Predicting the final structure of the Premier League table next May is a fool’s errand given that every club is presently busy reshaping their squads, some still in possession of their best players who are destined to leave while others eye up significant improvements.
What is possible however is to roughly carve up the table and say who will presumably finish where. Last season’s top six will – a Leicester freak aside – surely be contesting the Champions League spots and title once again. Beyond them Everton, Southampton, West Ham should be in the mix for a Europa Cup place along with any one of Stoke, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, West Brom and Leicester. Below them a whole clutch of teams will be looking over their shoulder at the ghoul of relegation rather than staring ahead.
What is fascinating though, given the avalanche of money for the recent TV deals that has raised the ambitions of every top flight outfit, is the possibility of a glitch in the matrix: a club buying shrewdly this summer, gelling as a collective unit, and coached into shape to forge a successful season over and above their natural habitat.
Determining who that might be leads us first to Goodison Park where Ronald Koeman has sprinted from the blocks to sign three players in Jordan Pickford, Davy Klaassen and Sandro Ramirez (last minute terms permitting) before the transfer window even officially opens on July 1st. The Dutchman’s inaugural campaign on Merseyside was very much a mixed affair last year yet the feeling was always there that the Toffees were just a trio of class, affective players short of putting together a sustained charge. Presuming the three new arrivals settle quickly – and perhaps more pertinently the imminent sale of Romelu Lukaku results in a big-money replacement to galvanise the supporters – we can expect better things from the Blue half of Stanley Park in 2017/18.
Whether that will be of the consistency required to break up the top six cabal only time will tell but for our money they are currently the best bet to do so. On the subject of best bets Energy Casino mobile for LuckyStreet is offering a 100% welcome bonus and 100 free spins right now.
Looking beyond Everton the Saints are a team in flux but then again when are they ever not? Throughout each summer in living memory Southampton have been tipped to struggle after seeing several key players depart – usually for Liverpool – so with that in mind a change in manager is hardly going to impact of their steady rise to prominence.
Even so, it is doubtful that any new coach – even one as astute as incoming boss Mauricio Pellegrino – can immediately steer a mid-table side on paper to the highest echelons so for the south coast club this might well be a season of transition.
Which leaves us with the Hammers and the prospect of Slaven Bilic’s side finding sustained form after a difficult opening year at the London Stadium. At times last year West Ham were positively woeful and yet conversely their 11th place finish, achieved despite the seismic disruptions of a ground move and prolonged departure of Payet, only offers optimism. In calmer climes can the Croatian guide an extremely capable squad into Champions League contention? In truth, at the time of writing, they still realistically require three eye-raising signings to pull that off.
Whoever it may be it only needs a season of unexpected toil from one of the six most illustrious clubs and a season of unexpected over-achievement from a team usually cast in shadow to prompt a temporary changing of the guard at the top. Our money is on Everton this year but we remain open to the idea of being very surprised indeed.