Manchester United’s 2018/19 was far from a vintage campaign, much like Arsenal’s final season under Arsene Wenger a year earlier. Yet for all of the clubs’ travails, they still comfortably finished inside the top six: United held a nine-point advantage over Wolverhampton Wanderers last time out, while Arsenal similarly finished nine points clear of Burnley in 2017/18.
However, there is reason to believe the so-called big six will not have things quite so easy this term. Manchester City and Liverpool will almost certainly contend for the title, and Tottenham Hotspur look well-positioned to secure another top-three finish. United, Arsenal and Chelsea would each probably consider fourth place to be a success, but it is not out of the question that a surprise package could emerge to challenge them in 2019/20.
Wolves were the best of the rest last season, amassing 57 points following their promotion from the Championship. Nuno Espirito Santo’s charges will have to balance domestic commitments with the Europa League this year, though, and that could ultimately affect their Premier League performance – particularly as the Portuguese coach tends to prefer a settled starting XI.
West Ham squeezed into the top half in Manuel Pellegrini’s maiden campaign at the helm and have recruited smartly in the transfer market, with the acquisitions of Pablo Fornals and Sebastien Haller particularly exciting. They have also retained the services of Declan Rice and Issa Diop, but the top six will probably be beyond them. The same can be said for Watford, who only dropped down to 11th in the final weeks of last season when they began to turn their attention towards the FA Cup.
As things stand Leicester City and Everton look best placed to upset the big six. Harry Maguire will be a big miss for the Foxes, who could yet replace him with one of Lewis Dunk or James Tarkowski. The rest of the team, though, looks very exciting indeed: Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira is a fine pair of full-backs; Wilfred Ndidi is an underrated operator in midfield, where he will be joined by the returning Youri Tielemans; and an attack featuring Jamie Vardy, James Maddison and Ayoze Perez is bound to score goals.
Everton have made some excellent moves in the transfer market, none more so than the superb addition of Moise Kean from Juventus for £29m. The youngster shone whenever he played for the Bianconeri last term, scoring seven goals in 17 outings in all competitions. He will be supported in attack by the likes of Richarlison and Bernard, while Andre Gomes has joined on a permanent deal from Barcelona and fellow midfielders Fabian Delph and Jean-Philippe Gbamin have arrived to replace Idrissa Gueye. Everton showed signs of promise towards the end of last season, losing only one of their final eight encounters – a stretch which included home wins against Chelsea (2-0), Arsenal (1-0) and Manchester United (4-0).
At least one of those three clubs could be forced to look nervously over their shoulder at the some point this campaign. Chelsea have lost their best player in Eden Hazard, and both they and Manchester United – who still look short in midfield and up front if Romelu Lukaku departs – are under inexperienced management. That is not the case for Arsenal, but concerns about the defence have yet to be assuaged. Leicester and Everton will be quietly confident of causing an upset this season.