Manchester United have suffered some mortifying Premier League defeats in their time. The Big Six have been embarrassed by the rest before.
For the start of the Big Six era, we’ll go for the season after Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, both Manchester clubs and Tottenham first finished in the top six: 2010/11. So any Premier League defeat inflicted upon those clubs by one of the rest since then will be considered.
10) Manchester United 0 Burnley 2
There are a litany of nadirs to choose from, including but not limited to: losing 5-3 to a relegation-threatened Leicester; being beaten at home by actually relegated Cardiff; kindly pausing Huddersfield’s six-game winless run in November 2017; bringing a genuine title challenge to a shuddering halt by losing at home to a Sheffield United team on course for a record low points total; handing Manchester City the crown by surrendering at Old Trafford to bottom side West Brom; and losing successive games to Bournemouth, Norwich and Stoke in December 2015.
That is before even considering this season – only Leeds have conceded four goals or more more often (7 times) than Manchester United (6) – or Sir Alex Ferguson’s entire reign.
In terms of singular lows, a 2-0 defeat to Burnley in January 2020 ranks pretty high. The hardy few home fans who stayed to watch the Clarets ease to their first win at Old Trafford in 58 years jeered at half and full-time, rallied against the Glazer family and inexcusably chanted that “Ed Woodward’s gonna die” throughout. In the words of future technical director Darren Fletcher: “The atmosphere really turned toxic for the first time.” Although the subsequent signing of Bruno Fernandes helped suspend it, this felt like the start of the club’s current downward spiral of disillusionment.
9) Bournemouth 4 Chelsea 0
The Maurizio Sarri era was strange. It takes a particular set of circumstances for a manager to have one season in the Premier League and not even a game more or less – essentially taking over a club in the summer, staying until the end of that campaign and never having a job in the division again. Walter Mazzarri, Dave Merrington, Doug Livermore, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Bruce Rioch and Sarri will hopefully honour that unspoken pact when Fulham inevitably come calling in November.
In Sarri’s case, he never connected with the fanbase, did not seem to command the absolute respect of his squad and was routinely mocked by the media. Chelsea adorned his first-team squad with a single permanent summer signing and the Blues still finished third while winning a major European trophy and losing one final on penalties. That is not to say Sarri should have stayed at Stamford Bridge; the incompatibility between club and manager was clear fairly early and reached a painfully low ebb away at Bournemouth in January 2019. The Cherries scored all their goals in the second half of a 4-0 win that turned Sarriball into an irredeemable figure of ridicule. Gonzalo Higuain made an instructive debut and David Luiz reached what might remain his ultimate form: misplacing a pass, setting an offside trap, breaking it to make a sort of two-footed stamp tackle on David Brooks, appealing for offside despite it obviously being his touch which deflected the ball into the path of Josh King, then sprinting back only to be turned and nutmegged by the finish.
8) Brentford 2 Arsenal 0
It was a chastening start to the season for Arsenal. Their first game confirmed a stereotypical fragility most assumed was still present. Brentford bullied them, an Ivan Toney flick-on causing havoc before Sergi Canos opened the scoring, with a long throw from Mads Bech Sorensen disturbingly exposing the defence for the second goal. The game was nine months ago yet the starting line-up seems completely alien. Mikel Arteta should be knighted if he secures Champions League qualification in a campaign he began with: Leno; Chambers, White, Mari, Tierney; Lokonga, Xhaka; Pepe, Smith Rowe, Martinelli; Balogun.
“There’s nothing worse than thinking your team are a little bit soft. Brentford have looked at them and thought, ‘yeah, we’ll have you’, and that’s the worst feeling,” said Gary Neville. He eviscerated Arsenal’s “strategy”, “plan”, “recruitment” and “direction” after the game and was not alone in delivering such scathing assessments. Hindsight shows it to have been part of a blip but at the time it was a humbling experience for the Gunners to be so thoroughly beaten by a club playing its first ever Premier League game, particularly on a season-opening Friday night with the eyes of the world watching.
7) Newcastle 5 Tottenham 1
Relegation had been confirmed four days before and an even more enduringly bad fate – being managed by Steve McClaren – reached a sudden conclusion two months earlier. Newcastle were slipping into the Championship, the future of Rafael Benitez was uncertain and the only sportswashing occurring on Tyneside was done by a panicking parent the day before double P.E. But Spurs.
Mauricio Pochettino had coaxed a genuine title challenge out of a Europa League team that would soon come into its own. That had fizzled out at the start of month during Mark Clattenburg’s art exhibition at Stamford Bridge yet the prospect of St Totteringham’s Day offered a sliver of silver lining. Spurs were second behind Leicester, three points and a place above Arsenal, with two games remaining. They lost to Southampton; the Gunners drew with Manchester City. Tottenham maintained a vastly superior goal difference to accompany a two-point lead over their bitter rivals.
Arsenal thrashed Aston Villa at the Emirates on the final day but few foresaw Newcastle dispatching Spurs by the same margin up north. The Magpies scored more goals after Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 67th-minute red card than they did before and Tottenham’s greatest Premier League season to that point was suddenly tainted by Hugo Lloris deciding to stop diving.
6) Everton 4 Manchester United 0
It is a quote always worth airing. “I am going to be successful here and there are players who won’t be part of that successful team but many of these do have it,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. And yet Manchester United have sold only two of the starting XI that floundered in a 4-0 defeat to Everton in April 2019. Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku were eventually shipped out by the manager but his warning fell on deaf ears and considering the rest have long outlasted a manager who was removed from the construction of his “successful team” six months ago, that should come as no surprise.
Everton had lost to doomed Fulham the previous week and would be held at Crystal Palace eight days after this dismantling. They were a solid team, containing many unbroken composite parts of what is currently malfunctioning on Merseyside, all brought together by Oumar Niasse. Each of their goals were excellent – some acrobatics from Richarlison, long-range Gylfi Sigurdsson and Lucas Digne strikes and a scintillating counter finished by Theo Walcott – and Manchester United did not have a shot on target until the 85th minute. Jordan Pickford presumably berated his defence for allowing it to happen.
5) Leicester 2 Chelsea 1
Two realities dawned on the Premier League in mid-December 2015, truths validated by one particular game at the King Power Stadium. Leicester went top of the table by beating Chelsea, for whom defeat meant the gap to the relegation zone was just two teams and one point after 16 matches. The champions of the previous season had switched roles with a Leicester side which seemed destined for the Championship only 12 months before. Claudio Ranieri also recorded only his second ever – and still most recent – win over Jose Mourinho, for whom the “palpable discord” had irrevocably set in; the Portuguese was gone three days later.
Riyad Mahrez took up residence inside the mind of Cesar Azpilicueta, Gokhan Inler came on for the penultimate appearance of his medal-earning five for the season and John Terry had such a miserable time that Cesc Fabregas replaced Chelsea’s knackered Captain, Leader, Legend with no sign of injury after 52 minutes. Mourinho, who said his meticulous preparation before the game had been ignored and “betrayed” by his players, added: “They have to look to Sunderland and Watford and say: ‘We are at the same level. I am not the superstar, I am not the player of the season, I am not the world champion, I am not the Premier League champion. At this moment, I am at your level.'”
Only three Chelsea players go over to their own fans at end — Courtois, Ivanovic and Azpilicueta. The rest straight down the tunnel…
— Mark Ogden (@MarkOgden_) December 14, 2015
4) Leicester 4 Manchester City 2
Pep Guardiola has lost a few Premier League games. Thirty, to be exact. But only once was the Spaniard treated like a child who simply wouldn’t listen in the aftermath, against a backdrop of tutting and derisive ‘I told you sos’. It was in December of his first Manchester City season when he made the grave error of telling a post-match press conference that “I am not a coach for the tackles” and “I don’t train tackles”. As Barney Ronay of The Guardian wrote at the time: ‘You could almost hear the headline klaxon, the high fives back on the desk, the T-shirt slogans being printed. Oh, Pep. No. Not tackles.’
The craving in many quarters for Guardiola to fail at Manchester City was satisfied by the 4-2 defeat at Leicester which prompted Guardiola’s response about how “the second balls is a concept that is typical here in England”. He had been found out. The Foxes were 3-0 up inside 20 minutes and Vardy would become the first player to score a league hat-trick against the Spaniard by the 78th minute. It genuinely felt as though the Barclays spirit could have consumed Guardiola at that point and either force him to leave or start coaching two banks of four with a big and little strike partnership. Instead, he spent about £200m on his goalkeeper and defence the subsequent summer, so reticent was he to coach any aspect of tackling other than the tactical foul.
3) Watford 2 Arsenal 1
“I’ve heard Wenger’s already blaming (the decision) as the reason why they lost. I’m not going to be the one to tell Mr Wenger about himself, but there’s a reason why they lost and it wasn’t because of one penalty. I’ll have to watch what I say. It’s (having) a bit of cojones, a bit of nuts. Whenever I play Arsenal, I’ll go up and think, ‘Let me whack the first one and see who wants it’. I came on today and jumped with Mertesacker. I didn’t even have to jump, actually – I nodded it down. The crowd gets up – ‘Yeah, we’ve got somebody who can win it’ – and they all just backed off. For me as a player I just think, ‘Happy days’. That’s my strength. I know I’m not technically gifted like they are, not as quick, but if you want to fight with me, I’m gonna beat you all day.”
As if conceding a stoppage-time winner to Tom Cleverley was not embarrassing enough, Troy Deeney chose to emasculate Arsenal with forensic precision after the match. It barely mattered whether he actually had a point or not; the Gunners had been typecast and it was a tag that many feel still rings true. Almost every member of the Celebration Police was there nodding sagely with Watford’s captain five years ago.
2) Stoke 6 Liverpool 1
In announcing his departure from Liverpool upon the imminent expiration of his contract on January 2, 2015, Steven Gerrard guaranteed a five-month send-off overwrought with emotion and last evers. None really went to plan: his final Merseyside derby was a goalless draw at Goodison Park; his last game against Manchester United ended 38 seconds after being introduced as a half-time substitute; his Anfield farewell was a 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace; the chances of lifting one final trophy were ended by Chelsea in the League Cup and Tim Sherwood in the FA Cup.
But Gerrard’s last Liverpool appearance of 710, the closing chapter of a 26-year association, was to score the consolation in Stoke’s biggest Premier League win ever. That will always be a thing, the miserable bookend to a fairy tale career. Liverpool conceding a literal seven goals against Aston Villa that one time was a freakish indignity but having the second half against Stoke reduced to an actual testimonial – Gerrard had four shots at 5-0 down and Marc Muniesa was struck with a timely injury of a pulled narrative when chasing the captain – was something else.
1) Brighton 4 Manchester United 0
What more to say about that? Brighton’s starting XI cost little more than £60m to assemble; Manchester United’s was cobbled together for roughly £200m more. Neither of those things looked remotely true. It was a humiliation.