The Premier League Teams Who Defied 'Second Season Syndrome'

Sep 18, 2020, 11:15 AM GMT+1
Nuno Espirito Santo, Chris Wilder
Chris Wilder will be hoping to keep Sheffield United afloat as Nuno Espirito Santo did with Wolves | Sam Bagnall - AMA/Getty Images

Sheffield United finished ninth last season, their flirtation with European football only ending in the final few weeks. Many who said the Blades would go straight back down are now predicting the Blades may be vulnerable to the dreaded 'second season syndrome'.

Their defeat to Wolves on Monday would not have eased these nerves, but in truth, Sheffield United competed well and were unlucky not to score. It would be too early to sound any alarm bells based off that performance.

Chris Wilder has seemed ready to chin any poor journalist who has uttered the alliterative death wish upon his side. History would suggest minor tweaks, rather than wholesale changes, will ensure the Blades continue to thrive in the top flight.

However, some teams go on to outperform their showing during their initial Premier League season. Here are some examples from the last decade alone who did just that...

1. Newcastle United (2011/12)

Papiss Cisse, Yohan Cabaye
Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse were key in Newcastle's 2011/12 campaign | Alex Livesey/Getty Images

A Newcastle side managed by Alan Pardew and owned by Mike Ashley were widely predicted to struggle after their 11th place finish in 2011.

However, they proved a revelation during the 2011/12 season. Inspired by the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, the Toon made a surprising challenge for Champions League qualification that only petered out during the final weeks of the campaign.

The abiding memory must be Cisse's jawdropping strike to earn a win at future European champions Chelsea.

2. Swansea City (2012/13)

Michu became a Premier League cult hero
Michu became a Premier League cult hero | Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Swansea proved a breath of fresh air upon their promotion in 2011, with their possession-based football under Brendan Rodgers earning them points and plaudits alike.

But Rodgers departed for Liverpool at the end of the season, leaving fans uncertain momentum could be maintained.

Enter Michu. The little-known striker became the ultimate 'streets will never forget' player, scoring 18 goals under the management of Michael Laudrup as Swansea spent the season safely in mid-table once again.

Despite finishing with one fewer point, the Swans ended the season in ninth place. Victory in the League Cup final made it an unforgettable season in this corner of south Wales.

3. Southampton (2013/14)

Rickie Lambert
Rickie Lambert was so good that he made England's World Cup squad | Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Looking back, it's hard to know what the fuss was all about. When Nigel Adkins was replaced by Maurico Pochettino, fans were in uproar about the popular Englishman being jettisoned for the man who fouled Michael Owen in the box at the 2002 World Cup.

They would soon be taken for fools. Having finished 16th in their first top flight season in seven years, Southampton played silky football under the Argentine, finishing seventh in 2013/14, and the stars of that side became rich pickings for England's top teams in the years to come.

This was all despite the failure of record signing Dani Osvaldo - the striker scored three goals, but is better remembered for headbutting Jose Fonte in training. Marvellous.

4. Bournemouth (2016/17)

Nathan Ake
Bournemouth secured a famous 4-3 win over Liverpool in December 2016 | Michael Steele/Getty Images

With a small reputation and even smaller stadium, Bournemouth defied everybody to survive in their debut top flight season. However, it wasn't long before a chorus of 'second season syndrome' began to ring out from assorted pundits.

Despite the signing of Jordon Ibe for £15m raising more than a few eyebrows, Bournemouth thrived during the 2016/17 season. With Callum Wilson and Josh King scoring 22 goals between them, the Cherries finished ninth - their highest ever finish in English football.

5. Burnley (2017/18)

Burnley FC v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League
Seems fair | Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

The mere presence of Burnley in the top flight manages to rile some - in an age where every club demands attacking football and bringing through the youth, Burnley's commitment to pragmatism is seen as an affront to more sensitive eyes.

But the sight of Burnley qualifying for the Europa League through their seventh place finish in 2017/18 was fantastic. After finishing 16th the year before, the side many tipped to go down acquired 14 more points despite a long winless run during the winter months.

Sean Dyche's achievement was commemorated by the renaming of a local pub to 'The Royal Dyche'. Which seems perfectly fitting to me.

6. Wolverhampton Wanderers (2019/20)

Matt Doherty
Wolves celebrating another major scalp, this time beating Manchester City 3-2 | Visionhaus/Getty Images

Wolves were incredibly impressive on their return to the top flight in 2018/19, finishing seventh and playing with the continental poise that their raft of Portuguese talent would demand.

However, having qualified for the Europa League, many observers expected Wanderers to fall away the following year - something that seemed justified by their poor start last season.

These observers were wrong. Wolves spent most of the season challenging for Champions League qualification, doing the double over champions Manchester City and reaching the Europa League quarter-finals.

By matching their seventh place finish with a small squad of players, Wolves demonstrated they had far too much quality to fall foul of second season syndrome.