Just below the top six, there’s usually a Premier League second tier – a bunch of clubs who can challenge those above them from time to time, and perhaps make it through to challenge the big boys.
Lately that’s not been the case, but go back a decade or so and you’ll find the likes of Everton and Aston Villa challenging for fourth place and a Champions League spot. A few years earlier, Newcastle United made it into the top European competition on a reasonably regular basis.
These days, upheaval thanks to massive TV rights deals and the more general inflation in football means that there are no challengers as everything is up in the air: like a pint of Guinness with its settled head, the bulk of the liquid below is swirling around and yet to settle.
At some point it will. And when it does, Everton, Newcastle and West Ham will hope to be battling it out in those spots just below, hoping that a great season could see them upend one of the big boys in the top six.
Each of these clubs share something in common. They are traditionally big Premier League sides, though in terms of trophies won Everton are by far the biggest. They are also all clubs who can boast big stadiums with big crowds: and whilst Newcastle and West Ham have the biggest grounds of the three, the Toffees have made moving to a new home a priority. In the coming years these clubs will be doing much of the same things.
This summer it appears they’re doing the same things as well.
The link is Sporting CP, the Portuguese giants whose season ended so ignominiously that it’s hard to see where they go from here. The most glaring example is the situation of goalkeeper Rui Patricio, who could be on the verge of joining Wolves this summer after asking to be released from his contract at the club. The Portugal number one has only ever played for Sporting, having joined the club as a 12-year-old in 2000, but an incident where the club’s fans stormed the training ground, physically and verbally abusing the players, has forced his hand and he wants out. That’s how far the problems run at that club.
As a result, players are being rumoured around to other clubs. Both West Ham and Everton have been linked with William Carvalho another of Sporting’s big-name talents – the Hammers back last summer (and again in December when there was supposedly a cooling of relations between Sporting and West Ham) and the Toffees this time around. Both could be doing with an energetic and technical midfielder.
Indeed, Everton and Newcastle have been linked with Bas Dost, too. Another of Sporting’s players who was caught up in the issues the club have had with their board and their fans towards the end of the season.
Newcastle are certainly in need of a striker, and Dost has been linked before. The fact there are troubles at Sporting makes it unsurprising he’d be linked again, and especially if he’s available for cheap – or even for free.
Yet another name popping up is Gelson Martins, with Everton allegedly interested this time. Perhaps that has to do with their new Portuguese coach Marco Silva, but more likely than not it’s because the media envisage a fire sale at Sporting. And if Everton, Newcastle or West Ham are interested in a certain calibre of player, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the other two linked as well.
The names are popping up because they make sense in the positions that each of these three Premier League clubs need this summer, but perhaps there’s more to it than that. Maybe this is just the start of a battle for supremacy between these three over the next few years – a battle to finally create an upper-midtable hierarchy in the league table instead of the congealed mess the bottom 13 became last season.
The top six appears to be nigh-on impenetrable, but ‘best of the rest’ status shouldn’t feel beyond any of these sides plus Leicester and Southampton, who will also have designs on that status in the coming season.
More importantly, though, West Ham, Everton and Newcastle now appear to be tracking each other. You get the feeling that will only become more pronounced in the coming years as a new battle for status emerges.