The History of the Premier League
For nearly 30 years, the Premier League has been the pinnacle of football in England. With a massive global audience, the best footballers have flocked to the competition backed by huge television revenue and a passionate fanbase.
But it is on the field where we at are really interested. Our five-part podcast mini-series gives you the complete data history of the Premier League, dating right back to the start of the competition in 1992 following the breakaway from the English Football League.
The Analyst can bring valuable historical context thanks to nearly-30 years of data collection by Opta, the official data partner of the Premier League. That means we can bring the stories of yesteryear to life through a modern data lens.
Part I: The Scotsman, the SAS and Old Football
A whole new ball game kicked off as the top flight waved goodbye to the First Division on August 15th with Brian Deane scoring the first Premier League goal in a 2-1 victory for Sheffield United over Manchester United. The Red Devils would only take one point from their first three games but that was just a blip for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side on their way to claiming the first of their Premier League titles.
Man Utd would go on to win the Premier League four times in the opening five seasons with Blackburn Rovers, led by the goalscoring feats of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, taking the title in the 1994-95 season. This ended a 81-year wait between top-flight titles despite a final day of the season defeat by manager Kenny Dalglish’s former side Liverpool.
Newcastle United would be the next to challenge Manchester United’s supremacy, spending 212 days at the top of the Premier League table in the 1995-96 season before suffering heartache as Eric Cantona returned from suspension to become the first player to reach 50 assists in the Premier League.
Part II: The Treble, the Invincibles and the Flying Dutchman
Arsène Wenger led a revolution in the Premier League in the 1997-1998 season, guiding Arsenal to the title and becoming the first foreign manager to win the English top flight.
However, The Gunners’ success sparked a response from Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, who clinched the treble with Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League success (they would lose to eventual winners Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup quarter-finals). This set up a battle between the two sides that would play out until the end of the 2003-04 season – the year in which Arsenal delivered one of the most famous stat lines in English football by becoming ‘The Invincibles’, the second side to go an entire league season unbeaten in the English top flight. This season would also spell the end of Leeds’ time in the Premier League until the 2020-21 season.
Goals were hard to come by though with only 18 needed to win the Golden Boot, the lowest in Premier League history, shared between Coventry City’s Dion Dublin, Liverpool’s Michael Owen, and Blackburn’s Chris Sutton in the 1997-98 season. This would be matched the following season with Owen, Chelsea’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, and Aston Villa’s Dwight Yorke finishing as the top scorers. Owen burst onto the scene in some style during the 1997-98 season, becoming the youngest hat-trick scorer in Premier League history, aged just 18 years and 62 days old.
That all changed when Ruud van Nistelrooy joined Manchester United though, scoring 44 in all competitions in the 2002-2003 season, something no Premier League player has beaten in a single campaign yet. He pipped Thierry Henry to the Golden Boot, but the Arsenal forward did set a mark of his own as a creative force, recording 20 assists and setting a Premier League record which has since been matched by Kevin de Bruyne.
Part III: The Special One, Number Nineteen and the Rise of the Big Four
2004 saw ‘The Special One’ burst onto the scene with José Mourinho taking charge at Chelsea and leading The Blues to a Premier League crown in his first season in charge with a defence that conceded just 15 goals, backed by a record 24 clean sheets for Petr Cech. It was a season that also saw Everton’s James Vaughan become the league’s youngest-ever goalscorer after netting on his senior debut against Crystal Palace.
Despite a flurry of success for Chelsea, it would be Manchester United who continued to dominate as, for the second time in eight years they won three successive Premier League titles, eventually surpassing Liverpool’s then record of 18 top-flight titles in the 2010/11 season.
Whilst the Top Four were beginning to rise, with Manchester City making their presence felt, this period also saw a miserable season for Derby County, who managed just one win during the 2007-2008 Premier League season, setting records for lowest points gained, lowest number of goals scored and worst goal difference.
That’s not to say this season was not full of goals: Portsmouth’s 7-4 victory over Reading at Fratton Park in September is still the highest scoring game in Premier League history whilst Cristiano Ronaldo became the fifth different player to score at least 30 goals in a single season.
Part IV: Variety is the Spice of Life
Manchester City clinched their first Premier League title in dramatic fashion with Sergio Agüero’s last-minute winner breaking the hearts of Manchester United fans despite their victory over Sunderland. The success came in a season that was a goal-fest, producing the greatest single day in Premier League history when 41 goals were plundered on February 5th.
Sir Alex Ferguson was able to get the perfect send-off the following season though with Manchester United crowned Premier League champions for a 13th time with Robin van Persie becoming the first player to win the Golden Boot for being the leading goalscorer in three consecutive seasons.
Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard bid farewell to the Premier League following the 2014-2015 season. Lampard, who started his career at West Ham, saw his curtain call come for Manchester City, even finding time to score against former side Chelsea – the 39th different Premier League opponent he would find the back of the net against.
This period ended with Leicester City achieving the seemingly impossible in the EPL. They went from being bottom of the Premier League table at Christmas 2015, to avoiding relegation to the EFL at the end of that season before winning the title the following campaign. No doubt helped by Jamie Vardy becoming the first player to score in 11 consecutive Premier League appearances.
Part V: Tactical Star Wars
Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp’s arrivals at Manchester City and Liverpool respectively, at least initially, were overshadowed by Antonio Conte at Chelsea as the Blues claimed a fifth Premier League title by becoming the first top-flight side to win 30+ games in a 38-game season. It was Tottenham Hotspur who ran the champions the closest, amassing 86 points as they finished second.
But the following season Man City smashed plenty of records, including that one, to claim a third Premier League title, becoming the first and only side to amass 100 points in a single season whilst winning 18 consecutive games between August and December 2017. Meanwhile, Burnley surprised many as they qualified for the UEFA Europa League by racking up a club-record 54 points to secure their first European campaign for more than 50 years.
Southampton’s Shane Long proved himself the ultimate record breaker in April 2019, scoring the fastest Premier League goal after just 7.69 seconds against Watford, dinking a shot over goalkeeper Ben Foster after charging down a defensive clearance.
And Liverpool’s time finally came as they clinched the Premier League title for the first time in the COVID-19 pandemic delayed 2019-20 campaign, a 19th top-flight title for Liverpool FC that featured 24 home victories with all other 19 sides in the league beaten before February.
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