The dark horses of the Premier League: Four most surprising title contenders

The 2023/24 Premier League season is well underway and as the campaign approaches the festive period, this is usually the time of year when genuine contenders announce themselves to their competitors. However, this season, the league hasn’t taken its usual form. Not yet, anyway.

Aston Villa’s recent 2-1 victory away at Tottenham Hotspur left the Villains just two points behind league leaders Arsenal. It looked as though it would be Ange Postocoglu’s Spurs that were the team deadset on upsetting the apple cart this term, and that premise looked even more likely to be the case when Giovani Lo Celso gave the North London outfit an early lead. However, their West Midlands opponents announced their arrival into the title race in devastating fashion, as goals from Pau Torres and Ollie Watkins gave them a shock victory.

They still aren’t considered one of the favorites just yet mind you, with Bovada Sportsbook pricing them as +10000 outsiders. Reigning champions Manchester City remain the -250 favorites. But with Villa’s arrival at the summit of the English top flight, we decided to take a look at four other teams that were surprising title contenders.

Tottenham Hotspur 2016/17

Tottenham Hotspur finished second back in 2016/17, just seven points behind eventual champions Chelsea. Under the stewardship of Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs’ performances were based on a high-octane style of play and many thought they would clinch the title. Featuring one of the best defences in recent Premier League history, anchored by Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, they were a disruptor to Chelsea’s gun-for-hire approach.

Add to that the brilliance of talismanic striker Harry Kane – who scored 29 goals in 30 games – as well as attacking midfielders Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli, and it’s easy to see why the North London club reached the UEFA Champions League final just two years later. For once, they were not the club to self-destruct and let key games slip through their hands.

Leicester City 2015/16

Leicester City’s shock win in the 2015/16 season was the total embodiment of the underdog story. The Foxes, with a team of relative unknowns and rejects from other clubs, won their first-ever Premier League title just one year after escaping relegation by the skin of their teeth. Under Claudio Ranieri’s stewardship, the team embarked on a magical campaign that would go down in football folklore.

Who could forget Jamie Vardy’s record-breaking consecutive goalscoring run and Riyad Mahrez’s sensational goalscoring form? This team belonged in a fairy tale. The odds against the King Power Stadium outfit winning the title were a staggering 5000-to-1 at the start of the season, and people thought they would be relegated from the league by November. However, they forged themselves as the team to beat and clinched the title by a whopping 10 points in the end.

Liverpool 2008/09

Liverpool’s run in the 2008/09 season under Rafa Benitez was a campaign in which The Reds pegged themselves as the biggest contender to end their 19-year drought of winning a Premier League trophy. With Steven Gerrard spearheading their journey, they fought hard and held their nerve in the chase, with a 4-1 victory away at archrivals Manchester United down the stretch proving that they finally had what it took to end their long top-flight drought. Liverpool ended up with their highest points total (86) without winning the league, but it was the Red Devils who clinched the title by just four points.

Had star striker Fernando Torres remained fit for the entirety of the campaign, things may very well have been different. The talented Spaniard was in the form of his life the previous year and he looked to carry on in the same vein after netting the winner for Spain in the Euro 2008 final. But ultimately injuries derailed his season, and it was Arsenal who ultimately put the nail in the coffin. Four goals from Andrei Arshavin in a 4-4 draw at Anfield towards the end of the campaign all but extinguished the Merseysiders’ title ambitions and handed the title to their rivals from down the M62.

Chelsea 2003/04

Who would have thought Jose Mourinho, a little-known Portuguese coach would lead Chelsea to their first Premier League trophy in his first season in England? Well, Blues fans would have to wait another year for that. While the Special One was winning everything with the unheralded FC Porto, Claudio Ranieri was attempting to take Chelsea back to the summit of English football. And he came close.

Spurred on by the emergence of young English duo John Terry and Frank Lampard, the Blues pushed Arsenal all the way. But ultimately, the Gunners wouldn’t lose a game all season, and the Invincibles would be crowned champions by 11 points. Chelsea would have their revenge on the continental scene though, eliminating Arsene Wenger’s side at Highbury to secure a spot in the semifinals.

The dark horses of the Premier League: Four most surprising title contenders

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