Portuguese managers can hijack the top 6 in the English Premier League
The “Big Six” in England is very well defined, a somewhat indisputable group of clubs that are generally a level above the chasing pack.
It’s the same in many countries; in Portugal, you have, traditionally, Os Tres Grandes - The Big Three - though you could increase that to four to include Braga in the modern game. In Spain, you have Barcelona, Real Madrid and, today, Atletico Madrid who constitute the top 3. In Germany, you know before the season begins that one of Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund are almost certain to lift the biggest domestic prize. And the list goes on.
But could this season be one of those where we see significant disruption at the top end of the table? It certainly looks like it.
That’s also the opinion of the esteemed Ian Darke, who said to ESPN: “I think what’s interesting this season is you could see maybe a Wolves or a Leicester City or an Everton maybe looking to gatecrash that top 6 if Arsenal and Manchester United don’t strengthen enough.”
And it’s not unheard of, of course. In the past, the rule of established hierarchy has certainly proved fallible, examples from the past decade or so showing that it is more than possible to break into that illustrious bracket amongst the top teams in the country and upset the established apple cart. Staying there upon subsequent seasons, though, is another matter.
But in 2016, for example, just a matter of four seasons ago, Chelsea finished the season in 10th having won the Premier League title just the year before, while in that same season, Liverpool only managed to secure an 8th place finish. It meant that not only one, but two teams that you wouldn’t ordinarily anticipate to be in the top 6 managed to ultimately break in.
That season was a particular anomaly though - Southampton did a marvellous job to secure a 6th place finish but that was, of course, completely overshadowed by the surreal achievements of Leicester City, who not only broke into the top 4 and secured Champions League football, but actually lifted the Premier League title. To this day, an achievement many still struggle to comprehend.
That is the only campaign in the last 5 seasons, though, that the top 6 have been disrupted. Since then, all of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United have always occupied positions 1 to 6 in one order or another, appearing to slowly edge away from the rest of the pack and consolidate their status as the undisputed best.
It also further reinforces the idea that maintaining occupancy of a place in the top 6 upon subsequent season is near-on impossible; breaking into the top 6 is doable, but staying there for consecutive seasons is almost unheard of in the last decade or so. Even Leicester, who won the league, couldn’t follow it up by maintaining a spot in the top six.
Nevertheless, both Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves and Marco Silva’s Everton have a realistic chance of cracking into the top 6 this season, with both managers boasting impressive squads with a great wealth of talent - and those above them beginning to look a little shaky.
Chelsea, for example, are set to appoint a highly inexperienced manager as the successor to Mauricio Sarri, and face a transfer ban, preventing them from being able to strengthen their squad for the new campaign. When all the clubs in the Premier League have significant funding to strengthen, that could leave Chelsea vulnerable of slipping out of the top 4 - and the top 6 altogether.
And what about Manchester United? With an inexperienced manager of their own, their squad is looking less than impressive, and despite strengthening with a couple of additions this season, is that really enough to propel them further away from those below them?
And then there’s Arsenal. Yet to do significant business this window, reports are that their transfer budget currently sits at approximately 50 million euros (excluding money brought in from player sales). Having already lost Aaron Ramsey on a free transfer and having ended the season so poorly in his absence, they could very feasibly end up getting caught this season.
Wolves, it should be said, haven’t strengthened significantly themselves this summer - though a wise man once said that one of the most important factors of a transfer window isn’t who you bring in - its who you manage to keep. And Wolves have only really made one significant sale this window - Helder Costa to Leeds United.
It means they have managed to keep hold of all their key players, such as Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota, Joao Moutinho, Rui Patricio - and have brought in both Raul Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker on permanent deals.
Everton are in a very similar position; they haven’t yet completed the signing of any new standout player, and have instead brought in Andre Gomes on a permanent deal from Barcelona - but that’s terrific business from Everton, who are ultimately strengthening by staying the same. Mourinho would be proud.
All it takes is one of those big six to have a slightly underwhelming season, and one of Everton or Wolves to have a slightly better season than last time around, for that top 6 to be broken into.
That much is doable. If they succeed, though, the big question is if they can go one further and do what no other side has been able to do - repeat it the following season.