea 1955/56

Chelsea 1955

When Chelsea won their first title, in 55, it was achieved with just 52 points, the lowest total of any postwar champions,  meaning it didn’t take much of a slip the following year for Chelsea to plummet down the table.

Chelsea won only one of their first nine games and, although four victories on the spin in October eased fears of relegation, they finished 13th.

Ted Drake’s side were the 16th of 21 English league champions to finish outside the top 10 the following season, a fate shared by Aston Villa, in 1981/82, Leeds in 1992/93 and Leicester City in 2015/16 to name a few.

Points finished behind eventual champions Man Utd: 21

Leeds United 1992/93

Leeds United

Off the back of their First Division triumph in 1991/92, the final season of the old First Division, the Yorkshire side had a nightmare start, winning just two of their opening nine.

Things didn’t improve quickly, and they found themselves inside the relegation zone for six weeks before eventually finishing in 17th place – just two points clear of the drop.

To make matters worse, French forward Eric Cantona departed halfway through the season for bitter rivals Manchester United and would later help the Red Devils to take the title from Leeds – the club’s first Championship for 26 years.

Points finished behind eventual champions Man Utd: 33

Blackburn Rovers 1995/96

Blackburn Rovers 1995

Having pipped Manchester United to the title on the final day of the previous season, Blackburn Rovers failed to build on their success, falling to four defeats in their opening six as boss Kenny Dalglish moved upstairs and was replaced by coach Ray Harford.

While top scorer Alan Shearer continued to bang in the goals – hitting 27 in all competitions – striker partner Chris Sutton struggled, failing to net a single Premier League goal amid injury troubles.

Rovers eventually ended the season in seventh place, outside of the European spots – something which proved costly, as Shearer left for Newcastle, while Director of Football and former manager Kenny Dalglish stepped down.

Points finished behind eventual champions Man Utd: 21

Manchester United 2013/14

Following Alex Ferguson, who had stepped down as United boss after leading the club to their 20th top-flight title, was never going to be an easy task, so for his replacement, David Moyes, it was seen by many as mission impossbile.

Just how tough few could have predicted though and after winning 4-1 away at Swansea The Chosen One would be sacked after just nine months in charge as United finished in seventh place while rivals Liverpool and Man City battled for the title.

It was the first time that the Red Devils had finished outside of the top three since the 1990/91 season, and is still their lowest finish in a Premier League season.

Points finished behind eventual champions Man City: 22

Chelsea 2015/16

Having stormed to the league title the previous season, few could have foreseen the dramatic slump which was about to take place at Stamford Bridge.

Jose Mourinho’s men lost nine of their opening 16 games, slipping to 16th in the table as a result 16th, something which ultimately cost him his job, as he was replaced by Guus Hiddink on an interim basis in December.

To make matters worse,  Eden Hazard, who had won PFA Player of the Year one season earlier, failed to register a league goal until late April, with the Blues eventually ending the season in tenth on 50 points – 37 fewer than they had accumulated the previous year.

Points finished behind eventual champions Leicester: 31

Leicester City 2016/17

Leicester City

Leicester City winning the title in 2016 had to be one of the biggest shocks in recent football history and a drop off was highly likely to come, it was just a case of to what extent when they lined up to defend their title the following season.

The warning signs came early, as the Foxes fell to a shock 2-1 opening day defeat to newly-promoted Hull City and things didn’t improve from here, and they found themselves with 21 points from their opening 25 outings.

As they sat just one place above the relegation zone, manager Claudio Ranieri was sacked and replaced by Craig Shakespeare, who managed to turn their fortunes around, guiding them to a somewhat respectable 12th-place finish.

Points finished behind eventual champions Chelsea: 49


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