With the season reaching its climax and the onus falling on the fights for the title, European places and relegation, the teams sat safely mid-table seem to have been all but forgotten.
The admirable but quiet mid-table Southampton and Newcastle teams have reached their limits this season but do the finances available to these clubs hinder their progression?
Southampton in particular have played some fantastic soccer this season and have a few notable results on their record. They’re the only team to beat Liverpool at Anfield this season. They gave Newcastle a drubbing, and gained a point at home to Manchester City — all this by playing a resilient brand of English football. Pochettino has steadied the ship, staved off second season syndrome and instilled a free-flowing and creative feel to a Saints side brimming with English talent, not to mention the plethora of excellent youth players they’ve produced and continue to come through its system.
Likewise Newcastle, at least until the departure of Yohan Cabaye coupled with Pardew’s headbutting antics, had been casually picking up enough points to see them safe from relegation long before now. They also claimed their fair share of scalps, the clean-sheet wins against Chelsea and Manchester United to name but a few, but where do they go from here?
Both clubs are clearly not challenging the likes of Tottenham and Everton on the outskirts of the Champions League and would only get into Europe’s secondary competition through the Fair Play table, a fortunately positioned team winning a trophy above them or if one of the big teams ‘did a Liverpool’ (of the past) and finished 8th. The clubs above your average Southampton and Newcastle have considerably more financial resources and you get the feeling that’s what English football is coming to nowadays.
By this point you may be thinking: ‘Hang on, didn’t Newcastle make it into Europe a couple of seasons ago?’ And you would be correct but this was the same season in which the teams below them were Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Fulham in that order respectively, an unusual season to say the least and as you can probably tell things have changed since and all of those clubs have gone off in completely different directions.
But not Newcastle. Newcastle still sit idly in mid-table with no threat of relegation but no threat of European qualification all the same. They’re being joined by Southampton, Mark Hughes’ revolutionary Stoke and, in my opinion, a stable Swansea side.
Looking at the teams above them there is no shortage of funds. Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United obviously are loaded, then the North London and Liverpudlian pairs aren’t necessarily swimming in cash but there’s definitely no shortage of it.
What makes matters worse for Newcastle is that they’ve become the whipping boys in the Premier League. With nothing to play for, they’ve suffered defeats in recent weeks to Swansea, Stoke, Manchester United, Southampton and Everton. And now in the next two weeks, they face Arsenal, Cardiff and Liverpool. And in turn, they could end up putting in more woeful performances that will help Arsenal clinch fourth place, give Cardiff a lifeline and help Liverpool win the league on goal difference if the Newcastle defense plays anything like they’ve done recently.
How do these 8th-12th placed sides, like Newcastle, improve in the future? Do they need to be rewarded with more significant player and team bonuses to encourage them to play for money? Or will clubs like Newcastle drift aimlessly along for the last few weeks of each season?