Where do clubs come from when they break into the top four

By Tony Attwood

As we have seen, this season a lot of pundits are suggesting that for the first time ever, the top four of the Premier League from one season will be the top four, in the same order, for next season.

The oddity of so many pundits sticking to this unique positiion led us to wonder where the top four come from each season in recent years, if not from the previous year’s top four…

In this table we see the top four clubs for the past 10 seasons, with a note next to each name where they were the season before.

Season 1 2 3 4
2021/22 Manchester C – 1 Liverpool – 3 Chelsea – 4 Tottenham – 7
2020/21 Manchester C – 2 Manchester U – 3 Liverpool – 1 Chelsea – 4
2019/20 Liverpool -2 Manchester C – 1 Manchester U – 6 Chelsea – 3
2018/19 Manchester C – 1 Liverpool – 4 Chelsea – 5 Tottenham -3
2017/18 Manchester C – 3 Manchester U – 6 Tottenham  – 2 Liverpool -4
2016/17 Chelsea – 10 Tottenham – 3 Manchester C – 4 Liverpool – 8
2015/16 Leicester C – 14 Arsenal – 3 Tottenham – 5 Manchester C – 2
2014/15 Chelsea – 3 Manchester C -1 Arsenal – 4 Manchester U – 7
2013/14 Manchester C – 2 Liverpool – 7 Chelsea – 3 Arsenal – 4
2012/13 Manchester U – 2 Manchester C – 1 Chelsea – 6 Arsenal – 3

Jumping to the top

In 2016/17 Chelsea jumped nine places to become champions, outdoing the achievement of Leicester the season before wherein they jumped up 13 places to get to the top spot.   Otherwise the club that finished top each season has always been in the top three the season before

Jumping up to 2nd 

The biggest jump up to second position was Liverpool coming from seventh in 2013/14 – a jump of five places.  Manchester United made a jump of four places from sixth to second in 2017/18

Jumping up to 3rd

Mancheseter United and Chelsea have both jumped from sixth to third.

Jumping up to 4th

Liverpool have jumped from 8th to 4th and Manchester United and Tottenham have jumped from 7th to 4th in the last ten years.

Jumping from 5th

As we all know Arsenal finished fifth last season.  So where did other teams that have finished fifth one season get to in the subsequent season?

In fact Chelsea and Tottenham have both jumped from fifth into third.  But they are the only two clubs to have risen from fifth into the top four in the last ten years.  But 11 clubs have jumped from fifth or a lower position, into the top four in the last 10 years.

Biggest jump

Leicester City and Chelsea in consecutive years have the record for this across the last decade, Chelsea jumping nine places and Leicester 13 places.

Longest runs

Manchester City have been in the top four for the last ten seasons.  Liverpool have had six seasons in a row in the top four.  Chelsea have just completed four seasons in a row in the top four and  Tottenham have previously completed four seasons in the top four.

Arsenal as you may know finished in the top four for 19 consecutive seasons.  In terms of qualifying for the Champions League that record has only been beaten by Real Madrid in the main footballing countries so excluding, for example, Greece.

Rising from 5th

Two clubs have risen from fifth into the top four the following season: Chelsea and Tottenham, but nothing beats the rise of Leicester from 14th to first in 2016

However by 23 February 2017 they were languishing in 17th, one place above the relegation spots, and Ranieri was sacked, under a year after winning the title.  The club ended the season in12th and have not reached the top four since.

Winning the league and  then being relegated

As far as I know only one team has managed to win the league one season and then be relegated the next – Manchester City.

They won the title in 1936/7 when Manchester United were relegated.  The season after being champions they finished one from bottom and so were relegated along with West Bromwich Albion who had a worse goal average (the method of separating clubs with the same number of points in the league at that time).

Goal average was calculated by dividing the number of goals scored by the number of goals conceded, and because of the complexity of this (without electronic calculators) mistakes were made.   The most notorious was in 1914/15 when Arsenal were assigned sixth place on goal average, nobody noticing that the long division hadn’t been worked out properly, and they were in fact fifth.  However by the time that season ended and the figures were worked out, the country was at war, so perhaps there was an excuse.

The Arsenal History Society publishes an article each day celebrating an event in the club’s history from that day in the past.  The site in fact has three historic indexes


2 Replies to “Where do clubs come from when they break into the top four”

  1. In a nutshell it seems therefore that only once in the last 10 years has the previous season’s top 4 occupied the top 4 in the following season (2020/21)

  2. @ Philip

    Exactly! But even then, not one of them finished in the same position as in the previous position.

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