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Will this be the season

There’s about a week to go before the Premiership football season starts again. Those in the EFL are already kicking off.

Have you missed it?

I’m very sure that I have.

I’ll apply one big caveat to this article … there are still a few days to go before the transfer deadline. So a big signing or two may happen but, in my estimation, this has been a comparatively quiet transfer window.

Will this be the season when one of the so-called Big Six of English football starts living up to their ‘billing’?

I think the answer may well be “yes”.

Before attempting to explain why let’s just examine this Big Six thing.

First, who are they?

Most sports pundits agree that the Big Six are (in alphabetical order):

Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester Unitedand Tottenham Hotspur.

I hope there’s no dispute here though if fans of Everton and Aston Villa wanted to claim to be in among them, I think they would have a case historically.

Much depends on what a team requires before it can be described as Big – is it trophies, money in the bank, the number of fans, the quality of their ground, their playing staff?

Maybe a combination of all plus a few more factors.

Let’s look at some indisputable facts. If being a Big Six team was solely based on the number of times they have won the top flight of the English league Spurs would look a little out of their depth.

The north London team have only won the old First Division twice in their history, the last time being the great double-winning side of 1960-61. There’s no disputing that they have a wonderful FA Cup pedigree. But, league crowns? They are joint 15th on the list.

However, I think this season may be the one for them to add to that small total. Maybe!

Spurs have a great goalscorer in Kane, an excellent supporting cast of players and one of the three best managers in the league. Add in a super new stadium, a decent cash flow, and a big fanbase and maybe they have got what it takes.

I have been watching Spurs sides since that double win back in the early 60s under the captaincy of Danny Blanchflower. This season has a “now or never” look to it for Spurs as I doubt if they will be able to keep the squad together if they continue on a no-trophy run.

Even reaching the Champions League final last time may not be enough to hold the squad together though getting that far was a fine achievement given they had just a point after their first three group games.

At the opposite end of the league title-winning scale, we find another team who has been without a top-flight win for a long-time – Liverpool, the side that saw off Spurs in the Champions League final. Liverpool has won the top-flight no less than 18 times (only United, with 20, are ahead of them). But Liverpool has never won the Premiership. Bizarre!

Their last win was in 1989-90 some 29 seasons ago. Before United fans get too smug they also went a long time without winning the top flight. They won it in 1966-67 but had to wait for the Premier League to start in 1992-93 before winning the crown again. At the time it was just their 8th win.

Despite my talking up Spurs’ chances, I think Liverpool may well break their Premier League duck this season. They put together an amazing run to close the last campaign. If – and it may be a big if – they can carry on where they left off then I expect them to edge out Spurs and City and win the league.

Beating City?

Am I joking with you? No, City have an amazing squad and it would be a brave man who would bet against them.

But, I think Liverpool will have their number this time. If the Reds can sign a good center-half to partner Virgil van Dijk they would have it all. The full-backs carry a real threat, the options in midfield are similarly good and, when their first choice three is on the pitch, I think they have the best combination of forwards in the league. But Matip or Lovren alongside van Dijk doesn’t do it for me.

Perhaps I’ll add a “buy a central defender” caveat to my prediction.

I expect that the big six will remain just that. United and Chelsea – both with relatively inexperienced managers – will do well to finish in the top six. Interesting to see if Chelsea can do well despite a transfer ban.

Time to bring their youngsters through? For the good of the English game, let’s hope so.

Is there another Leicester lurking in the league somewhere? I think not.

Can any team break the monopoly of the Big Six?

I’m struggling to think of one. Everton – perhaps. Wolves?

Who among those who will play in the top flight this year have never won it?

I’ll list them. A couple may come as a bit of a surprise: AFC Bournemouth, Brighton & Hove Albion, Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Southampton, Watford and West Ham.

What are the odds on one of them making history? Long!

Of those non-winners, West Ham are the shortest odds. Even so, they are 500-1 against, all the others are at least 1,000-1. If you can spot another Leicester, please let me know.

As is often the case, the fight for who will stay in the top flight may prove more interesting.

The three I think will end the season in the relegation positions are – Brighton, Newcastle and Sheffield United.

Why?

I think Brighton and Newcastle made big mistakes parting with their managers. I think it will cost them. After the departure of Benitez, I went looking for odds on backing the Magpies to make the drop. They were not very attractive. Maybe Sheffield United can ‘do a Huddersfield’ and stay up for a season but I think it will only be a matter of time before they are back in the Championship.

Whatever you do, don’t put money on any of the above predictions. I won’t be doing so! History tells me that the bookies have nothing to fear from my punditry.

By Dave Buckley

 

The top six league winners of all time are:
1 Manchester United – 20 wins
2 Liverpool – 18
3 Arsenal – 13
4 Everton – 9
5 Aston Villa – 7
6= Chelsea – 6
6= Manchester City – 6
6= Sunderland – 6 (not a misprint!)

Raich Carter, Sunderland’s captain 1937.

Only 24 teams have ever won the English league out of the 100+ teams to have played in the top four divisions. The balance of the 24 are (with wins in brackets):

Newcastle United and Sheffield Wednesday (both 4); Blackburn Rovers, Huddersfield, Leeds and Wolves (3 each); Burnley, Derby, Portsmouth, Preston and Tottenham Hotspur (each with 2); Ipswich, Leicester, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United and WBA (all 1).

The team that ‘leveraged’ their one win the best was Nottingham Forest. The season following that 77-78 win they won the European Cup (now Champions League) against Malmo 1-0 and won it again the following season because they gained automatic entry as holders. In the second final, they beat Hamburg by the same scoreline.

Nottingham Forest 1979.

The Forest wins are sandwiched between three Liverpool victories and one by Aston Villa (another reason to consider the Villains to be a Big Club).

English teams won the European Cup six years on the bounce between 1976-77 and 1981-82.