8 Unconventional Sides to Have Broken Into the Premier League Top Four Over the Years

Danny Drinkwater, Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, Danny Simpson
Leicester broke into the top four (and won the Premier League) in 2016 | Michael Regan/Getty Images

Champions League qualification has had an air of predictability about it in the English top flight over the past 15 years. Manchester City and Tottenham have extended the 'big four' into the 'big six' to add a little bit of flavour and excitement to proceedings, but almost every season it is a question what order the top six will finish, not who will be in it.

But this year, Wolves and Leicester have emerged as unconventional candidates to break into the top four and shake up the usual monotony of Premier League Champions League qualification.

The plucky pair are not trailblazers or pioneers, but they do belong to an exclusive group of unexpected top four members. Which other top flight teams have broken the mould and given the Premier League's big boys a run for their money?

Aston Villa (1995/96, 1992/93)

Dwight Yorke
Yorke was Villa's talisman | Stu Forster/Getty Images

Villa have finished in the Premier League's top four twice, but neither occasion secured them Champions League qualification.

Villa finished second during the Premier League's inaugural 1992/93 season, and had been top with six games left to play before an end of season stutter saw them finish 10 points behind Manchester United.

The Villans finished fourth during the 1995/96 season, thanks to 17 goals from Dwight Yorke - just the year before they had narrowly escaped relegation.

Blackburn (1994/95, 1993/94, 1992/93)

Alan Shearer
Shearer and Blackburn won the Premier League in 1995 | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Fuelled by Jack Walker's riches, Blackburn finished fourth in their first season in the top flight following promotion from the second tier.

This was not enough to secure European football at all - let alone a spot in the Champions League - but the following season Alan Shearer's goals fired them to second in the league. Second was sufficient for the Uefa Cup, but still no Champions League for Kenny Dalglish's side.

The following season Blackburn famously won the league title on the final day of the season despite losing to Liverpool - and this also booked them a place in the Champions League.

However, the Rovers crashed out in the group stages, losing four of their six Champions League fixtures in the 1995/96 season.

Norwich City (1992/93)

Mark Robins
Noriwch's kit from their high0flying early 90s days remains a cult favourite | Ben Radford/Getty Images

Despite being tipped to struggle in the maiden season of the Premier League, Norwich instead mounted a remarkable title challenge.

The Canaries were eight points clear in December, but defeat to Manchester United knocked the stuffing out of them, and they struggled for consistency there after.

The Canaries were eight points clear in December, but defeat to Manchester United knocked the stuffing out of them, and they struggled for consistency there after.

Norwich ultimately finished third, 12 points behind Premier League champions United in the only Champions League spot, but still pipped Blackburn to the final Uefa Cup spot - famously knocking out Bayern Munich in the competition the following season.

Newcastle United (2002/03, 2001/02, 1996/97, 1995/96, 1993/94)

Bobby Robson during training
Bobby Robson's Newcastle lost to Barcelona in the 2002/03 Champions League | Stu Forster/Getty Images

Kevin Keegan's 'entertainers' finished third in their maiden Premier League season in 1993/94, and secured Champions League football for the first time in 1996/97 after narrowly missing out on the title to Manchester United ("I would love it if we beat them" and all that).

The Magpies have finished in the top four five times - but only three of those occasions secured Champions League football.

Until 1996, only the league champions qualified for the Champions League. This extended to the top two in 1996/97, the top three a two years later, and fourth spot became the final Champions League place during the 2001/02 campaign.

Sir Bobby Robson then guided the Magpies to successive top four finishes between in 2002 and 2003. However, under both Keegan and Robson, Newcastle only made it past the Champions League group stages on one occasion - in 2002/03, when there was no last 16, but a second group stage instead.

Nottingham Forest (1994/95)

NOTTS FO V WIMBLEDON
Collymore was Forest's top scorer in the 1994/95 season | Michael Cooper/Getty Images

The season after securing promotion from Division One, Nottingham Forest finished third in the Premier League.

No newly promoted side has finished higher since. Stan Collymore hit 22 league en route to Forest's third place finish - which was not enough to book their place in the Champions League.

They did however secure a spot in the Uefa Cup - a competition the club have an illustrious history in - and they reached the quarter finals, before exiting to Bayern Munich.

Leeds United (2000/01, 1999/2000, 1998/99)

Michael Bridges, Harry Kewell
Bridges and Kewell were an integral part of Leeds' success under David O'Leary | Ben Radford/Getty Images

Leeds have recorded three top four finishes, but only once was this sufficient to secure Champions League football - when the Whites finished third during the 1999/2000 season.

David O'Leary's young side, spearheaded by a Harry Kewell - Michael Bridges strike force, finished two points clear of fourth place Liverpool to book their place in club football's most prestigious cup competition.

Leeds went on to enjoy quite the European adventure, qualifying from the first and second group stages and recording a stunning victory over Milan in the process.

They beat Deportivo in the last eight to reach the semi finals, but crashed out to Valencia after a 3-0 second leg defeat.

Everton (2004/05)

Tim Cahill, Joseph Yobo, Tony Hibbert
Everton finished fourth in 2004/05 | Michael Steele/Getty Images

The Toffees had finished three points and one place above the relegation zone during the 2003/04 season, and it looked like it wasn't going to get a lot better the following campaign after the summer sale of Wayne Rooney to Manchester United.

However, Everton instead recorded their most successful season in Premier League history, even emerging as unlikely title contenders during the first half of the campaign.

Although they could not ultimately keep pace with Arsenal and Chelsea at the league summit, David Moyes' side finished three points ahead of rivals Liverpool to secure fourth place and Champions League football, even with a goal difference of -1.

However, what should have been a European fairytale ended very prematurely, as Everton crashed out of the Champions League during the qualifying round, failing to even make it to the group stages.

Leicester City (2015/16)

Claudio Ranieri, Wes Morgan
Leicester did a little bit more than just qualifying for the Champions League in 2016 | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Leicester have previous when it comes to upsetting the narrative.

Breaking into the top four wasn't quite enough for the Foxes in 2016, who thought while they were hanging around towards the upper echelons of the Premier League they might as well win the title too. When in Rome and all that.

Leicester went on to enjoy quite the European adventure, qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages as group winners.

Craig Shakespeare then Michael Gove-d Claudio Ranieri, taking the head coach job following defeat to Sevilla in the last 16. He inspired the Foxes to a second leg comeback victory over the Spanish side, before their journey narrowly ended at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the quarter finals.