Life for a lot of Premier League teams isn’t a lot of fun at the moment. While the Big Six bask in their own superiority, the rest of the league, apart from a couple of exceptions, are fighting for scraps. Wins are scarce, the threat of the drop is real and the sack is only ever five games away. By Jamie Braidwood.
We’re less than a third of the way through the season but already the Premier League table has a familiar look to it. There may be new faces at the top and bottom compared to this time last year, but as this weekend’s results and subsequent standings have shown, the league is more divided than ever before.
Leading from the front are the teams that make up the ‘Big Six’, a term that is not even 18 months old but now seems to be so ingrained in the psyche of the division. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the current league positions reflect that superiority.
Behind them lies an absolute mess, with the notable exception of two teams. Watford and Burnley, have enjoyed excellent campaigns so far. Marco Silva has hit the ground running at Vicarage Road and with the help of some smart investments, most notbaly Richarlison, has taken Watford to 8th in the table.
Burnley, meanwhile, have been even more impressive. They’ve completely turned around last season’s miserable away record and have already claimed wins at Chelsea and Everton and draws at Liverpool and Spurs. They’re currently 7th, with an identical record to Liverpool, and would be higher if they hadn’t dropped points at home to West Brom, West Ham and Huddersfield. Home wins against those sorts of teams were Burnley’s speciality last year.
Out of all 20 Premier League teams, it is arguably only Burnley and Watford who are currently surpassing pre-season expectations and predictions. It is no surprise, therefore, that both their managers have been linked with moves away. Sean Dyche has been tipped to takeover at Everton but Silva is apparently their number one target. The Portuguese is also talked about as a future manager of a Big Six side, despite his relatively recent arrival to these shores.
So, onto the crux of the article and back to the point I made earlier: Everything lower than 8th in the Premier League is an absolute mess. It’s a place of uncertainty, anxiety and very few wins. Perhaps it always has been, but never before has mid-table covered so many positions and contained so many teams with so little to separate them all.
Curiously, the three teams directly below Watford are the three promoted sides. My earlier statement might seem harsh on Brighton, Huddersfield and Newcastle, who would have all taken their current position before the season had started, but their current win percentages range from 36 to 33. Last season in the Championship it ranged from 63 to 54. It’s the price you have to pay for Premier League football.
They’re doing enough to stay up, though. In the past 10 Premier League seasons, anything from 35 to 40 points has been enough to guarantee survival depending on the year, which can be as little as eight to 11 wins. It’s not a lot, but the fear of not even reaching that measly target is too much for some Premier League owners, who believe that their teams should be doing much, much better, and quite justifiably given the money that is often spent.
Already this season has taken five managerial casualties, all from teams who have finished inside the top 8 at some point in the past three seasons. For Everton, Leicester, West Ham, Crystal Palace and now West Brom, their objective is to be a competitive, top-half, Premier League team, with a win percentage of at least 40%, but their respective managers were all sacked when it looked like relegation was far more likely.
Stoke, Southampton, and Swansea are all teams who are also looking over their shoulder rather than upwards. They’re not having a lot of fun this season and have only won 8 league games between them so far. The only team I haven’t mentioned is Bournemouth, now in their third season in the Premier League, who recovered from a bad start to win three of their last four. Unusually, there wasn’t a lot of panic when Bournemouth won only one of their first eight. Unlike a lot of the teams around them, there seems to be a plan at Bournemouth, and a process that Eddie Howe will be allowed to see through..
But this is the new normal. In the bottom half of the Premier League you’re only ever five games away from the sack. Fear and anxiety wins over stability and long-term planning. Perhaps it’s always been like this, but at least there used to be the sense that in the Premier League anyone could beat anyone, and the small could beat the rich and powerful.
Now even upsets seem to be rare. In the 50 games played this season between Big Six sides and the rest of the league, only five have been won by the lower ranked team. While Crystal Palace’s win over last season’s champions Chelsea, a result which remains their only win of the season, offered a glimpse of the Premier League’s unpredictable nature, it’s something that we are seeing less and less of.
Last season, exactly half of all Premier League teams finished with either 11 or 12 wins, which is a win rate of only 29 or 32%. It’s a figure that as many if not more will be aiming for this year. It’s not a lot, but in the mid-table wasteland of the Premier League, it’s all you need.