Do the Premier League’s top 4 spots look impenetrable for the foreseeable future?

Chelsea Arsenal

An insightful piece from Sean Ingle in the the Guardian recently suggested that supporters of the Premier League actually prefer a season that goes as expected.

The article refers to various studies carried out on what fans are after from their soccer experience, noting that the games superstars are the big attraction for the majority and, as the headline notes, “supporters crave familiarity, not unpredictability.”

For the sake of the English game, it’s a good job this is indeed the case, as this season has reverted almost impeccably to type. Aside from Everton—who have endured a terrible campaign—and Southampton—who thrived superbly initially, but have now tailed off—almost every side is more or less where you would expect them to be.

Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal will be England’s representatives in the Champions League next season after each secured their status amongst the prestigious top four spots, just as they were in the they were in the three campaigns preceding the 2013/14 season. And here’s a nailed on winning bet for those who take advantage of Ladbrokes’ free bet offer for new customers – these four clubs are almost guaranteed to be in the top four next season too.

There’s an irrepressible sense of familiarity festering, isn’t there?

While this season has been processional, last season there seemed to be a genuine chance of upsetting the established order. Liverpool went tantalizing close to Premier League glory after all, while the Toffees played some daring football to rack up a club record 72 points but could only finish fifth.

But the clout of the likes of Chelsea, United and City, who each had their own hurdles to conquer, has allowed them reassert some trademark dominance. Now, as the top four places in this league were set in stone this weekend, it’s tough to see things changing any time soon.

Chelsea have a dynastic aura about them under Jose Mourinho, with high-profile, in-their-prime superstars joining and some of the brightest young talent in European football pushing to get into the squad. Elsewhere, Arsenal are spending big and have shown signs of progress this season, while United have already snapped up one of Europe’s brightest young stars before the transfer window is even open.

Staggeringly, the most vulnerable—a term used loosely—side at this juncture is probably City, who still have uncertainty surrounding their managerial situation and given their creaking squad, could face a seismic shift in personnel. But with a stunning new academy, ground redevelopment close to completion, flush owners and early links to some of the brightest young stars in European football, it’s tough to see them being shunted out of the picture anytime soon.

Granted, the continued and increasingly stringent implementation of Financial Fair Play regulations will prevent City from splurging millions with reckless abandon as they bid to reshape their aging squad, but consider those sides bidding to breach this illustrious quartet. Even with an ambitious, wealthy backers, will teams be able to bolster playing staff accordingly while falling in line with UEFA regulations?

Indeed, one of the main criticisms of these sanctions, while their intentions are good and deployment ultimately necessary, is that it brackets clubs; those in the best position will stay there, while those reaching for the stars will continue to gaze longingly upwards.

Subsequently, it’s going to be tough for any burgeoning side to conquer these obstacles in the near future. Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton have all looked capable this season at various points, but even with massive investments in all of their squads—admittedly, following the sale of a major asset or assets—they’ve come up well short.

For the time being, sides just below that elite crop will be reliant on a Gareth Bale or Luis Suarez-inspired campaign if they’re to get in the mix. They will have to show ingenuity in the market, back youth development and hope the regulars endure a meltdown of sorts to even entertain a slender possibility of muscling in on the top four party.

From the standpoint of a supporter who loves the competitive element of the game, it is a concern. For the next few seasons, while we may be treated to an occasional surprise, the current landscape and the constraints in place are going to make dreams of a top four finish—never mind a league title—increasingly far-fetched for the overwhelming majority of Premier League fans.

There are plenty who would be privy to something being done to redress a balance of sorts. But if the bulk of audiences do seek familiarity from this product and are sated by the mere appearance of superstar names, why would anything be done to alter the metronomic pattern which seems to have been prompted?

Soccer is a game which is becoming more and more about supply and demand after all. But indulging in this kind of perspective is like going to watch a picture because it has an oscar-winning actor appearing, even though the plot has been done to death.

Perhaps it’s merely part of the Premier League’s natural progression from the peak of sporting prominence to a theatrical spectacle?

It’s a shame, if so. But supporters should be able to dream and when even the most fantastical of fans start to throw in the towel, it leaves the game in a dangerous position.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

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