Chelsea got off to the worst possible start in the defence of their Premier League title on Saturday after going down 3-2 in a defeat to Burnley at Stamford Bridge, while Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas both saw red and will now be suspended for three and one games respectively.
But more than just an early setback, Chelsea, so dominant in their record breaking 2016/17 campaign, became only the second lot of reigning champions in Premier League history to lose their opening game the season after winning the title.
The first champions to manage that rather unwanted feat were Leicester this time last year when they were shocked by newly promoted Hull. Given the incredible fairytale nature of the Foxes’ title triumph it was not completely unforeseeable, but it was a Premier League first nonetheless.
Taking into account Chelsea’s less than convincing start to the 2015/16 campaign, which began with a 2-2 draw with Swansea before things became much worse very quickly in the weeks that followed, it is now three years since any reigning champions actually won their opening game.
The last to do so was Manchester City in August 2014 with a 2-0 victory over Newcastle.
For most of the Premier League’s history since its inception in 1992, defending champions winning their opening game of the following campaign was unsurprisingly the norm.
Leeds were reigning champions of the old First Division when the Premier League first began and at least claimed victory on matchday one, despite then going on to finish that inaugural season in a dismal 17th place and avoiding relegation by just two points.
Blackburn Rovers lost as many as five of their first eight Premier League games at the start of the 1995/96 campaign following their title win as they slumped to a 7th place finish by May, but still managed to win their opener against QPR.
The first Premier League champions not to win their opening game of the following campaign was Manchester United in August 1999, three months after completing a treble. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team drew 1-1 Everton, but did go on to set points and goal records that season.
In fact, until Chelsea in 2015/16, United remained the only reigning champions not to win their opening game of the next season after two further draws against Reading and Newcastle 2007/08 and 2008/09 respectively. In both seasons, they retained the title anyway.
Others have come close to slipping up. Chelsea needed a stunning last gasp goal from Hernan Crespo in their opening game of the 2005/06 against newly promoted Wigan, while Manchester City were given a run for their money by newly promoted Southampton as 2012/13 kicked off.
United, too, in 2001/02, as Louis Saha bagged a brace at Old Trafford for newly promoted Fulham in a game that the home team and defending champions edged 3-2.
But what we are seeing now is different. Defending champions actually being unable to win, and actually losing in successive seasons, is so far the anomaly.
But as English football becomes ever more competitive and the game-to-game dominance of the top teams lessens, perhaps it won’t be long before the reigning champions winning as they kick off their defence is the new anomaly instead.
|?Season||Reigning Champions?||Opening Gam?e|
|?1992/93||Leeds United?||Won vs Wimbledon? (2-1)|
|1993/94?||Manchester United?||Won vs Norwich (0-2)?|
|1994/95?||Manchester United?||Won vs QPR (2-0)?|
|1995/96?||Blackburn Rovers?||Won vs QPR (1-0)?|
|1996/97?||Manchester United?||Won vs Wimbledon (0-3)?|
|?1997/98||Manchester United?||Won vs Tottenham (0-2)?|
|1998/99?||Arsenal?||Won vs Nottingham Forest (2-1)?|
|?1999/00||Manchester United?||Drew vs Everton? (1-1)|
|?2000/01||Manchester United?||Won vs Newcastle (2-0)?|
|2001/02?||Manchester United?||Won vs Fulham (3-2)?|
|2002/03?||Arsenal?||Won vs Birmingham (2-0)|
|?2003/04||?Manchester United||?Won vs Bolton (4-0)|
|2004/05?||Arsenal?||Won vs Everton (1-4)?|
|2005/06?||Chelsea?||Won vs Wigan (0-1)?|
|2006/07?||Chelsea?||Won vs Manchester City (3-0)?|
|2007/08?||Manchester United?||Drew vs Reading (0-0)?|
|2008/09?||Manchester United?||Drew vs Newcastle (1-1)?|
|2009/10?||Manchester United?||Won vs Birmingham (1-0)?|
|2010/11?||Chelsea?||Won vs West Brom (6-0)?|
|2011/12?||Manchester United?||Won vs West Brom (1-2)?|
|2012/13?||Manchester City?||Won vs Southampton (3-2)?|
|2013/1?4||Manchester United?||Won vs Swansea (1-4)?|
|?2014/15||Manchester City?||Won vs Newcastle (0-2)?|
|2015/16?||Chelsea?||Drew vs Swansea (2-2)?|
|?2016/17||Leicester City?||Lost vs Hull (2-1)?|
|?2017/18||?Chelsea||?Lost vs Burnley (2-3)|