The start of Chelsea this season has been astonishing for pundits and fans alike, with the champions looking like they could record their lowest ever finish during the Roman Abramovich era. The Blues are currently in 15th position and no team has ever come from their position to finish in the top six, which has left a gap open, with a number of teams eyeing fourth place and the coveted prize of Champions League football. The main contenders have to be Liverpool and Tottenham, who have been chasing the top four for the last decade, with little success. Both clubs have played in the Champions League in recent seasons, but neither have established themselves in the competition. Meanwhile Everton and the surprise package of the season, Leicester are also contenders for the final Champions League place.
Liverpool are becoming the frontrunners for the top four, with two spectacular away wins against Chelsea and Manchester City. The appointment of Jurgen Klopp could turn out to be a masterstroke as a top class coach can be the difference at the top level. That is evident even at the largest sides in the world with Barcelona struggling to match the success they enjoyed under Pep Guardiola until last season. Liverpool are slowly beginning to improve under Klopp and with time, he could turn them into a machine, like he did with Dortmund, employing a high pressing game with a dynamic attacking line up. Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho could form a devastating partnership with Daniel Sturridge if they manage to get the English forward fit.
Meanwhile Spurs have started the season well and have only lost once this season, which came on the opening day against Manchester United. The signing of Toby Alderweireld has given the side more quality at the back, as they struggled to keep clean sheets last season. Meanwhile the continued faith that Pochettino puts in his young players has allowed Spurs to progress despite significant injury problems at times. Dele Alli wasn’t expected to play a huge role this season, but he is becoming an important player for both club and country. The main worry for Spurs will be their recent history of getting close to the top four and falling away at the last moment.
Everton have been a solid Premier League club for over a decade now and have always been capable of challenging in the top seven. The limited finances has prevented them from joining Tottenham and Liverpool as regular challengers for the top four, but they have put together a very good side, which will challenge without the burden of Europa League football this season. Ross Barkley and Romulu Lukaku are without doubt, the stars of Roberto Martinez’s side, with both starting the season in devastating form. They have 14 goals between them this season in the league and have helped the club to 7th in the league. If they are still in touching distance in March, they could provide a shock this season.
Although Chelsea starting the season in poor form has taken the headlines of the season so far, the unbelievable rise of Leicester City hasn’t been far behind. They have shocked everyone and are currently leading the division in November, which is a great achievement in the modern game. They have a good side, with some very good players, but the reason for their success has been their hard working style of play. Each player puts everything into each match and that mentality has seen them take an extraordinary amount of points from losing positions. They have a difficult run of matches ahead of them, but if they remain in the top four until the new year, the confidence at the club could be enough to see them put in a considerable challenge for Champions League football, especially if Jamie Vardy continues to score goals consistently.
The race for the top four will be the most exciting for years, especially for the neutrals if Leicester City remain in the upper echelons of the division. I think Liverpool have to be considered favourites given their squad, manager and ability to bring in players to suit Klopp’s system in January. Tottenham will also see this year as a great opportunity, but they have looked too reliant on Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane at times. They need to strengthen in January in the attacking areas. As for Everton and Leicester, I expect both to finish highly in the league, but they might lack the squad depth to challenge for the top four, especially over the winter period.