With many of the Premier League’s ‘big clubs’ in disarray, the opportunity for a top six heist has never been greater. Sides who once lingered beneath the mid-table have grown in ambition and want a slice of Europe’s riches for themselves. A pipe dream seasons ago could become a reality for some, as squads improve and momentum continues to build amongst this season’s outsiders.
Beneath Manchester City and Liverpool, who show no signs of letting up their dominance from last season, the top half is set for an all-out scramble. Chelsea and Manchester United’s inexperienced coaches continue to rebuild and experiment tactically, exposing several weaknesses in the process. Tottenham have already been on the receiving end of a home defeat to Newcastle as first-team injury concerns continue to grow. Arsenal look promising with their new signings but show defensive frailties that can and have been exploited. None of these teams are expected to comfortably win against ‘lesser’ sides – they have grown unpredictable and complacent. Whilst they have weakened, others have strengthened.
The Premier League’s mid-table contingent is not what is used to be. One by one, clubs are breaking free from the chains of cynical English management and look to build sustainable long-term projects. Many of these sides are now led by coaches and scouts with Champions League experience on their CVs and have attracted big-money signings capable of playing to such a calibre. James Maddison, Ruben Neves and Sebastien Haller are just a few examples of top European talents who have slipped through the grasp of the ‘bigger’ clubs. You can realistically argue that Leicester City’s squad is better than Chelsea’s or compare the managerial prowess of West Ham’s Manuel Pellegrini and Arsenal’s Unai Emery – this could never have been the case a decade ago.
This season, I believe four outfits to be more than capable of breaking the sixth-place barrier: Leicester, Everton, Wolves and West Ham. They all have the managerial quality and squad depth to boot and can play their own tactics with confidence against top sides. Though only time will tell if any of these sides can capitalise on other’s misfortunes and reap the rewards of a European tour, it has become apparent that there is no bigger opportunity to do so.