After narrowly avoiding relegation last season and holding onto club captain and legend Jack Grealish, Aston Villa dismantled the English champions Liverpool 7-2 at home. This was the biggest defeat for the Merseyside club as well as the biggest defeat for a defending champion in the Premier League.
This just shows how much the mid-table and lower table teams of English football are catching up with the so-called ‘Elite Six’ of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. This phenomenon began during Leicester City’s dream Premier league run in 2015-16.
Prior to that, four of the top six clubs exchanged the trophy among themselves, with the exception of the 1994-95 season when Blackburn Rovers beat United to the title. The basis of this Elite Six began after the 2009-10 season, during which the aforementioned teams would occupy a place in the top six of the Premier League table, eventually qualifying for the Champions League or the Europa League.
Although this trend was not fixed, with Newcastle United finishing fifth during the 2011-12 season, it had built a reputation quite similar to the Bundesliga or the Serie A, both of which have serial champions. However, once the taboo was broken by Leicester City, this opened the floodgates for top-flight teams and working on building their teams from scratch. The best example is the high-flying Everton.
The Everton board has been working towards building an ideal team for the future for almost three years now. Under the likes of Ronald Koeman and Marco Silva, the team failed to flourish, but that has seemingly changed under the tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti.
The Italian’s move to the Premier League might be considered a step down if you look at his trophy cabinet, but that is the kind of winning mentality that the club currently need. Having seen close rivals Liverpool lift the coveted trophy last season might not have been easy, and Everton’s transfer business this summer can be considered among the best by any team this season.
The Toffees have roped in Colombian star James Rodrigues, pairing him with Harry Kane’s successor in England, Dominic Calvert-Lewin. This has added an extra dimension to the club’s attack, while the likes of Abdoulaye Doucoure from relegated Watford and Allan from Napoli provide sufficient cover to the talents of Andre Gomes. Meanwhile, the signing of Ben Godfrey from Norwich City concludes a series of crafty transfer deals as the club challenges the ‘elite six’ for a top-four finish.
Another example is promoted side Leeds United. Under Marcelo Bielsa, the club has improved leaps and bounds, while adjusted to life in England’s top-flight easily. The model followed by Bielsa is straightforward - do not tinker with a winning formula.
The club has retained a majority of their championship winning side, while bringing in a barrage of new talents, adding depth to their side. Some of these players like Rodrigo (signed from Valencia) and Diego Llorente (signed from Real Sociedad) were regulars in the Spanish top flight, yet find themselves starting matches from the bench. Moreover, Leeds have given a lot of the top-flight clubs a run for their money, including Liverpool, who somehow managed to beat them 4-3, and Manchester City.
All this indicates a rise in the ambitions of the clubs. In the previous seasons, the top six were expected to beat any other club below their stature. This trend has been changing, which not only points to the vulnerability of the big clubs, but also an increase in the confidence and determination of the other teams. It took a 3-0 loss to Watford for Liverpool to end their unbeaten streak, meanwhile, Leicester City trumped Manchester City at home, but lost to West Ham United the following gameweek.
This also indicates a rise in the competition in English football. The Premier League has always been known for its competitiveness and unpredictability (as was on display at Villa Park last night), unlike their rival leagues, and that fact that both Everton and Aston Villa currently have a 100% win record in a further testament of the fact. However, a definite rise in the ambitions of clubs can be seen in the players and the managers that they bring in, and this is sure to shore up dormant intentions of displacing the big names of English football over the next few seasons, if not the current one.
Feature image courtesy: APF / Rui Vieira