by Chris Hallenbrook
The Big Six. England’s Big Six. The problem of six going into four. The clichés of the conventional wisdom maintain the EPL has six powerhouse clubs. But like much conventional wisdom, it has outlived its usefulness. When it comes to the teams at the top of Europe’s deepest league, there is a New Big Five. From most to least obvious:
196 points and four trophies in two seasons. A sixth European Cup. 19 League Titles. Three European finals in the last six seasons. Liverpool 4, Barcelona 0. The English record for most games remaining when clinching the top flight title. I could go on… The mighty boys in red have been recapitalized after the Red Bird investment, and are ready to fight another round in the transfer market. If you are reading this and don’t agree that Liverpool are one of the best teams on the planet after the past few years, there will be no convincing you.
Champions of England three times in the last four seasons. The FA Cup. Four League Cups. The Domestic Treble. The Centurions. European finalists. They are basically an OPEC member. Sovereign wealth and Pep Guardiola are more than enough to overcome the loss of Sergio Aguero this summer. We may hate the plastic bastards, but they are not going anywhere.
Remember a few months ago when Lampard had them tenth in the league? Man, those were the days. That was their second European trophy in three years, after the 2019 Europa League. Since the 2015-16 season they have also won the FA Cup, the League Cup, and a new manager almost every two years. Roman Abramovich has not lost his impatience for immediate results, his taste for trophies, nor his cash flow… so they should remain elite for years to come.
No one gets less from more than Ole – long may it continue! But while Sir Alex Ferguson is not the one making the team selections, they are still Manchester United. With more money (and official tractor partners) than God himself, no one fails up with greater opportunity quite like the Mancs. Since the start of 2015-16, they have managed to win the FA Cup, the League Cup, and the Europa League, while losing another Europa League Final last month (I’m still laughing about it). These aren’t your father’s United, but they are still firmly part of the New Big Five.
The New Kid
Leicester City FC
Before you remind me that they’ve choked their way out of the top four two years running, let’s take a minute to remember that fifth is quite an accomplishment for a Midlands club with a mid-table wage bill. After what seemed like a one-off Cinderella story six years ago to win the Premier League, two trips to the Europa League in two years is no small feat. They just added their first FA Cup to their 5,000-to-1 odds League title, and while Brendan Rodgers is nowhere near the manager he thinks he is (even SAF would blush), he is a quality manager. The Foxes were simply happy to be there during their first European campaign in 2016-17; now they are systematically building on their success. Looking at their club trajectories, I would rather support the Foxes than the Spurs.
Speaking of Spurs, why were these also-rans ever considered elite? They have not won a major trophy since 1991. Upon leaving Spurs, Pochettino had a better claim to being an “almost man” than Klopp ever did. Ok, to be fair – all fair play to Pochettino – turning Spurs into contenders was an accomplishment in itself. Harry Kane and Heung-min Son are incredibly talented and fun to watch. However, the club squandered the Bale transfer bonanza, Kane now wants to get the hell out of Dodge so he can finally win something, and the pandemic has resulted in the double cash crunch of losing gates for both EPL and NFL games at their expensive new stadium. That the NFL returns to London in October is likely to be the club’s biggest win in the foreseeable future (even if they win the new UEFA Conference League).
Since they have won the FA Cup twice in the last six years, I would forgive you for thinking that I am have Arsenal so low just to tweak my friends who support the Gunners. But back-to-back eighth-(yes, *8th*!)-place finishes in the Prem is cause for alarm, as is missing out on Europe completely. They have not finished in the top four since finishing second behind Leicester City in 2015-16. Mikel Arteta may yet live up to the hype – perhaps with another club. Right now, however, the situation feels like when Josh McDaniels went to Denver and tried (and failed) to replicate the success he had as an assistant for Bill Belichick. At least Arteta has not traded up for Tim Tebo… but the future seems far from rosy for either North London club at the moment.