The gap between the top two and the rest of the top six in the Premier League ended up being on paper much, much larger than the gap between the rest of the top six and the rest of the Premier League. As such, Chelsea, Man United, Arsenal and Spurs (albeit to a lesser extent) have a lot of work to do this summer if they’re to bridge what appears to be an insurmountable gap. And whilst the transfer window is nowhere near closed, it’s worth already asking the question, can any of these clubs come close to penetrating the top two next season?
The best place to start here is with the top two themselves, and ask the question of whether there’s likely to be a serious regression to the mean. In terms of Manchester City, I think we can safely argue that that’s simply not going to happen as they followed up a 100 point season with a 98 point season last time out.
As for Liverpool, I don’t see any reason to suggest they will struggle. Even though they need less signings and are expected to buy less than the teams below them, it’s still more likely than not that they improve their squad over the course of the window from a position of strength.
More to the point with Liverpool, they’re in a position where as a Liverpool fan, I can write articles like this one, basically saying I don’t care about the transfer window.
In any case, it’s going to take a serious improvement for one of the teams below Man City and Liverpool to break into their mini-cluster at the top. And the team that appear best placed to do so are Spurs. It’s perhaps too early to tell exactly how much Spurs will strengthen in the window, but the early signs are that they’ll strengthen a lot, with the added bonus of no world cup to weight them down, and it is clear that of the teams in the chasing pack, they actually have the least strengthening to do.
One team who may not even be able to strengthen in this window are the team that are on paper the closest to Liverpool and Man City already, Chelsea. Their whole summer has the black cloud of a summer transfer ban hanging over them, as they are yet to ask for it to be postponed as they appeal the two window ban. When you throw in the fact they have a couple of serious injuries to young players, Hazard is leaving and Lampard is an inexperienced gamble, there’s a lot that could go wrong for Chelsea next season, and they look like a club more likely to go backwards than forwards.
And speaking of teams going backwards, it remains to be seen whether Manchester United can arrest their slide by giving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer £250m and begging elite players to come and fix them. Even if they do spend a lot of money on talent, they still have a lot of work to do to fit together into a cohesive unit.
And then there’s Arsenal. Oh boy. Unai Emery is a decent manager, but he’s also arguably the manager that you least want out of all of the top six clubs. This Arsenal team need essentially an entirely new back four, at least one central midfielder, probably two wingers and if we’re being brutally honest a goalkeeper, but by the same token, they are a club that don’t have the pull to navigate the market anymore.
Well, I’d still be looking at Liverpool and City as the top two. I’m not sure yet if Liverpool are as well positioned to make another title challenge like last year, but then I didn’t think we’d be quite there yet at the start of last season, and we all know how that ended up.
Spurs remain for me the outright third best team in the country and either Chelsea or Man United could easily take the 4th spot in the league or even do what Chelsea did this season and finish 3rd or they could implode and finish 7th or 8th. And then there’s Arsenal, who I think is most likely to finish 5th, since I don’t think both Chelsea and United will be awful. The problem for Arsenal, as I’ve alluded to, isn’t that I think they’ll implode, but rather that they have a chance of finishing 4th, but almost a zero chance of finishing higher.
So yeah, that’s my overall prediction for how the top six are shaking up, and whether anyone has a decent shot at breaking Liverpool and City’s stranglehold on the league. In a word: no.