Sport

Can anyone break into the top six?

Normally, the football pieces I write are centred around Chelsea. That’s the team I support, that’s who I focus on. However, the weekend’s results threw up an interesting question. Can any of the mid-table teams break into the top six this season? Despite the money that has come into the Premier League for all sides with the mega TV deals and the simple fact that you cannot dismiss any Premier League side from the top of the table to the bottom. It’s been proven time and time again that the smaller teams can beat the heavyweights of the league. Norwich proved that last weekend. And at the start of the season many fans and pundits alike were wondering if this would be the season that finally saw the established top order of English football disturbed.

Many were tipping three teams to make serious charges for a top six finish this season; Leicester City, Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers. And so far only one of those three have looked like they genuinely will challenge for that top six spot. Leicester drew with Chelsea away and beat Tottenham at home on Saturday. Their style of football under Brendan Rodgers has developed since he took over. They are now a tight compact side at the back with good creative players who can trouble defences and a striker in good form, who are very quick on the counter attack. If they can continue their early season form and if Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United continue to struggle, the Foxes could be in prime position to stake their claim for European football next season. The likes of James Maddison, Ricardo Pereira and Jamie Vardy will be crucial for them. If Leicester’s key players can remain injury free and in form, Leicester could seriously upset the upper echelons of English football. Not quite as dramatically as they did before, but it would certainly be a great achievement for Brendan Rodgers and his players.

Everton have really struggled this season. Defeats away to Aston Villa and Bournemouth were compounded on Saturday with their 2-0 defeat to Sheffield United. And Marco Silva cannot blame a lack of investment for his struggles at Goodison Park. Alex Iwobi, Moise Kean, Fabian Delph, Jean-Phillipe Gbamin, Djibril Sidibé and Jonas Lössl all arrived this summer, with Andre Gomes being signed on a permanent deal from Barcelona as well. Silva has to get those players working for him and for the team or they are going to be in serious trouble. In my opinion, they didn’t work hard enough to bring in a centre-back to replace Kurt Zouma. Zouma was always going to go back to Chelsea with the transfer ban, and it was an area where Everton would struggle for cover unless they brought someone in to fill the void. Sidibé has made one appearance all season so far so either Silva has no faith in him or wants to give him a little bit of time to settle into the Premier League. But on current form, their struggles away from home, and in both creating and taking goal scoring chances, Everton are not going to finish in the top six this season. And that may cost Marco Silva his job.

Wolves have suffered from entering the Europa League in an early qualifying round. Already they’ve played close to 15 competitive games this season. Comparatively, Chelsea have played eight. To me, Nuno Espirito Santo has been one of the most impressive managers working in English football over the last three seasons. Not only to take Wolves back into the Premier League playing the way they did, with fantastic attacking, free-flowing football, but to then pose the same threat to established Premier League sides and finish in the top seven. I think Wolves would be mad to get rid of him at this season. Sean Dyche kept his job when Burnley were relegated and took them back up and helped establish them as a Premier League side. I have no doubt Nuno would do the same. Their poor start will have cost them a top six finish, in my opinion, but they are certainly not a side to be underestimated.

I also think West Ham could sneak under a lot of people’s radar this season. Pellegrini has also been allowed to spend money and bring players in to improve the squad. They also look far more settled than any other recent West Ham side, certainly since they moved to the London Stadium. They’ve started the season well and beat Manchester United yesterday. I would watch out for the Iron.

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