Football Features

Roy Keane called Liverpool ‘bad champions’ – but what’s the worst title defence in Premier League history?

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 10:33, 21 February 2021

Roy Keane has branded Liverpool “bad champions” following their efforts to retain the Premier League title this season.

It’s easy to see why Keane would make such a claim given that the Reds have now lost four consecutive home games and are currently 16 points behind leaders Manchester City, having already drawn and lost more times this season than they did in the whole of 2019/20.

Obviously, there are reasons for Liverpool’s struggles, namely injuries and the bizarre loss of form from two of their front three, but whatever the explanations, the fact remains: the Reds have made a mess of their first-ever title defence for 30 years.

The Reds ended last season with 99 points and after 25 games this campaign they have 40 points. That’s less than 1.6 points-per-game (ppg) compared to 2.6 last season. Now if you multiply their points-per-game this season by their remaining 13 games you get approximately 21 points, leaving them with a total of 61 points. That is 38 points lower than their title-winning total or a mammoth percentage drop of more than 38%.

So, yes, Liverpool have been “bad champions,” but just how bad? Where do they rank among the numerous bad champions in Premier League history? After all, only three managers have retained the title (Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and the great Sir Alex Ferguson, who did it six times), so there’s bound to be plenty of teams who have failed to live up to their title-winning standards.

But who are they? And how bad were they? We’ve ranked the 10 worst Premier League title defences by the percentage drop in points from their winning season and their title-defending season.

10. Arsenal

Season: 2002/03
Position: 2nd
Points total: 78
Championship points total (2001/02): 87
Percentage points difference: -10.34%

The Gunners finally put a stop to Manchester United’s title procession in 2002 and looked set to repeat those exploits as champions in 2002/03. That is, until they collapsed dramatically at the end of the season. From two points clear after 19 games to five adrift of first spot after 38, Arsenal would ultimately surrender the title back to Man Utd.

9. Manchester United

Season: 2000/01
Position: 1st
Points total: 80
Championship points total (1999/00): 91
Percentage points difference: -12.09%

This is a strange one because Manchester United did actually retain their title despite a huge drop-off in quality from their previous campaign. The sensational performances of 1999/00 slowed down a bit to a more expected 80 points. Still enough for the Premier League’s first-ever three-peat, but the Gunners were closing in.

8. Manchester City

Season: 2012/13
Position: 2nd
Points total: 78
Championship points total (2011/12): 89
Percentage points difference: -12.36%

Roberto Mancini’s Man City blew hot and cold and as impressive as their first title for over 50 years was, their title defence was blown out of the water by Robin van Persie “listening to the little boy inside” and choosing the red half of Manchester. Without that added firepower, City struggled to maintain their level as Mancini played out his final season in Manchester.

7. Manchester City

Season: 2019/20
Position: 2nd
Points total: 81
Championship points total (2018/19): 98
Percentage points difference: -17.35%

Now we’re really starting to get into the massive drop-offs. Although in the case of Guardiola’s Man City, they had a hell of a long way to fall after two seasons with 100 and 98 points, respectively. In hindsight 81 points wasn’t that bad but still a massive drop in standards that made plain what everyone could see on the pitch. With City wallowing in self-inflicted misery, Liverpool swept their way to the title.

6. Chelsea

Season: 2010/11
Position: 2nd
Points total: 71
Championship points total (2009/10): 86
Percentage points difference: -17.44%

In 2009/10 Carlo Ancelotti shook up Stamford Bridge with a sensational double, including an absurdly high-scoring title win. The Italian has never been one to solve problems, however, and when Chelsea hit some speed-bumps halfway through their title defence things came off the rails badly. In the end United secured the title (with the lowest points total this century) with a good Spring run, as Chelsea could only sit back and watch.

5. Chelsea

Season: 2017/18
Position: 5th
Points total: 70
Championship points total (2016/17): 93
Percentage points difference: -24.73%

The Blues are back! After storming to the title under Antonio Conte, ripping everyone apart with a 3-4-2-1 shape that everyone wanted to copy, things went badly wrong the following season. Was it Conte’s demanding nature? Yes. Was it an inability to cope with the Premier League and European football? Yes again. Was it because the players appeared to be utterly unmotivated to play for Conte? Also yes.

4. Manchester United

Season: 2013/14
Position: 7th
Points total: 64
Championship points total (2012/13): 89
Percentage points difference: -28.09%

Manchester United are by far the best team in the Premier League when it comes to retaining the title, but even they’ve had a disaster worthy of the top 10. And of course, it was the season that David Moyes took over. The gruff Scot thought that just because he was replacing another guff Scot he’d do well. However, the Red Devils ultimately collapsed in a humiliating fashion that brought a smile to any and every neutral fan in England and, in truth, they are only now, seven years on, finally getting over the problems caused by Moyes.

3. Blackburn

Season: 1995/96
Position: 7th
Points total: 61
Championship points total (1994/95): 89
Percentage points difference: -31.46%

When Blackburn won the title there was a lot of surprise, but then, also not that much given how much they’d spent assembling a dream team. However even as everything came together for them wonderfully, it did fall apart just as massively the following season. The sheer size of their points drop (28) was exacerbated by the Premier League switching from a 42-game to a 38-game season, but it cannot be denied that they had no idea how to go about retaining the title and cope with the burden of champions.

The ‘Good’ Champions

Defending your title is very hard, which is why so few have managed it. Among all 27 title defences the Premier League has seen, only five have managed to improve on their points tally from their title-winning season. Arsenal managed to get the exact same number of points defending their title in 1998/99 as they did winning it in 1997/98, only for Manchester United to get one point more and render them runners-up.

The five ‘good’ champions have, in fact, all been Manchester United. First in 1997/98, the Red Devils managed to get two more points than they did as winners, albeit they were out-done by Arsenal (showing the endless bar-raising going on at the end of the century). United’s powerhouse win in 2008/09 saw them pick up three more points than they did the season before, retaining their title in the process.

The next two entries saw United keep their levels up as defending champions but fall short of their goals. Their impressive showing in 1994/95 wasn’t enough to retain their title as they fell short on the final day and similarly when they got nine more points in 2011/12 than they did in 2010/11 (helped by that season’s low points total) they ended up runners-up on goal difference after last-day heroics at the Etihad.

But the best ‘good’ champions in Premier League history are Manchester United in 1999/00. The treble winners came to defend their title and, lifted by the belief in their own ability, absolutely obliterated everyone in the league. They defended their title and bagged a massive 91 points in the process, a percentage difference of 15.19%!

Given how often United feature in the ‘good’ champions list, you can maybe see why Roy Keane has been a bit hypercritical of Liverpool’s title defence which, remember, if it continues at this pace would see them with a percentage drop of 38.38%, enough for third place on this list. But who’s been worse than that? Who are the worst of the ‘bad’ champions?

2. Chelsea

Season: 2015/16
Position: 10th
Points total: 50
Championship points total (2014/15): 87
Percentage points difference: -42.53%

Sometimes, things just go bad. Chelsea won the title impressively in 2014/15 but it was clear that the squad had become disillusioned with Mourinho’s management. What wasn’t clear, though, was just how disillusioned they had become. Chelsea were awful in 2015/16. They dropped nearly 40 points from their title win as they meandered to a shocking mid-table finish the following season. Eden Hazard, in particular, seemed to take the campaign off, going through the motions all season, only showing up at the very end to deny Spurs any chance at the title.

1. Leicester

Season: 2016/17
Position: 12th
Points total: 44
Championship points total: 81
Percentage points difference: -45.68%

The biggest upset in Premier League history somewhat predictably led to the biggest fall-off in Premier League history. Looking back you can hardly blame Leicester. What they did in 2015/16 was nothing short of a miracle. They not only won the title but won it impressively and deservedly, thrilling crowds up and down the country.

Even coming close to that again was going to be an absurd challenge given they had to juggle their title defence with a Champions League campaign all the while having lost N’Golo Kante literally, and Riyad Mahrez mentally. So in many ways it wasn’t a surprise as the Foxes fell down and down the table. They ended up in the bottom half of the table having seen their points total almost cut in half.

They are the biggest “bad champions” the Premier League has ever seen. It’s hard to imagine any side making such a poor attempt at defending their Premier League title, but at the same time, can you really blame them?