The changing of the guard – Can we still call them the ‘Big 6’?

In terms of footballing quality, people’s answer to the question “What is the best league in the world?” is simply a matter of opinion, given the strength of clubs such as Bayern Munich, PSG, Real Madrid and Juventus. However, it is widely accepted that English football hosts the most competitive top division league in the world, with five different sides winning the coveted English Premier League (PL) trophy in the last eight seasons – a feat that the other four biggest European leagues cannot boast. 

Since the turn of the 21st century, we have seen the “Big Four” (Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea) welcome Manchester City & Tottenham Hotspur into English football’s collection of dominant forces, which has now become known as the “Big Six”. In terms of trophy collection, Manchester United and Chelsea have been the most successful over the past 20 years, with both sides winning every trophy on offer, including the Champions League and Europa League. Manchester City have arguably been the strongest team over the last decade, winning four of the last ten PL trophies on offer. However, the money fuelled club are still awaiting their turn to get their hands on European football’s biggest prize – The Champions League. 

Liverpool took 30 years to lift a long overdue Premier League trophy, but currently look like the league’s strongest outfit after cruising to the title in the 2019/20 season, just one year after winning the Champions League against Tottenham, who are knocking on the door of their first trophy since 2008. Arsenal started the century by impressively completing a whole domestic league season unbeaten in 2004, which is yet to be replicated, but they have since been on a steady decline and finished lowest in the league table out of the six aforementioned sides in the most recent campaign. 

We have written an article detailing the battle between Liverpool and Manchester City (which you can read here), so, with the 2020/21 Premier league season underway, we made some predictions on how the rest of the chasing pack might fare over the next 9 months,and whether there are other teams to take into consideration. 

Manchester United FC

Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side endured a turbulent season in the 2019/20 campaign, despite finishing third in the Premier League. A club of Manchester United’s size should have regained their winning formula by now, given the all-powerful Sir Alex Ferguson left seven years ago. However, despite spending heavily in the transfer market, they are still a long way off challenging Manchester City and Liverpool for the Premier League – a competition they have won 13 times (more than any other side). Ole has had a season and a half with the club, and after spending around £200m last season on Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James and Bruno Fernandes, he is now under pressure this season to perform. 

A club of this size should be competing for the league title, given the money spent. This summer has seen Donny Van De Beek become the latest Red Devil, for a £35m fee. A young, versatile player with champions league experience will only help bolster a midfield already full of quality. However, a title challenging team needs a strong defensive midfielder, and an aging Nejmanja Matić is not the same player he once was a Chelsea, which points to a hole in their quest for domestic glory. Alongside a defensive midfielder, United are short of a world-class centre back, who could partner Harry Maguire and bring the best out of the 27-year-old. Most PL winning teams have two centre backs that bring the best out of each other, and Victor Lindelof hasn’t shown that he can partner Maguire in that respect. 

Gary Neville ends day laughing at Liverpool after slamming Manchester  United's 'pathetic, spiritless and spineless' display against Tottenham

While the signing of Alex Telles at Left-back is strong, one of the biggest transfer sagas of the summer has come from Germany, with United failing (at this moment) to land the young England superstar – Jadon Sancho. Their pursuit of the €120m winger has been unsuccessful to date and means they are starting the season with limited squad depth in the attacking department. When fit, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial can rip through any defence and show the clinical levels that Manchester United fans have come to expect from their strikers. However, to rely solely on those three for the whole season will be a difficult task, given it is likely at least one will have an injury or find themselves out of form. They’ve managed to sign the ageing striker – Edinson Cavani – as a free agent, which will certainly add some quality and experience to the United front line. He is very much a hit or miss signing, but one that was necessary given the lack of available options for Ole. 

For Ole to compete with the likes of Liverpool and City, he will need his new signings to hit the ground running, along with his team needing to find some level of consistency. Their first game saw them lose 1-3 to Crystal Palace at home, which already shows the deficiencies in the squad. A late winner against Brighton gave United three precious points in their second game, but the performance was lacklustre and the Seagulls were unlucky not to walk away with at least a point. Hours before Liverpool were torn apart by Aston Villa, United suffered a heavy defeat to the hands of one of their top four rivals – Spurs. Losing 1-6 at home to a rival is tough to take, but the manner of the performance will disappoint United fans the most, with most of the players putting in sub-par performances. A defence that has been heavily invested into has fallen short at the start of this season, with Harry Maguire struggling in a back-four formation. Whether the £80m price tag is justified or not, it’s clear he plays better in a formation with three centre-backs, just as he did for Leicester and England. Could this be an option for Ole if results don’t improve?

Chelsea FC

The summer of 2019 saw one of Chelsea’s greatest ever players become manager, five years after leaving the club as a player. Frank Lampard had to say goodbye to one of the best Premier League players of the decade in Eden Hazard, who lit up the premier league and drove the club to multiple PL titles, along with other domestic and European trophies. Losing Hazard, along with a transfer ban, meant Lampard had to use the squad he was given for the 2019/20 season, which saw him promote exciting youth prospects into first team regulars. Given the circumstances, he had a successful first season with Chelsea, achieving his target of finishing in the top 4, whilst also reaching an FA cup final when the majority of football fans and pundits wrote him off at the start of the season. 

Now, after spending over £200m in this summer transfer window, he is under more pressure to compete. It would be unfair to task him with winning the league, given it took Klopp 4 years to turn Liverpool into champions, but they need to be more competitive. The signings of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell, Thiago Silva and Eduoard Mendy are set to completely refresh the Chelsea squad, which is already full of quality. It is now a case of settling the players into the team, which may take some time given some have had to quarantine or are out injured, whilst coming from different leagues. Since the 2014/15 season, where Chelsea signed Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa and stormed to the PL title, Chelsea have struggled to get their moneys worth in the transfer market. However, alongside the previously mentioned 2020 signings, their most recent signings in Christian Pulisic and Mateo Kovacic would suggest they are back to their efficient best behind the scenes. This season, they need to show it on the pitch. 

A mediocre display at Brighton in their first game resulted in a 1-3 victory, and whilst they weren’t at their scintillating best, top teams find a way to win ugly. However, they were humbled in a disappointing display against Liverpool, which showed the difference in class. Kai Havertz struggled in his first few premier league games, which could be due to a lack of pre-season, however, he managed to score a hattrick in the league cup, which should act as a base to build upon in terms of showcasing his exceptional talent. Impressive displays against West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace, along with superb form for Germany has certainly given the Blues an insight of what’s to come. 

Chelsea FC 2019-20 Season Review – All Things Chelsea

Whilst not being on the scoresheet, Timo Werner has impressed in parts during the first four games, by winning penalties and showing a lot of quality on the ball. It seems it is only a matter of time before he starts regularly finding himself on the scoresheet. The other signings, along with Christian Pulisic have started to come into the team over the past two weeks and it is exciting to see how they will fare after the international break. A comfortable 4-0 victory over in-form Crystal Palace may have helped Chelsea fans forget about the dropped points against Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion, but it is clear this side will need time to settle, especially with such a large squad for Lampard to manage. 

Defensive frailties were the key problem for the Blues last season. Mendy has done a good job in his first few games in goal, which will give some fans confidence. Zouma and Thiago Silva look to be Frank’s first choice centre-back pairing, and with Azpilicueta speaking a good level of French, Ben Chilwell is the only player in the back five (including the goalkeeper) who doesn’t communicate in the language. Leadership and experience are the words associated with Silva, who looks to have settled in after his nightmare first game against WBA. If they can get the defence right, Chelsea will be hot property this season. 

Arsenal

Mikel Arteta has taken on an Arsenal job that seemed like the impossible task in December 2019, however, he has won the hearts of all Arsenal fans and bought an element of positivity back to the Emirates. Despite leading the club to their lowest top flight finish since 1994/95, Arteta managed to win the FA cup against all odds, which meant they finished last season on a high. In terms of their squad, the quality is nowhere near the likes of Manchester City or Liverpool, which would suggest they are unlikely to compete for the title this season. However, their style of football has certainly changed under Arteta, which is why the fans are so optimistic.

They picked up six points in their first two games, and despite playing weaker teams, their victory away against Fulham on the first day highlighted that they will certainly be competitive this season. A convincing loss against the reigning Champions – Liverpool – sent Arsenal back to reality, with this being their only significant test of the season so far. But with nine points from their first 4 games, there is good reason for Arsenal fans to be optimistic. They have an attack consisting of Alexandre Lacazette – a solid striker that, on his day, can be one of the most clinical in Europe;  Nicolas Pepe – an elusive winger who has now had a season to settle into English football, whilst showing moments of real quality; Willian – a proven premier league star with the ability to change a game; and finally Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – one of the best strikers in Europe. It is clear these four have the ability to run riot in the premier league this season under a fluid footballing system. 

Arsenal's Confidence Is Very High'

The question will be whether their midfield and defence can match the levels the attack shows week in week out. They’ve bought two new centre backs in this summer, who have the potential to form a strong partnership, however, the club’s squad depth could prove to be an issue in a tightly scheduled season with the Europa league to consider. They’ve added an experienced Champions League level player in Thomas Partey to their midfield ranks. Since Viera, Arsenal have been crying out for a strong midfield presence and Partey’s credentials suggest he could be just that. They will need to improve their performances away from home against the ‘big six’ to get closer to challenging for the top four, but spirits are high in the red part of North London and the hope for Arsenal fans is this will be a different, more fruitful era under Arteta. 

Tottenham Hotspur

After the joys of their 2018/19 Champions League campaign, reaching the final of Europe’s elite competition seems a distant memory, with the manager that took them there being sacked three months into the next season. Jose Mourinho pulled an injury-stricken squad together to help them finish 6th, but a serial winner like himself will be aiming much higher this season. The North London club had horrible luck with injuries last winter, losing the irreplaceable Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son to serious injuries, which meant they slipped away from the Champions League places. It highlighted the frailties within the squad, which has forced them to go into the transfer market this season. 

The main issue that is clear is the lack of second striker. Whilst Heung-Min Son can play in that position, it is not enough given their fixture list with the Europa League. The problem is that quality strikers know that coming to spurs means sitting on the bench behind Harry Kane, which some thought would be something that not many frontmen would be willing to do unless they are towards the end of their careers. Carlos Vinícius has proven this to be wrong, with the 25 year-old Brazilian joining the ranks towards the end of the summer. He should provide Mourinho with a solid option if Kane were to get injured again and takes the pressure off the England captain in some of the cup games.

Man Utd 1 - 6 Tottenham - Match Report & Highlights

In this astonishing transfer window, Spurs have managed to sign Gareth Bale on loan from Real Madrid, bringing him back seven years after he had one of the best individual seasons in the Premier League ever with the club. If he can even become half the player he was back in 2013, he will add a huge amount of quality to an attack already filled with world class players. Spurs have also recruited well in the full back areas, bringing in a Premier League proven Matt Doherty and much sought-after Sergio Reguilon. Unfortunately, they failed in their pursuit of a world-class centre-back, but the squad has a lot of depth now and looks poised to cause some real problems for the teams around them. After a loss to Everton on the opening day, Spurs have bounced back by beating Southampton 2-5, with Kane and Son showing why they are world-class. 

Their impressive away victory over Manchester United has shown what a force they can be with Kane and Son firing. Mourinho could find himself getting the best out of their record midfield signing – Tanguy Ndombele – whose fitness levels were of question last year. There is no doubt quality there, so if Mourinho can get the best out of him, Spurs will have a serious player in the middle of the park. If they are also able to find consistency this season, whilst being luckier on the injury front, they’ll certainly challenge for the top four this season and could even push on further. 

Challengers: Everton FC, Wolverhampton Wanderers FC, Leicester City FC

Given Leicester finished in 6th position last season, it would be unfair not to include them in this discussion. Before COVID-19 and a few key injuries, Leicester were a sure thing for Champions League qualification. However, a run of poor results saw them slip down the table leaving them in the Europa League. They rely heavily on last season’s golden boot winner – Jamie Vardy and will struggle to maintain the first half of last season’s form if he is injured or not performing. Given the original big six sides have been heavily strengthening, it will be a tough ask for Leicester to challenge for Champions League qualification, but as they know all too well, stranger things have happened. A superb display at the Etihad would have given them serious hope for the season, had they not gone and lost at home to a weak West Ham side 0-3 in the following game. A turbulent campaign is likely for the foxes, but they will prove to be tricky opposition. 

Everton are best poised to challenge this season out of the three aforementioned clubs, especially given their impressive start to the campaign. They have signed three quality midfielders and have seen Dominic Calvert Lewin hit the ground running under a renowned, successful Carlo Ancelotti. His managerial expertise should see them cause the other 19 Premier League sides serious issues and given they are not in the Europa League; they can focus their attention solely on the Premier League. They’ve bagged themselves maximum points in their first four games, with their forwards in a rich vein of form, but the question is – can they maintain the high standards set at this early stage? Much like Teemu Pukki last season, opposing fans may be expecting Dominic Calvert-Lewin to hit a goal drought, but he doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon. 

Everton 4-1 West Ham: Toffees dump Hammers out of Carabao Cup | London  Evening Standard

Wolves were unlucky not to secure European football last season, however, they have been active in the transfer market. They have a world class striker Raul Jimenez that could lead any team to challenge for the European positions and with Nuno Espírito Santo at the head of the realm, they are poised to take advantage of any of the original ‘big six’ if they give Wolves the chance. Fans of the Midlands club will be hoping the 4-0 loss to West Ham was a blip and that they can kick on from their victory in the league against Fulham. 

Prediction:

Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, whilst improving their squads, are unlikely to yet be able to compete with the already established Liverpool and Manchester City, however, they should be able to close the immense gap that was established last season between them. Although hard to predict, it currently looks like they could be the two who fill the top four alongside Manchester City and Liverpool. 

It’s hard to leave Arsenal and Manchester United out of the top 4, given the quality in the squads, but they are still behind the other four in terms of quality in all areas and squad depth. Arsenal also have the Europa league to contend with, which can prove disruptive when playing on Thursdays, and they are one Aubameyang injury away from being in serious trouble. The quality in squad depth for both Arsenal and United is not as strong as some of their other rivals, however, if one of the top four is not at their best this season, both of these clubs will jump at the opportunity to climb up the league table. Don’t be surprised to see the top four race go to the last day of the season.

Whilst the challengers will cause speedbumps along the road for the original six, it seems the transfer activity from the dominant forces should be enough to establish those six at the top of the table. However, stranger things have happened in football, and these clubs certainly have the quality to compete and cause an upset at the end of the season. 

Champions – Liverpool – 91 Pts

2nd – Manchester City – 87 Pts

3rd – Tottenham Hotspur – 82 Pts

4th – Chelsea – 78 Pts

5th – Arsenal – 71 Pts

6th – Manchester United – 68 Pts

7th – Everton – 67 Pts

8th – Leicester City – 59 Pts

9th – Wolves – 56 Pts

10th – Newcastle United – 54 Pts

What are your predictions for the season – let us know in the comments and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter!

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