In the world of football, teams have two desires: to score the most goals and to keep the most clean sheets. The former involves the entire team servicing the attacking players as best possible, with occasional goals chipped in by defenders, midfielders and even the occasional goalkeeper. The latter is the reverse, needing every player in the side to get back and defend with their lives, stopping the attackers on the other side from getting the ball past them and into the back of the net. When you lay it out like that, football is a simplistic game when all is said and done.
In reality, of course, the game is so much more complicated than that. Goals can come thanks to a moment of brilliance from an individual player, or because of a mistake or even thanks to a decision from the match referee. Defences and the goalkeeper have to work hard to stop that sort of thing from being influential in the outcome of the game, with some teams being much better at it than others. The teams that struggle to score goals and have difficulty keeping the opposition out are obviously the ones that tend to end up in a relegation battle, which is never good news.
Quick Answer: Which Team Has Conceded the Fewest Goals in a Premier League Season?
Chelsea hold the record for the fewest goals conceded in a Premier League season with just 15 goals scored against them during the 2004/05 season.
This was Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge of the west London club and during the campaign they kept 25 clean sheets, conceded one goal in 11 matches, conceding two goals in just two matches.
Which Teams Have Had the Best Defensive Record in a Single Season?
The Premier League is good at keeping facts about its various teams and their accomplishments, so it isn’t difficult to find out exactly what the answer to this question is at the time of writing. Of course, football is an ever-moving target, so it is entirely possible that another team has broken the record in between us writing this piece and you reading it. That being said, the record has stood for nearly twenty years as things currently stand, so it will take a particularly special side to be able to improve upon what José Mourinho’s Chelsea side managed.
Here is a look at the top 11 in terms of fewest goals conceded across the course of a Premier League season:
* Though Arsenal conceded 28 goals in the 1993-1994 season, they did so across 42 games as opposed to the more standard 38. This would equate to 25.3 goals in a 38 game season and is therefore worth mentioning.
An In-Depth Look at the Best Campaigns
Now that we know the stats and facts on the teams that have conceded the fewest goals across a Premier League campaign, it is worth having a look at each of the stories in a little more detail. Each season will have had its own story, up to and including the fact that a number of the teams that conceded so few goals still didn’t actually win the title…
Chelsea, 2004/05 – 15 Goals Conceded
When the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ José Mourinho arrived at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2004, he did so having just won the Champions League with Porto. It was the first big managerial move of the Roman Abramovich era, which would see many more changes in the management hotseat before the Russian would depart English football for good. Thought Premier League win would be over-shadowed by Liverpool’s incredible success in the Champions League final in Istanbul, Mourinho’s Chelsea lost just one game on their way to setting a top-flight record.
You would almost be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at some binary coding if you looked at Chelsea’s scores from the 2004-2005 season, such were the number of zeroes and ones that appeared on the chart. Indeed, across the entire campaign there were just two matches in which the London club conceded more than one goal, but they didn’t lose either of them. Their only defeat came to Manchester City before the Sheikh Mansour money arrived, with the northern club winning 1-0 in October. It was the only result that stopped Chelsea repeating Arsenal’s unbeaten season from the year before.
Arsenal, 1998/99 – 17 Goals Conceded
There a a few examples on this list of a team conceding a stupidly small amount of goals but still missing out on the Premier League title, with this being the first of them. Having won a Premier League and FA Cup double the season before, Arsene Wenger’s side was hoping to keep hold of both trophies only to miss out on all silverware on offer. They were pipped to top spot by Manchester United, who conceded 20 goals more than the Gunners but also out-scored them by 21, resulting in one fewer defeat and one more point at the end of the campaign.
An interesting point is that, unlike José Mourhino’s Chelsea six years later, Arsenal actually lost plenty of matches during the season. In fact, their first seven games presented anything other than title-chasing form, with just two wins alongside four draws and a defeat on the road to Sheffield Wednesday. They would also lose to Wimbledon, Aston Villa and Leeds United before the campaign was over, in spite of the fact that they were so defensively frugal. It was scoring goals that ultimately cost them the league title, with even fourth-placed Leeds out-scoring them.
Liverpool, 2018/19 – 22 Goals Conceded
By the time the 2018-2019 season got underway, Liverpool had not won the English top-flight title for nearly 30 years. It was very much a cross that the Merseyside club was struggling to carry, even though they had won every other trophy there was to win during that time. The German coach Jürgen Klopp had worked hard to turn both the players and the supporters ‘from doubters into believers,’ and it would indeed end up being a record-breaking year for the Reds. No side previously had achieved more than 90 points in the Premier League, but that’s exactly what happened.
Liverpool scored 89 goals and conceded just 22 over the course of the campaign, but they were up against Pep Guardiola’s relentless Manchester City that scored 95 and conceded only one goal more than the Reds. Whilst Liverpool went on to win the Champions League at the end of the season, overcoming a 3-0 deficit to Barcelona in the semi-final of the competition, the wait for a league title would go on until the following season. The team essentially produced Premier League and Champions League double winning form, just without the trophies to show for it.
Manchester United, 2007/08 – 22 Goals Conceded
Alex Ferguson’s time at Manchester United was nearly over before it had begun during the early stages of his career, only for a win against Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Cup to give him a stay of execution. Those responsible for the decision-making at Old Trafford will have been glad that they didn’t pull the trigger, given that he would go on to become one of the most successful managers that the English game had ever seen. By 2007-2008, the Scot had grown used to seeing off numerous different great pretenders, such as Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal and the nouveau riche Chelsea of Roman Abramovich.
Having regained the top-flight title from Chelsea the year before, Ferguson wanted to keep hold of it under pressure from the West London club. As a result, he tightened up United’s defence and saw the side concede just 22 times across the course of the season. With Chelsea conceding on 26 occasions and scoring 65 compared to the Red Devils’ 80, it was enough to see the Scot lift yet another Premier League title thanks to a two point advantage at the conclusion of the campaign. He would go on to do it again the following season, as you’ll read shortly.
Chelsea, 2005/06 – 22 Goals Conceded
Having won the league after conceding the fewest goals in Premier League history the year before, José Mourinho was determined not to suffer from second album syndrome. It was the London side’s 100th year as a football club, which was rounded off in style thanks to the team equalling its own record from the year before of most wins in a single season at 29. This time, though, the defensively frugality didn’t lead to only one league defeat, instead seeing them lose five times on the way to the title. They scored the same number of goals as United, meaning it was the goals against that mattered.
On that front, Chelsea were without equal that season. They conceded 22 times, which three times fewer than the next closest side in Liverpool. Of the five defeats that Mourinho’s side suffered, one of them was to the eventual runners-up Manchester United in the November. Even so, there was very little drama for the London club, who had been at the top of the table from game week three and never relented. They even lost their last two games of the campaign 1-0, but still won the title by eight points from the chasing Manchester United.
Manchester City, 2018/19 – 23 Goals Conceded
Though Manchester City would later go on to face 115 charges of financial impropriety by the Premier League, the club’s relentless under Pep Guardiola was perhaps best summed up by the 2018-2019 campaign. As Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool side kept on winning to put the pressure on the Manchester club, the Spaniard ensured that his players were able to respond in kind week after week. As a result, the Premier League title chase went to the last day of the season, with a win for City ensuring that they would lift the trophy instead of their double-chasing rivals.
Liverpool actually conceded fewer goals than the City side did, as you’ve already read, but the number scored by Guardiola’s men was enough to ensure that they took him the title. They notched up 95 goals compared to the 89 scored by the Merseyside team, with the pair that they scored at the Etihad in a 2-1 win over Liverpool in January the ultimate difference between the sides. It looked as though things might get a little uncomfortable for City when they were being held by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City in the penultimate game of the season, only for a clean sheet to match a Vincent Kompany screamer to all but seal the title.
Chelsea, 2008/09 – 24 Goals Conceded
If ever there were to be proof about the importance of when you score your goals in the Premier League, there is no finer example than the 2008-2009 campaign. That is because, remarkably, Manchester United and Chelsea scored and conceded exactly the same number of goals as each other, only for the Red Devils to win the title and the London club to finish third. Liverpool out-scored both sides with 77 goals but concede three more, resulting in them finishing second and missing out on the title by four points, leading to their title duck to continue.
Chelsea began the season with Luiz Felipe Scolari in charge, only for losses against Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United to ultimately result in him being replaced as manager by Guus Hiddink for the remainder of the season. Chelsea under Abramovich were used to such upheaval, however, so they still managed to make the semi-finals of the Champions League and to win the FA Cup. The title was one step too far, even though they only conceded goals in 16 of their 38 games. They only conceded more than one six times, but it wasn’t enough to win the title.
Manchester United, 2008/09 – 24 Goals Conceded
Sufficed to say that it hasn’t happened often that two teams in the Premier League have scored and conceded exactly the same number of goals as each other. That is exactly what happened to Manchester United and Chelsea in the 2008-2009 campaign, however, with the Red Devils ultimately doing so in a configuration of games that allowed them to win the title whilst Chelsea ended up missing out. United were not only having to fend off the challenge of the London club but also their fierce rivals Liverpool, who were being managed by Rafa Benitez.
Despite doing enough to finish above Chelsea thanks to the 77 goals scored and 27 conceded, it wasn’t enough to get ahead of the Red Devils, who won the title by four points. That was mainly thanks to how stingy they were in defence, even though four of the 24 goals conceded by Alex Ferguson’s men were scored by Liverpool at Old Trafford. That was one of the worst home defeats that they had suffered, only for worse to come several years later when Liverpool were once again the victors. In the end, it was when the goals were conceded that mattered.
Chelsea, 2006/07 – 24 Goals Conceded
Another hard-luck story for Chelsea, coming second despite conceding the fewest goals in the Premier League during the season. It was Manchester United that once again pipped José Mourinho’s men to the punch, with the London club having won the top-flight title in the previous two campaigns. Though they did do an FA Cup and League Cup double, they missed out on the title thanks to the fact that they scored 19 fewer goals than the Red Devils. That resulted in 11 draws compared to five, which ultimately cost them the title after just three defeats all season.
Under Mourinho, Chelsea had become the master of the tight defence, with the side appearing on this list three times whilst the Portuguese manager was in charge. A 2-1 defeat to Middlesbrough in the second game of the season was followed by another defeat to Tottenham Hotspur three months later. When they lost 2-0 to Liverpool in the January, that was the final defeat suffered by the London club but it was the draws that ultimately proved their undoing. Despite only conceding four times in their remaining five matches, they didn’t win any of them.
Liverpool, 2005/06 – 25 Goals Conceded
When Rafael Benitez took over at Anfield in the summer of 2004, he replaced treble-winning Gerard Houllier in the Anfield hot seat and arrived having beaten both Barcelona and Real Madrid to the La Liga title with Valencia not once but twice. It was a similar challenge that faced him in the Premier League, given the riches of Manchester United and Chelsea, so the first thing that the Spaniard chose to do was to try to shore things up defensively. He managed to get them so tight defensively that only eventual title winners Chelsea conceded fewer goals that season.
Liverpool only conceded more than two goals once all season, which was when Chelsea beat them 4-1 at Anfield at the beginning of October. Benitez favoured defensive solidity over goal-scoring, which resulted in three 0-0 draws in the opening five games of the campaign. A difficult start to the year would prove to be the Reds’ ultimate undoing, losing three and drawing one between the 22nd of January and the eight of February, conceding 24% of all of the goals that the would concede across the campaign in those two and a half weeks or so.
Arsenal, 1993/94 – 28 Goals Conceded
It is a fact long forgotten nowadays, but the Premier League started life as a 22-team league before being reduced to 20. As a result, it is only right that we include Arsenal’s performance in the 1993-1994 campaign, given the fact that the Gunners conceded the fewest goals in the new league’s young existence and a number that would equate to just over 25 goals in a 38-game campaign. As has proven to be the case a number of times in this list, it was all for nought when you consider that the North London club actually finished fourth, 21 points behind title winners Manchester United.
The Londoners would go on to win the Cup Winners’ Cup, but in the Premier League it was when the goals were scored and conceded that stopped them from doing better. They scored 53, which was the lowest amount of the top nine sides, but tightened up at the back to let in just the 28 goals. That was ten fewer than United, but with four of them coming in their last two games of the season, it was all for nought. Perhaps a better attacking performance would have allowed them to challenge, but it proved to be George Graham’s final full campaign in the managerial position.