The English Premier League has given us plenty of drama, entertainment and surprises over the course of its 21 years of actually being known as the Premier League – especially surprises.
Teams from across England and Wales have come and gone over the years, and the hierarchy of the teams that are consistently contenders for the league title has only remained somewhat consistent.
Especially over the last few seasons, there have been definite shocks to the system of Premier League supporters in terms of where teams have finished in the league table by the time everything’s said and done for the season. In this list, we’ll be counting down the most surprising finishes in the Premier League table since the league’s inception in 1992-93.
Some of these teams are on here because they improved significantly following seasons where they finished in the lower half of the Premier League table or were promoted from the next division down, while others made it because they had a significant fall from grace after high finishes the year before. Another is here because of the thrilling and surprising way in which they won the league title. No matter how you describe it, the Premier League has plenty of room for surprises, and the respective seasons of these 10 teams is proof of that.
Certain teams managed to come back nicely after their disappointing season – Newcastle United come to mind here – while other teams such as Leeds United hit a brick wall during their fall from grace and have failed to fully recover since then. In short, football is an unpredictable sport even if the bigger teams may have more money and more room to dominate the Premier League table, and that’s what makes this league and game as beautiful as it’s always been. Without further ado, let’s take a look.
10 Liverpool -- 7th from 2nd (2009-10)
Big things were expected from Liverpool in this particular season, with the team having qualified for the Champions League after finishing second the year prior. However, it wasn’t to be: star striker Fernando Torres suffered several injuries, marquee signing Alberto Aquilani failed to make an impact or start many games, and Liverpool failed to make it past the group stage of that year’s Champions League. The Reds finished in seventh place for their lowest finish in 11 years, and manager Rafael Benitez left after six seasons as Liverpool’s bench boss. The following season, Torres left for Chelsea in the January transfer window.
9 Everton -- 4th from 17th (2004-05)
After Everton had sold Wayne Rooney to Manchester United just before the start of the 2004-05 campaign, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to predict that the Toffees would be candidates to be relegated that season, especially following a 2003-04 campaign that saw them just narrowly avoid it. However, it turned out to be quite the opposite: Everton jumped up 13 places from their position the previous season to make it all the way to fourth and secure a Champions League spot – their best finish in Premier League history – thanks in part to Tim Cahill and a young Mikel Arteta.
8 Norwich City -- 3rd (1992-93)
Although they too had been tipped for relegation before the season had even started, Norwich City surprised many by finishing third in the Premier League’s inaugural season. The Canaries had help in the form of a 16-goal season from Mike Robins – the team’s top scorer – as well as a shock 4-2 victory over heavy favourites Arsenal along the way. Despite low expectations, Norwich were once eight points clear at the top of the table until poor results in the last few weeks of the season saw them finish third behind Manchester United and Aston Villa, helping them qualify for the UEFA Cup the following season.
7 Newcastle United -- 3rd (1993-94)
Newly promoted from the First Division (the former name of what is now known as the Championship), Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United side put up a surprising third place finish thanks largely to a 34-goal performance from Andy Cole – who would get sold a couple of seasons later to Manchester United – and 21 goals from Peter Beardsley, who had previously played for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the early 80s. The Baggies spent much of the early half of the season in the bottom end of the table before gradually working their way up to fourth, qualifying for the UEFA Cup in their first taste of European football since the ‘70s.
6 Nottingham Forest -- 3rd (1994-95)
Finishing second in the First Division on their way towards promotion to the Premier League, Nottingham Forest didn’t exactly have the most glamourous squad ever, with Stuart Pearce and Stan Collymore being arguably their best players at that time. However, Forest ended up finishing third behind Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United at the end of the 1994-95 season – a feat yet to be matched by any newly promoted club since. They would eventually come back down to earth in subsequent seasons, finishing ninth the following year and then being relegated the year after that following a last-place finish.
5 Newcastle United -- Relegated (2008-09)
While they weren’t among the giants of the Premier League at this time, few expected Newcastle United to be anywhere near relegation at the beginning of the 2008-09 season. Following Kevin Keegan’s resignation, the Baggies went through numerous managers – Arthur Cox, Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer, Colin Calderwood and Chris Hughton twice – during an awful season with the highest individual goal tally being eight goals apiece for Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins. The team finished 18th in the Premier League table by the time the dust settled; their first relegation since 1989. They won promotion back to the Premier League by winning the Championship the following season.
4 Leeds United -- Relegated (2003-04)
Before the 2003-04 season, Leeds United boasted a pretty competitive team, even though players such as Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Keane, Jonathan Woodgate and Robbie Fowler had all left the team for bigger clubs in recent seasons. However, since the team was £100 million in debt, the club went into a financial crisis and their fire sale of big-name players kept going, including Harry Kewell to Liverpool. Three years after the Peacocks made it to the Champions League semi-finals, they were relegated after finishing 19th in the table. Leeds have not made it back to the Premier League since.
3 Blackburn Rovers -- Relegated (1998-99)
During the ‘90s, Blackburn Rovers were a force to be reckoned with: they were Premier League champions in 1994-95, and had qualified for the UEFA Cup in 1997-98. However, the team imploded to the point where manager Roy Hodgson was sacked and replaced by Brian Kidd, but their fortunes didn’t change: Blackburn finished 19th in the Premier League table and were thus relegated. Luckily for the Rovers, they held on to players such as Damien Duff, Christian Dailly, Jason McAteer and Ashley Ward for that first season in the Championship, but wouldn’t get promoted until the 2000-01 season.
2 Manchester City -- Champions (2011-12)
Although they had been threatening to begin their dominance over the rest of the Premier League with the addition of high-priced new players thanks to the club’s purchase by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, Manchester City put up a thrilling performance at the very end of the season as they battled it out with crosstown rivals Manchester United for the title, sealing first place with a come-from-behind victory against Queen’s Park Rangers on the last day. The victory helped City edge out United on goal difference, and many goals from Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko throughout the season helped City truly assert themselves as a perennial title contender following years of mediocrity before their purchase.
1 Manchester United -- 7th? (2013-14)
Okay, so the Premier League season’s not technically over, and Manchester United could still lock up a Europa League place if they end the season on the highest possible note. Regardless, it will still be a monumentally disappointing end result for a team that has for so long been one of the most dominant sides in English football. Although Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement following a title-winning season and subsequent appointment of former Everton manager David Moyes wasn’t expected to be totally seamless, few expected things to turn out this badly. 3-0 losses at Old Trafford to bitter rivals Liverpool and Manchester City rubbed salt in their wounds. At least one thing's for certain; Moyes won't be helping rebuild United as he was recently sacked.