A mid-table Premier League clash live on BT Sport on a Saturday lunchtime? Finish your bacon sandwich and settle in for Crystal Palace v Aston Villa. Oh hang about, Liverpool v Chelsea at Anfield? Surely this is a misprint.
Mid-table is a tag both teams would have been desperate to avoid at the start of the season but as we approach the end of January, it is exactly where they are. The Champions League semi-finals and title tussles of Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez seem like a million miles away as the duo go through their own struggles this term.
Chelsea have decided to change manager, dumping Thomas Tuchel for the suave Graham Potter. That hasn’t gone brilliantly well, as the Blues languish in tenth, while Todd Boehly continues to spend big in the transfer market without any discernible thought on how it might affect his manager.
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Meanwhile, we’ve seen far more of Jurgen Klopp’s frown than his blinding smile this season, as Liverpool have struggled with injuries to their forward line and been leaky at the back. There’s no quick fix to either of their issues, and they can both already write off the chance to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League.
But although these two are underperforming given their squad ability and financial might, it would be unfair to ignore those above them. In particular, the growing middle class of the Premier League, that have wedged themselves in between the top four and these two giants.
Newcastle United have skipped about three steps in their progression to launch themselves straight into top four contention, but below them, we’ve seen the refreshing progression of teams with less financial backing.
Newly-promoted Fulham have written one of the stories of the season with their over-performance. They were one of the favourites to go down yet under Marco Silva, they currently sit in 6th, surely safe from the drop and perhaps harbouring some ambitions of European football.
Andreas Pereira and Aleksandar Mitrovic have both been superb this term, with the Serbian finally proving he can do it in the top flight after a record-breaking season in the Championship.
Meanwhile Brighton have ridden the Potter gravy-train all the way to the bank and made big money on both him and Marc Cucurella. But it hasn’t stopped their progression, now under the stewardship of Roberto De Zerbi. In anything they are now even more entertaining and impressive under a new manager, as they continue to trouble the top half of the Premier League.
London club Brentford have continued their steady progression under Thomas Frank. With Ivan Toney up front, and with key wins over both Manchester clubs and Liverpool this season, they have stuck it to the big six more than any other side in the division.
As red meets blue this Saturday lunchtime, all the talk will be about the two underperforming giants. But it’s refreshing that the big six has been torn apart this season, and the growing middle class in the Premier League are taking full advantage.
*18+ | BeGambleAware