Football Features

The longest unbeaten runs in Europe’s top leagues

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 16:18, 13 April 2022

Winning is great, but do you know what else is great? Not losing.

How often do you hear great footballers say they hate losing almost as much as they enjoy winning? It’s a big motivating factor; not losing. So when a team manages to go on a long unbeaten run, it’s definitely something worth noting. So, that’s exactly what we’ve done. Below you’ll find the longest such streaks across a selection of European top tiers, from the Premier League and La Liga to the Scottish Premiership and Turkish Super Lig.

Premier League: Arsenal

Unbeaten run: 49 games (2003-2004)

Arsenal famously went the entire 2003/04 season without losing a league game, but with a few fixtures at the end and start of the surrounding seasons they almost hit a half century of games all told. There were hairy moments, the two draws with Portsmouth and Ruud van Nistelrooy’s late penalty miss at Old Trafford, but this was a magnificent achievement for the Gunners.

The brilliance of this unbeaten run was made all the more dramatic as it was ended by their great rivals of the era: Manchester United. The United-Arsenal battles never got more aggressive than Sir Alex Ferguson’s men winning 2-0 against Arsenal at Old Trafford, where Van Nistelrooy achieved some measure of revenge by scoring the opening goal and denying the Gunners that 50th unbeaten match.

La Liga: Barcelona

Unbeaten run: 43 games (2017-2018)

Barcelona ended the Luis Enrique era with a seven-match winning run (including an epic Clasico victory), meaning that when Ernesto Valverde rocked up in Catalunya and turned the Blaugrana into a solid if slightly unspectacular side that ground out wins — or were lifted to greater heights by the magic of Leo Messi and Luis Suarez — they actually managed to grind through the whole season.

They weren’t always pretty, but Barcelona lasted right up to the penultimate game of the campaign, a whole 43 games, before tasting defeat in a helter-skelter 5-4 loss to Levante. And they only lost that game because they rested Messi in order to play a midweek friendly in South Africa (in case you wanted yet another instance of how backward the Bartomeu regime was).

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Serie A: AC Milan

Unbeaten run: 58 games (1991-1993)

Milan lost the penultimate game of the 1990/91 season away to Bari, drew the last one, and then proceeded to go the entire of 1991/92 season without losing a single game. At a time when Serie A was the hardest league in the world with an utterly absurd amount of quality in it, Milan won the title while being top for 33 out of 35 gameweeks.

This absurd dominance carried over into 1992/93 as Milan not only retained their title (ending every single gameweek top of the table) but lasted all the way until week 24 before tasting defeat, losing at home to Parma. That meant their unbeaten run lasted a massive 58 games, which remains a record for Europe’s top five leagues.

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich

Unbeaten run: 53 games (2012-2014)

Bayern Munich have never gone a full German season without losing, but at the tail-end of the Jupp Heynckes Treble-winning season they went 25 games unbeaten after losing at home to Bayer Leverkusen on matchday nine. Enter Pep Guardiola and the club bulldozed the Bundesliga, drawing just three times in their first 28 games as they became the first club to win the Bundesliga in March.

With the title secured, they lost focus and ultimately lost their unbeaten streak, suffering back-to-back defeats to Ausburg and Dortmund in April, stopping their dominance at 53 games (had they drawn those two games their unbeaten run would have stretched to 76 as they didn’t lose until gameweek 18 in the next season).

Ligue 1: Paris Saint-Germain

Unbeaten run: 36 games (2015-2016)

PSG did a domestic treble in 2014/15 and lost their last game on matchday 29 against Bordeaux. They then retained their domestic treble in 2015/16, going as far as matchday 28 before losing. This means the greatest unbeaten streak in Ligue 1 stands at just 36 games, which speaks to the combative quality of Ligue 1 but also PSG’s bizarre lack of focus because they retained the domestic treble yet couldn’t avoid defeat.

Primeira Liga: Porto

Unbeaten run: 57 games (2020-2022)

Portuguese football is dominated by Os Tres Grandes, aka Benfica, Sporting and Porto. So the record was always going to belong to one of them. The record was previously set by Benfica’s monster run from the late 1970s under John Mortimore, who guided them to win the Primeira Liga in 1976/77 and then went the entirety of 1977/78 without losing (albeit drawing so many games that they actually finished second to Porto on goal difference). Just last week it was broken by Porto, however, who under head coach Sérgio Conceição have not lost a league game in 18 months. They have won no silverware in this time but are on course to correct that this season, as a league title and cup double is on the cards.

Scottish Premiership: Celtic

Unbeaten run: 62 games (1915-1917)

Celtic have a litany of remarkable achievements to their name including the first British side to win the European Cup, the first side to win the Quadruple, and they actually have two unbeaten runs over 50 games. The lesser of which was set by Brendan Rodgers’ side in 2016/17, but the greatest unbeaten run in Scottish football history was set a century before that in 1915 to 1917 when Celtic’s first manager, Willie Maley, guided them to a phenomenal 62 match unbeaten run including two games played in the very same day.

Turkish Super Lig: Besiktas

Unbeaten run: 48 games (1991-1992)

Besiktas are usually the lesser of the three big sides in Turkey, but it’s them and not Galatasaray or Fenerbahce, who hold the record for longest unbeaten streak. It came at the tail-end of their dominant period at the start of the 1990’s when they won three titles in a row; the last of which was won without a single defeat. Their title streak ended the following season but they held out long enough to set an impressive 48-game unbeaten streak.

Ukrainian Premier League: Shakhtar Donetsk

Unbeaten run: 55 games (2000-2002)

Shakhtar Donetsk have dominated Ukrainian football this century, winning 13 titles. However despite that their most impressive feat arguably came right at the beginning as they lost just one game in early in 2000/1 as they finished second, then went one better and won the 2001/02 season without losing a game. They finished second again in 2002/03 but managed to get their unbeaten run up to 55.

Super League Greece: Olympiacos

Unbeaten run: 58 games (1972-1974)

Olympiacos won the Greek title three years in a row between 1972 and 1975, and while they never went an entire season unbeaten they did manage to go a massive 58 games without tasting defeat across those first two seasons; and that remains the Greek Super League record to this date.

Liga 1: Steaua Bucharest

Unbeaten run: 104 games (1986-1989)

Saving the best to last, Steaua Bucharest really set the bar as high as possible back in the late 1980’s. Emeric Jenei set the blueprint as he led Steaua to win the title in 1985 and ’86 as well as the 1986 European Cup. Jenei was replaced by Anghel Iordanescu and while the club never won the European Cup again, they won the title three more times in a row, setting this ridiculous 100-plus unbeaten record on the way. This is the greatest run in all of European football, and it is so colossal it may never be equalled.

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