Underdog wins are one of the most exciting aspects of being a sports fan. In the case of the Premier League, major upsets are also a symptom of the league’s high level of play. The more evenly spread out the competition is, the greater the chance for an upset win—even against reigning giants.
When looking at football as a whole, some of the all-time greatest underdog performances come from international competitions. Intercontinental and global tournaments bring out the fighting spirit in every team, which is sometimes enough to push them past tougher sides.
But even domestic competitions can produce truly riveting upsets that aren’t forgotten anytime soon. The more prestigious the team, the more meaningful the win is for the unlikely victors. As the Premier League approaches its thirtieth anniversary, the league has produced more than a few memorable upsets.
Keep reading for five of the biggest upsets in Premier League history.
Middlesbrough 8-1 Manchester City
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Manchester City may be one of the most lethal quantities in association football today, but fans are well aware times haven’t always been so rosy. Back in 2008, the club’s ownership shifted with immediate consequences: a battering by Middlesbrough.
While Manchester City was awaiting a full rebuild (with plenty of funds), the interim was a truly dark time. The 8-1 win for Middlesbrough came just after the team escaped relegation to the Championship by six points. The team didn’t stay in the Premier League for long, which makes the win over Man City even more important for fans.
Sunderland 3-0 Chelsea
While Manchester City faced a roster overhaul when battling Middlesbrough, Chelsea was at the top of the league when they fell to Sunderland. Carlo Ancelotti had top football players like Didier Drogba, Ramires, and Yuri Zhirkov on his side—but they were no match for the determined performance put on by Steve Bruce and Asamoah Gyan.
The one-game slip had long-term effects on Chelsea. Not only did they lose out on a Premier League title by only nine points, but Ancelotti packed his bags. The loss to Sunderland had come shortly after Ancelotti fired Ray Wilkins, an assistant who’d pushed the club to success.
Blackpool 2-1 Liverpool
A loss at Anfield is memorable enough for Liverpool fans. In the 2010 Blackpool win, the stakes were even higher. At the time, Blackpool had charged into the Premier League with a direct and riveting style of play—and their momentum didn’t slow at Anfield.
What started with a goal from Charlie Adam spiraled into a second from Luke Varney. Though the Reds were able to bounce back with a goal in the second half, it was one of the earliest and clearest examples that Roy Hodgson wouldn’t last.
Leicester City 5-3 Manchester United
Manchester United had one of the most enviable lineups in the world at the time of this loss. Between Wayne Rooney, Angel Di Maria, Juan Mata, and Robin van Persie, the team’s top row was worth over £150 million. Leicester, meanwhile, was facing relegation.
What makes the game even more memorable is Manchester’s early lead. Goals from van Persie and Di Maria hinted a quick win was on the way. But a frenzied performance from Leicester hinted otherwise, with goals from Esteban Cambiasso, Jamie Vardy, David Nugent, and Leonardo Ulloa switched the game’s momentum—and even saved the Foxes from relegation.
Newcastle United 2-1 Manchester City
Manchester City is no stranger to struggle—even when the cards are in their favor. Back in 2019, the team’s roster had plenty of talent and was about to begin a long-running win streak in the Premier League. But first came a surprising loss against Newcastle.
In the game’s first minute, Sergio Aguero notched a goal. From there, Man City hit a comfortable rhythm, which lasted into the second half. However, the game changed when Salomon Rondon pushed for an equalizer halfway through the second half. From there, a fateful penalty would hand Newcastle the win.