Top Ten – European football’s most dominant sides

by Sam Carney

With Paris St-Germain threatening to add their name to Ligue 1’s L’Hexagoal trophy before winter is officially over, here are ten other post-war European top-flight champions who found the going a little too straightforward.

10. AZ ‘67 1980-81

Finished 12 points clear of runners-up Ajax (34 game season, two points for a win*)
*adjusted to current format = 17 points

It took almost 20 years for someone to follow the example of DWS by wresting the title away from the PSV/Ajax/Feyenoord triumvirate, but when AZ Alkmaar – then known as AZ ’67 – came up trumps to clinch only their second piece of major silverware, they did it in devastating fashion.

Kicking off the campaign with ten straight victories, including wins over Ajax and PSV, AZ took up top spot after the fourth round of fixtures and never once relinquished their advantage. The Eredivisie was virtually won by mid-February; after 24 games, AZ’s record read: 23 wins, one draw.

A point at NEC Nijmegen and defeat at home to Ajax – the only reversal AZ experienced in that glorious 1980/81 season – took a little sheen off the parade, but a 5-1 shellacking of former European champions and primary chasers Feyenoord ranks as one of Dutch football’s finest ever team performances.

Georg Keßler’s side’s winning margin has been matched several times over the years, but AZ’s goals tally (101 scored), coupled with the fact they boasted relatively few international stars, skews the discussion about the Netherlands’ most dominant side heavily in their favour.

9. Manchester United 1999-00

Finished 18 points clear of runners-up Arsenal (38 game season, three points for a win)

 

United’s Treble-winning season of 1998/99 is arguably the finest achievement in English football history, yet Sir Alex Ferguson’s men only pipped Arsenal to the title by a point on the final day of the season.

A year later, they cranked up their hegemony a notch further to finish an unprecedented 18 points clear of Arsene Wenger’s chasers.

The Red Devils started the season with six wins in their first seven, but a poor autumn, including heavy defeats at Chelsea and Tottenham, left United languishing in third.

Despite controversially taking a month-long mid-season hiatus to play in the FIFA Club World Championship, United eased to the title, winning 21 of their final 26 fixtures and finishing the campaign with a then-record 97 goals.

Still, some were not convinced. Right-back Gary Neville, in his autobiography Red, later bemoaned the lack of a challenge offered up by opponents, saying the Premier League at the beginning of the noughties was ‘the poorest’ he’d ever played in.

With challengers Arsenal, Leeds and Liverpool virtually out of the picture by February, he was probably right.

8. St Etienne 1969-70

Finished 11 points clear of runners-up Marseille (34 game season, two points for a win*)
*adjusted to current format = 21 points

Despite the petrodollars of Paris St-Germain and the brilliant Brazilians at Lyon at the turn of the millennium, Les Verts are still the most successful club in French history, collecting ten Ligue 1 titles between 1957 and 1981.

The sixth of these triumphs was secured in majestic fashion, with Herve Revelli’s 28 goals a major contributor to St Etienne’s significant winning margin. The club won 12 times on the road – still a joint record – and lost just three games.

Guided by legendary former Reims manager Albert Batteux, the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard club went on to win the double but, in a recurring theme with many of the great sides listed in this article, they disappointed in European competition, losing home and away to the Poles Legia Warsaw in the last 16 of the European Cup.

7. Rangers 1999-00

Finished 21 points clear of runners-up Celtic (36 game season, three points for a win*)
*adjusted to current format = 22 points

Rangers’ record-equalling nine-in-a-row streak might have been halted by Wim Jansen’s Celtic two years earlier, but the Ibrox club continued to reap the rewards of increased spending by coasting to a 49th Scottish title.

US international Claudio Reyna, Dutch striker Michael Mols and future Blackburn favourite Tugay were all added in the summer of 1999, but it was the old guard – the likes of Andrei Kanchelskis, Jorg Albertz and Rod Wallace – who helped swat aside the unfashionable cannon fodder from the word go.

Rangers won their first eight games of the season, before drawing at Kilmarnock. Being held at Rugby Park must have really irked Dick Advocaat’s men, as Old Firm rivals Celtic were duly dispatched 4-2 just a fortnight later.

A shock Dundee win at Ibrox was avenged later in the season, with Wallace recording a hat-trick in a 7-1 victory, before Celtic conceded four to the Gers once again, this time scoring nil.

Another eight wins in a row followed, clinching the title, before a likely hungover Rangers lost 2-0 at Motherwell on the final day. Both Old Firm giants have since recorded higher points totals, and increased their goal tallies, but only once has Rangers’ 21 points winning margin been bettered.

6. Inter Milan 2006-07

Finished 22 points clear of runners-up Roma (38 game season, three points for a win)

Inter had been awarded the 2005/06 scudetto by default after Juventus’ involvement in the Calciopoli scandal, but the Nerazzurri soon silenced any questions regarding the legitimacy of their ‘champions’ tag by conquering all before them in the most one-sided Serie A season to date.

It wasn’t that the league was full of no-hopers – rivals Milan would be crowned European champions at the end of the season, while at Roma Francesco Totti’s renaissance under Luciano Spalletti would see him crowned as the continent’s top scorer – it was just that Inter were relentless in their accumulation of points.

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic only ninth in the overall goalscoring charts, and both Fiorentina and Lazio boasting better defences, this was a case of Inter rarely obliterating opposition. Roberto Mancini’s side recorded three 4-3 victories and a further 13 games were won by the odd goal: Inter had simply caught the winning bug.

Inter’s final total of 97 points was a record before Juventus smashed the 100-point ceiling in 2013/14, but the Old Lady have so far failed to overhaul the Nerazzurri’s 17 game winning streak.

As with most of the clubs mentioned in this article, this wasn’t even Inter’s most successful season – that would arrive three years, and one Jose Mourinho, later.

5. Real Madrid 1960-61

Finished 12 points clear of runners-up Atletico Madrid (30 game season, two points for a win*) *adjusted to current format = 24 points

The Real Madrid side that won five consecutive European Cups is legendary, but their most dominant La Liga season came in the first campaign in which they failed to get their hands on Ol’ Big Ears.

Eternal rivals Barcelona had knocked Miguel Muñoz’s team out in the first round, but Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and co. took revenge in La Liga, finishing 12 points clear of Atletico Madrid in second place and a huge 20 points clear of Barcelona, who came home fourth and also lost the European Cup final to Benfica.

Puskas won the Pichichi trophy for the second consecutive season, as an explosive Madrid side netted 89 times in 30 games, conceding just 25. Both were season highs.

Two years later, they prevailed by a similarly impressive margin, but with a reduced goal difference, so the 1960/61 vintage, with an adjusted lead of 24 points, sneaks into the top five.

4. FC Porto 2010-11

Finished 21 points clear of runners-up Benfica (30 game season, three points for a win*)
*adjusted to current format = 24 points

André Villas-Boas arrived at Chelsea in 2011 with an almighty reputation, and rightly so. The Portuguese may not have been a Champions League-winning ‘Special One’, but he’d just taken the Primeira Liga to the cleaners, his Porto side winning 27 and drawing three of their games to record the first unbeaten top-flight season on the Iberian peninsula in almost 40 years.

Even more remarkably, this was the coach they call ‘AVB’s only season at the Estádio do Dragão.

Porto, who also won the Taça de Portugal and the Europa League that season, led the table from the second weekend onwards, demolishing rivals Benfica 5-0 on their way to a 25th Portuguese title.

Spearheaded by Radamel Falcao and Hulk, with João Moutinho as the creative influence in the middle, Porto never once looked like losing, trailing for just 77 minutes all season.

The only real blemish was a 3-3 draw with Paços de Ferreira in the penultimate game, preventing the club from equalling Benfica’s 1972/73 record of 28 wins in a campaign – but more on that great Eagles side later.

3. Bayern Munich 2012-13

Finished 25 points clear of runners-up Borussia Dortmund (34 game season, three points for a win)

Germany’s most successful club responded to the indignity of losing successive titles to Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund by sweeping all before them in their treble-winning campaign.

Bayern’s 22nd Bundesliga success was their easiest yet: the Bavarians led the table from start to finish, and lost just one game all season in the league, to third-placed finishers Bayer Leverkusen.

They sealed the deal on Matchday 28, with six rounds left to play, after a Bastian Schweinsteiger goal settled a tight contest in Frankfurt.

Bayern’s 2012/13 season broke a number of Bundesliga records – many of which they already held – including highest points total, most wins in a season and fewest number of goals conceded.

Yet Jupp Heynckes found himself unemployed in the summer, as the legendary Pep Guardiola ended his New York sabbatical to take the reigns at the Allianz Arena.

Pep has refined Bayern’s style of play, but Heynckes’ side is still seen as the more dominant. Of course, the Champions League title Philipp Lahm and co won at Wembley in May 2013 goes some way towards strengthening that argument.

2. Celtic 2013-14

Finished 29 points clear of Motherwell (38 game season, three points for a win)

While the club Bhoys’ fans now gleefully refer to as ‘Sevco’ were finishing a ludicrous 39 points ahead of the competition in League One, with a goal difference six times the size of second-placed Dunfermline Athletic, Celtic continued to take advantage of their Old Firm neighbour’s absence from the top tier.

Celtic had effectively secured the 2013/14 Scottish title as soon as the liquidation of The Rangers Football Club PLC was announced in the summer of 2012, and continued to dominate football north of the border, just as everyone had sombrely predicted.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster set a record for the longest time without conceding a goal, while Kris Commons and Anthony Stokes shared 47 goals between them as the Hoops confirmed the title before the end of March – with seven games left to play.

Celtic lost just one game all season, and that was a 2-1 defeat to Aberdeen after centre-back Virgil van Dijk was red carded after just 13 minutes.

1. Benfica 1972-73

Finished 18 points clear of Belenenses (30 game season, two points for a win*)
*adjusted to current format = 36 points

The Eagles of the early ‘60s, under the tutelage of the Central European Mourinho, Bela Guttmann, are commonly seen as Benfica’s greatest ever side, winning back-to-back European Cups in 1961 and 1962 and seven Portuguese titles in nine years.

Domestically, they were still top dog in the ‘70s, the decade in which they presided over the most breathtakingly dominant top-flight campaign of all time.

The bare statistics say it all. Twenty eight victories was almost double the tally of what any other club managed, as was the 101 recorded in the ‘goals for’ column.

Benfica conceded just 13 goals in 30 games, and all this added up to a winning margin of 18 points, stretching to an incredible 36 if adjusted to the modern-day Primeira Liga’s 18-team, three points for a win set-up.

Eusebio, the greatest Portuguese player of all-time, was still in his prime, topping the 40-goal mark for the second time in his career, while club legend Antonio Simoes and Wembley 1968 goalscorer Jamie Graca also featured prominently. England’s Jimmy Hagan was Benfica manager.

The likes of Belenenses (one of only two clubs ever to break the ‘Big Three’ stranglehold), Sporting and FC Porto (in the middle of a 20-year title drought) simply had no answer.

The two sides who scraped draws against this unstoppable winning machine? Porto, in the 24th game of the season, and relegated Atletico Clube de Portugal, on the penultimate weekend.

You can find a full list of Benfica’s results from 1972/73 here. Despite the laughable ease at which PSG are going about winning a fourth consecutive Ligue 1 title, it’s doubtful they’ll match Benfica’s levels of dominance.

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