Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
The top end of the Premier League generally gets the most attention. Naturally, the biggest clubs have the biggest draw in terms of interest and the buzz they generate.
Over the past decade, a traditional Premier League “big four” has become a “big six”, expanding the number of elite perennial combatants waging war for the Premier Leagues premier places.
Often the battle for the top 6 positions feels like a mini-league within the Premiership itself, contested by clubs with the big reputations and even bigger budgets.
There have been pretenders here and there that have managed to push through the glass ceiling for a spell, though the challenger’s presence is usually fleeting.
Most of the time, the top 6 feels like a closed club. Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are guarding the door and you’re not getting in.
However, while the make-up of the top six is usually easy to predict (in terms of names, not the order they will finish in), picking the best of rest below them is a much more difficult task.
Plenty of bookmakers offer markets on Premier League betting without the “Top Six” and there is some fantastic value to be had, especially with some bookies paying out E/W. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the teams in the running to finish closest to the glass ceiling.
(odds to finish 7th)
Wolves – 11/4
Many expected newly promoted Wolves to flourish in the Premier League with the hefty dollop of top-class continental talent in their squad. Their manager, Nuno Espírito Santo, has already shown his considerable tactical acumen this season, laying down a successful blueprint for his players to follow in their 1-1 draw against all conquering Manchester City.
Wolves have genuine quality in most departments, with their central midfield pairing of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho among the most impressive double acts in the league so far this season. However, they do lack a cutting edge in the final third and Wolves have averaged just one goal per game in the league thus far.
Successive victories over West Ham and Burnley have put a spring in their step, though are tougher tests to come, starting with this weekend’s trip to Old Trafford to face Man Utd. Another good performance against the other Manchester giant would go a long to proving Wolves’ staying power.
Watford – 4/1
Watford have started the 2018/19 in scintillating fashion, amassing twelve points from the first fifteen available. The Hornets’ Manager’s clever tactical tweaks and meticulous organisation have had a transformative effect on Watford, and almost every player at Vicarage Road looks fitter, sharper and re-energized under the Spaniard.
Watford’s early good run has undoubtedly been helped by their scheduling – they have played four of their first five Premier League matches at Vicarage Road. That shouldn’t take a huge amount away from their achievements, though it’s certainly been a momentum building factor.
The Hornets lost thirteen of their nineteen Premier League away matches last season and won just four times on the road in total. Watford are scheduled to play three away games in their next four league fixtures, and those contests should help to paint a clearer picture of where the Hornets actually are as a team.
If Watford are in contention for a 7th place finish near the end of the season, their chances will be boosted by a favourable run in that sees them play four home games in their last six fixtures.
Everton – 6/1
Amazingly, there are already some rumblings of discontent at Goodison Park about how the Everton team are taking shape under new boss Marco Silva.
The former Watford manager has been in the Toffees hot-seat for a little over four months, though there are already doubts seeping in about his ability to achieve a Premier League finish as high as the man chased out of Goodison Park in May, Sam Allardyce, did in 2017/18 (8th).
Most of the angst has been caused by Everton’s recent double disappointment at Goodison Park in their 1-1 draw with Huddersfield and calamitous 1-3 defeat to West Ham.
Everton have taken six points from fifteen in total, but bar the performances of new signing Richarlison, there has been little else to get excited about. With the team struggling to shake off the bitter after taste of Sam Allardyce’s reductive philosophy, Everton’s play looks clunky and directionless
The Toffees will need to sharpen their rough edges and show much more cohesion if they are to finish as high as 7th this term.
Leicester City – 6/1 (FST’s Tip)
Leicester City have endured a frustrating start to their Premier League season, and though they have collected six points from their first five matches, their haul could have been double that with a little more luck.
The Foxes outplayed Manchester United for large swathes of their opening weekend defeat at Old Trafford and Leicester were also unlucky in their narrow home defeat to Liverpool at the King Power Stadium a couple of weeks later.
Against Wolves and Southampton in between, City’s consistently good play was rewarded with wins, though luck was against them again at Bournemouth last weekend. The Cherries won 4-2, though expected goals models hinted that there was more than a slice of good fortune about their big win.
Early results aside, Leicester’s overall performances hint that they have a team capable of sustaining a challenge for 7th. They have top level talent in Harry Maguire, Wilfred Ndidi and Jamie Vardy, with a sprinkling of exciting up and comers like Ben Chilwell, Demarai Grey and James Maddison for good measure.
The Foxes have a great chance of securing their highest Premiers League finish since winning it in 2015/16.
The end of the 2017/18 season couldn’t come quickly enough for Bournemouth. The Cherries were on a horrible run of one win in ten Premier League games ahead of their final two fixtures of the campaign.
Narrow victories in those games against Swansea and Burnley provided a last-minute salve to what had been a miserable back end to the season, and though their final 12th place finish was only three positions lower than the year before, the regression felt deeper.
Bournemouth look well rested after the summer however and have started the 2018/19 Premier League season with three wins from five. They have energy on the flanks with Ryan Fraser and David Brooks and the Cherries have pace to burn in attack with Josh King and Callum Wilson.
The rigours of a full-season’s action tends to take its toll on small squads however, and having strengthened only modestly in the summer, the Cherries run the risk of physical burnout again next year.
West Ham – 33/1 (FST’s outside tip)
West Ham are one of the most interesting clubs in the Premier League this season. Their play is so unbalanced and so wonderfully unpredictable, that they look equally capable of conceding and scoring at any minute.
With such a huge turnover of players in the summer transfer market, it makes sense that West Ham play like a set of strangers thrown together for the first times and really, that’s what the Hammers are, at least for the time being.
West Ham have lost four of their first five league games of the season, but in flashes you can see bright sparks of potential streaking forth from the chaos.
With Felipe Anderson, Marko Arnautovic and Andriy Yarmolenko on the pitch at the same time, anything can happen. Chicharito and Andy Carroll are flawed but often potent side-arms to have in reserve too.
Drawing consistency from an enigmatic pool of players will be Manuel Pellegrini’s main task this season. You could make convincing final place arguments for just about every position in the Premier League this season for this team, though we think West Ham are an interesting outside bet to finish 7th.
It’s also worth reiterating that the bookmakers’ offering “without the big 6” markets generally payout E/W all the way down to to 9th place. As things stand, the Hammers are only six points off 7th place, despite their horrendous start.
Fulham – 66/1
Fulham were praised to the hilt by Pep Guardiola for their style and approach at the Etihad this week. The Cottagers attempted to pay “football” against City, though their eventual 3-0 defeat could have been far heavier had the hosts been more clinical.
Guardiola’s praise might feel like disingenuous lip-service from a Manager who would prefer teams to be more open against his City side instead of digging trenches and spooling out razor wire around their eighteen-yard box, but Fulham have been impressing on their return to the Premier League.
The Cottagers topped the pile for average possession stats in the Championship last season and they have retained much of their ball retention abilities at Premier League level. In fact, Fulham rank 7th in the average possession stakes so far this season (52%) just behind the rest of the league’s “big six”.
Fulham’s principles are admirable, but their insistence on purity has had some adverse effects on their defending. The Cottagers have conceded twelve times so far this season, giving them the worst defensive record in the division. If they continue to leak goals, then they will struggle to make the top half of the league let alone 7th place.
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