Considering how many soccer leagues there are across Europe and the number of top flight teams out there it may come as a surprise that we could dig up just 16 of them that have enjoyed one or more unbeaten seasons in a major league. The first came way back in the 1888/89 campaign when the English Football League was born and the last one took place in 2016/17. We may see that list grow to 17 pretty soon though as Barcelona has yet to lose in Spanish La Liga action so far in the 2017/18 season [Ed. note: They eventually lost].
We’re not going to try and rank the clubs since the feat was achieved in different eras and different sized leagues. Because of that we’ll simply list them in chronological order. Just remember these are teams that were competing in their country’s top professional league at the time they went undefeated and play in one of Europe’s bigger leagues.
16. Preston North End
The 1888/89 season was the very first for the new Football League in England and Preston North End went through it without losing a game. They also won the FA Cup for a double and John Goodall led the league in scoring with 20 goals. The original league consisted of just 12 teams, but Preston also went unbeaten in the FA Cup in five outings to keep their perfect record intact after 27 games. The squad finished the league campaign with 18 wins and four draws while netting a league-high 74 goals and allowing a league-low 15. Their 40 points was 11 better than runners-up Aston Villa. Other notable players of that early squad included Fred Dewhurst, Jack Gordon, Johnny Graham, Robert Holmes, Sandy Robertson, Jimmy Ross and James Trainer. It would be over a century before their feat was replicated in the English top flight.
15. Rangers FC
Although rivals Celtic were the second European club to pull off an unbeaten campaign in a top European league a year earlier, we’ll get to them later. Instead, it was Glasgow Rangers who did it in 1898/99, a decade after Preston North End managed to. The team won all 18 of its Division One matches for 36 points with a league-high 76 goals scored and a league-low 18 conceded. Rangers finished the year 10 points ahead of runners-up Hearts of Midlothian. They also won four cup matches, but lost the very last contest of the campaign when Celtic upset them 2-0 in the Scottish Cup Final. Robert Hamilton led the squad in scoring with 25 goals while Matthew Dickie was the goalkeeper. Robert Neil chipped in with seven tallies while Alex Smith had 13, Neilly Gibson scored six, John Campbell netted 13, James Millar had 12 and John McPherson scored eight times.
14. Athletic Bilbao
The first Spanish side to go unbeaten in a campaign was Athletic Bilbao in 1929/30 when there were just nine other teams in the league. Athletic won their first title that season with a record of 12 wins and six draws and were managed by Fred Pentland of England. They topped the league both offensively and defensively with 63 goals for, 28 against and a league-best differential of 35. Their 30 points was seven better than runners-up Barcelona. Athletic also posted the longest winning and unbeaten streaks in the league at seven and 18 respectively. It’s probably no surprise the club also boasted the top goalscorer in Guillermo Gorostiza with his 20 goals. Victor Unamuno and Jose Iragorri weren’t too shabby around the net either as they chipped in with 15 and 13 respectively. Athletic did lose two of 10 games in the Copa del Rey, but still managed to win the trophy.
13. Madrid CF
Back in the 1931/32 season Spanish giants Real Madrid were known as Madrid CF and they managed to navigate the campaign without losing a game. It was also their first of many La Liga titles. There were still just 10 clubs in the league at that time and Madrid racked up 10 wins and eight draws for 28 points. This gave them a three-point edge over runners-up and defending champions Athletic Bilbao. Madrid had the longest winning and unbeaten runs at five and 18 matches respectively. They scored 37 goals and allowed a league-low 15. Manuel Olivares led the squad in scoring with 11 goals which placed him in a three-way tie for second in league scoring. In fact, he was the only player to reach double digits for Madrid that season. Lippo Hertzka was the club’s manager, but Englishman Robert Firth took over the next season and also won the league title.
12. Royale Union Saint-Gilloise
In 1933/34, Royale Union Saint-Gilloise (Union SG) breezed through the top division of the Belgian league to take the crown. The team managed to win 11 domestic titles up until 1935, but are now playing in the country’s second division. The league was made up of 14 clubs back then and Union SG won 17 of their matches while drawing the other nine. Their 43 points were eight points better off than runners-up Daring Club. Union SG put 88 balls past opposing keepers that season and allowed a league-low 35 against for a league-best differential of 53. The Brussels-based team, which was formed in 1897, went on a 60-game undefeated streak between 1933 and 1935 to set a national record that still stands. Along with their 11 First Division Titles, they’ve won four lower-division championships.
11. SL Benfica
Portuguese club Benfica put together undefeated seasons in 1972/73 and 1977/78. They were the nation’s first team to do so, but it came with mixed results. They entered the 1972/73 campaign with Jimmy Hagan as manager and shooting for a third straight Portuguese crown. They managed it with 28 wins and two draws for 58 points which was 18 more than runners-up Belenenses. Benfica dominated the league offensively and defensively with 101 goals for and 13 against with the great Eusebio scoring 40 times in 28 league outings. Five years later the Lisbon side was managed by John Mortimore and went undefeated again with 51 points from 21 wins and nine draws. However, they finished as runners-up to Porto due to an inferior goal difference. Benfica still holds the record for most consecutive wins in a European league with 29 between the 1971/72 and 1972/73 seasons.
10. AC Perugia
The first Italian Serie A club to escape a season without a loss was lesser-known Perugia, who now ply their trade in the second-tier Serie B. The club’s claim to fame was its undefeated season of 1978/79 when it was managed by Ilario Castagner. But incredibly they didn’t win the league as they dropped too many points because of their 19 draws. Perugia also won 11 games for 41 points and finished three behind league champions AC Milan. The squad combined for just 34 goals in 30 games, but was excellent defensively with a league-low 16 goals against. So if you believe defenses win championships this theory is debunked right here. Key players of the squad included Pierluigi Frosio, Franco Vannin, Michele Nappi, Mauro Della Martira, Ceccarini, Cesare Butti, Paolo Dal Fiume, Walter Speggiorin and goalkeeper Nello Malizia.
9. FC Steaua Bucharest
The longest unbeaten streak in European football currently belongs to Steaua Bucharest of Romania at 119 games (104 league), which consists of 103 wins and 16 draws. The streak started with the first match of the 1986/87 Liga 1 campaign and lasted for over three years when arch rivals Dinamo Bucharest snapped it in September of 1989. This meant Steaua went three entire seasons without losing a game. They topped their division in 1986/87 with 25 wins and nine draws and beat Dinamo in the Romanian Cup Final. In 1987/88 they pulled off the same double with another unbeaten season of 30 wins and four draws and incredibly achieved it again in 1988/89 with 31 wins and three draws and a third straight triumph over Dinamo in the domestic cup. This wasn’t the case of a strong domestic side beating up on the rest of their league since Steaua won the European Cup and European Super Cup in 1986 just before their streak began.
8. FC Dinamo Bucharest
Tired of being outdone by their neighbors and rivals Steaua Bucharest, Dinmo Bucharest also went through an entire Romanian season without defeat. The club made the record books in 1991/92 when it captured its 14th Divizia A crown with a record of 21 wins and 13 draws. However, they only made it as far as the final 16 of the Romanian Cup. The undefeated squad was managed by Florin Halagian with Gabor Gerstenmajer leading the attack with 21 goals. Other key squad members included Sulejman Demollari, Nelson Mensah, Ioan Sebastian Moga, Zoltan Kadar, Dorinel Munteanu, Gheorghe Mihali and goalkeeper Florin Tene. Dinamo pumped in a league-high 76 goals that season and allowed a league-low 23 for a league-best differential of 53. Their 55 points were seven better than runners-up Steaua Bucharest.
7. AC Milan
Sandwiched between unbeaten Italian clubs Perugia and Juventus was the the AC Milan squad of 1991/92. Manager Fabio Capello was in his first season in charge back then and the Serie A consisted of only 18 clubs rather than the current 20. As well as going unbeaten through the entire season, Milan also carried their streak into the next campaign where it reached 58 contests until tasting defeat. Milan posted 22 wins and 12 draws in 1991/92 with a league-high 74 goals scored and just 21 conceded to run away with the best goal difference at 53. Their 56 points was eight more than runners-up Juventus. Marco van Basten was the team’s and league’s top scorer with 25 goals and the squad also included the likes of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Donadoni, Frank Rikjaard, Ruud Gullit, Aldo Serena and Marco Simone.
6. AFC Ajax
Ajax, arguably Holland’s most famous football team, put a 52-game unbeaten streak together between 1994 and 1996 and this included an unbeaten Eredivisie domestic season in 1994/95. It was one of the club’s strongest squads in its history as they also won the Dutch Supercup as well as their fourth European Cup by going unbeaten on the continent. Ajax topped the Dutch league with 27 wins and seven draws for 61 points. They finished seven ahead of runners-up Roda JC, led the league with 106 goals and a differential of 78 and tied as the best defensive side with 28 goals against. The attack was led by Jari Litmanen and Patrick Kluivert with Edwin van der sar and Fred Grim as the goalkeepers. Other key members included Danny Blind, Winston Bogarde, Frank de Boer, Ronald de Boer and Edgar Davids.
5. Shakhtar Donetsk
Let’s head over to Ukraine now and check out Shakhtar Donetsk. The 2000/01 season began with Dynamo Kyiv as reigning champions, but Shakhtar managed to upset them by going undefeated. The team finished with 20 wins and six draws for 66 points and edged Dynamo out by just one point. They were second-best to Dynamo both offensively and defensively with 49 goals scored and 10 allowed, but Kyiv was beaten once that season. Andriy Vorobei led Shakhtar in league scoring with nine goals and Hennady Zubov followed with eight. Nevio Scala of Italy was the club’s manager and he also guided the team to the Ukranian Cup that season. Key members of the squad were goalkeepers Wojciech Kowalewski and Dmitro Shutkov along with Serhiy Popov, Mariusz Lewandowski, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Oleksiy Belik.
4. Arsenal FC
Nobody went undefeated in England’s First Division since Preston North End in the very first pro season. The next squad to go unbeaten was in the Premier League era when Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ managed it in 2003/04. Arsenal won the league that year with a mark of 26 wins and 12 draws and beat runners-up Chelsea by 11 points. What made the title win sweeter for Gunners fans was the fact they clinched it at White Hart Lane against their arch rivals Tottenham Hotspur. They didn’t win anything else that campaign though as they were ousted in the semifinals of both the FA Cup and League Cup as well as the quarterfinals of the Champions League. The squad boasted the likes of Ashley Cole, Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira, Freddie Ljunberg, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure. The Gunners managed to extend their unbeaten string to 49 games before Manchester United snapped it.
3. FC Porto
FC Porto was the second Portuguese club to go unbeaten twice. They went through the 2010/11 campaign with 27 victories and three draws under manager Andre Villas Boas. It was a memorable campaign for the club and its fans alike as they also added the Europa League and Portuguese Cup to their collection. Porto racked up 73 points to win the league by 21 points over runners-up Benfica. They were the best at both ends of the pitch with 73 goals for and 16 against. Hulk led the league in scoring with 23 goals followed by teammate Radamel Falcao with 16 and Silvestre Varela chipped in with 10. Porto repeated their feat in 2012/13 under manager Vitor Pereira by posting 24 wins and six draws for 78 points, just one more than Benfica. Jackson Martinez led the league’s scoring parade with 26 goals and James Rodriguez had 10. Porto also recorded a 55-game unbeaten run starting in March, 2010.
2. Juventus FC
The third Italian Serie A side to go unscathed through an entire season was Juventus in 2011/12 and it was their first league championship in nine years. Former team skipper Antonio Conte had stepped in as the new manager and he led his side to a mark of 23 victories and 15 draws. They scored 60 goals, allowed a league-low 20 for a league-best goal differential of 48 and finished with 84 points, four more than second-place AC Milan. That campaign was also memorable for fans as the new Juventus Stadium opened in Turin in September, 2011. The only game the club lost that season was the final of the Coppa Italia when Napoli downed them 2-0. Gianluigi Buffon posted 21 clean sheets and top players included Giorgio Chiellini, Alessandro Del Piero, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Alessandro Matri.
1. Celtic FC
Celtic won their sixth-straight and 48th overall Scottish League title in 2016/17 and did in style by going unbeaten with 106 points. They became the first top flight Scottish club to achieve it in 118 years since Glasgow neighbors Rangers did it in 1898/99 (Celtic themselves actually achieved the same feat in 1897-98 too). Brendan Rodgers was the new Celtic boss and led his squad to a record of 34 victories and four draws with a league-best 106 goals for and league-low 25 against for a differential of 81. Aberdeen finished second that year with 76 points, a full 30 behind Celtic. Scott Sinclair let the attack for the Hoops with 21 goals and other key members of the squad included Moussa Dembele, Stuart Armstrong and Leigh Griffiths. The team pulled off a domestic treble as they captured the Scottish Cup and League Cup as well. Celtic also set a UK unbeaten record as they went 69 games without losing between May, 2016 and December, 2017.