“If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”
We’ll perhaps never truly know whether Marilyn Monroe was thinking about the 21st century low points of the 20 current Premier League clubs when she uttered those famous words. But let’s just imagine she was. Here, then, are the Marilyn-at-her-worst seasons you had to handle to enjoy the glorious title-winning campaigns or that time you nearly qualified for the Europa or finished comfortable and stress-free in mid-table.
And we’re not getting into the whole “Actually, the year 2000 is in the 20th century” nerd-off. We’re starting from the 2000/01 season here because we are. Okay? Good. Let’s crack on.
The season (before this one): 2017/18, 6th in the Premier League.
What’s the story? Arsenal haven’t finished outside the top six since 1994/95, the season when the George Graham bungs scandal broke. Their worst 21st century finish, until this weekend anyway, was sixth place two years ago. That Wenger top-four run really was something, but his final season was also officially the worst of his 21 revolutionary years at Highbury and the Emirates. Arsenal were never really in Champions League contention, disastrous away form – four wins and 11 defeats – leaving them truly marooned in sixth, seven points adrift of fifth-placed Chelsea but nine clear of Burnley in seventh.
What happened next? Unai Emery came in as head coach. Jack Wilshere followed Wenger out of the door, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Bernd Leno, Sokratis and Matteo Guendouzi all arrived.
The result: 5th in the Premier League.
The season: 2016/17, 13th in the Championship
What’s the story? Having lost their ever-present Premier League status the year before, Villa made a disastrous start to life in the Championship. Roberto Di Matteo was sacked in October after one win in 11 games with Steve Bruce coming in for a classic British Manager firefighting gig. Seven wins in the next 12 did precisely that before a run of seven defeats in eight put paid to any fanciful thoughts of a late play-off push. A funny old season really.
What happened next? John bloody Terry rocked up and was immediately appointed Captain, Leader, Legend.
The result: 4th in the Championship and 1-0 play-off final defeat to Fulham.
The season: 2008/09, 21st in League Two
What’s the story? Relegation to the Championship after five years in the Premier League doesn’t seem so bad really, does it? After going into administration and being relegated from League One, Bournemouth very nearly weren’t even allowed to start the League Two season owing to fears over their ability to fulfil their fixtures. They eventually did so with a 17-point penalty. Thirty-one-year-old Eddie Howe took over as manager with the club still 10 points adrift at the bottom of the table. They secured their Football League status with a 2-1 win over Grimsby in the final home game of the season.
What happened next? The Adam Murry and Jeff Mostyn consortium finally took control of the club in June. Howe’s team won eight of their first nine games of the 2009/10 season.
The result: 2nd in League Two, promotion and the start of everything remarkable that has happened at Dean Court since.
On this day in 2009, Eddie Howe took charge of his first Bournemouth game. They lost to Darlington & were 23rd in League 2
`What a journey. pic.twitter.com/oy5UjjNDg8
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) January 3, 2017
The season: 2000/01, 1st in Division Three
What’s the story? Not quite Bournemouth levels, but not far off. Brighton’s own unlikely and lengthy journey from the bottom tier and financial strife to the Premier League burst into life at the start of the century with a Bobby Zamora-inspired romp to the title in Division Three – which is what they used to call the Fourth Division before it was League Two – helped in part by a nine-point deduction for Chesterfield which dropped the Spireites from second to third.
What happened next? A Bobby Zamora-inspired romp to the title in Division Two – which is what they used to call the Third Division before it was called League One.
The result: 1st in Division Two – which is what they used to c
The season: 2003/04, 19th in Division One
What’s the story? Stan Ternent’s final season at Turf Moor was a long, grim struggle with survival only secured by two points. The problems stemmed from the back, with Burnley conceding 77 goals and somehow contriving to lose not one but two games by the unlikely but undeniably fun scoreline of 5-3.
What happened next? Steve Cotterill replaced Ternent and Burnley, like everyone else in Division One, found themselves instantly promoted to the Championship before the season had even begun. Result.
The result: 13th in Division One the Championship, one place above Leeds and two above Leicester.
The season: 2015/16, 10th in the Premier League
What’s the story? Great stuff, really. Chelsea’s only season outside the top six since 1996 not only saw them plummet all the way to 10th but also came between two title-winning seasons. Eden Hazard forgot how to score. Jose Mourinho played all the third season hits before being relieved of his job in December after nine defeats in 16 games left the defending champions in a scarcely credible 16th place in the table. Guus Hiddink came in to sort out the mess and did so with an admittedly draw-laden 15-match unbeaten run. Ridiculously, Chelsea won only five league games at Stamford Bridge all season.
What happened next? In came Antonio Conte along with Michy Batshuayi, Marcos Alonso, David Luiz and, perhaps most significantly, N’Golo Kante from champions Leicester. The five home wins of 2015/16 became 17 in 2016/17. Chelsea finished seven points clear of Spurs and 15 clear of everyone else.
The result: 1st in the Premier League
Season 2009/10 | Man City: 5th place.
Season 2011/12 | Liverpool: 8th place.
Season 2013/14 | ManUnited: 7th place.
Season 2015/16 | Chelsea: 10th place.
No team just dominates or secures a Top4 spot for 10 years straight. We got this. We will be back. #COYG
— A Football Mind (@Shelby_BFG) July 22, 2020
The season: 2009/10, 21st in the Championship
What’s the story? Another tale of financial woe, with Palace entering administration in January – taking a 10-point penalty in the process – and losing manager Neil Warnock a month later. Paul Hart came in and helped Palace to scramble to safety, which wasn’t secured until the final day of the season.
What happened next? The Steve Parish-led CPFC 2010 consortium completed their takeover and put George Burley in charge. On-field results were actually even worse than the previous year, with Burley replaced by his assistant Dougie Freedman in January. A 10-point penalty in this season would’ve meant relegation. But instead…
The result: 20th in the Championship
The season: 2003/04, 17th in the Premier League
What’s the story? David Moyes’ nascent Everton revival hits a sizeable bump in the road with a miserable season. Everton win only nine games in the whole campaign and fail to reach the fabled 40-point barrier. Luckily for them, even more desperate seasons are going on at Wolves, Leeds and Leicester – all of whom finish with a mere 33 points – means the Toffees are never truly in deepest, darkest relegation trouble.
What happened next? Euro 2004 and Wayne Rooney’s departure for Manchester United. Among the incomings, though, was Tim Cahill. Plenty of people were tipping Everton for relegation and not without reason. However, for a good chunk of the season there appeared the very real prospect of an unlikely title challenge. That fizzled out, not helped by the sale of Thomas Gravesen to Real Madrid, but still…
The result: 4th in the Premier League
The season: 2008/09, 1st in League One
What’s the story? I suppose really the worst season was the shambolic Championship relegation effort that preceded it, in which Leicester got through three permanent managers and five caretakers. But technically their lowest finish is undeniably the one in League One because it’s in League One. They pissed it, though, with the decision to have one manager for the whole season a controversial but successful one as Nigel Pearson led the Foxes to top spot with 96 points, seven points clear of Peterborough and nine clear of the play-offs.
What happened next? Leicester threatened to pull off back-to-back promotions under Pearson before eventually losing out to Cardiff in the play-off semi-final.
The result: 5th in the Championship
The start of Nigel Pearson’s first spell in charge at Leicester City.
League One champions 2009 ✔️ pic.twitter.com/7W4guyBMnx
— BBC Leicester Sport (@BBCRLSport) June 20, 2016
The season: 2011/12, 8th in the Premier League
What’s the story? Liverpool have slipped as low as eighth twice this century, but the second time they did it in 2016 they got 60 points. In 2012, they managed a mere 52. Which is worse. It was also the season of Luis Suarez’s cultural differences with Patrice Evra and Liverpool’s shameful response to it. Which is definitely worse. Nonetheless, Kenny Dalglish’s side actually started the season reasonably well despite a wild 4-0 defeat at Spurs in September. At the turn of the year they had lost just once in 14 league games since that thrashing and were an upwardly mobile sixth still very much in Champions League contention despite the fact Suarez was now serving an eight-match ban. They lost 11 of their remaining 19 games. But did win the League Cup, so that’s something.
What happened next? Dalglish was out, Brendan Rodgers was in, as were Fabio Borini and Joe Allen. We all know how the B-Rodge Liverpool story played out, but initial progress was slow. Five games without a win at the start of the season actually saw Liverpool briefly in the drop zone before things slowly fell into place – most notably in the new year with the arrivals of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho.
The result: 7th in the Premier League
The season: 2001/02, 1st in Division One
What’s the story? Having secured back-to-back promotions to the Premier League from Division Two, City slipped back into the second tier with relegation in 2000/01. They spent the following season under Kevin Keegan doing to the Championship what their future cash-rich sides would do to the Premier League. City successfully fed the Goat to rack up 99 points and 108 goals to smash their way back into the top flight, where they have remained ever since.
What happened next? Quaint as it is to think of City smashing their transfer record with a £13million signing, bringing Nicolas Anelka back to England from PSG was something of a coup, while Sylvain Distin also made the same move for another £5m. Peter Schmeichel arrived on a free from Villa. It all went pretty well – City not only got a first win in ages against Man United and finished in the top half but also sneaked into Europe via the Fair Play League.
The result: 9th in the Premier League
The season: 2013/14, 7th in the Premier League
What’s the story? David Moyes. It’s all very easy – and also fun – to laugh at the extent to which Manchester United fans lost their minds when confronted with a mediocre team playing mediocre football under a mediocre manager in a mediocre league position, but you really have to consider the context. There was a whole generation of United fans for whom the worst-case unthinkable disaster season was the one time they finished below both Arsenal and Chelsea and didn’t even win a cup to make up for it. The rest of us had either seen plenty of these Moyesy seasons before – or dreamed of such riches. Not so for United fans, bless ‘em.
What happened next? Moyes got the boot in April and they give it Giggsy until end of the season, then Louis van Gaal came along and, if anything, played even worse football than Moyes. With Van Gaal followed by a classic three-year destroy-and-exit from Jose Mourinho, it’s not hard to see why those same United fans who went way over the top about how bad Moyes was are now doing similar about how good Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is. All a question of perspective.
The result: 4th in the Premier League
— Mark Critchley (@mjcritchley) July 22, 2020
The season: 2016/17, 1st in the Championship
What’s the story? Really should have thought about this format a bit more carefully. Maths may say 21st in the league pyramid is worse than 18th, but in the wider context it isn’t really, is it? Anyway. Newcastle have managed to get themselves relegated twice this century, which is a touch careless of them really. However, credit where it’s due, they have made minimal fuss of bouncing straight back both times. In 2017, however, they only managed to win the second tier with a shameful 94 points rather than the 102 they had managed seven years earlier. Rafa Benitez, who had come in too late to save them in 2015/16, stayed on in the Championship to secure his Toon Legend status.
What happened next? A run of eight defeats in nine games between October and December threatened to leave Newcastle in another relegation fight but they eased into mid-table in the end.
The result: 10th in the Premier League
The season: 2009/10, 1st in League One
What’s the story? Relegation from the Championship left Norwich facing a first campaign outside the top two tiers in 49 years. It started… badly. A 7-1 home defeat to Colchester was not what anyone was expecting. The club moved swiftly, sacking Bryan Gunn and replacing him with the Colchester boss who had humiliated them, Paul Lambert. Fair to say he turned things round, with 10 wins in 13 games between October and December launching a promotion bid that powered through to the finish, with Leeds left in the Canaries’ wake.
What happened next? Norwich replicated the successful blueprint from 2009/10, losing their first game of the season at home before going on to secure promotion. It’s a good strategy.
The result: 2nd in the Championship
The season: 2015/16, 11th in League One
What’s the story? The fifth of United’s six long seasons in League One was by far their worst. After three failed play-off campaigns in four years, the Blades slipped right back into mid-table under new manager Nigel Adkins.
What happened next? Sheffield United gave the manager’s job to Chris Wilder. Everything else is a footnote.
The result: 1st in League One
🗓 ON THIS DAY // 12th May 2016
— SUFC Memories (@SUFC_memories) May 12, 2020
The season: 2009/10, 7th in League One
What’s the story? Alan Pardew failed to get Southampton back into the Championship at the first time of asking, but did win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, which is the real quiz.
What happened next? Pardew didn’t make it through the first month of the 2010/11 campaign, losing his job after a 4-0 win over Bristol Rovers, which seems harsh. Nigel Adkins came in the following month and after a slightly sticky start a rollicking finish to the season – winning 13 of their last 15 matches – took Southampton up the table and back into the second tier.
The result: 2nd in League One
The season: 2003/04, 14th in the Premier League
What’s the story? Spurs signed Helder Postiga, Bobby Zamora and Mbulelo Mabizela. Glenn Hoddle didn’t make it past September. They were woeful as – it’s easy to forget – they mainly were for the first decade or more of the Premier League. FUN FACT: If Spurs leapfrog Wolves at the weekend to finish this season in sixth, then this chaotic and often dismal campaign will be better than any of their first 13 Premier League seasons. Anyway. David Pleat came in as caretaker manager and, crucially, Jermain Defoe was signed in February. Despite arriving with only 15 games of the season remaining, Defoe ended it as Spurs’ second-highest scorer. A run of five wins in six during January and February was ultimately what saved Spurs from a real relegation scrap.
What happened next? Spurs appointed Jacques Santini as manager. It started well enough, with just one defeat – and that to Manchester United – in the first seven games. Spurs then lost their next six, Santini walking away to be replaced by his assistant, Martin Jol, after four of them. Jol’s first game was a nonsense 5-4 north London derby defeat to Arsenal but he soon had them on a five-match winning run and dreaming of Europe. That, it turned out, would have to wait until the following season.
The result: 9th in the Premier League
The season: 2004/05, 18th in the Championship
What’s the story? A promising start – five wins in the first eight games – fell away dramatically and Ray Lewington was eventually sacked in March with relegation a genuine possibility. Thirty-four-year-old Aidy Boothroyd took over, with Keith Burkinshaw brought in as his wise old head assistant. They didn’t get relegated.
What happened next? Marlon King’s goals propelled an unlikely promotion bid, Watford eventually returning to the top flight after a six-year absence via the playoffs.
The result: 3rd in the Championship, promoted
The season: 2003/04, 4th in the Championship
What’s the story? Actually finished two places lower the following year, but as they won the play-offs rather than losing 1-0 to Crystal Palace in the final you’d have to say that’s a better season overall. A post-relegation exodus decimated the squad, but Jermain Defoe’s transfer request was denied and he would spend the first half of the season still at Upton Park (see Tottenham above). When he did leave, the Hammers got Bobby Zamora in return. Defoe nevertheless ended the season as West Ham’s second highest league scorer of the season just as he did at Spurs. Not a bad effort.
What happened next? West Ham signed Teddy Sheringham on one of the shrewdest free transfers going. He scored 20 goals as the Hammers finished the season sprinting to sneak into the play-offs where they defeated Ipswich and then Preston.
The result: 6th in the Championship, promoted
The season: 2013/14, 1st in League One
What’s the story? Having pulled the old double relegation trick, Wolves pulled out of the tailspin to get themselves back into the Championship at the first time of asking thanks to another one of those 100+ point seasons that technically counts as a team’s worst of the century.
What happened next? Intense ruing of a five-match losing run in November and December as Wolves missed out on the chance of following back-to-back relegations with back-to-back promotions, finishing outside the playoff places only on goal difference.
The result: 7th in the Championship