I can neither speak for Joe Prince-Wright nor Andy Edwards, but predicting the 2022-23 Premier League table was a headache and a half.
While the identity of the top two and bottom two was relatively straight-forward, though maybe not in order, selecting who slid into the top four and who were legit candidates for the final relegation place was very difficult.
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The top four is the subject for this post because let’s face it: More attention is paid to the “Big Six” than most other clubs and there’s significant question as to whether their needs have been properly addressed so far in the transfer window (Making picks with the window still open, too, is quite fraught with peril).
And while there’s reason to like the depth builds at West Ham and Aston Villa as well as the unencumbered fixture lists of other clubs like Newcastle United, it does feel like there’s a gap in top-end talent from that group to the “Big Six” above them.
So what are the floors and ceilings for the Big Six this season, presuming of course that there are no historic runs of injuries for a single club?
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Ceiling: Premier League record breakers — For all the reasons you’ve read: The deepest attack in Premier League history added a Bundesliga- and Champions League-tested elite finisher in Erling Haaland, and their defense has been as strong as most this century.
Floor: Third place — If City is trailing Liverpool or another foe late in the season and still in the Champions League, you could see Pep Guardiola prioritizing the European Cup chase. And if City’s behind and out of the UCL, might the year-by-year grind of playing Guardiola’s system see the side peter out? Probably not and almost certainly not in a way that sees the team dip out of the top four.
Ceiling: Premier League champions — Darwin Nunez, a certified unit, joining a team in which all key pieces have been properly vetted with the experience of the Premier League? This is doable.
Floor: Fourth place — Even a faltering Liverpool team that finds itself focusing on European competitions is too good and to deep to slip behind four other combatants. That said, the gap between Man City and Liverpool to the rest of the field in terms of xG and xA was huge last season. Good luck, all.
Ceiling: Premier League champions — Antonio Conte has burnt out rather than faded away at every single stop, but he also leaves trophies when he drives away from the training ground. Spurs have a half-year in his system and better depth than at any point this century. In Conte, they have the mind to match wits with the big boys, and winning those intra-Big Six matches is imperative to any stunning triumph.
Floor: Fifth place — It’s difficult to imagine that Spurs will be outright bad, but a scenario in which four rivals have career seasons while Spurs get caught up in cup competitions is at least imaginable.
Ceiling: Premier League champions — Chelsea’s won a European Cup under Thomas Tuchel and the Blues could feel like they’ve shaken loose from a terrible year that saw their owner forced to sell the club. A midfield as strong as any in the league will allow the defenders to find chemistry and the attack to find plenty of gilt-edged chances.
Floor: Sixth place — There’s so much new at Stamford Bridge, from the change in owner to the exit of Romelu Lukaku and some serious replacements at the back. Cesar Azpilicueta sticking around will mitigate some of the upheaval, but early-season wobbles could lead to managerial tumult if Thomas Tuchel continues to demand his square pegs do round hole stuff in a front three. But out of the top six? Not a chance.
Ceiling: Third place — The Gunners are well into Mikel Arteta’s system and their newest toys — Oleks Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus — know the manager all too well from their time together at Man City. Their young players are no longer super green, and the defense has the strength to stand firm at the back under duress or while pushing for an equalizer or winner. Probably too soon to expect enough points from Arsenal head-to-head against Liverpool and Man City, but third is possible from a fit-and-firing Jesus.
Floor: Seventh place — If the red card woes are a sign of something more severe and Arteta gets ahead of himself in terms of his attitude around the kids and vets, there’s enough reason to think they could fall behind a West Ham or Aston Villa in addition to their Big Six rivals.
Ceiling: Fourth place — Erik ten Hag will put a system in place that’s capable of winning most games, but it would take heroic feats of fitting into his mold from almost every position in order for the Red Devils to get ahead of City, Liverpool, and another. Remember that Pep Guardiola also wanted Fred and the world wanted Donny van de Beek and Jadon Sancho. A Marcus Rashford resurgence coupled with instant chemistry between Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane could have the rest of the league trying to make heads and tails of this new United.
Floor: Eighth place — Our Andy Edwards is fond of noting how far United has to go, and Erik ten Hag is already trying to navigate the borderline psychopathy that is Cristiano Ronaldo — a megastar who is capable of keeping a room from coming together but also knows what fans want to hear — in wantaway mode. The club still needs to address the center of the park and what if Jadon Sancho just isn’t the Premier League player he was in the Bundesliga and Champions League? It seems likely United’s already hit rock bottom, but perhaps its adjustment to Ten Hag’s system could mean it hasn’t hit its rock bottom of table finishes. With Aston Villa, West Ham, and even Newcastle further ahead in their manager’s system-building, finishing eighth could still happen at Old Trafford.
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Premier League season preview: ‘Big Six’ floors and ceilings originally appeared on NBCSports.com