With leading clubs firmly at the top of the rankings each year, the Premier League isn’t subject to too many upsets. During the offseason each year, pundits dive into contracts coming to an end and transfers to predict how teams will fare compared to last year.
For the most part, fans and pundits know which teams to look out for in the coming season. The first few weeks of play offer insight into whether these early predictions will hold up. Somewhere along the way, an underdog is bound to be on the up-and-up.
Still, rooting for the underdog is more of an American pastime than a Premier League standard. Typically, Premier League fans will only back underdogs when taking advantage of a free bet from a new sportsbook or a seasonal offer. Otherwise, it’s only sensible to back a favorite.
Betting aside, it can still be a treat for fans to watch a David come from behind and smash a Goliath, whether in a game or in a season… so long as their side isn’t playing. Looking back at the last three decades of Premier League play, here are some of the most unexpected upsets.
What could be bigger than an upset on the very first match in Premier League history? Heading into the 25 August 1992 match between Arsenal and Norwich, fans and pundits expected a blowout performance from the Gunners on their way to nabbing their first Premier League title.
For the first half, Arsenal set about proving analysts right. They notched two goals before halftime but stuttered after returning to the pitch. Mark Robins scored at 69’, followed by a follow-up goal four minutes later from David Phillips, then another from Ruel Fox at 82’… and one last point from Robins at 84’ for a final score of 4-2.
Unlike the last example, this pivotal upset came on the last day of the Premier League season. In 2000, Bradford was facing relegation to the Championship League… and their chances of survival had never looked bleaker as the team faced Liverpool.
But Bradford’s David Wetherall had other plans in mind. At the 12th minute, he headed one into the back of the net. Bradford scrapped the rest of the game to maintain the lead. Ultimately, the club still faced relegation the next year… but their win made the move a little more palatable.
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While Bradford’s huge upset against Liverpool meant they nearly saved themselves from relegation, Burnley’s first appearance in the Premier League in 2009 brought another type of underdog story: straight from the bottom to the top.
Burnley hadn’t competed in the topflight of English football for over three decades when they faced 2008’s Premier League champions, Manchester United, at the start of the 2009 season. A beautiful volley in the 19th minute lit up the stadium, which kept up the electric energy to see Burnley defend their lead for the next 70 minutes.
Sunderland seems to have enjoyed its fair share of exciting upsets, from their 1-0 toppling of Man City in 2012 to their FA Cup win over Leeds way back in 1973. But no other underdog comeback from Sunderland has been as meaningful as their 3-0 squashing of Chelsea back in 2010.
There were multiple elements that made this win even bigger than a few extra points in the Premier League table. First, Asamoah Gyan had just entered the scene, apparently ruffling a few feathers, including fellow striker Darren Bent. Second, Sunderland were still fighting to avoid relegation after escaping the Championship in 2007.
The stakes were high as they faced reigning Premier League champions Chelsea. Not only were they last year’s victors, but they also stood in first place in league rankings, and Sunderland would be facing them at Stamford.
The result was a scrappy first half that ended with a goal from Sunderland right before halftime was called. Shortly after, Sunderland reiterated their lead with a goal at 52’, which was followed by a final at 87’. Just how bad was the upset? Bad enough for manager Carlo Ancelotti to pack his bags.