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The Art of Football: Most Underestimated Premier League Clubs

As Sun Tzu wrote in the Art of War, never underestimate your opponent. That fits well with the art of football, where any given day, any team can win. However, the expectation for Manchester United is that it should be able to regularly defeat the weaker sides in the league. The identity of those sides change over the course of time, but in recent years they’ve consistently been anyone outside of the Big Six (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur). Which of the 14 other Premier League clubs going into the 2017/18 season has torn up the script on multiple occasions? Here is our top five most underestimated Premier League opponents based on results in all competitions from the previous five seasons

Honorable Mentions:

Hull City and Sunderland may no longer be Premier League teams, but perhaps that’s good news for Manchester United. Here are the games where the Red Devils came up short against these now relegated sides.

7th January 2013 Sunderland away 2-1 loss EFL Cup Semi-Final First Leg

3rd May 2014 Sunderland home 1-0 loss Premier League

24th August 2014 Sunderland away 1-1 draw Premier League

24th May 2015 Hull City away 0-0 draw Premier League

13th February 2016 Sunderland away 2-1 loss Premier League

26th January 2017 Hull City away 2-1 loss FA Cup Semi-Final

1st February 2017 Hull City home 0-0 draw Premier League

5. Stoke City

Noted results:

1st January 2015 away 1-1 draw Premier League

26th December 2015 away 2-0 loss Premier League

2nd October 2016 home 1-1 draw Premier League

21st January 2017 away 1-1 draw Premier League

Whether it’s a cold rainy night in Stoke or a slightly less rainy but colder night in Manchester, Stoke City are known for their route 1 style of play. Their tactics don’t make for the best gameplay, but they have become a staple in the Premier League and appear to be climbing higher up the mid-table regions. Part of that is due to the large number of points they take off Manchester United. Noted talents such as Jack Butland, Bojan Krkic, Marko Arnautovic, and Xherdan Shaqiri keep Stoke from higher up the list.

4. Southampton

Noted results:

19th October 2013 home 1-1 draw Premier League

11th May 2014 away 1-1 draw Premier League

11th January 2015 home 1-0 loss Premier League

23rd January 2016 home 1-0 loss Premier League

17th May 2017 away 0-0 draw Premier League

They are lovable underdogs by neutrals due to their back to back promotions from League One into the Premier League and their impressive youth system. However, for rival teams, it can be easy to dismiss them as the English Ajax or Porto. A solid team but one that bigger clubs (especially Liverpool) circle like vultures to pluck away their talent. However, Southampton manages to keep enough talent around to trouble Manchester United. Hopefully, after a decent cup final class, the days of underestimating the Saints are over.

3. West Ham United

Noted Results:

5th January 2013 away 2-2 draw FA Cup

17th April 2013 away 2-2 draw Premier League

8th February 2015 away 1-1 draw Premier League

5th December 2015 home 0-0 draw Premier League

13th March 2016 home 1-1 draw FA Cup

10th May 2016 away 3-2 loss Premier League

27th November 2016 home 1-1 draw Premier League

The hammers fluctuate in abilities even within the same season. They can start off strong, fall into a relegation battle, and then finish comfortably mid table with a lot of other inexplicable happenings in between. Even with the recent rise of talent at West Ham including players like Angelo Ogbonna, Michail Antonio, and the now departed Dimitri Payet, West Ham is easy to underestimate and they made us pay on several occasions.

2. West Bromwich Albion

Noted results:

19th May 2013 away 5-5 draw Premier League

28th September 2013 away 2-1 loss Premier League

20th October 2014 away 2-2 draw Premier League

2nd May 2015 home 1-0 loss Premier League

6th March 2016 away 1-0 loss Premier League

1st April 2017 home 0-0 draw Premier League

There is just something about this club that makes them forgettable. Maybe it’s their generic Stadium name “The Hawthorns”. They are slightly less forgettable now since Manchester United have done business with them in selling Jonny Evans and Darren Fletcher to the Baggies. In some seasons, their squad looked like relegation battle contenders, but in truth, they haven’t been threatened by relegation in a while. Nevertheless, their aging under the radar team has been a Hawthorn in United’s side many a time. In all fairness, that 5-5 draw in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game was a game to remember.

1. Swansea City

Noted results

23rd December 2012 away 1-1 draw Premier League

5th January 2014 home 2-1 loss FA Cup

16th August 2014 home 2-1 loss Premier League

21st February 2015 away 2-1 loss Premier League

30th August 2015 away 2-1 loss Premier League

30th April 2017 home 1-1 draw Premier League

It was Swansea City who defeated Manchester City late in the 2011-2012 season to make that title race between the Manchester clubs tight in the end. However, that would be the last favor Swansea City would do for the Red Devils. These near perennial relegation candidates since their promotion in 2011 have knocked Manchester United out of cup games, done the double over us, and inflicted back to back defeats in Old Trafford. It defies all logic, but the Swans manage to put up a fight nearly every time we play them. Whether they are in ninth or nineteenth next season, perhaps Manchester United should prepare carefully for their fixtures against the Welsh side.

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