Are Liverpool or Manchester City on course for a record runner-up season?

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“Liverpool could finish on 97 points this season and finish second to Manchester City,” writes our very own Rob Smyth. “Would this be a record? And if not, what is the highest points tally amassed by a second-placed team?”

Let’s start in England where, as recently as 2011-12, Manchester United finished on 89 points, level with Manchester City, only to lose out on goal difference because of Agüeroooooooooo! This is the English record in a 38-game season and barring a Devon Loch-style collapse, Liverpool or Manchester City (who could finish second on 96 points) look set to break this comfortably.

Premier League (2011-12 )
Manchester City
 P38 W28 DLF93 A29 +64 89
Manchester United
 P38 W28 DLF89 A33 +56 89

In 1970-71, Don Revie’s Leeds finished second on 64 points, one point behind Arsenal. In an era of two points for a win that was quite a tally and meant they would have collected 91 points in a three-points-for-a-win season, but they played 42 games, not 38, and we are pretty sure Manchester United would have surpassed that total given another four games in 2012.

Division One (1970-71)
Arsenal P42 W29 DLF71 A29 +42 65
Leeds United P42 W27 D10 LF72 A30 +42 64

In a 34-game season, Martin Jol’s Ajax finished on 85 points in 2009-10 with a staggering +86 goal difference. It wasn’t good enough to pip Steve McClaren’s Twente to the title, though. Despite scoring 43 goals fewer, Twente crucially accrued one point more. But in Portugal Sporting went one point better than Ajax, collecting 86 but finishing runners-up to Benfica.Advertisement

Primeira Liga (2015-16)
Benfica P34 W29 DLF88 A22 +66 88
Sporting P34 W27 DLF79 A21 +58 86

To find serious competition for Liverpool or City we should look at leagues where two elite clubs have pushed each other to dizzy heights. Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli gamely held on to Juve’s coat-tails in 2017-18 only to see the Scudetto-hogging champions race away as they rounded the final bend. Still, it led to Napoli collecting their greatest ever points tally in a Serie A season.

Serie A (2017-18)
Juventus P38 W30 DLF86 A24 +62 95
 P38 W28 DLF77 A29 +48 91

Surely we can find a better runner-up in La Liga, though? In José Mourinho’s debut campaign at Real Madrid, his team scored 102 goals, amassed 92 points but finished four points behind Barcelona, who were in the midst of their peak tiki-taka years.

La Liga (2010-11) 
Barcelona P38 W30 DLF95 A21 +74 96
Real Madrid P38 W29 DLF102 A33 +69 92

Mind you, Mourinho can still consider himself lucky not to be sacked if the previous season is considered a failure. In 2009-10 Manuel Pellegrini was sent packing having gobbled up 96 points, three behind Barça.

La Liga (2009-10)
Barcelona P38 W31 DLF98 A24 +74 99
Real Madrid P38 W31 DLF102 A35 +67 96

But having cast our net to Glasgow, we can report that Liverpool would only equal a record total for a 38-game runner-up set by Martin O’Neill’s Celtic. His Henrik Larsson-powered side missed out on the Scottish title to Rangers by a single goal in 2003, having amassed 97 points.

Scottish Premier League (2002-03)
 P38 W31 DLF101 A28 +73 97
Celtic P38 W31 DLF98 A26 +72 97

Not many teams lose only one game in a season and miss out on the title, though. Rarer still are those who go unbeaten only to finish second. As we have touched on in this column before, Perugia did this in the 1978-79 Serie A season. Curse those dastardly draws.

Serie A (1978-79)
Milan P30 W17 D10 LF46 A19 +27 44
Perugia P30 W11 D19 LF34 A16 +18 41

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