The Analyst’s Premier League History Part IV: Variety Is the Spice of Life
Part four of our series looks back at the era between 2011 and 2016. After the plodding, metronomic predictability of the last 16 seasons (where only Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea won the title) this era saw a refreshing variety of champions, including two first-time Premier League winners.
Let’s dive in.
It’s finished at Sunderland. Manchester United have done all they can, that Rooney goal was enough for the three points… Manchester City are still alive here. Balotelli… AGÜERO!
Martin Tyler’s immortal words erupted on the Sky Sports news coverage, as Sergio Agüero’s last gasp winner against Queens Park Rangers sent City fans up and down the country into delirium. It is arguably the most iconic moment in Premier League history.
Re-watching that clip, hearing the noise explode out of the Etihad, seeing Joe Hart run around in circles like a schoolboy, Agüero whirling his shirt over his head, and the desolate faces on Manchester United players and fans as they heard the news, is enough to send chills down the spine of even the most ambivalent of football fans.
But enough about the emotional reaction. You’re not here for that. You’re here for the cold, hard #data from moments just like these. Which is fine, because that’s why we’re here too.
First of all, the fact the league title went down to the final day is pretty rare. It’s only happened six times in Premier League history. As you’d expect, the number of seasons going down to goal difference is even rarer with that happening only six times in top-flight history. And the number to be decided with the final kick? Well, let’s just say that Michael Thomas and Agüero are members of a very exclusive club.
What’s less known about THAT goal is that Balotelli’s poked pass for Agüero’s winner was the only assist he recorded in 70 Premier League appearances for either City or Liverpool. Or that, despite their defeat on the final day, QPR survived relegation along with Swansea and Norwich, meaning that 2011-12 saw all three newly-promoted sides stay up for the first time in 10 years.
Elsewhere, in the footnotes of that game, it should come as a surprise to no one that Joey Barton saw red. His dismissal was one of nine that QPR were shown in 2011-12, no side has been shown more in a single Premier League season (Sunderland also nine in 2009-10).
Manchester United, meanwhile, ended the season with 89 points, nine more than they had collected in winning the title 12 months earlier. But this time they had nothing to show for it. In fact, at the time it was the highest number of points a side had won without winning the title, and out of Manchester United’s 20 league titles, 14 of them were won with lower points tallies.
2011-12 was also the site of two seismic results, both featuring the Red Devils. On matchday three of the campaign, Ferguson’s men scored 8+ goals in a Premier League game for just the third time, thrashing Arsenal 8-2 at Old Trafford. It was one of only two games in the Alex Ferguson era to contain 10 goals (along with his final match, the mad 5–5 draw at West Brom) and remains the highest number of goals Arsenal have conceded in a top-flight game.
The other was Manchester City’s 6-1 beat down of United at Old Trafford. It was the first time the Red Devils had conceded 6+ league goals at home since September 1930 versus Newcastle (seven). The swing in goal difference was to prove reasonably important seven months later.
Those two high-scoring affairs summed up the craziness of 2011-12. There were 1,066 goals scored in total that season, which at that stage made it the highest-scoring campaign since the competition became a 20-team league. It also housed arguably the greatest single day in Premier League history, February 5, where 41 goals were scored in a single day, the most ever in a 20-team season.
In the overall scoring charts, Arsenal’s Robin van Persie won the Golden Boot with 30 goals, becoming the first player to score 30+ goals in a single Premier League season since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007-08 (31). It would be the last campaign that van Persie played for Arsenal, however, as he moved in the summer of 2012, swapping the red of Arsenal for the red of Manchester.
2011-12 saw 19 hat tricks scored – no season in the competition’s history has seen more (level with 1993-94). Among those, Luis Suarez scored the first of his three Premier League hat tricks against Norwich in Liverpool’s 3-0 victory at Carrow Road. The Uruguayan has scored more hat tricks against the Canaries than any other player has done against another side in the competition’s history.
What a barmy season.
“I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again.” Well, so far, Martin – you’re not wrong.
The final act of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure at Manchester United ended in glory as his side were crowned Premier League champions for a 13th time, wrestling the title back off their city rivals. The summer signing of van Persie proved to be a masterstroke as the former-Arsenal striker scored 26 goals, becoming the first player to win the Premier League Golden Boot in consecutive seasons since Thierry Henry (who managed three in a row between 2003-04 and 2005-06).
The other component to Ferguson’s last triumph was the resilience of his group of players. Their total of 29 points gained from losing positions this season is the third-most in a single Premier League campaign. Ferguson’s team trailed in 16 league games in 2012–13, only four fewer than 13th-place Stoke, yet came back to win nine of them.
In North London, this was the season that saw Gareth Bale really blossom into Tottenham’s talisman. By netting 21 goals, Bale became just the third player to score 20+ goals in a Premier League season for Spurs and the first in the 21st century, following in the footsteps of Teddy Sheringham (21 goals, 1992-93) and Jürgen Klinsmann (20 goals, 1994-95). Since then, only Harry Kane has eclipsed this single-season performance. He’s done it a few times, mind you.
Top individual goalscoring seasons for Tottenham in the Premier League:
Season Player Goals 2017-18 Harry Kane 30 2016-17 Harry Kane 29 2015-16 Harry Kane 25 2020-21 Harry Kane 23 2012-13 Gareth Bale 21 2014-15 Harry Kane 21 1992-93 Teddy Sheringham 21
In his final season at Spurs, Bale was involved in 37 goals in all competitions for the club (26 goals, 11 assists) – only Robin van Persie (39) and Juan Mata (49) were involved in more for a Premier League club in 2012-13.
Although Spurs narrowly missed out on Champions League football at the end of 2012-13, the impact of Bale’s goals can be measured by the number of points it secured for his side – 24 in total, a figure which has only been bettered by three other players in the history of the Premier League. (Note the presence of a certain Dutchman on the list in the same season.)
Season Player Team Goals Points Won 1993-94 Alan Shearer Blackburn 31 32 2002-03 James Beattie Southampton 23 27 2012-13 Robin van Persie Manchester United 26 27 1994-95 Alan Shearer Blackburn 34 26 1995-96 Alan Shearer Blackburn 31 25 2012-13 Gareth Bale Tottenham 21 24 2014-15 Harry Kane Tottenham 21 24 1999-00 Kevin Phillips Sunderland 30 24 2011-12 Robin van Persie Arsenal 30 24
As well as helping his side win games, the Welshman also set a Premier League record for goals scored outside the box (nine), eclipsing the eight scored by Matt Le Tissier in 1994-95 and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in 1998-99, a record which still stands to this day. Bale’s dominance earned him a (then) world-record transfer to Real Madrid. In doing so, he became only the third Welshman to play in the Spanish top-flight, after Mark Hughes (Barcelona: 1986-87) and George Green (Espanyol: 1935-36).
We cannot have a 2012-13 entry without a mention of Fantasy Football legend and one-season wonder, Michu. Signed from Rayo Vallecano by Swansea for just over £2m, the Spanish striker scored 18 league goals in his first season. Despite that electric start, he scored just two more goals in the Premier League in total as injuries and a lack of form bit hard.
At the bottom, QPR were not so lucky this season. Joining them in relegation were Reading and Wigan, although the latter did so while simultaneously winning the FA Cup, the only team to suffer those two extremes in the same season.
For the first time since 1986-87, an English top-flight campaign kicked off without Alex Ferguson. Off the back of a successful 11-year spell at Everton, David Moyes had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Ferguson’s legacy, heightened by the fact he’d received a personal recommendation from the United legend.
At the time of leaving Everton, Moyes was the side’s most successful Premier League manager (41% win rate).
It all started so well for Moyes, beginning his new adventure with United by winning 4–1 at Swansea, shooting straight to the top of the table on the first day of the season. But four points from the next five games instantly killed any talk that they were the same force of old.
The numbers from Moyes’ fateful tenure don’t make for pretty reading. His side finished seventh, winning just 64 points from 38 games. This remains their lowest-ever finish and points tally in a season in the competition, and it was also the lowest position that any defending champions had finished since Blackburn in 1995-96 (also seventh, but with 61 points).
The Scot looked flummoxed and bereft of ideas in the Manchester United dugout, seemingly undecided on how he wanted his side to play, or indeed the personal he needed to implement his ideas. He named a unique starting XI in all 51 games he took charge of and he made 144 changes to his starting lineups in 2013-14, more than any other side in a single Premier League season.
The great irony was that the team on the other end of the Moyes-United switch, Everton, saw instant success. Under the new management of Roberto Martinez, the Toffees finished fifth in 2013-14 with 72 points, their highest tally since they won the top-flight title in 1986-87 (86).
In the absence of United, the Premier League saw a thrilling and goal-laden title race between Manchester City and Liverpool. Both sides scored over 100 goals (City 102, Liverpool 101), which makes 2013-14 the only campaign in the competition’s history to see two different sides score 100+ times.
Liverpool’s Luis Suarez (31 goals) became just the second player in Premier League history to score 30+ goals in a season without scoring a single penalty, after Andy Cole in 1993-94 (34 goals). He was ably supported by Daniel Sturridge with 21 goals. In Suarez and Sturridge, Liverpool had two players score 20+ goals in a single top-flight season for the first time since 1963-64 (Roger Hunt, 31 and Ian St John, 21).
Top goalscoring duos in single Premier League season:
Season Team Duo Total Goals 1993-94 Newcastle Andrew Cole (34) & Peter Beardsley (21) 55 2013-14 Liverpool Luis Suárez (31) & Daniel Sturridge (21) 52 2009-10 Chelsea Didier Drogba (29) & Frank Lampard (22) 51 1994-95 Blackburn Alan Shearer (34) & Chris Sutton (15) 49 2017-18 Liverpool Mohamed Salah (32) & Roberto Firmino (15) 47 2016-17 Tottenham Harry Kane (29) & Dele Alli (18) 47
Over at the Etihad, Yaya Touré (20) and Sergio Agüero (17) supplied the goals for City, with the former becoming only the second central midfielder to score 20 or more goals in a single campaign, after Frank Lampard for Chelsea in 2009-10.
In the end, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea played the familiar role of pantomime villain, beating Liverpool at Anfield to hand City the advantage. City capitalised on the Merseysider’s defeat by beating Crystal Palace later that day. That win was their second in a five-win streak that edged Manuel Pelligrini’s men to their second crown in three seasons.
In a one-for-the-scrapbook moment, Stoke’s Asmir Begovic became the fifth and most recent goalkeeper to score a Premier League goal. His strike (see also: hoof) was timed at 13.64 seconds, making it the earliest of any top-flight goal in 2013-14.
At the bottom, Cardiff’s first season in the top-flight since 1962 ended with the Welsh side finishing bottom. Fulham and Norwich joined them in the slide to the championship.
After a topsy-turvy title race in 2013-14, Chelsea brought us back down to reality in 2014-15. Mourinho’s men struck early and strong and never looked back. Three wins out of the gate took them top by the end of August and it was there they remained right the way through until the season’s conclusion.
New signings Diego Costa and Cesc Fàbregas were star performers, as well as captain John Terry. Fàbregas recorded 18 assists, more than he ever had in a single season for Arsenal. His tally of 18 in that season sees him tied for fourth on the single-season record.
Diego Costa plundered 20 goals in total in his first season at Stamford Bridge, the third-highest tally by a player that season. The Spaniard became just the second player to score in each of his first four Premier League appearances, after Mick Quinn in 1992. The Chelsea striker also reached 10 goals in just nine games, with only Quinn doing so quicker (six games).
Sergio Agüero’s 26 goals in 2014-15 remains his highest total for Manchester City.
John Terry was ever present for the Blues in 2014-15, playing every minute of every game, becoming only the second outfield player to do so for a title-winning team after Gary Pallister in 1992–93. (Leicester’s Wes Morgan would match this achievement a year later).
But as one Chelsea legend lifted the Premier League trophy, the last day dawned on another. Frank Lampard, who had left Chelsea to join New York City FC in MLS on a free transfer, was then loaned back to the Premier League by his American parent club. It was at Manchester City where his illustrious career in England would come to end. Of course, he went and scored against former club Chelsea (producing the ultimate muted celebration). In doing so, he scored against his 39th different opponent in the Premier League – he’s scored against more sides than any other player in the competition.
England teammate and fellow Premier League stalwart, Steven Gerrard would also play his final Premier League match after 17 seasons in the league. The pair could famously never play together for England, but it seemed like they could not be apart from one another in the league.
The Liverpool captain scored 120 goals in 504 appearances, but his swansong ended in brutal fashion, Liverpool losing 6-1 at Stoke in his final game. Bereft of Suarez, Liverpool lacked the potency in attack that had seen them score 101 goals the prior season. They managed just 52 goals in total, the same tally that Suarez and Sturridge had notched between them a year earlier.
At the other end of the table, Leicester became just the third side in the Premier League to be bottom at Christmas and avoid relegation, after West Brom in 2004-05 and Sunderland in 2013-14. They spent a record 140 days at the foot of the table without going down.
No one could have predicted the story that would unfold next season.
In one of sports’ biggest underdog stories, Leicester City, the same Leicester City that struggled for survival just a season before, went and won the Premier League. In doing so, they became the first first-time winners of the English top-flight since Nottingham Forest in 1977-78.
The difference between this season and 2014-15 for Leicester is stark. The Foxes were top of the Premier League for 149 days in 2015-16. Prior to that campaign, they had been top for just 13 days in total. Their points-per-game of increase of 1.05 from season to season was the biggest increase in top-flight history (until Chelsea came along to ruin that stat in 2016-17 with a 1.13 improvement).
Despite being dubbed ‘The Tinkerman’ Claudio Ranieri actually made the second-lowest number of starting XI changes by a Premier League champion (33, second only to Manchester United in 1992–93) and his league title victory made him the oldest manager to win his first Premier League title, at 64 years and 195 days.
As part of Leicester’s fairytale story, Jamie Vardy became the first player to score in 11 consecutive appearances in Premier League history, breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record for the longest goalscoring run. Leicester City lost just one of those 11 games that the England striker scored in, recording a total of 22 points (W6 D4) with Vardy’s goals accounting for 14 of those alone.
Chelsea posted a terrible title defence, their final tally of 50 points in 2015-16 was the lowest of any reigning Premier League champion, although that unwanted record would be broken by Leicester City in 2016-17 (44). Jose Mourinho was shown the door (for the second time) as a result.
In the scoring charts, Harry Kane officially lay waste to the claim that he was a ‘one-season wonder’. With 25 goals he became the first English player to finish as top scorer in a Premier League season since Kevin Phillips in 1999-2000 (30 goals).
Although pipped to the Golden Boot by the solitary goal, Agüero became just the fifth player in Premier League history to score five goals in a game and the first since Dimitar Berbatov for Man Utd vs. Blackburn in 2010-11.
Players to score five or more goals in a single Premier League game:
Season Player Team Opponent 1999-00 Alan Shearer Newcastle United Sheffield Wednesday 1994-95 Andrew Cole Manchester United Ipswich Town 2009-10 Jermain Defoe Tottenham Wigan Athletic 2010-11 Dimitar Berbatov Manchester United Blackburn Rovers 2015-16 Sergio Agüero Manchester City Newcastle United
At the bottom, Aston Villa were relegated to the Championship, registering at the time the third-lowest points total in Premier League history (16), with only Derby County (11 points in 2007-08) and Sunderland (15 in 2005-06) collecting fewer before Villa. The Villains relegation reduced the number of ever-presents in the Premier League to six.