With every new season, the soccer pundits are asked whether any of the “also ran” teams in the English Premier League can break into the top spots and dislodge the Big Six teams that have dominated for so long.
Such questions are usually met with cautious optimism. You never know with Leicester or Wolverhampton look like they can beat anyone on their day. But still, you never really believe it. Usually, for these teams, it amounts to the race to finish seventh. Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal assume their accustomed spots, and it is only the order in which they do so that is open to question.
United’s fall and other horror stories
The Premier League season is still less than a quarter done, and there is time for the natural order of things to return. But there has never been such an unusual start to a campaign, and so many opportunities for Premier League bit-players to star. It’s a nightmare for the bookmakers and pundits who write betting guides and try to make expert predictions as to what will happen next. But from a spectating perspective, the season has been nothing short of spellbinding so far.
Manchester United’s lurch from one disaster to another has been the biggest headline. This time last year, the team was teetering on the edge of the top six and Jose Mourinho had one foot out of the door. Nobody could have predicted that 12 months later the team would be only two points clear of the relegation zone.
It’s only United’s dire displays that have kept the spotlight off Tottenham and Arsenal. Last year’s nomads now have their new home, yet they look anything but settled and find themselves keeping United company in the bottom half, having won just three of their first nine games. The Gunners are only maintaining a top six spot by default, and were recently stunned at the hands of Premier League new boys Sheffield United.
Liverpool and City have quietly resumed hostilities where they left off last year, but below them it is another story and there’s a real possibility of some new names qualifying for the Champions League and Europa League. Those earlier words about Leicester have proved prophetic and European qualification is theirs to lose.
Bournemouth had a stellar start to the season but need to rekindle that magic quickly. Somehow, they are still within a point of the top six despite not having won a game since their first ever victory over Southampton back on 20 September.
The biggest opportunists, however, have proved to be Sheffield United. In most assessments of this year’s promoted teams, the Blades were seen as the most likely candidates to go straight back down. That win over Arsenal was no fluke and every game they have played has been tightly fought. Chris Wilder is a results-oriented taskmaster, and his no-nonsense approach seems to be working wonders. While the big names continue to self-destruct, the top half of the Premier League is in safe hands, so long may the surprises continue.