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The Premier League: 20 years, 20 greatest matches

Late last season, the FA Premier League asked fans from across the globe to vote for their favourite matches in the 20 Seasons Awards.

The surprising winner was the epic Manchester derby between United and City in September 2009.

Continuing with the celebration of looking back at the first 20 seasons of the most enterprising league in the world, Total Football’s Simon Wright shares his opinion of what he believes are the top 20 matches in Premier League history.

20. Chelsea 2-3 Arsenal, Saturday, 23rd October 1999

Chelsea had been unbeaten at Stamford Bridge in eight months and hadn’t even conceded a goal at home in the campaign.

They were cruising away with the game here, thanks to goals in each half from Gus Poyet and Dan Petrescu.

An inconsistent Arsenal side looked dead and buried but Kanu had other ideas.

The Nigerian hit an 18 minute hat-trick to give the Gunners an improbable and unbelievable victory.

The Blues were stunned and their domestic season never really recovered.

19. West Ham United 3-4 Tottenham Hotspur, Sunday, 4th March 2007

On a chilly Sunday afternoon, fans were gripped by a classic London derby.

Bottom club West Ham looked in the comfort zone at half-time, going in 2-0 up through Mark Noble and an emotional first strike for the Hammers by popular Argentine ace, Carlos Tevez.

Instead of pushing on, Alan Curbishley saw his side press the self-destruct button in the second half. They were pegged back to 2-2 by a Jermain Defoe penalty and Teemu Tainio.

With five minutes to go, Bobby Zamora headed in from a free-kick to put the East Londoners back infront, only for Dimitar Berbatov to level it up again.

Desperate for the winner, West Ham were caught on the break and Paul Stalteri snatched a last-gasp winner for Spurs.

Curbishley’s outfit remained bottom and looked doomed but launched an amazing recovery in the final months to stay up, amidst a lot of off-the-field controversy.

18. Liverpool 3-3 Manchester United, Tuesday, 4th January 1994

With only 22 minutes gone in this match at Anfield, Manchester United looked like they were cantering towards another victory over their old rivals.

A header from Steve Bruce, a stunning lob from Ryan Giggs and a thunderous Denis Irwin free-kick left Liverpool completely shell-shocked.

However, the Kop roared their team on, despite a lack of consistent form.

Nigel Clough pulled the game back to 3-2 before half-time and then a bullet header from Neil Ruddock, rescued an unlikely point in this masterpiece of a match.

United went onto win the double, while this was a rare highlight in another lacklustre season on Merseyside.

17. Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal, Sunday, 28th August 2011

An incredible scoreline but this is one game that Arsenal fans will want to forget quickly, as they were torn to shreds by a rampant Manchester United.

Danny Welbeck opened the scoring when Arsenal hesitated to a looped ball from Anderson. David de Gea then kept a Robin Van Persie penalty out, before Ashley Young made it 2-0, with a wonderful curling shot from the edge of the box.

Wayne Rooney made it three with his 150th goal for the club, whilst Theo Walcott snuck a goal back before the interval.

The humiliation continued after the restart, as Rooney from another free kick, Nani and Park made it 6-1 as the Gunners caved in.

Van Persie did find the net eventually but the misery wasn’t over for the visitors, when young defender Carl Jenkinson saw red for two bookable offences.

An emphatic Rooney penalty completed his hat-trick and Young put the icing on a very delicious cake to end the punishment for Arsene Wenger’s bewildered side.

16. Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal, Saturday, 29th October 2011

This London derby was action-packed and spelt the beginning of the end for Andre Villas-Boas at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea led 2-1 at half-time, with Robin Van Persie’s first goal having been sandwiched in-between a Frank Lampard header and a customary John Terry strike from a set piece.

Arsenal turned the match around, through goals from Andre Santos and Theo Walcott but with nine minutes left, Juan Mata made it 3-3.

A costly slip from Terry, allowed Van Persie in to restore the Gunners lead and then, he sealed the fantastic away victory for Arsene Wenger’s side, completing his hat-trick in magnificent fashion.

This was a great away win for Arsenal and one of many Premier League days to forget last season for the Blues.

15. Everton 3-2 Wimbledon, Saturday, 7th May 1994

A win was essential on the last day for Everton in season 1993-94 and even that wouldn’t guarantee them survival.

A crazy handball from Anders Limpar allowed Dean Holdsworth to put in-form Wimbledon infront and on 20 minutes, more kamikaze defending allowed Andy Clarke to double the lead for the Crazy Gang, via Gary Ablett’s leg.

Ex-Chelsea player Graham Stuart struck a penalty before the interval to give the Toffees hope. Then, Barry Horne struck a beauty to make it 2-2.

In the last ten minutes, a weak Stuart effort slipped past Hans Segers and the comeback was complete.

Results elsewhere meant Mike Walker’s side narrowly escaped relegation on a day of great joy and relief at Goodison Park.

14. West Ham United 5-4 Bradford City, Saturday, 12th February 2000

This was a remarkable match, as Bradford City somehow threw away a two goal advantage.

The drama began in the fifth minute, when Hammers goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop had to go off injured and was replaced by Stephen Bywater for his Premier League debut.

Dean Windass headed the visitors infront with half an hour played, only for a quick response by the hosts through Trevor Sinclair. John Moncur made it 2-1 but conceded a penalty before half-time, which allowed Peter Beagrie to convert.

The Bantams stormed into a 4-2 lead early in the second half, courtesy of two goals from Jamie Lawrence. The points looked in the bag, even when Paolo di Canio pulled a goal back from the penalty spot after a furious argument with Frank Lampard over who should take the kick.

Joe Cole drew the sides’ level and then Lampard scored his own goal in the closing stages, to wrap up a remarkable turnaround on a breathtaking afternoon in East London.

13. Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City, Sunday, 23rd October 2011

This scoreline shook the whole of football, as Manchester City signalled their intentions for the season ahead.

Mario Balotelli opened the scoring in the first half, before revealing his ‘Why Always Me?’ t-shirt!

An early dismissal for Jonny Evans early in the second half was the catalyst for a riot from the visitors. Balotelli added a second from close range and another flowing move was finished immaculately by Sergio Aguero.

Darren Fletcher scored arguably the best goal of the match but that wasn’t even consolation for the Red Devils, as it only got worse after that.

Edin Dzeko bagged two goals and David Silva also added his name to the scoresheet in stoppage time to complete a day of days for the Blue half of Manchester.

Sir Alex Ferguson would go onto say later that it was his worst day in charge of Manchester United.

12. Southampton 6-3 Manchester United, Saturday, 26th October 1996

Inspired by the messiah, Matt Le Tissier, Southampton inflicted further pain on Manchester United at the Dell.

Just six days after United’s 5-0 reverse at Newcastle United, Ferguson’s side were hit for six on the South Coast.

A hat-trick from the unknown Egil Ostenstad, plus a majestic chip from Le Tissier and a double by Eyal Berkovic did the damage for the Saints.

David Beckham, David May and Paul Scholes all found the target but Roy Keane was sent off as the Red Devils surprising vulnerability continued.

This result was Graeme Souness’s finest hour in management.

11. Leeds United 4-3 Liverpool, Saturday, 4th November 2000

Leeds United made an appalling start to this match, failing to deal with two set pieces from Gary McAllister.

Sami Hyypia and Christian Ziege reaped the rewards to have the Reds 2-0 up inside 15 minutes.

Marc Viduka stood up and put in a vintage display to turn the match on its head. He brought the Yorkshire club level with a cute finish after a dreadful Ziege error, then a bullet header in the opening minute of the second half.

Vladimir Smicer regained Liverpool’s lead after being assisted by his fellow Czech, Patrik Berger, before Viduka really took centre stage.

He twisted his way through the visitors defence for his hat-trick, then moments later, chipped an advancing Sander Westerveld when put in the clear by Olivier Dacourt.

The Australian had become an instant star at Elland Road with this four goal salvo.

10. Manchester United 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday, Saturday, 10th April 1993

This was a game that ended up changing the history of football.

It looked like Manchester United had thrown the title away again, this time to Aston Villa.

They were 1-0 down to Sheffield Wednesday, thanks to a penalty from Manchester fanatic, John Sheridan.

Struggling, Alex Ferguson pulled off a tactical masterstroke and threw centre back, Steve Bruce forward.

Thanks to a long injury-time stoppage due to a referee injury, Bruce scored twice, the second coming seven minutes into time added on.

The celebrations from Ferguson and assistant Brian Kidd said it all, United went onto win the league and start their English dominance.

9. Liverpool 4-4 Arsenal, Tuesday, 21st April 2009

Liverpool needed to attack, as they attempted to keep up with the red hot pace being set by Manchester United but their moves backfired against Arsenal.

In a belter of a game, Russian Andrei Arshavin profited from some open defending to score all four goals for the visitors, the last coming in the 90th minute.

Fernando Torres scored two in the second half but it was only a stoppage time leveller from Yossi Benayoun that salvaged a point for Rafa Benitez’s side.

Ultimately, this result cost them in the final reckoning, losing the title by just three points.

8. Portsmouth 7-4 Reading, Saturday, 29th September 2007

This is still the highest aggregated score in Premier League history and a day for defences and goalkeepers to forget alike.

Benjani handed Pompey a 2-0 lead before half-time but a scrappy goal from Liam Rosenior allowed the Royals a footpath back into the game.

A typical David James blunder presented Dave Kitson with a gaping goal to bring the game level at 2-2 but not for long, as a Marcus Hahnemann error at the other end, allowed Hermann Hreidarsson to score his first goal in three years.

James redeemed himself by saving a Nicky Shorey penalty and Benjani sealed his hat-trick. As Reading continued to fall to pieces, Niko Kranjcar added to their misery but Shane Long made it 5-3 to show Steve Coppell’s side had more resilience.

A speculative Sean Davis shot deflected in for 6-3 and in stoppage time, Sulley Muntari scored a penalty after Kranjcar was brought down, only for Shorey to complete the scoring with his own deflected effort.

Chris Kamara covered the game of Gillette Soccer Saturday and his famous catchphrase was used a lot here; ‘Unbelievable Jeff!’

7. Blackburn Rovers 3-4 Chelsea, Monday, 21st September 1998

Gianluca Vialli’s foreign superstars found their form in a genuine classic at Ewood Park.

Gianfranco Zola’s magnificent free-kick opened the scoring but Blackburn got back on terms, through Chris Sutton’s first goal of the 1998-99 campaign.

A debatable penalty led to Chelsea’s second, converted by the reliable Franck Leboeuf.

Sebastian Perez hooked in Rovers second equaliser, before being controversially dismissed in a brutal clash with Lancashire old boy, Graeme Le Saux.

With both sides at ten men, Blackburn responded better with Sutton putting them infront from 12 yards after Michael Duberry pushed Martin Dahlin in the box.

Back came the West Londoners again, with super sub Tore Andre Flo powering in a header, then coolly converting a long ball from Brian Laudrup to turn a probable defeat into a definite victory.

6. Manchester City 3-2 QPR, Sunday, 13th May 2012

Manchester City’s own soap opera would be dramatic but this was an incredible finale to the greatest title race of all-time.

Six minutes before half-time, Pablo Zabaleta delighted the home fans with the opening goal but the drama wasn’t over just yet.

A dreadful mistake from Joleon Lescott allowed Djibril Cisse in for the equaliser to turn the advantage in Manchester United’s favour.

Joey Barton was sent off for elbowing Carlos Tevez, before head butting Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany, earning a 12-game ban in the process.

Despite being down to ten men, Jamie Mackie headed QPR infront and it looked like it was going to end in heartbreak for Roberto Mancini’s side.

Edin Dzeko headed in from a corner to make it 2-2 in stoppage time and as the final whistle blew at the Stadium of Light, Manchester United won at Sunderland and seemed to have their 20th league championship.

Then with seconds remaining, Mario Balotelli found Sergio Aguero, who found the back of the net to provide the most dramatic finale to any season to date. It was paradise for City and a real treat to witness for any neutral.

5. Tottenham Hotspur 4-5 Arsenal, Saturday, 13th November 2004

It was quite a baptism for new Tottenham boss Martin Jol, who witnessed a nine goal thriller in his first North London derby.

There were nine different scorers, which was a first for a Premier League match.

A solo effort from Jermain Defoe was the pick of the goals, after the Gunners had opened up a 3-1 lead through Thierry Henry, a Lauren penalty and skipper Patrick Vieira.

Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires eventually put the game beyond Spurs, despite a fine Ledley King header and a late consolation from Freddie Kanoute.

The Chelsea boss at the time, Jose Mourinho later said the final scoreline was more associated to a game of hockey!

4. Manchester United 4-3 Manchester City, Sunday, 20th September 2009

No doubt that this was the greatest Manchester derby of all time. Oil-rich Manchester City turned up at Old Trafford, expecting to win rather than hoping to triumph.

They fell behind inside three minutes to a Wayne Rooney goal but were level by half-time, after Gareth Barry capitalised on some poor goalkeeping by Ben Foster.

Darren Fletcher and Craig Bellamy exchanged four goals between each other in the second half.

Bellamy’s first was a stunner, the second coming through a Rio Ferdinand error in the 90th minute. It looked like it rescued a point for Mark Hughes’s men.

However, with almost the last kick of the match, Ryan Giggs found Michael Owen, who coolly slotted home past Shay Given in his first Manchester derby and sent the home supporters into raptures. This was an absolute belter.

3. Tottenham Hotspur 3-5 Manchester United, Saturday, 29th September 2001

This was one of the greatest turnarounds in Premier League history.

Glenn Hoddle’s outfit were in dreamland at half-time, storming into a 3-0 lead against the reigning champions, thanks to goals from debutant Dean Richards, Les Ferdinand and Christian Ziege.

Sir Alex Ferguson rallied his troops at the break and fought back in the style of champions.

Andy Cole and Laurent Blanc pulled the scoreline back to 3-2 and then Ruud Van Nistlerooy headed home from close range as the Spurs defence couldn’t cope with the attack line from Old Trafford.

Juan Sebastian Veron completed the comeback and David Beckham found the net in the last minute to seal the victory in a breathless second half.

The North London fans were stunned into silence by the collapse of their team in the second 45 minutes.

2. Newcastle United 4-4 Arsenal, Saturday, 5th February 2011

Arsenal ended on the receiving end of the greatest comeback in Premier League history.

They strolled into a 4-0 lead inside 21 minutes. Theo Walcott scored inside a minute; Johan Djourou helped himself to a rare strike before Robin Van Persie added two more to his growing collection.

The home supporters must have been tempted to head for the exit gates but a daft red card for Arsenal’s Abou Diaby shortly after the break turned the momentum in the Magpies favour.

Joey Barton scored two penalties and Leon Best also struck to put the game right back in the balance.

By now, all composure had gone from the Gunners and a fantastic strike from Cheick Tiote with two minutes left completed the fightback. This was an all-time cracker and should be in most people’s top three.

1. Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle United, Wednesday, 3rd April 1996

For me, this game remains the greatest in the entire history of the Premier League, as two attacking sides did battle to keep themselves in the title race.

A classic header from Robbie Fowler handed Liverpool a dream start, inside three minutes but Newcastle retaliated, with goals from Les Ferdinand and David Ginola.

Fowler restored parity early on in the second half, with a low drilled shot, before Faustino Asprilla latched onto Rob Lee’s pass and curled an effort around the onrushing David James, to put Kevin Keegan’s men back infront.

Stan Collymore tied the game again at 3-3, converting Jason McAteer’s dangerous cross and then, in stoppage time, John Barnes found Collymore on the left wing and he struck a dramatic stoppage time winner for Liverpool.

Keegan and Newcastle were devastated and the Premier League has a game that simply, can’t be beaten for its magnificent drama and stunning climax.

The debate is bound to continue for years to come. What all fans can agree on is that all these choices are special matches and here’s to the next 20 years.

By Simon Wright – Follow me on Twitter @Siwri88

Follow Total Football on Twitter: @TotalFootball12

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