“I think the Premier League is getting stronger, with teams like Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Villa spending a lot of money,” said Neville. “It’s difficult to say at this early stage if Villa could challenge for the league. They don’t have the pedigree of winning championships, but that’s not to say they can’t last the distance. They are in a good position at the moment and they certainly have a good young team. It’s whether they can sustain it over the next five months.”
But that’s the BIG if. Clubs outside the Big Four typically cause quite a few scares in the early part of the season, but it’s the latter half where races are won and lost.
Still, the clubs outside the Big Four shouldn’t be ignored. So far this season all Big Four clubs have suffered defeats from clubs outside of their circle. Manchester United have lost against Burnley, Fulham and Aston Villa. Liverpool have lost against Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Fulham, Sunderland and Tottenham. Arsenal have lost against Sunderland and Man City, while Chelsea have lost against Man City, Aston Villa and Wigan.
The reality is that this season the quality of teams are far greater than previous seasons. The Big Four are losing more often. And so far, this season, there are more teams capable of breaking up the monopoly of the Big Four and, believe it or not, but nicking the title from under the blue and red noses of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.
Here’s a quick run-down of the teams capable of breaking the Big Four monopoly:
- Aston Villa. After a typically slow start from Martin O’Neill’s side, Aston Villa have been on fire lately with tactics similar to last season where they gave us so much hope. They’re brilliant at attacking with pace and amazing at player counter attacking football to hold on for a slim victory. For Villa, though, they’re only concern is depth. Emile Heskey should be returning from injury soon. Stewart Downing is back and quickly returning to full strength. The team just has to hope they hold together for the remainder of the season especially in the back where they routinely get key injuries.
- Tottenham Hotspur. The turnaround of this team under Harry Redknapp has been incredible. But while Tottenham have the power to decimate lesser opposition, the club has been embarrassing this season when they played against top opposition such as Arsenal and Manchester United. What Spurs need is consistency. They need to get a run of wins under their belt instead of the Jekyll and Hyde performances of late. The key to Tottenham’s success is to get Luka Modric back to his best form and being the playmaker to feed Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch up front.
- Manchester City. This is the team that’s the biggest unknown at this point. If new manager Roberto Mancini can steady the ship and keep the team playing as well as they have been up front and then correct the issues in defense, then Manchester City is going to be a force to be reckoned with and could hit the Big Four where it hurts. But with the immense pressure on City, the opposite could happen for City and they could find themselves sinking down the table as Mancini gets used to his players and inadequacies.
- Birmingham City. Other than Aston Villa, Birmingham has been the team I’ve been most impressed with this season. Cameron Jerome has been simply amazing and deserves an England call-up the way he’s playing although it may be too late to get enough caps to be impress Capello. Other than Jerome, Stephen Carr has been playing like a player half his age and has solidified the back four for Birmingham. Lee Bowyer has been punching above his weight and Sebastian Larsson has been wonderful down the wings. However, I don’t think that Birmingham have what it takes to continue at this pace and they’re eventually going to fall into a slump and may end up in mid-table position, which in itself is respectful enough.
- Fulham. Despite currently being in ninth position, this is a side that I can see continuing to push up the table and to leapfrog Liverpool which is a sinking ship right now. The only concern I have about them is their ability to consistently knock balls into the back of the net. Bobby Zamora is scoring goals left, right and center now but that’s not going to last long. And Dempsey and Gera can score but are not as prolific as Hodgson would like. Where I’d like to see Fulham improve is away from Craven Cottage where they’ve only won one game all season. If they can play as well away from home as they do at Craven Cottage, this is a side that could be last season’s Everton.
While I would love to see a club outside the Big Four win the Premier League this season, I don’t see it happening. I can see Aston Villa or Fulham dislodging Liverpool from the Big Four, but I believe the power and depth of Chelsea will ensure they win the title with Manchester United coming a close second.
What do you think? Are there any teams not listed above that can crack the top four? And is there any way possible that a team outside the Big Four can win the title? Share your feedback below.