In recent times mainstream media outlets, generic football converse and even this very blog have undoubtedly focused too heavily on the attractive subject that is ‘the top six’. With the standard model of the top four race being expanded in recent years by the rise of Tottenham and resurgence of Liverpool as a footballing powerhouse. Now though as it looks like Liverpool and Manchester City look set to break away from the rest of the top six , it’s about time that more focus was thrown upon those trying to break their into top echelons of British football.
Though in truth some may question whether there actually are any teams ready to break into the top six, as even after relatively poor seasons (in regard to total premiership points) for those placed in third to sixth, there was still a gap of nine points between Manchester United in sixth and Wolves in seventh. And that was in a season where United famously lost their manager and staggered over the finish line in extremely poor form. Though looking just below the top six it’s evident that are a clutch of sides that at the very least have the potential to puncture the bubble that has become the leading six clubs in English football.
Predictably the first team that falls into category are Everton, who have been threatening to disrupt the status quo in both Liverpool and England during different periods of the modern era. Many will reflect on the David Moyes’ reign which despite it’s bumpy nature did produce fourth and fifth place finishes in the league around a decade ago. Since Moyes’ time at the club Everton have looked to balance a more attractive brand of football with the damning fact that they haven’t won a major trophy in twenty four years. It looked like current boss Marco Silva, just like Ronald Koeman and in some senses Roberto Martinez before him would be seen to be surplus to requirements as he saw his side stutter through the middle parts of last season.
However, a strong finish to their campaign saw Silva’s side keep eight clean sheets in their last eleven league games, beating Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal to nil in the process. A series of results that both rejuvenated the Everton faithful and solidified Silva’s position after he managed to avoid the tail off effect he had experienced at his previous jobs. The signing of Andre Gomes after a successful loan spell will please those in Everton blue as well as the fact the club have linked with former Chelsea stalwart Diego Costa. As despite a more resolute end to the season last term, many on the blue side of Merseyside will surely crave a natural goalscorer to potentially help boost the club to a top six finish. As in reality the likes of Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are currently not of a good enough standard to assist Everton’s possible assault on a top six finish.
If the club can add some firepower to what is a talented midfield, which includes the likes of Richarlision and Gylfi Siggurdson then Everton could be a real force to contend with. As in Goodison Park they have one of the cliched to death ‘toughest places for away teams to go’ and an owner who looks like he may well back a young, ambitious manager. As always though, it will come down to week in and week out consistency, that even teams within the top six found it hard to find last season, so you feel Everton will need to add to their squad if they are to improve their standing in English football as their rivals Liverpool continue to go from strength under Jurgen Klopp.
The next team that many in the media are eyeing to pop the top six bubble are another team in blue, Brendan Rodger’s Leicester side. After controversially persuading Rodgers to leave his job at Celtic in February, the former Liverpool boss started to impose his style of football on his young squad as they managed to pick up 17 points in the ten games under his stewardship including a 3-0 victory over Arsenal. The reason many back Rodgers to do well at Leicester is perhaps due to his renowned ability to work with younger players, which Leicester have plenty of. The likes James Maddison and Harvey Barnes have been joined by the new signings of Ayoze Perez from Newcastle and Youri Tielemans who has already showed his talents to Rodgers during an eye catching loan spell last season.
And you wonder if the spending will stop there for Leicester as they look to fulfil the ambitions of late owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. The likes of Kasper Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy still remain to add key experience to a squad that in terms of quality some might say isn’t too far behind the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea. A full pre-season under Rodgers, who so many forget very nearly won Liverpool the league, could see Leicester become a real force this year. If they can keep the likes of Harry Maguire (which actually looks extremely unlikely) while also adding further to their squad then you can really see Leicester giving at least Unai Emery and Frank Lampard a few headaches.
The next and perhaps final team that some might back to break into the top four is Wolves, who’s first season back in the premiership was an nothing short of a real success story as they finished in seventh place and also reached the FA Cup semi final. Wolves’ excellent record versus the top six under manager Nuno Espirito Santo was well publicised. Though their form often wavered against the lower sides throughout the season meaning that despite having the beating of many of the top six, they couldn’t quite become of them. The permanent signing of Raul Jimenez, who top scored for Wolves last season with seventeen goals, will be music to Wolverhampton based ears, as with him and the likes of Diogo Jota they have plenty of firepower to worry many a premiership defence.
Some may question whether Wolves’ current squad have the ability to improve on their fantastic first season back in the top flight. They not an unknown quantity any more and thus will no longer be underestimated as they perhaps were by some last season. However, if they can repeat their excellent performances versus the top sides and also improve their consistency versus the teams below them then they might have a shot of sneaking into the top six, which really would be an incredible achievement in regard to comparable budgets and squad depth with the teams above them.
Before we finish it’s only right to well mention, a couple of honourable mentions when discussing who could break into the top six anytime soon. A wildcard or two let’s say. The first is Watford, who look like they will hold onto Javi Gracia as boss who guided them to an FA Cup final last term, and depsite a late season blip, a respectable 11th place finish. They possess a good mix of experience and exciting talent in their squad with the likes of both Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu and one of the league’s underrated midfielders in Adboulaye Doucoure. If they hold onto their key players while also being shrewd in the transfer market they could build on their big day out at Wembley a couple months back.
And last but not least in the chasing pack are West Ham who have a few good things in place in order to possibly surprise a few people next season. An excellent manager, a large and passionate fan base that is warming to it’s move to the London Stadium and also a squad that does possess real talent. Declan Rice being a prime example of a player who could really develop next year. The key for The Hammers will be to somehow keep everyone fit as injuries to the likes of Jack Wilshere and Andriy Yarmalenko (and many others) crippled their progress last term. Though they will need to replace the goals and influence of departing Marko Arnautovic if they are to push their way up the table this season.
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