The Invincibles (football)
In English football, "The Invincibles" has been used to refer to the Preston North End team of the 1880s managed by William Sudell, and the Arsenal team of the 2003–04 season managed by Arsène Wenger. Preston North End earned the nickname after completing an entire season undefeated in league and cup competition (27 games), while Arsenal were undefeated in the league only but for a greater total of 38 games.
The term "Invincibles" has also been used elsewhere in European football. Italian clubs Milan and Juventus received the nickname after winning the 1991–92 and 2011–12 Serie A titles respectively. Among clubs outside the "Big Five" European leagues,[nb 1] Celtic earned the nickname after going unbeaten across domestic league and cup competition during the 2016–17 season in Scotland.
Preston North End
Preston North End became football's first "Invincibles" when they won the inaugural Football League competition, completing the season unbeaten in both the league and FA Cup, which also made them the first team ever to achieve the "Double". Preston's league record was 18 wins, 4 draws and 0 losses, out of 22 games played, while their cup record was 5 wins out of 5 rounds played. Preston also won the Cup without conceding a goal.
Of the seven teams to have completed the Double in England, Preston remain the only one to have done so unbeaten.
In 2008, Preston opened a new 5,000 seater stand at their Deepdale stadium, named the Invincibles Pavilion in honour of the unbeaten 1880s team that had also played their home matches at the same site.
|1||8 September 1888||Burnley||H||5–2||5,000||Gordon, Ross (2), Dewhurst (2)|
|2||15 September 1888||Wolverhampton Wanderers||A||4–0||5,000||Gordon, Ross, A. Goodall, J. Goodall|
|3||22 September 1888||Bolton Wanderers||H||3–1||5,000||Gordon (2), Drummond|
|4||29 September 1888||Derby County||A||3–2||6,000||Robertson, Ross (2)|
|5||6 October 1888||Stoke||H||7–0||3,000||Ross (4), Whittle, J. Goodall, Dewhurst|
|6||13 October 1888||West Bromwich Albion||H||3–0||10,000||Dewhurst, Edwards (2)|
|7||20 October 1888||Accrington||A||0–0||6,000|
|8||27 October 1888||Wolverhampton Wanderers||H||5–2||6,000||Gordon, Ross, J. Goodall (3)|
|9||3 November 1888||Notts County||A||7–0||7,000||Gordon (3), Ross, J. Goodall (3)|
|10||10 November 1888||Aston Villa||H||1–1||10,000||J. Goodall|
|11||12 November 1888||Stoke||A||3–0||4,500||Ross, Thomson, Robertson|
|12||17 November 1888||Accrington||H||2–0||7,000||Gordon, Dewhurst|
|13||24 November 1888||Bolton Wanderers||A||5–2||10,000||Ross (2), Robertson, Dewhurst, J. Goodall|
|14||8 December 1888||Derby County||H||5–0||4,000||Inglis, J. Goodall (2), Dewhurst (2)|
|15||15 December 1888||Burnley||A||2–2||8,000||Ross, Thomson|
|16||22 December 1888||Everton||H||3–0||8,000||Dewhurst, J. Goodall (2)|
|17||26 December 1888||West Bromwich Albion||A||5–0||5,150||J. Goodall (2), Ross (2), Gordon|
|18||29 December 1888||Blackburn Rovers||H||1–0||8,000||J. Goodall|
|19||5 January 1889||Notts County||H||4–1||4,000||J. Goodall (2), Edwards, unknown|
|20||12 January 1889||Blackburn Rovers||A||2–2||10,000||Dewhurst, Thomson|
|21||19 January 1889||Everton||A||2–0||15,000||J. Goodall, Ross|
|22||9 February 1889||Aston Villa||A||2–0||10,000||Dewhurst (2)|
|1||2 February 1889||Bootle||A||3–0||1,000||J. Goodall, Gordon, Thomson|
|2||16 February 1889||Grimsby Town||A||2–0||8,000||J. Goodall, Ross|
|3||2 March 1889||Birmingham St George's||H||2–0||8,000||Holmes, Thomson|
|Semi-final||16 March 1889||West Bromwich Albion||N||1–0||22,688||Russell|
|Final||30 March 1889||Wolverhampton Wanderers||N||3–0||25,000||Dewhurst, Thomson, Ross|
In May 2002, Arsenal beat Manchester United to regain the Premier League and equal Preston's record of not losing an away match all season. In assessing the team's achievement, Tim Rich of The Independent wrote: "Invincibles, they called the last team to go through a season unbeaten away from home, although it is a word which belongs far more to the Arsenal side of 2002 than it ever could to the Preston team of 1888–89." Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger wanted his team to push on for more honours and described the defeat of Manchester United as a "shift of power" in English football. The team began the following season in good stead; a 4–1 win against Leeds United in September 2002 meant Arsenal broke the domestic record for scoring in consecutive games (47), and away league games without defeat (22). Such was their effective start to the campaign, Wenger reiterated his belief that Arsenal could remain the whole season undefeated:[nb 2]
"It's not impossible as A.C. Milan once did it but I can't see why it's so shocking to say it. Do you think Manchester United, Liverpool or Chelsea don't dream that as well? They're exactly the same. They just don't say it because they're scared to look ridiculous, but nobody is ridiculous in this job as we know anything can happen."
Arsenal lost to Everton in October 2002 and failed to win their next three matches in all competitions, representing their worst run of form in 19 years. By March 2003, Arsenal had established themselves as league leaders, but nearest challenger Manchester United overhauled them to win the title. Arsenal finished the season with league wins against Southampton and Sunderland and was later consoled with success in the FA Cup – they beat the former team 1–0 in the 2003 final.
Wenger sought to strengthen his team with minor additions: goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, as well as a number of young players from academies abroad, namely Gaël Clichy and Phillipe Senderos. In comparison to their rivals Chelsea, bankrolled by new owner Roman Abramovich, and Manchester United, Arsenal's transfer activity was quiet. The financial constraints that came with the Ashburton Grove stadium project meant Wenger had little income to spend on new players. Once funding was found amidst the season, the club added to its roster, with José Antonio Reyes arriving in the winter transfer window.
In the 2003–04 season, Arsenal regained the Premier League without a single defeat. Over the 38 games played, their league record stood at 26 wins, 12 draws and 0 losses. The unbeaten run came close to ending six matches into the campaign against Manchester United, as striker Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a penalty in injury time; the match then ended 0–0. At the turn of the calendar year, Arsenal won nine league matches in a row to consolidate first position; they secured their status as champions with a draw against local rivals Tottenham Hotspur in April 2004. Their form did not continue into the domestic cups; Arsenal exited the semi-final stage of the Football League Cup and the FA Cup to eventual winners Middlesbrough and Manchester United, respectively. In Europe, Arsenal lost two of their opening three UEFA Champions League group stage matches, 3–0 at home to Internazionale and 2–1 away to Dynamo Kyiv, but eventually finished top of the group. Arsenal ultimately reached the quarter-final stage of the Champions League, where they were eliminated by London rivals Chelsea.
Continuing into the next season, a special gold version of the Premier League trophy was commissioned to commemorate Arsenal winning the title without a single defeat. In addition to their two wins at the end of the 2002–03 FA Premier League, Arsenal beat Middlesbrough in their second league game of 2004–05 to equal Nottingham Forest's record of 42 league matches unbeaten; the feat was eclipsed with a win at home to Blackburn Rovers. The run extended to six more matches for a total of 49 league games undefeated, before coming to an end with a controversial 2–0 defeat to Manchester United. The Guardian noted that Arsenal never trailed in the last 20 minutes of a game during their unbeaten run.[better source needed]
|The most used Arsenal players in the 2003–04 season, positioned in a 4–4–1–1 formation.|
Compared with the club's double-winning side of 1998, only Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp remained as first team players throughout the unbeaten run; Martin Keown and Ray Parlour featured briefly. Defenders Lee Dixon and Tony Adams had retired from professional football in 2002 and goalkeeper David Seaman joined Manchester City a year later. Kolo Touré, bought as a right-back and defensive midfielder, was chosen to play in central defence alongside Sol Campbell after impressing during pre-season. Lauren who played as a midfielder for Real Mallorca was shifted as a right-back when he joined Arsenal. Wenger initially replaced left-back Nigel Winterburn with Sylvinho, but an injury to the defender allowed Ashley Cole to take his place as first pick by the 2000–01 season. In midfield Gilberto Silva partnered Vieira, and Fredrik Ljungberg and Robert Pirès each played either side of the wing. Thierry Henry, signed as Nicolas Anelka's replacement in 1999, was the team's focal point in attack; he was supported most often by Bergkamp.
Although the team were interpreted as one which organised themselves as 4–4–2, the formation with the ball was akin to 4–4–1–1. Wenger's tactics emphasised attacking football and relied on movement and interchanging, with full-backs joining in attacks. Journalist Michael Cox noted Arsenal's strengths lay on the left side of the pitch and added because the opposition focused on containing Cole, Pirès and Henry, it allowed Lauren and Ljungberg to find space and cross the ball. The team were also strong on the counter, exemplified in their away performances against Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur.
|1||7 May 2003||Southampton||H||6–1||38,052||Pirès 8', 22', 46', Pennant 15', 18', 25'|
|2||11 May 2003||Sunderland||A||4–0||40,188||Henry 7', Ljungberg 39', 78', 88'|
|3||15 August 2003||Everton||H||2–1||38,014||Henry 35' (pen.), Pirès 58'|
|4||24 August 2003||Middlesbrough||A||4–0||29,450||Henry 5', Gilberto Silva 13', Wiltord 22', 60'|
|5||27 August 2003||Aston Villa||H||2–0||38,010||Campbell 57', Henry 90'|
|6||31 August 2003||Manchester City||A||2–1||46,436||Wiltord 48', Ljungberg 72'|
|7||13 September 2003||Portsmouth||H||1–1||38,052||Henry 40' (pen.)|
|8||21 September 2003||Manchester United||A||0–0||67,639|
|9||26 September 2003||Newcastle United||H||3–2||38,112||Henry 18', 80' (pen.), Gilberto Silva 67'|
|10||4 October 2003||Liverpool||A||2–1||44,374||Hyypiä 31' (o.g.), Pirès 68'|
|11||18 October 2003||Chelsea||H||2–1||38,172||Edu 5', Henry 75'|
|12||26 October 2003||Charlton Athletic||A||1–1||26,660||Henry 39'|
|13||1 November 2003||Leeds United||A||4–1||36,491||Henry 8', 33', Pirès 18', Gilberto Silva 50'|
|14||8 November 2003||Tottenham Hotspur||H||2–1||38,101||Pirès 69', Ljungberg 79'|
|15||22 November 2003||Birmingham City||A||3–0||29,588||Ljungberg 4', Bergkamp 80', Pirès 88'|
|16||30 November 2003||Fulham||H||0–0||38,063|
|17||6 December 2003||Leicester City||A||1–1||26,660||Gilberto Silva 60'|
|18||14 December 2003||Blackburn Rovers||H||1–0||37,677||Bergkamp 11'|
|19||20 December 2003||Bolton Wanderers||A||1–1||28,003||Pirès 57'|
|20||26 December 2003||Wolverhampton Wanderers||H||3–0||38,003||Craddock 13' (o.g.), Henry 20', 89'|
|21||29 December 2003||Southampton||A||1–0||32,151||Pirès 13'|
|22||7 January 2004||Everton||A||1–1||38,726||Kanu 29'|
|23||10 January 2004||Middlesbrough||H||4–1||38,117||Henry 38' (pen.), Queudrue 45' (o.g.), Pirès 57', Ljungberg 68'|
|24||18 January 2004||Aston Villa||A||2–0||39,380||Henry 29', 53' (pen.)|
|25||1 February 2004||Manchester City||H||2–1||38,103||Tarnat 7' (o.g.), Henry 83'|
|26||7 February 2004||Wolverhampton Wanderers||A||3–1||29,392||Bergkamp 9', Henry 58', Touré 63'|
|27||10 February 2004||Southampton||H||2–0||38,007||Henry 31', 90'|
|28||21 February 2004||Chelsea||A||2–1||41,847||Vieira 15', Edu 21'|
|29||28 February 2004||Charlton Athletic||H||2–1||38,137||Pirès 2', Henry 4'|
|30||13 March 2004||Blackburn Rovers||A||2–0||28,627||Henry 57', Pirès 87'|
|31||20 March 2004||Bolton Wanderers||H||2–1||38,053||Pirès 16', Bergkamp 24'|
|32||28 March 2004||Manchester United||H||1–1||38,184||Henry 50'|
|33||9 April 2004||Liverpool||H||4–2||38,119||Henry 31', 50', 78', Pirès 49'|
|34||11 April 2004||Newcastle United||A||0–0||52,141|
|35||16 April 2004||Leeds United||H||5–0||38,094||Pirès 6', Henry 27', 33' (pen.), 50', 67'|
|36||25 April 2004||Tottenham Hotspur||A||2–2||36,097||Vieira 3', Pirès 35'|
|37||1 May 2004||Birmingham City||H||0–0||38,061|
|38||4 May 2004||Portsmouth||A||1–1||20,140||Reyes 50'|
|39||9 May 2004||Fulham||A||1–0||18,102||Reyes 9'|
|40||15 May 2004||Leicester City||H||2–1||38,419||Henry 47' (pen.), Vieira 66'|
|41||15 August 2004||Everton||A||4–1||35,521||Bergkamp 23', Reyes 39', Ljungberg 54', Pirès 83'|
|42||22 August 2004||Middlesbrough||H||5–3||37,415||Henry 25', 90', Bergkamp 54', Reyes 65', Pirès 65'|
|43||25 August 2004||Blackburn Rovers||H||3–0||37,496||Henry 50', Gilberto Silva 58', Reyes 79'|
|44||28 August 2004||Norwich City||A||4–1||23,944||Reyes 22', Henry 36', Pirès 40', Bergkamp 90'|
|45||11 September 2004||Fulham||A||3–0||21,681||Ljungberg 62', Knight 65' (o.g.), Reyes 71'|
|46||18 September 2004||Bolton Wanderers||H||2–2||37,010||Henry 31', Pirès 66'|
|47||25 September 2004||Manchester City||A||1–0||47,015||Cole 14'|
|48||2 October 2004||Charlton Athletic||H||4–0||38,103||Ljungberg 33', Henry 48', 69', Reyes 70'|
|49||16 October 2004||Aston Villa||H||3–1||38,137||Pirès 19', 72', Henry 45'|
Under manager Fabio Capello, Milan went undefeated throughout all of their 34 matches in the league to capture the 1991–92 Serie A title, earning the nickname "the Invincibles". Between 1991 and 1993, Milan went unbeaten for an Italian record of 58 league matches in total.
During the 2011–12 Serie A season, Juventus won the league title undefeated under manager Antonio Conte, and went unbeaten for a total of 49 consecutive matches in the league between 2011 and 2013.
Celtic completed the domestic 2016–17 season unbeaten in 47 league and cup games, winning the Scottish Premiership, Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup for an unprecedented unbeaten domestic Treble under manager Brendan Rodgers.
Celtic's new signings Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembélé helped the club make a strong start to their league campaign in 2016–17, with Sinclair scoring in each of the first four league matches and Dembélé scoring a hat-trick in Celtic's 5–1 win over newly promoted Rangers, becoming the first Celtic player to score three goals against Rangers since Harry Hood in 1973. Celtic remained unbeaten in domestic competitions into the New Year, during which time the club had won their 100th major trophy, defeating Aberdeen 3–0 in the League Cup Final on 27 November 2016. Celtic's 5–2 win away at St Johnstone on 5 February 2017 saw them extend their lead in the league to 27 points over second-placed Aberdeen, and was their 19th consecutive league win, with the only points dropped in the season so far being in a 2–2 draw away at Inverness in September. They continued undefeated through March, going to extend their winning run to 22 consecutive league games, although dropped points in a 1–1 draw at Parkhead against Rangers. Celtic clinched their sixth successive league title on 2 April 2017, with a record eight league games to spare. As Celtic's unbeaten domestic run continued, they subjected Rangers to their heaviest defeat at Ibrox since 1915, thrashing their rivals 5–1 on 29 April. Celtic's 2–0 win over Hearts on 21 May saw them finish 30 points ahead of second-placed Aberdeen in the league, win a record 106 points, and the team become the first Scottish side to complete a top-flight season undefeated since 1899. Six days later, Celtic defeated Aberdeen at Hampden with a 92nd-minute goal from Tom Rogic to clinch their invincible season. Their domestic unbeaten run eventually reached 69 games before losing 4–0 to Hearts.
- The "Big Five", the world’s most prestigious national football leagues are: the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, German Bundesliga and French Ligue 1
- Before the season commenced, Wenger told reporters: "Nobody will finish above us in the league. It wouldn't surprise me if we were to go unbeaten for the whole of the season."
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