Would Everton Be The Most Talented Team Ever Relegated From The Premier League?
A handful of times during the season, there are results that can only cause one reaction among neutral fans: laughter. Such matches are rare because they usually involve a larger club losing in embarrassing fashion. Arsenal's 5-0 loss to Manchester City in August certainly falls in this category, as does Manchester United's 5-0 defeat to Liverpool and 4-1 loss against Watford.
I'm not sure any game from this Premier League season drew as loud as a snicker (at least from me) as did Monday's match between Spurs and Everton. In a match between a pair of middling sides, hosts Tottenham defeated Everton 5-0 while holding the Toffees without a shot on target.
Everton was torn apart by Irish wingback Matt Doherty — who was making just his fourth league start of the season. An own goal and a grievous error from Jordan Pickford dug the visitors a two-goal hole within the first 20 minutes. Everton's defense spent the remaining 70 minutes scattered about the pitch like lost checkers pieces on a chess board, and Spurs manager Antonio Conte look like a chess grandmaster.
After a dire mid-season stretch, Everton is now in 17th place, just a single point above the relegation zone.
There were some tough times in 19-20 when Everton flirted with relegation early in the year, but new manager Carlo Ancelotti steadied the ship and guided the Toffees to a 12th-place finish. That was only early in the season too, not a multi-month slump approaching the last third of the campaign.
The squad has also been strengthened in subsequent years and the club was unlucky to finish 10th last season after spending considerable time in the European spots.
A quick look at the Everton squad shows it is far too talented to be in the relegation zone, but that hasn't prevented other capable sides from being sent down in the past.
How does Everton stack up against other Premier league sides that were unexpectedly relegated, or perhaps more directly: Would Everton be the most talented team ever to get relegated from the Premier League?
Best Teams To Be Relegated From the Premier League
FIFA Rating (best rating in-season): 79 Overall (8th out of 20 EPL clubs this season)
Squad Value: $499 million (8th)
Avg Player Value: $17.21 million (9th)
League Finish 20-21: 10th
After a humiliating 5-0 defeat against Spurs, Everton has become firmly ensconced in the relegation race. Since beating Norwich in late September, the Toffees have won two of their last 19 Premier League fixtures. The club's number of victories during this stretch is also equal to the number of managers it has employed during that time. Once in fifth place, Everton has dropped all the way to 17th, just a single point above the relegation zone. One win from 18th-place Burnley, and the Toffees would no longer be safe.
The only meaningful departure this past summer was James Rodríguez, and while manager Carlo Ancelotti was replaced by Rafa Benítez, a mid-table finish was the minimum expectation — with eyes once again set on the outer-lying European places.
Fast-forward to March, and Everton has a 31 percent chance to get relegated (according to FiveThirtyEight), with what FIFA 22 rates as the eighth-best team in the Premier League. The Toffees have Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Allan, Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane — all rated 80-plus in FIFA. Their bench players have higher ratings than most of the starters for the teams in the relegation zone. Most of them have earned international caps too.
By all predictive measures, Everton is a top-half team. According to Soccernomics author Stefan Szymanski, 90 percent of variation can be explained by a club's wage bill. Everton has the sixth-highest wages in the EPL this year.
Every way you look at it, Everton's league performance this season is historically inconceivable and unexplainable.
(In chronological order)
Note: all financial figures adjusted for inflation
FIFA Rating: 77 Overall (14th)
Squad Value: $328 million (11th)
Avg Player Value: $8.45 million (11th)
League Finish 18-19: 14th
Despite being one of the smallest clubs to ever reach the Premier League, the Cherries had a semi-comfortable stretch in the English top flight entering the 2019-20 season. A 14th-place finish the previous year was not ideal, but fans were patient given the number of promising signings the club made.
Bournemouth added more foreign talent, leaving it with a side that realistically was expected to challenge for a spot in the top half of the league. Up top was Callum Wilson, who provided 14 goals and nine assists in 18-19. The midfield included the pacey Ryan Fraser and the tough central duo of Jefferson Lerma and Philip Billing, and the backline was anchored by current Man City defender Nathan Aké.
For the first third of the season, everything clicked. The club sat seventh in early November, but then it all fell apart. The Cherries lost 19 of their remaining 27 fixtures and went nine straight matches where they failed to total one expected goal (xG).
The expensive new signings never really gelled with the entrenched club veterans, and despite having the most expensive squad on this list and the 13th-highest wages in the EPL, Bournemouth went down on the final day.
2017-18 Stoke City
FIFA Rating: 78 Overall (11th)
Squad Value: $242 Million (14th)
Avg Player Value: $6.94 million (13th)
League Finish 16-17: 13th
Like Bournemouth, 17-18 Stoke was very much a club in transition. Gone were the days of Rory Delap long throws; this was Sexy Stoke City. Yet the club hadn't quite fully committed to forward progress.
You had Route 1 leftovers Ryan Shawcross and Charlie Adam playing alongside Xherdan Shaqiri and Eric Choupo-Moting. You had Peter Crouch playing one-twos with former Barcelona youth products. As I wrote a few years ago: "It just felt awkward, like a sort of footballing purgatory."
The tactical incompetence of manager Mark Hughes didn't help either. He put pacey striker Mame Diouf as a wing back in a back three, then changed to a 4-4-2, followed by a 4-2-3-1 and then a 4-3-3, all within a seven-match span mid year. Mind you, this was Hughes' fifth season at the club.
Stoke had the 11th highest-rated squad in the Premier League in FIFA 18 and it managed to finish in 19th. That's how you spend $150 million on world-class players and throw it down the drain.
2015-16 Newcastle United
FIFA Rating: 77 Overall (8th)
Squad Value: $257 Million (10th)
Avg Player Value: $6.16 Million (10th)
League Finish 14-15: 15th
Looking back after six years, this still seems like one of the most improbable relegations of the 21st century. After finishing 15th the previous year, Newcastle went out and spent $118 million on eight new players. Gini Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrović, Jonjo Shelvey, Florian Thauvin and Andros Townsend were among the players brought in for fees north of $15 million.
They joined the likes of Tim Krul, Moussa Sissoko and Ayoze Pérez for a team that had the eight-best overall rating in the Premier League. But as Leicester's improbable title-winning run showed, talent was far from a deciding factor in the Premier League in 2015-16.
After bringing in around 20 new players in the span of two seasons, Newcastle couldn't put it all together. Bournemouth finished 16th that season with a starting lineup that was overwhelmingly guys from that had been with the club since its League One days. Yet a Newcastle side with future European Championship and Champions League winners was relegated.
Now we get to what I call the "No Numbers Era." For any season before 2005, data on club finances as well as archived FIFA video game player ratings is essentially nonexistent. From here on out, we must trust the assessments of those who watched the game over 20 years ago.
2003-04 Leeds United
League Finish 02-03: 15th
By the time the 2003-04 season rolled around, the Leeds United squad was only a shell of the team that reached the semifinals of the Champions League in 2001. Having bet on a subsequent UCL appearance that never came, the club was in dire financial trouble.
Top players Robbie Fowler, Jonathan Woodgate and Rio Ferdinand had been sold the year before, and the max-exodus continued to decimate the squad. There were still numerous holdovers from that UCL semifinal side, including Mark Viduka, Alan Smith and Ian Harte, plus a promising young midfielder named James Milner.
There was also the overwhelming optimism of Leeds fans, who firmly believed their club was simply too big to go down. Yet the heart of this team had been cut out, and even with a solid pool of players still remaining, Leeds looked lost on the pitch. Only 10 players appeared in more than half of the league matches for a side that conceded a division-high 79 goals.
As the teams that came after Leeds also proved, big names do not necessarily equal success.
2002-03 West Ham United
League Finish 01-02: 7th
Was 2002-03 West Ham the most talented team to get relegated from the EPL? Well, it certainly has a case for being the most unlucky. After finishing seventh the year before, the Hammers earned 42 points in 02-03 — the most of any Premier League club relegated in the 38-game era — and they would have needed 45 points to finish above Bolton Wanderers. By comparison, 37 points would have ensured survival the year before, and 34 points would have been good enough the season after.
This was the type of team that had names that still resonate among soccer two decades later: Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe, David James, Paolo di Canio and Michael Carrick were the core of the team back in the days when West Ham had one of the best youth academies in England.
1998-99 Blackburn Rovers
League Finish 97-98: 6th
Just four years removed from winning the Premier League crown in 94-95, Rovers expected to challenge for a European spot after finishing sixth the previous year. Yet gone were Alan Shearer, Graham Le Saux and most of the starting lineup from the title-winning side. Plus, just two seasons prior, Rovers narrowly avoided relegation after an abysmal start.
The 98-99 campaign began in a similar fashion, only this time the turnaround never came. Blackburn started the season playing in the Europa League and ended the year in the English second tier.
League Finish 95-96: 12th
So you're telling me that 96-97 Middlesbrough only had a goal difference of minus-nine, scored more goals than fifth-place Aston Villa and still managed to get relegated? A team that won a match 6-1, drew twice against EPL champ Manchester United and had EPL Player of the Season Juninho finished in 19th?
A club that reached the final of the League Cup and FA Cup and had a 16-goal scorer could not stay up? A side that, you know what, I think I've made my point. And to think that Middlesbrough would have been safe if it hadn't been handed a three-point deduction for failing to fulfill a fixture against Blackburn Rovers during the holiday period (the club insisted they couldn't field a side due to numerous injuries and a stomach bug, which reduced Middlesbrough to nine senior players; the FA disagreed and deducted three points due to the short notice given).
Juninho, Middlesbrough, Premier League, 1996/97Appearances 35
Goals 12 ⚽️
Assists 8 ️
Premier League Player of the Season
What a player pic.twitter.com/nLN6JKE4pr
— Football Remind (@FootballRemind) February 7, 2022
Of the numbers-influenced clubs, 2015-16 Newcastle probably has the best resumé, especially as a rarely strong side competing in a league that, by current EPL standards, was rather weak. The fact that the Magpies spent $118 million in the summer and still got relegated further strengthens their case.
As for the quartet of older sides, West Ham is probably the strongest contender. The Hammers returned everybody from a side that finished seventh and had the most points of any relegated team in EPL history. Plus, the core names alone were enough to earn at least a mid-table finish.
Blackburn had the highest finish the season before but lost considerable talent that offseason, and Middlesbrough had some great performances but didn't offer much outside of its pair of talismanic attackers.
Can 2015-16 Newcastle and 2002-03 West Ham stack up against Everton? Everton has a better FIFA rating and a more expensive squad than Newcastle, even adjusted for inflation. This leaves only the Hammers.
Back in 2002-03, England ranked third in UEFA League Coefficient, and one English side reached the Champions League quarterfinals. Now England has the best UEFA League Coefficient and is soon to have three UCL quarterfinalists.
West Ham finished seventh in 01-02 with a goal difference of minus-nine and 53 points; Everton was 10th last year with a minus-one GD and 59 points. The EPL is clearly stronger now than it was 20 years ago, and while West Ham was unlucky to go down in 2003, Everton is still the better side.
Should the Merseyside Blues get relegated this year, they can officially be referred to as the best team to ever get relegated from the Premier League.