Could a team break the hold of the ‘big six’ on the top end of the Premier League table this season?
The past three seasons have seen Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham lock out the top six places.
However, there is a group of clubs aiming to break into that elite bracket – and this could be the season they do just that.
Here, we take a look at their chances – and ask you to vote on who you think could do it…
Best of the rest last time around, Wolves had a superb first season back in the top flight, ultimately finishing seventh, one place and nine points behind Manchester United, after taking a pile of points off the big six.
That earned them a place in the Europa League – but will it be a mixed blessing? Wolves’ season is already underway as they bid for a place in the group stages, where, should they make it, the tough Thursday-Sunday schedule awaits.
It could be a fun adventure for the club and its fans – who have already enjoyed a Premier League Asia Trophy triumph with wins over Newcastle and Manchester City – but the Europa League also has the potential to take its toll on Wolves’ Premier League ambitions.
Last season’s loanees Leander Dendoncker and Raul Jiminez have completed permanent deals, while Spanish U21 Euros winner Jesus Vallejo has joined on a season-long deal from Real Madrid to bolster the defence, and Patrick Cutrone adds to Wolves’ attacking threat. But will that be enough to stave off ‘second-season syndrome’ and maintain their challenge of the established elite?
Everton have spent the past five seasons out of the top six – could 2019/20 be the season they return? That’s the target for boss Marco Silva as he begins his second full campaign in charge – and with the Portuguese now shaping his squad to his liking, he’ll be confident of being in the mix.
Silva came in for heavy criticism during his first season, as a wretched run from early December to late February left Everton in the bottom half with seven games to play. However, a strong finish saw the team finally begin to click and they’ll hope to take that momentum into the new campaign.
With Idrissa Gueye sold and Kurt Zouma returning to Chelsea, there are key players to replace but Everton seem set for a busy end to the transfer window. They have already added Andre Gomes, Jonas Lossl and Fabian Delph to their ranks but a big-money pursuit of Wilfried Zaha looks likely to continue, while Juventus’ Moise Kean is on the brink of joining.
Brendan Rodgers has stated his “great challenge” at Leicester is to steer the 2015/16 Premier League champions into the top six and there is a growing feeling his coaching ability, combined with the quality in the Foxes’ squad, could see that ambition achieved this season.
A woeful winter run, in which Leicester won just three of their 13 Premier League games from December 5, did for Claude Puel and their chances in 2018/19, but the identity of the opposition in the three wins was telling: Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton.
Those victories underlined the talent at Rodgers’ disposal. With young players improving and the summer signings of Ayoze Perez and Youri Tielemans, who impressed last season after joining on loan in January, the group has strengthened, too. They will now need to build on a full pre-season under Rodgers and find the consistency required to unseat one of the big boys.
Their cause could be scuppered, though, should key defender Harry Maguire depart for Manchester United. Should his sale go through, Leicester will have to act quickly to find a capable replacement or the pressure will be on Jonny Evans and Wes Morgan at the back.
Is Manuel Pellegrini building a squad at West Ham capable of causing a shock and breaking into the Premier League top six?
It’s a tall order but the London side have put together a group of talented midfielders – with Pablo Fornals the latest addition – and will hope club-record signing Sebastien Haller can capitalise on that creativity.