How Tottenham and Leicester Upset The Premier League's 'Big Five'

Leicester and Tottenham have gatecrashed the Premier League's established order.
Nacer Chadli of Tottenham (R) with Leicester's Marcin Wasilewski at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, January 20. Tottenham and Leicester have gatecrashed the Premier League's established order this season. Laurence Griffiths/Getty

This English Premier League season has, by almost every definition in the little book of cliches, been remarkable.

Leicester City and Aston Villa, separated by a hair's breadth by most pundits at the beginning, now have a gap of 57 points between them. Manchester United may finish fourth and miss out on the Champions League to its two greatest rivals, Liverpool and Manchester City, which are both still in with a chance of winning their respective European competitions: the Europa League and the Champions League.

Most remarkable of all is the fact that two of the so-called 'big four' could miss out on Champions League football.

This doesn't happen very often. Since the turn of the century, season 2000-01, there has only been one season in which two of the country's 'big four' teams (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United) have missed out on the Champions League.

That happened in 2011-12, when Chelsea and Liverpool both endured poor domestic seasons, finishing sixth and eighth respectively, and Tottenham snuck into fourth ahead of Newcastle United.

This season, only a major reversal of fortune could deny Tottenham Champions League football , while Leicester already has its place in Europe's elite competition for next season.

It is a statistical oddity. For five of the 15 seasons since 2000-01, none of the 'big four' has missed out on the Champions League. Four of those happened in a row, from 2005-06 to 2008-09.

This is even more remarkable considering how the landscape of English football has changed between 2000 and 2016. Between 2000 and 2003, Chelsea was yet to be bought by Roman Abramovich, whose investment came in the summer of 2003.

The years 2000-01, 2001-02 and 2002-03 are all missing one 'big' member from the top four at the end of the season. In the first of those years, Leeds United made up the top four alongside Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. In the other two, Newcastle took the place of first Chelsea, then Liverpool.

The other great upheaval to the established order came in the summer of 2009, when Sheikh Mansour and the Abu Dhabi-based City Football Group bought Manchester City.

This made a 'big four' a 'big five'. So it is understandable that in the six completed seasons since the summer of 2009, Liverpool has missed out on the top four five times.

With the exception of 2009-10 and 2011-12, when Tottenham made the Champions League, since 2009 a team outside the established cartel, as we might term it, has not made Europe's premier club competition.

The trend for the past three seasons has been for the 'big five' to rotate places. In 2012-13, Liverpool missed the Champions League; in 2013-14, it was the turn of Manchester United, followed by Liverpool again in 2014-15.

And in 2015-16? We are, almost certainly, facing the prospect of at least two big five' teams missing the Champions League, and two upstarts breaking in. The latter occurring has the potential to make this Premier League season a truly outstanding statistical oddity.