Can Leicester City and Wolves break into the Premier League top 6?
Once upon a time, there was a top 2, then it became a top 4, now it is 'the top 6'. The Premier League is always in a state of flux. However, the last time 'an outsider' gatecrashed the private club of 6 at the summit of the Premier League was 3 years ago.
A Claudio Ranieri-led Leicester City side upset the English establishment in a fairy tale triumph that has undoubtedly entered into footballing folklore.
That 'blip' seems to have been a wake-up call to the traditional English powerhouses up north and in London, as they expanded the scope of their already ginormous transfer budgets in a bid to forestall any future recurrence.
However, if there ever was a time for the monopoly to be broken once again, it's the upcoming season.
Liverpool and Manchester City are unquestionably on the up, and Tottenham Hotspur aren't far behind. However, the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal are in a state of 'transition' and could suffer a fall from the top 6 mountain.
Chelsea have been banned for two transfer windows, and they have had to recall their loan army, as well as appoint club legend, Frank Lampard, to navigate them through the murky waters. This is unknown territory for Chelsea and their inexperienced manager, hence, they are expected to be in the wastelands for a while.
Arsenal are once again in the Europa League, and the owners have resorted to budgeting a paltry £45 million for the summer window (yes, you read that right), in a pricey market. That's unquestionably unambitious and has seen Arsenal have a very uninspiring transfer window so far.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United are undergoing a somewhat extensive rebuild, resetting the club mentally as well as building their core around young and talented British players like Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James, and Marcus Rashford. It may take a while for the dust to settle.
Meanwhile, just hovering outside of the top 6 palace are two very ambitious clubs, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City. Last season, they finished 7th and 9th respectively, and if the top 6 hegemony is to be broken this time out, these are the teams to put your money on.
Wolves are a club with very ambitious owners. Fosun International reportedly set a goal of winning the Premier League by 2025, and last summer they splashed £100 million as the club returned to the top flight. They rocked the Premier League last year, beating the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Spurs. They also beat Liverpool in the FA Cup.
They have continued their ambitious project this summer with the signings of Raul Jimenez (who was on loan last term), Raphael Nya, and Leander Dendoncker, among others, adding them to an already impressive cast of players such as Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota, Rui Patricio, etc.
They are led by Nuno Espirito Santo, a manager who is well-versed tactically as well as in man-management. He has a precise tactical system, and his charges adhere to it. Wolves are a well-run club, and Nuno could lead his boys into the club of 6.
The Rodgers revolution is in full motion at the King Power Stadium, and with the capture of the likes of Youri Tielemans (£40 million) and Ayoze Perez (£30 million), there is a budding sense that they could upset the establishment once again.
Leicester are a team already brimming with exciting talents such as Kasper Schmeichel, Wilfred Ndidi, James Vardy, Ben Chilwell, James Maddison, and Harry Maguire. These lads could walk into many clubs which finished above Leicester City last term.
The club has ambitious owners, and they are determined to continue with the vision of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. In an interview post-season, vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha said,
“We want to improve all aspects of the club to make the club sustainably successful for many generations to come,”
“We will always make support available to areas of the club that needs strengthening – whether that’s the playing squad, the training ground, the stadium, staffing and infrastructure. If a requirement for the squad is recognised and suitable talent identified, we’re always ready to support progress and improvement.”
The mix of ambitious management, a very talented squad, and the tactical prowess of Brendan Rodgers is a recipe for success.
The Premier League's top 6 are a formidable lot, but in a sport synonymous with the phrase: "anything can happen", Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers have the right mix of ambition and talent to upset the establishment.
Fasten your seat belts for this one, for the race for the top 6 should be a thrill ride.