Football Features

The most shocking opening-day Premier League results, from “You can’t win anything with kids” to Oxford ‘pocketing’ Ozil

By Ben Green

Published: 17:29, 3 August 2022

The Premier League’s pre-eminent curtain will be raised in south London on Friday night to mark the start of the 2022/23 season, with Crystal Palace and Arsenal meeting at Selhurst Park.

The Gunners also had the pleasure (or displeasure) of firing the starting pistol last season as Mikel Arteta’s men endured a 2-0 defeat to newly-promoted Brentford, marking one of the biggest opening-day upsets in the competition’s history — given it was the Bees’ first-ever Premier League match.

Of course, Thomas Frank is not the only manager to mastermind a shock opening-day result. Down the years there have been plenty of astonishing games, giant-killings and freak results on matchday one of the Premier League.

Hopefully another spectacle will transpire this weekend, and to mark the occasion we’ve revisited some of the most shocking opening games since the competition’s inception in 1992/93…

2021/22: Brentford 2-0 Arsenal

As far as Premier League introductions go, beating one of the division’s most successful and celebrated clubs in your own backyard isn’t a bad way to go about it. Sergi Canos and Christian Norgaard got the goals as Brentford went full Rory Delap tribute act and wrought chaos on Bernd Leno’s goal.

2020/21: Liverpool 4-3 Leeds

This game had everything as both clubs tapped into their fistic subconscious and traded blows in a flurry of leather. Marcelo Bielsa announced himself to the Premier League in typical eyebrow-raising fashion as Liverpool led three times before Leeds pegged them back at Anfield. Mohamed Salah would ultimately net the match-winning goal in the 88th minute — scoring from the spot to claim the match ball — but it set the tone for Bielsa-ball in the top flight, a mix of mesmerising and madcap.

2019/20: Man Utd 4-0 Chelsea

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first full season in the Old Trafford dugout got off to a barnstorming start. The Norwegian marked the opening game of the 2019/20 campaign with a resounding 4-0 triumph over Chelsea, leaving Frank Lampard to pick over the bones from a debilitating loss in his first game in charge of the Blues. If Solskjaer was hoping to generate some momentum for the rest of the season though, it wouldn’t work, as the Red Devils went on to go winless in their next three games to Wolves, Crystal Palace and Southampton. Consistency has so often eluded them since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down.

2017/18: Arsenal 4-3 Leicester

Another seven-goal thriller, this match veered between spectacular and silly at times. By the fifth minute it was already 1-1, and by the 80th Leicester were leading 3-2, and well on their way to a famous triumph in north London. However, a late flurry would change the complexion of this fixture, with Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud netting at the death to hand Arsene Wenger one final opening-day win before he stepped down at the end of the season.

2017/18: Watford 3-3 Liverpool

We’re not done just yet with 2017/18. Mohamed Salah looked to have grabbed the headlines by netting on his Liverpool debut in the 57th minute to give Jurgen Klopp’s men a 3-2 lead. However, the script-makers were feeling particularly mischievous that day, as Miguel Britos bagged in the 93rd minute to spark bedlam at Vicarage Road. Klopp would ultimately spend £70m on Virgil van Dijk that January to ensure there would be no more defensive capitulations.

2017/18: Chelsea 2-3 Burnley

And another! Has the 2017/18 season provided the most dramatic opening weekend in the competition’s history? Not too far from north London and Hertfordshire, Sam Vokes was making Stamford Bridge his playground. The Premier League champions found themselves in a world of trouble 14 minutes into this contest as Craig Pawson handed Gary Cahill an early bath. Sean Dyche’s Clarets would capitalise on their numerical superiority, racing into a 3-0 lead by half-time. Antonio Conte obviously gave his charges something close to his own version of the ‘hairdryer treatment’ at the interval as the Blues battled back to make it 3-2, but another red card picked up by Cesc Fabregas made the complete comeback all but impossible.

2016/17: Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool

Another Emirates thriller, this time with the 4-3 going against Arsenal. Theo Walcott broke the deadlock, but Klopp’s men refused to lie down and feel sorry for themselves, a common theme of the German’s team, battling back to go 4-1 up by the 63rd minute, with Philippe Coutinho grabbing a brace and Sadio Mane adding a coup de grace on his debut. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Calum Chambers scored shortly after to try and inspire a comeback, but the Reds ultimately held firm for three valuable points. 


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2016/17: Hull 2-1 Leicester 

A sign of things to come? Leicester’s against-the-odds title triumph from the previous season appeared to be a thing of the past on matchday one of 2016/17. Claudio Ranieri’s men lost to newly-promoted Hull in the first game of their title defence, and things went pretty much down hill from there as the Foxes struggled to maintain their script-defying momentum, with “The Tinkerman” running out of ideas and suffering the sack in February.

2015/16: Arsenal 0-2 West Ham

‘Be careful what you wish for’, West Ham fans were told when the club got rid of the ever-polarising Sam Allardyce and drafted in ‘one-of-their-own’ Slaven Bilic. Many will have you believe that the former defender was an instant hit at the old Upton Park, but in truth his reputation dipped before his side ventured to the Emirates for the first Premier League game of the 2015/16 season. Three days before that curtain-raising triumph, West Ham relinquished the chance to play European football by putting out a second-string side to Astra Giurgiu and getting eliminated in the qualifiers.

Bilic, though, was ultimately vindicated for his decision to keep the first-teamers on ice as they beat Arsenal 2-0, with Dimitri Payet getting the first of his many assists that season and 16-year-old Reece Oxford keeping a lid on Mesut Ozil and Co in one of the great debuts for an academy graduate in Premier League history.

2014/15: Man Utd 1-2 Swansea

Louis van Gaal was drafted in to bring some stability to Old Trafford following the turbulent first post-Ferguson season under David Moyes. Things didn’t exactly get off to a good start as Swansea executed a North West giant-killing. This was the first of Swansea’s three wins over Van Gaal as the Welsh outfit weirdly became something of a bogey club for the esteemed Dutch coach, who only triumphed over them once in four encounters.

Before beating them 2-1 in January 2016 to finally end his hoodoo, Van Gaal stated: “Swansea have been what I call my ghost team, meaning we are looking to start this new year with what I have been told you say in England by breaking the duck.” 

2014/15: West Ham 0-1 Tottenham

Tottenham loved a last-minute winner at Upton Park. You’d get a few stern looks if you uttered Paul Stalteri or Gareth Bale around E13, and in 2014 Eric Dier was added to that list. This was a London derby to really set the tempo for the season. West Ham were on cloud nine when Kyle Naughton got sent off on the half-hour mark for handling the ball and conceding a penalty. The ever-reliable Mark Noble missed the resultant spot-kick, and James Collins decided to catch an early bath himself in 63rd minute — it was a rather impressive self-implosion, even by West Ham’s standards. Dier then bagged in the 93rd minute to provoke pandemonium in the lower tier of the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand, and ruin what would have been one of the most entertaining 0-0s. Wasn’t a bad 1-0 to be fair.

2013/14: Arsenal 1-3 Aston Villa

Antonio Luna spent one season in the Premier League and scored one goal. That came on matchday one of the 2013/14 season against Arsenal. After Christian Benteke bagged a brace and Laurent Koscielny got sent off, the forgotten Spaniard put the gloss on a curtain-raising upset in the capital. Shortly after this defeat, Wenger would react by bringing Mesut Ozil to the club. This also happens to be the game where the most cards have ever been shown in an opening-day match (10, nine yellows and one red).

2012/13: QPR 0-5 Swansea

An inclusion simply because it was the match where Premier League cult hero Michu announced himself to the division, netting a debut brace and providing an assist for Scott Sinclair to ensure fans up and down the country sat up and took notice of his exploits.

2012/13: West Brom 3-0 Liverpool

Not the best of starts to his Anfield career for Brendan Rodgers. After this he probably just wrote ‘everyone’ in his infamous envelope of players who would let him down. Daniel Agger got sent off, Shane Long missed a penalty, Peter Odemwingie scored a penalty and Romelu Lukaku netted his first Premier League goal. This was an extraordinary opener.

2012/13: Newcastle 2-1 Tottenham

In 2012/13 Newcastle finished 16th, reached the Europa League quarter-finals, lost 7-3 to Arsenal and beat Spurs 2-1 on matchday one. It was a strange season, and this opener pretty much summed up the chaos, with Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa cancelling out Jermain Defoe’s sole strike for Spurs.

2012/13: Everton 1-0 Man Utd

A season later Moyes and Marouane Fellaini would be at Old Trafford, but for this game a decade ago they were busy handing Ferguson his first opening-game defeat since 2004. The Man Utd boss had the last laugh though as he went on to win the title in his final campaign.

2009/10: Everton 1-6 Arsenal

The Gunners ran away with things on Merseyside for their opening game, with debutant Thomas Vermaelen netting on his red-and-white bow, Cesc Fabregas helping himself to a brace, and Eduardo completing the rout.

2008/09: Aston Villa 4-2 Man City

This game was simply incredible. Not only was it 0-0 at half-time, looking like one of the least eventful openers in the Premier League history, but it also includes the fastest curtain-raising hat-trick, as Gabriel Agbonlahor netted three times in just eight minutes. This defensive collapse may have been a blessing in disguise for City, though, as just four days later they signed Vincent Kompany, and the rest, as they say, is history.

2007/08: Sunderland 1-0 Tottenham

Martin Jol spent big that summer to sign Darren Bent, Younes Kaboul, Gareth Bale and Kevin-Prince Boateng, but that didn’t stop Sunderland boss Roy Keane masterminding a smash-and-grab as Michael Chopra netted at the death. Spurs won just one of their 12 opening matches that campaign, and in came autumnal appointment Juande Ramos, which didn’t work out much better.


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2005/06: Aston Villa 2-2 Bolton 

Four goals were scored in the opening 10 minutes here. Absolutely extraordinary. Kevin Phillips broke the deadlock four minutes in, before Kevin Davies and Ivan Campo netted in the sixth and eighth minute respectively, and then Steven Davis restored parity in the ninth minute. Nothing else happened after that, for 80 full minutes. Uncanny to say the least.

2003/04: Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea

It was the first match of the Roman Abramovich era and the Russian billionaire started as he meant to go during his Stamford Bridge stewardship. Ranieri’s expensively-assembled team silenced the summer Anfield crowd to lay down a future Chelsea marker. Summer recruit Juan Sebastian Veron broke the deadlock before Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink bagged the match winner three minutes from time — £120m well spent some would say!

2000/01: Sunderland 1-0 Arsenal

Arsenal never could just start the season without drama. On the first day of the 2000/01 season, Niall Quinn netted the winning goal for Peter Reid’s side, before Patrick Vieira was sent off for swiping at Darren Williams in injury time. The Gunners squandered plenty of chances, with Thomas Sorensen’s net living a particularly charmed life, while Wenger was involved in a tunnel altercation with fourth official Paul Taylor that saw him charged by the FA for “alleged threatening behaviour and physical intimidation”. What a way to start the campaign!

1999/00: Watford 2-3 Wimbledon

This would be the Crazy Gang’s final Premier League season and they started as they meant to go on, in crazy fashion. Egil Olsen would be the man to oversee the chaos, and at Vicarage Road, carnage unfolded. Carl Cort opened the scoring for Wimbledon on the 10th minute, before Dean Blackwell got sent off and conceded a penalty — Peter Kennedy dispatched the resultant spot-kick. Despite being a man down, the Dons would go on to win 3-2 in a seesawing contest. And that, incidentally, would be their only away win of the season.

1998/99: Coventry 2-1 Chelsea

The UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and League Cup holders followed up from the previous season when they lost to Coventry on the opening day by losing to Coventry on the opening day. Darren Huckerby and Dion Dublin got the goals for Gordon Strachan’s men.

1997/98: Coventry 3-2 Chelsea

Despite boasting a cohort of household names, a soon-to-be World Cup winner for France and a collection of tricky Italians, it was Dion Dublin who stole the show in this game, netting a hat-trick either side of half-time to sink Ruud Gullit’s side.

1996/97: Everton 2-0 Newcastle

Having finished as runners-up to Manchester United the previous campaign, Kevin Keegan’s response was to sign Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers. The English legend would go on to immortalise himself on Tyneside, but his first outing ended with a whimper as Everton — who finished 15th that season — beat the Magpies 2-0 at Goodison Park. Newcastle would recover to finish second again, but few probably realise that they started the campaign in such dismal fashion.

1996/97: Middlesbrough 3-3 Liverpool

This was just a bonkers game. Similar to their encounter against Bielsa’s Leeds, Liverpool thrice led here, and each time Boro responded, only they were able to hold out for the point. Roy Evans’ men led for much of this season and even had a five-point gap at the summit by New Year’s Day, but they started the campaign in frustrating fashion, with Fabrizio Ravanelli netting a hat-trick to equalise three time against the Reds in North Yorkshire.

1995/96: Aston Villa 3-1 Man Utd

“You can’t win anything with kids,” were the immortal and ill-fated words of Alan Hansen after this defeat. As we now know, Ferguson’s side would go on to win that season’s title.

1994/95: Sheffield Wednesday 3-4 Tottenham

Seven goals scored, and each by a different player, making this the opening-day Premier League fixture with the most different goalscorers: Teddy Sheringham, Darren Anderton, Dan Petrescu, Colin Calderwood (O.G.), Nick Barmby, Jurgen Klinsmann and David Hirst.

1993/94: Arsenal 0-3 Coventry

Before the Wenger era, there was the George Graham era, and coming up towards the latter years of his tenure at Highbury, he would end the club’s European trophy drought in 1993/94, winning the Cup Winners’ Cup. But the domestic season didn’t offer any hope that they would secure that continental success for the first time since 1970, as a Micky Quinn hat-trick inflicted a shock 3-0 defeat at the hands of Coventry.

1992/93: Nottingham Forest 1-0 Liverpool

This was Brian Clough’s last season in the Nottingham Forest dugout and Sky Sports’ first-ever ‘Super Sunday’ match. How fitting then that Forest produced a match for the ages, with Teddy Sheringham scoring the only goal — and his last in a Forest shirt before being sold to Tottenham — while keeping a rare clean sheet that campaign. Despite starting with such promise, Clough’s men would then go winless in their next 10 fixtures en route to relegation.

1992/93: Arsenal 2-4 Norwich

Before a ball was kicked, Norwich were tipped to struggle in 1992/93, and when they were 2-0 down to Arsenal at half-time in their first match, that looked like a safe bet. However, Mike Walker’s men would go on to score four goals in 14 minutes in the second half and produce one of the great opening-day comebacks, setting the scene for an inexplicable title charge that ultimately saw them finish third that campaign.

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