A closed shop in the Premier League?
With the Premier League now widely considered the best domestic football competition in the world, the expectation levels have continued to expand and competition for places in the division are stronger than ever. A now extinct chasm between the top 4 teams and the remaining stragglers was once so prevalent that it was thought to have removed a percentage of the leagues dramatic excitement. With Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea dominating the Champions League positions for a period, other clubs considered breaking into the quartet a feat of extraordinary distinction.
Fast forward to 2012 and the clubs challenging for the summit of the table have now doubled, with eight teams seemingly cementing themselves as the best that England has to offer. Along with the aforementioned top 4, current Champions Manchester City have erupting bags of moola that they can spend on whomever they wish. Tottenham have announced themselves as genuine contenders and another 4th placed position last season seems to have clarified their qualities. Under David Moyes, Everton have transformed from a team staving off relegation to finishing within the top eight positions in the Premier League for six consecutive seasons. Newcastle are the newest addition to the elite pack but are an attractive package to any world class player who they choose to add to their already impressive squad. A glance at last seasons table indicates that Fulham were the only team within touching distance of these eight contenders. However, with the amount of interior transition and expenditure at the elite clubs this summer, could the remaining twelve Premier League participants ever be able to catch up without serious investment or serious luck?
Assuming that both Manchester clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea have the finances and squad ability to never drop out of the higher positions, the only teams that could feasibly be caught and have to bow out of the leagues upper echelons are Liverpool, Newcastle, Tottenham and Everton.
Liverpool had the least successful season of the eight contenders last time out. A beloved manager under-performing and a refurbished squad that had yet to develop left the Reds in dire straits. With a new manager and investment almost certain, the club looks more likely than ever to push on and ascertain a league position that is far more recognisable to the Anfield faithful.
Alan Pardew and his Newcastle squad have a difficult task ahead of them in trying to improve on their 5th placed finished last term. However, with a French revolution exciting punters on Tyneside, an improved squad looks likely and a similar league position next season shouldn’t be unexpected.
Tottenham’s future has a distressing unknown quantity to it. Although the departure of Redknapp was lauded by some fans, their is no question that the former West Ham player had an excellent tenure at White Hart Lane. With untested transition ahead and rumours of a mass exodus of the clubs top players, achieving a top 4 position may be slightly out of their reach. However, it would be one of the more surprising moments in Premier League history should the club finish outside the top eight.
If asked to select a team that is in the most danger of sliding away from the elite contenders group, most would say Everton. Squad investment is few and far between at Goodison and “a shoestring budget” may once again be the dreaded words that ring in David Moyes’ ears throughout the summer. However, the clubs track record in recent seasons is nothing short of incredible and the capture of out and out goalscorer Nikica Jelavic was one of Moyes’ most astute moves as Toffees boss to date, so expect a similar, dogged and possibly rewarding season for Everton in 2012/13.
Recapping the status’ of the top eight teams in the Premier League breeds little hope into the chasing pack, who are so desperate to prevent an unbridgeable gap between contenders and also-rans. A glance at the clubs hoping to break the fast cementing octad of clubs at the leagues preferable end, may indicate who can make a genuine attempt at closing down the exclusive eight.
Fulham surprisingly impressive 9th placed finish last term may give the club some positivity entering into a new season. However, with star man Clint Dempsey (often bailing the club out of trouble single handedly) in high demand, the Cottagers would need to reinvest in a quality striker if they are to improve on their previous term.
Under Martin O’Neill, Sunderland could be the team most likely to improve next season. With money to spend and a coach who is admired by many professionals, the Black Cats could make a real attempt at shifting themselves up the table. However, their current squad is depleted in some key areas so investment will be key this summer.
Stoke have now firmly cemented themselves in the Premier League after dodging the second and third season syndrome cases that affect so many newly promoted sides. Now entering their fifth season in the top flight, the Potters have tasted European football after a reasonably successful run in the Europa League last term. With no games on the continent next season, Tony Pulis can concentrate his squad fully on the domestic competitions, especially the Premier League. With Peter Crouch leading their team and back line to scare off even the burliest of opposition strikers, Stoke may be able to challenge for a top eight position next season.
With clubs such as Aston Villa, West Brom, Norwich, QPR and Swansea all entering periods of transition, a challenge for the top eight may be a step to far. However, with such a fluctuating season in terms of results last season, the leagues predictability is now more puzzling then ever before. Who is to say that the three new entrants to the division can not make a fearless attempt at a position in the top eight? You only have to look at clubs like Ipswich and Wigan who achieved top half finishes in their first full seasons in the Premiership recently, to know that a first season flourish is not impossible. However, what has to be conceded is that for any team to remove the increasing gap in quality between the top eight and the chasing twelve, investment may have to be boundless and prosperity may need to be immeasurable.
Do you think your club can make a case for a top 8 position? Have your say and tweet me @mattpegg1