Aston Villa are flying right now with back-to-back wins over Manchester City and Arsenal having lifted Unai Emery’s team up to third.
Villa are being championed as potential title challengers after a brilliant start to the season, the club’s best start to a campaign since last winning the title in 1981.
The Villans last competed in the European Cup in 1982/83, but look well placed to secure a return to Europe’s top table, amid a run of form that has included 15 consecutive home wins in the Premier League.
Breaking up the established elite has been challenging in the Premier League, but several sides have upset the status quo previously. We’ve looked at every non-Big Six team to play Champions League football.
Every non-Big Six team to secure Champions League football:
Blackburn Rovers – 1995/96
Blackburn Rovers secured Champions League qualification after winning the Premier League title in 1994/95. The big-spending regime of local businessman Jack Walker transformed Rovers into one of the Premier League’s best teams, with the goals of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton firing Blackburn to a first top-flight title in 81 years.
Just one English team earned entry to the Champions League at that time, with Blackburn taking their place in the competition in 1995/96. Ray Harford had replaced title-winning manager Kenny Dalglish after the latter’s step into the boardroom, but endured a difficult tenure. Blackburn finished seventh in the Premier League in a disappointing defence of the title, and fared little better in Europe.
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) December 5, 2017
Blackburn won just once and were eliminated after finishing bottom of a group containing Spartak Moscow, Legia Warsaw and Rosenborg. Mike Newell hit a nine-minute hat-trick in the club’s sole win over Rosenborg, the first by an English player in the Champions League era.
Newcastle United – 1996/97, 2002/03, and 2023/24
Newcastle have reached the promised land of the Champions League on three occasions, earning entry through their Premier League finishes in 1995/96, 2001/02 and 2022/23.
The first of those saw the Magpies finish as runners-up in a thrilling title race with Manchester United, as Kevin Keegan’s side squandered a 12-point lead to miss out on the title.
The club’s first venture into the Champions League saw Newcastle eliminated in the group stage, though Faustino Aspilla scored a memorable hat-trick in a famous win over Barcelona at St James’ Park.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) September 17, 2020
Newcastle returned to the Champions League in 2002/03, having finished fourth in the Premier League the previous season. Sir Bobby Robson’s side made history in Europe, after becoming the first team to progress from the group stage after losing their first three matches.
Newcastle exited the tournament in the now defunct second group stage, finishing third in a tough pool that included Barcelona, Inter Milan, and the previous season’s finalists, Bayer Leverkusen.
After two decades away, Newcastle earned a return to the Champions League last season after finishing fourth in the Premier League.
Leeds United – 1992/93 and 2000/01
Leeds featured in the first edition of the rebranded Champions League in 1992/93, having been crowned champions in England the previous season.
Howard Wilkinson’s side exited the competition in the second round, however, after losing 4-2 on aggregate to Rangers in a Battle of Britain clash.
Leeds returned to the Champions League in 2000/01 and fared better, embarking on a remarkable run to the semi-finals.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) April 4, 2021
David O’Leary’s exciting young side, who had reached the UEFA Cup’s final four the previous season, secured famous wins over AC Milan, Lazio and Deportivo La Coruna on route to the semi-final.
Their run came to an end against Valencia, who progressed to an all-Spanish final against Real Madrid.
Everton – 2004/05
Everton qualified for the Champions League after a top-four finish under David Moyes in 2004/05. The Toffees edged out rivals Liverpool to earn a place in the competition, though Liverpool’s victory in the Champions League saw UEFA award them special dispensation to defend their title from the first qualifying round.
Everton entered the competition in the third qualifying round, but were handed a tough test against Spanish side Villarreal. The Blues lost the home leg 2-1 at Goodison Park, before falling behind to Juan Pablo Sorin’s effort in the return.
Needing two goals to progress, Mikel Arteta scored a free-kick to hand Everton a lifeline. Duncan Ferguson looked to have sent Everton into the group stage after heading in late on, but referee Pierlugi Collina disallowed the Scot’s strike.
Diego Forlan’s stoppage-time goal sealed the win for Villarreal, who went on to reach the semi-finals. Everton, meanwhile, dropped into the UEFA Cup.
Leicester City – 2016/17
Leicester City’s Premier League title win is etched into football history, as the Foxes pulled off one of sport’s greatest ever shocks to be crowned champions of England for the first time.
Leicester earned a place in the Champions League as a result and impressed in their first campaign among Europe’s elite. The Foxes progressed from the group stage as winners, ahead of FC Porto, Club Brugge and Copenhagen, before beating Sevilla after a second-leg turnaround to reach the quarter-finals.
Leicester’s run came to an end against Spanish opposition in the last eight, as Atletico Madrid secured a 2-1 aggregate win.