EPL TOP SIX RACE – WHAT ARE THE ODDS?
It seems there are vacancies towards the top end of the Premier League table. Leicester City, West Ham United and Bournemouth have all made impressive early applications.
While Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea will this weekend attempt to breathe some life into their stuttering seasons, there is a fifth versus sixth clash on the South Coast which illustrates that the summer’s predictions of a ground shift in the league’s hierarchy were valid and feasible.
Bournemouth meet the Hammers with the Londoners on 11 points just two behind second-placed Manchester City and Eddie Howe’s side on 10 points.
Given that they will share the points in some way, a win for either side or a draw would keep them buoyant near the top.
Meanwhile, Leicester City, who are third, have a home game against struggling Newcastle in which it is likely Brendan Rodgers’ team will maintain their encouraging start, too.
The thought of a top six finish will be on the minds of all three of those newly-promising teams.
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Is 2019-20 A Transitional Season?
At the same time, it appears that some of the regular finishers in those berths – United, Spurs and Chelsea – may have to come to terms with the idea that they each seem to be set for a season of transition and little achievement.
To be fair, a challenge from a newly-empowered group of clubs was expected this term. Leicester and West Ham were tipped for good things along with Everton and Wolves.
The Toffees have failed to match their billing and manager Marco Silva is already under pressure in 14th place.
Wolves have clearly been affected by the demands of the Europa League and find themselves in 19th with an early season six-pointer against bottom club Watford looming on Saturday.
But Leicester and West Ham have both secured impressive results and won praise for the quality of their football during these early weeks of the campaign.
Meanwhile, things have turned out to be even more tricky than was anticipated for United, Spurs and Chelsea.
The timing of this is perfect for the newly-aspirational. It is an invitation to take the next step upwards. Just as Leicester’s astonishing title win in 2015-16 was helped by the fact some of the big guns basically took the season off, with second-placed Arsenal finishing 10 points behind in that season.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s vague and drifting United side has, if anything, deteriorated from last May, when they finished badly.
That point was underlined when they lost 2-0 at West Ham last Sunday – when it was also noted that the home side didn’t even have to be at their best to win convincingly.
That suggests there is more to come from a Hammers side brimming with attacking potential and encouraged to play expansively and confidently by manager Manuel Pellegrini.
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Can West Ham Finish Top Six?
West Ham are priced at 9/2 for a finish in the top six with Bet365, William Hill, Betfair and Paddy Power. They look an increasingly good prospect for upsetting the old guard.
The £45 million record signing Sebastien Haller has settled in nicely at the London Satdium with three goals already, while his fellow new boy, Pablo Fornals, made a good impression on just his second league start against United.
The return of Andriy Yarmolenko after a lengthy spell out injured last season has also been like another new arrival – while the influence of evergreen cult hero Mark Noble in midfield continues unabated.
They have also currently kept three straight clean sheets and have conceded only twice since the write-off of their opening fixture, a 5-0 thrashing by champion Manchester City.
Bournemouth finished 14th last season and were not among the group of clubs expected to threaten the elite this time around.
But Eddie Howe’s side are always tidy, well-organised and adventurous and striker Callum Wilson has already hit four goals.
Two successive 3-1 wins against Southampton and Everton have hoisted them to their current sixth position, although they may not have the strength-in-depth to maintain a long-term presence near the top.
Certainly, West Ham have a more powerful and talented squad, as do Leicester.
That was underlined by Leicester’s 3-1 defeat of the Cherries in August and the point could be made again by West Ham on Saturday.
Indeed, should Pellegrini’s side collect three points, they then face a reasonably inviting run of fixtures – against Crystal Palace, Everton, Sheffield United, Burnley and Newcastle – which could see them maintain their challenge near the top deep into the Autumn.
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Leicester to make the top six?
Leicester, meanwhile, delivered powerful evidence of their potential with the 2-1 defeat of a lacklustre Spurs side last Saturday.
They were, in fact, much-fancied before the big kick-off with the manager’s influence having already become apparent after he took command over from the unloved Claude Puel last February.
The £80 million departure of defensive lynch-pin Harry Maguire for Manchester United has had no adverse effect.
And striker Jamie Vardy appears re-invigorated by Rodgers’ presence with three goals already this season. Rising midfield star James Maddison is in impressive form again, too.
Leicester’s fixtures have not been the most strenuous so far although few points are easily won in the Premier League. They lost at Old Trafford and face a daunting trip to Anfield after the Newcastle game.
But the 4-0 thrashing of Luton in the Carabao Cup in midweek showed that confidence is surging through the whole club.
Leicester usurped the elite once when they won the title. Now they are showing that they are becoming a force for the long-term, too.