This is a low: each Premier League team’s worst season as Liverpool threaten theirs

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

“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. Are we only doing this because Liverpool are currently a bit rubbish? We prefer not to speak.

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: 2020/21, 8th in the Premier League.

What’s the story? Arsenal hadn’t finished outside the top six since 1994/95, the season when the George Graham bungs scandal broke. It became a banter in the end, but Arsenal finished inside the top four every season from 1996/97 until 2016/17; that Wenger top-four run really was something, but he did also leave a mess in his wake. His final season they were sixth and a bit poo and things continued generally downhill for a few years after that as first Unai Emery came in and didn’t last long in what appears to be a necessary sacrifice after any legendary long-term manager shuffles off. Then came the Mikel Arteta Process, which is both the name of a shit nauseatingly self-referential and knowing indie band circa 2006 and also, for a couple of years, quite a shit football team. Arsenal finished a lowly eighth two years running, but the second of those gets the nod here because in 2019/20 they did win the FA Cup.

What happened next? Arsenal started making good signings instead of bad ones, a bold strategy which they’ve stuck with and which seems to be working. Ben White and Aaron Ramsdale have been key members of the renaissance, while current captain Martin Odegaard is still getting better and better after his initial loan was made permanent in the summer of 2021.

The next season: 5th in the Premier League, self-bantered out of the Champions League places by their own cunning and, particularly gallingly, Spurs. But it was already clearly, much, much better.


Aston Villa

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 next season: 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 next season: 2nd in League Two, promotion and the start of everything remarkable that has happened at Dean Court since.



The season: 2007/08, 14th in League Two

What’s the story? After relegation from League One, Brentford faced the very real prospect of sliding out of the bottom of the league altogether under new manager Terry Butcher. Five defeats in six games in September and October raised alarm, five consecutive defeats in November and December without so much as a goal scored meant full panic stations. Butcher survived a 7-0 defeat at Peterborough in the middle of that run but two further defeats led to a by now pretty much inevitable mutual consenting and the promotion of his assistant, former Bees player Andy Scott. A run of eight wins in 12 games followed to end the relegation fears, but the season stalled once they were safe and 10 of the last 15 games of the season were lost.

What happened next? Scott signed a new permanent deal before the end of the 2007/08 season and then brought in 12 players in the summer, eight of them permanents and most notable striker Charlie MacDonald from Southend, who would go on to top-score in a title-winning campaign. Jordan Rhodes was a canny January loan pick-up as well, his seven goals in 14 games helping Brentford emerge from a congested top-of-the-table pack to ultimately win the division by six points.

The next season: 1st in League Two



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 next season: 1st in Division Two – which is what they used to call the Third Division before it was called League One.



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 next season: 1st in the Premier League


Crystal Palace

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 next season: 20th in the Championship



The season: 2003/04, 17th in the Premier League

What’s the story? David Moyes’ nascent Everton revival hit a sizeable bump in the road with a miserable season. Everton won only nine games in the whole campaign and failed to reach the fabled 40-point barrier. Luckily for them, even more desperate seasons were going on at Wolves, Leeds and Leicester – all of whom finish with a mere 33 points – which means the Toffees were 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 next season: 4th in the Premier League



The season: 2015/16, 20th in the Championship

What’s the story? You sort of feel that Fulham must have had at least one blip that took them to League One this century but you would be wrong. They only nearly sunk that far in a farcical 2015/16 season where they had four different managers before December was out. Kit Symons started the season in charge having replaced Felix Magath and kept the Cottagers up the previous season. He lasted until November, when back-to-back defeats to Burnley and Birmingham left Fulham in what would turn out to be a quite lofty mid-table position. Next came a caretaker stint for Peter Grant, which went so badly he was also replaced, by Stuart Gray. Fulham won zero games while this was all going on. Then Slavisa Jokanovic was announced as manager on December 27, and before he even officially took over Fulham actually did manage a win, against Rotherham on December 29. Jokanovic formally took the reins on December 30 and immediately presided over a five-match winless run. By March, Fulham were 21st and really in the shit, but three straight wins in the first nine days of April against MK Dons, Preston and Cardiff settled the nerves and they ended the season two places but 11 points above the bottom three.

What happened next? Decided to stick with just the one manager for 2016/17 and almost got promoted.

The next season: 6th in the Championship, lost 2-1 on aggregate to Reading in the play-off semi-final.


Leeds United

The season: 2007/08, 5th in League One

What’s the story? As ever, the grim relegation season that preceded it was the real nadir. But failing to get back out of the third tier at the first (or, it would turn out, the second) time of asking was wildly suboptimal for the archetypal Premier League Club In All But Name. That was, in fairness, primarily because of a 15-point deduction for exiting administration without a CVA, but when Leeds wiped that out in the first five games there was little thought of anything other than promotion despite the club sitting incongruously at the foot of the table. By the end of October, Leeds had won nine and drawn two of their first 11 games and were in the top six despite the 15-point handicap. But having raced out of the blocks and put themselves in position to strike, Leeds stuttered and never really got much further, finishing fifth, but would still have expected to prevail in the play-offs against a bunch of teams who all actually won far fewer points than they did. But Doncaster had other ideas in the final.

What happened next? Gary McAllister was replaced by Simon Grayson as manager but despite a 27-goal season from Jermaine Beckford it was more of the same…

The next season: 4th in League One, lost 2-1 on aggregate to Millwall in play-off semi-final.



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 next season: 5th in the Championship



The season: 2011/12, 8th in the Premier League

What’s the story? Liverpool may currently be LANGUISHING in a LOWLY NINTH, but it’s not actually that far removed from some relatively recent history. Liverpool have slipped as low as eighth in the final table 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 next season: 7th in the Premier League


Manchester City

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 Manchester United and finished in the top half but also sneaked into Europe via the Fair Play League.

The next season: 9th in the Premier League


Manchester United

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 gave 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 and the doomed perpetual corner-turning one-step-forward two-step-backing of the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it is only now almost a decade later that United are making tentative steps towards a return to sanity and (by their standards) normality under a proper manager once more.

The next season: 4th in the Premier League

Moyes speaks on Man Utd Credit: Alamy
Moyes speaks on Man Utd Credit: Alamy


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 which has conspicuously not been the case for assorted other big clubs who’ve stumbled through the trapdoor and been doomed in some cases to years or even decades deluding themselves they are a ‘Premier League club in all but name’ and trying to salve their wounds by turning up in your dad’s list of who should be in a ‘Proper Premier League’. But that fate never befell Newcastle, whose two Championship seasons were both pretty much faultless. 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 their way up to mid-table in the end.

The next season: 10th in the Premier League


Nottingham Forest

The season: 2005/06, 7th in League One

What’s the story? Five defeats in the first seven games of the season raised the horrifying prospect of the two-time European Champions dropping into the fourth tier of English football under Gary Megson, but a five-match unbeaten run to follow that dragged them back to the merely humiliating mid-table. Another grim run in the new year, losing four games in five, ultimately cost Megson his job and left Forest with an uphill battle to reach the play-offs. Eight wins and two draws in the next 10 saw much of that mountain conquered only for Forest to slip again in the final three winless games to finish two points outside the top six and stuck in League One for another year.

What happened next? Colin Calderwood’s side made it to the play-offs. But…

The next season: 4th in League One, lost 7-4 on aggregate to Yeovil in a play-off semi-final. Forest led 3-1 on aggregate with 10 minutes of the second leg remaining, but conceded in the 82nd and 87th minutes. And then the 92nd and 109th as well.



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 next season: 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. 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 next season: 9th in the Premier League


West Ham

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 next season: 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 play-off places only on goal difference.

The next season: 7th in the Championship

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