Premier League Welsh Football — 20 June 2013
Can a Mid-Table Club Break the Top Seven Stranglehold?

In the Premier League right now there seems to be a clear divide between the seven highest placed teams and the rest. Running down the table, the two Manchester giants and Chelsea look set to battle for league titles for the next few years. Tottenham and Arsenal’s rivalry is as intense as ever, but neither seems likely to win a title soon. The two big Merseyside clubs rounded out the top 7 this year, with Everton continuing to set the standard in consistency without millions, and Liverpool’s stature as a club keeping the fans and money flowing despite endless drama at Anfield.

This looks to be quite an exclusive group of teams, the next highest finishers after all were West Brom, who were a full 12 points behind Liverpool. So, can any of the teams that finished in the middle of the Premier League this year realistically break the grip the richer and more established clubs have on the division’s top seven?

West Brom (8th)

Reasons for hope:

The Baggies enjoyed a historic season, which saw them claim their highest ever Premier League finish. They also showed excellent form against top seven clubs, taking 14 points against them in total, including memorable wins over Liverpool, Everton and Chelsea. They play a good brand of football, and scored more goals than any side outside the top seven.

Reasons for concern:

Money is tight as Jeremy Peace is one of the less wealthy owners in the league and the Hawthorns is one of the smaller stadiums. On the field, losing Roman Lukaku (who scored 17 league goals this year) is their biggest challenge. They must also fix a suspect back four that at times can be go missing. West Brom conceded three or more goals in seven Premier League games this season.

Romelu-Lukaku

Next year the Baggies will be without Roman Lukaku who scored 17 league goals this year

Swansea (9th)

Reasons for hope:

A strong team and an excellent manager (if they keep him) make Swansea arguably the favourites to challenge the League’s elites. Winning the League Cup brought money and a potential winning mentality to the club, which can be built on next season. In fact, they were on the cusp of a Europa League place for quite a lot of the year (they were 7th as late as February). Lastly, increased funds should be available after a memorable season.

Reasons for concern:

Dispute good wingers and the addition of Michu, Swansea do not yet pose great attacking threat. They failed to score in 16 games this year (joint most with QPR), and if they cannot add a solid striker this transfer window, expect more of the same.

West Ham (10th)

Reasons for hope:

Upton Park remains one of the toughest places to go to in Britain – 33 of West Ham’s 46 points came at home this season, while only four teams won there. On the pitch, Sam Allardyce has built a solid team around wily veterans such as Kevin Nolan, Jussi Jääskeläinen, Mohamed Diamé and Guy Demel. The signing of Andy Carroll is also potentially huge. Finally, like most London clubs, West Ham have a good revenue stream.

Reasons for concern:

Poor away form could become a fairly serious problem, as could age. The team was also quite injury-prone, so without a couple of youthful signings, keeping the team healthy and energised may prove difficult.

Andy-Carroll

Norwich (11th)

Reasons for hope:

They have established themselves as a solid Premier League team, improving by one spot on an excellent season last year. Carrow Road is becoming something of a fortress, providing 31 of Norwich’s points. The Canaries were also excellent against the League’s top seven, registering 15 points against them, including stunning wins over Man City, Man United and Arsenal. Finally, they seem to be willing to buy more, having already spent well over £10 million on Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Javier Garrido this transfer window.

Reasons for concern:

More attacking enterprise is needed – they scored fewer goals than Reading this year despite finishing 16 points higher. Like West Brom, their defence also seems to go to missing in certain games. They conceded four or more goals in six Premier League games. Big losses will hurt squad confidence even if results are found elsewhere.

Fulham (12th)

Reasons for hope:

An established Premier League side, Fulham have had twelve straight seasons in the top flight. They look solid going forward and have many experienced heads in the team. Finally, it appears they will look to spend well in the window, having already brought Maarten Stekelenburg and Sascha Riether for over £7 million combined.

Reasons for concern:

They seem to have consistently regressed since making the Europa League final under Roy Hodgson, and this season petered out after a promising start. Relegation might not be likely, but shaking off recent mediocrity could be tough, especially without a star player. The most threatening face in the team right is 32 year old Dimitar Berbatov.

Dimitar-Berbatov

To answer the question, it is conceivable that one or two of these mid table sides can challenge the league’s big boys. The fact is though that money will have to be spent fairly abundantly to achieve this, and none of these clubs are overtly rich as it stands. Swansea would be my bet to mount a European challenge out of all of these clubs, possibly at the expense of a Moyes-less Everton. If Andy Carroll can reproduce his Newcastle form, West Ham also could also have a decent chance. But I’m afraid my rather dull prediction is that we’ll see much of the same next season, with no more than one of these sides finishing in the league’s top seven.

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Gregory Landon
Gregory Landon

Born in England, raised in South Africa, sturdy right back, Newcastle United supporter!

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