With another season drawing to a close and the usual suspects in their normal places in the top four, isn’t it about time that the second level of teams finally pushed up to join them? With Everton once again in a Europa League place, Villa making massive strides, despite the fall away they suffered after Christmas, Harry Redknapp finally making Tottenham hard to beat and Manchester City getting ready to add to the squad to make them more consistent, next season may finally see the gap between the big 4 and the other 4 draw a little bit closer.
Next season is crucial in the development of all 4 clubs for a variety of reasons, with varying degrees of pressure on each incumbent of the managerial hotseat. There’s no doubting the influence or the excellent job that David Moyes has done restoring Everton to a safer area of the Premiership since he came in during 2002, ultimately saving the club from relegation. Since his appointment, Moyes has continued to build on his early success, the 2003-3004 season apart, highlights include finishing 4th in 2005 and getting to this seasons F.A. Cup final. All he needs is his strikers to stay fit and a bit more width in the team to make a concerted push. Moyes’s job is secure; his chairman isn’t backwards in praising him to the heavens at any given moment.
Over at Aston Villa, since Martin O’Neill returned to the Premiership, he’s overseen steady progress at Villa Park, helped in no small way by the takeover of Randy Lerner and a major investment in the playing staff. Finishing 11th, then 6th last season, the worst they can finish this season is also 6th but perhaps some fans may feel a tad disappointed. They started the season so well, flirting with a top three finish before falling away over the later part of the season.
O’Neill’s tendency to stick to a counter attacking style and his sometimes baffling decision to play players out of position even when he doesn’t have to could make it a difficult job to improve though. They really do need a plan B other than humping it forward when chasing a game. He’s facing a big dilemma over how to replace Martin Laursen and the likelihood of another summer of trying to keep Gareth Barry at the club. Those two decisions as well as adding a couple more players will be crucial for Villa to build on the last 3 seasons.
Another club that often have the knack of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory are my beloved Tottenham, a blessing and a curse in equal measure. After the disgraceful removal of Martin Jol, the ineptitude shown by his replacement Juande Ramos was stunning in its extreme with Spurs bottom of the Premiership after 8 games with 2 points. Major surgery was required and Harry Redknapp rode to the rescue. He hit the ground running and has slowly pulled Spurs to the brink of European qualification, almost unthinkable back in October.
Sitting in 8th, Redknapp can be pleased with his work this season, but he’ll know that Spurs have to get back to the level of consistency they showed under Jol and push them back in the mix further up. With several of the Ramos misfiring signings looking likely to leave, Tottenham will probably have a summer of wheeling and dealing and may have to settle for 7th or 8th again. Amazingly, Spurs now have their best ever defensive record at home in a season, remarkable considering what has gone on at White Hart Lane over the last 9 months.
Finally, Manchester City’s owners have already said they want a top 6 finish next year but would top 8 be such a failure for them? Couple with a good cup run, one thing is certain that this summer they’ll be bringing in new faces, maybe even up to 7 or 8 players. The question is, can they bring in the quality of player the owners want to propel them up the league?
Hughes has received the backing of his owner, with £80 million already spent this season alone and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if they top that figure in the next transfer window alone. Now able to compete with any club in Europe financially, only the lack of European football may hinder them. For once, a club may finally be disappointed to see the Intertoto Cup has passed away.
These 4 clubs certainly have the potential to make next season even more exciting at the top of the table, with them jostling for position to capitalise on any mistakes in the ranks of the big 4. Yet they all need to temper their ambition with realism, a cup would not go amiss for any of them, tallied with a top 8 finish would represent an excellent season. Question is, will one of them finally push back into the top 4, forcing one of the big boys out for the first time since 2005?