Check the English League table and see who sits at its summit: West Ham United! Not Manchester City. Not Manchester United. Neither Chelsea, nor Liverpool.
Surprises as these, and the excitement they generate, form part of why the Premier League is the world’s most followed domestic league. It houses six of the world’s top ten most valuable football clubs. It is broadcast into over 1 billion homes in 188 countries. The EPL is electrifying, mostly because it holds an element of surprise. As clubs prepare for their routine weekend games, certain big teams are conceded the chance to win their ties; yet almost every week, one small team shocks a big one with a defeat or a draw.
Unlike other domestic leagues in Europe (like Spain, Germany, France, etc) where just two or three big clubs lord their weight over the rest, the EPL has at least six clubs with near equal might and another three or four pushing to close the gap. This atmosphere of not letting up played out last season when Arsenal, a traditionally top-4 club with a rich history, failed to qualify for any Europe tournament. They were forced to finish the league 8th, which meant they could not even qualify for Europa, the lower of the two European competitions.
Now a new campaign begins, and betBonanza x-rays who among the second four, the group that finished outside of the EPL top-4, can force a jump into the elite group by season end.
All is not well at the Emirates. And Arsenal fans worldwide are worried. The club has spent £150m this transfer window, yet Mikel Arteta and his boys looked totally subdued in their season’s first two games. It started with newly promoted side Brentford, and continued with a lethal Chelsea that had just won both the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Super cup within three months. In each case, Arsenal lost 2-0.
Agreed that small teams upsetting bigger ones in the EPL is commonplace, but an Arsenal losing two straight games back to back and being in the league’s bottom three at the start of a new season is a first in 118 years!
While it is too early to start making predictions, especially as Arsenal’s current goal scoring powerhouses Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette might rise to the occasion this season, and new acquisitions like Ben White, Martin Odegaard and Nuno Tavares appear ready to help, yet it is looking unlikely that the Gunners can progress to a top-4 finish with Arteta in charge. If he is relieved of the managerial job which evidently looks too big for him, then a new manager like Antonio Conte, who is rumored to be in talks with the Arsenal board as a possible replacement, will push up Arsenal’s odds of a top-4 finish. But left with Arteta, the most that Arsenal can do will be remaining in the top 8 as they did last term. BetBonanza pundits put Arsenal’s chances of breaking into the top-4 around 50%. But if Conte gets the job, that chance jumps to as high as 66%.
The Foxes have narrowly missed the top four slot in the last two seasons. Manager Brendan Rogers will be aiming to return his men to elite European football next season, after five seasons of absence. And they have the right personnel for this. But that aim took a hit from West Ham on Monday when David Moyes’ men walloped Leicester 4-1.
Of course that is not enough to get the Foxes jittery. There are still 36 more games ahead. But in a season shaping to ultimately come down to the wire, losing your second game carries huge consequences.
Back to personnel: Leicester has them. Experienced striker and club idol Jamie Vardy remains the team’s attack lead. He scored 15 goals last season and does not seem to be tiring soon even at 34. And there is Nigeria’s Kelechi Iheanacho who is Vardy’s heir apparent, having 12 twelve goals in just the second half of last season. Midfield playmaker James Maddison will hope to be injury-free this campaign so he can help his colleagues remain where they currently are.
For having consistently knocked on the top-4 door for two straight years, Leicester stands a big chance of leapfrogging any of the current top-4 members if they falter. BetBonanza pundits put this chance at 65%.
Coming from a place of managerial turbulence after the sack of Jose Mourinho, this team is now taking shape, and looking fully cast in the image and likeness of new manager Nuno Espirito Santo. Spurs opened their season with a shocking but well-earned win against champions Manchester City. They also went on to win Wolves in their second game, now sitting firmly in 5th position with six solid points. There are currently two unfamiliar teams in the top four: West Ham and Brighton. It looks possible that Spurs will be replacing one of them – especially Brighton – at the top, assuming the other usual suspects, the two Manchester clubs, do not waltz back in.
Then there is Harry Kane, whose desired move to Manchester City appears stalled and now unlikely. If he remains in the club this season, he will continue firing goals and helping the team seal a spot in Europe, where they missed out last season as they ended 7th. With no prospects of European distractions, and if Harry Kane stays, then Spurs has the biggest chance of leaping into the top-4 if anyone of the previous occupants staggers even for a day. This chance, according to betBonanza pundits, is put at 70%.
David Moyes’ men sit currently at the peak of the league table after a roaring start to the season that saw them defeat Newcastle 4-2 and Leicester 4-1, all within seven days. And at the centre of the latest Leicester routing was in-form Michail Antonio who scored two goals, electrifying the home fans. Interestingly, this West Ham also beat Leicester in their last three EPL games.
It is a credit to David Moyes that he has rebounded from his disappointing sack in Manchester United and the years of grief and loneliness that followed. Now he has West Ham rebuilt in solidity, instilling in the Hammers the hope to dream again. And that hope will propel them when they open their campaign to prosecute the Europa tournament as they chase a top-4 finish to the season, so as to remain amongst Europe’s elites.
The Hammers have a chance to climb into the top-4 if any of last season’s incumbents slips. But that chance comes after Spurs. Yet West Ham has a chance; a solid 64% chance.
The teams are still fresh, having just returned from summer break. The intense days are still ahead, starting from December, when fixtures are packed and managers start to grumble. It is in such periods that the true big teams emerge. BetBonanza pundits believe Tottenham to be one of those teams that will emerge from the season’s grueling half to stake a place for themselves within the top-4. Of course this is only dependent on any of the current incumbents faltering along the way – a possibility that is never farfetched in the EPL.