From zero to hero – the most unlikely top-four finishes in Premier League history

The Premier League in the modern era rarely seems to change, with the big spenders dominating and a number of smaller clubs yo-yo-ing between that and the Championship.

Here is a reminder of some better times, when several teams shocked the football world with their top-four finishes.

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Newcastle United (3rd, 1993/94)

After qualifying as Champions of the Football League, Newcastle ended up breaking the record for an end-of-season finish for a promoted team. With the return of 31-year-old Peter Beardsley, who formed a formidable partnership with 41-goal Andy Cole (a club record), Kevin Keegan’s side was soon dubbed ‘The Entertainers’ by nascent broadcaster Sky. Beating Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur along the way, the Magpies finished the season in third, qualifying for the UEFA Cup in the process.

Nearly 20 years since these glory years under Keegan, Europe is back in the sights of those on Tyneside. Users keen to place a Premier League bet will find Newcastle with odds of 17/10 to end up in the top six from Paddy Power. While their Premier League football tips place the Magpies outside the top four – at 7/1 – this eventuality cannot be discounted given the slow start to 2022/23 of some big teams. Eddie Howe will be hoping for a repeat of 1993/94 as he looks to take the Toon right back to the top.

Nottingham Forest (3rd, 1994/95)

Just one year later, Newcastle’s record was matched by the Forest side. With the arrival of Stan Collymore and the leadership of the ferocious Stuart Pearce, Forest surprised fans and neutrals alike with their free-flowing football in their first season back in the Premier League.

They went on two lengthy unbeaten spells and in doing so qualified third too, going on to play the likes of Bayern Munich and Lyon in the UEFA Cup the following year.

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Following another period of transition at the club, Forest is back in the big time under the management of Steve Cooper. The record 21 players brought in over the summer have so far failed to gel as a unit, however, with Forest earning themselves just one win in the side’s opening nine matches.

Despite many pundits calling for the Welshman to be fired, in October the club announced the 41-year-old had signed a new deal. Far from the European places, the Reds have their work cut out if they are to stay up in 2022/23.

Leicester City (1st, 2015/16)

While a completely different story from the previous two, it would be hard to mention unlikely top-four finishes with perhaps the most unlikely of all finishes in the history of modern football. Leicester’s 2015/16 season is one for the ages, with the likes of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’golo Kante propelling them to Premier League glory by a staggering ten-point gap, just two seasons afterlife in the Championship.

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Like Forest, Leicester and manager Brendan Rodgers find themselves under pressure already in 2022/23. One point worse off than the Reds, Rodgers’ side is rock bottom after nine games, with just one win and one draw to their name. Barely six years since their Premier League triumph, and just a year since their first FA Cup, the Foxes’ fall grace so far this season has been severe.

While Leicester’s 2015/16 story will surely never be repeated, some clubs could well sneak into the European places, with Newcastle and Brighton & Hove Albion the most threatening. Given the falterings of Manchester United and Liverpool early on, there may be space for another unlikely top-four finish in 2022/23.

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