As Leicester, Wolves and Newcastle rise, is the Premier League's Hierarchy Beginning to Break?

The 'Big Six' European barrier is breaking

In years gone by, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham have more often than not dominated the European spots of the Premier League, earning themselves the name: the ‘Big Six’.

The Premier League’s elite, together, have spent billions to maintain their spots at the top of the table, keeping at bay contenders like Newcastle United, Everton and most recently, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United.

In more recent years the Premier League hierarchy has experienced some turmoil, with some of the ‘lesser teams’ featuring more commonly among the European spots. Clubs from out of nowhere seem to be breaking this European barrier, which was unheard of as early as 10 years ago.

Wolves and Sheffield are not the first underdog teams to convincingly challenge for a top six place, however, as Newcastle United placed fifth in the 2011/12 season, qualifying for the Europa League. Despite reaching the quarter finals of the 2012/13 competition the Magpies finished 16th in the league that season, just five points above relegation, perhaps struggling to cope with the struggles of league and European football.

This seemed to be the case for Leicester’s title-winning side of 2015/16 as well, finishing 12th the season after becoming champions of England.

Now, Leicester are currently firmly in third place under the experienced boss, Brendan Rodgers, just four points behind champions Man City, whilst Wolves are in sixth place – ahead of seventh Sheffield only by goal difference, who are just two points off United in fifth.

Tottenham and Arsenal are in 8th and 9th place, respectively, after underwhelming seasons from both sides. Are these signs the hierarchy of the Premier League is changing, as clubs begin to rise below them the usual top six sides?

The Demise of north London and United

Since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, United have been a shadow of the dominant, title-winning side they once were, finishing in the top four just three times since the his departure.

Despite being heavily active in the transfer market over recent years, spending record-breaking fees for the likes of Paul Pogba and Harry Maguire, United are still struggling to regain the reputation of title challengers or even consistent top four contenders right now.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men are currently sitting at fifth in the league and have been criticised for their overall performance this season winning just 12 of the 29 league games played, losing eight.

Tottenham are another of the Premier League’s top sides to have had a difficult season this year, currently positioned at eighth in the league. They have only won 11 of their 29 league games, losing 10 and drawing eight, putting them two points behind Wolves and newly-promoted Sheffield United.

Spurs, similar to other clubs, were merely a team attempting to get into the Europa League prior to Harry Redknapp and Mauricio Pochettino changes early last decade. Now, they are expected to fight for the title. However, with Harry Kane flirting with a departure, Pochettino and Eriksen gone, have the club failed to cash in on their new self?

Unlike Spurs and United, Arsenal are the club seemingly most likely to lose their reputation as one of the Premier League’s consistent top six sides. After parting ways with Arsene Wenger in order to bring the club into a new era, the Gunners have failed to impress, falling out of the Champions League spots consistently since 2017.

Now, with Wolves continuing to rise with their Portuguese blueprint and wealth, they are now seemingly battling for Europe stronger than Arsenal, and have even furthered themself within the Europa League this season already.

Clubs like United and Arsenal will also be around, but the likes of Wolves and Leicester are not slowing down and have arguably better managers at the helm. Perhaps now it's time for the 'Big Six' contenders to take a leaf out of their books.

ICYMI: Read how Newcastle United are a sleeping giant and their new takeover will awaken them as a Premier League hopeful.

The rise of Wolves and Leicester is a sign of concern

This season, Leicester have been exceptional under the supervision of Rodgers, with the Foxes looking like earning themselves a place in the Champions League for the second time in five years.

Rodgers’ men have won 16 of their 29 games this season, losing half as many, taking them to third place in the league. The appointment of the Northern Irishman has raised the levels of football at the King Power Stadium, scoring the third most amount of goals in the league this campaign, with only Liverpool and City ahead of them.

Leicester will more than likely need to sign more experienced and better quality players, should they feature more permanently in the top four or even the top six. But, under Rodgers this shouldn't be an issue. The former Liverpool boss famously almost won the league with Liverpool in 2014, and is already more sought after and more experienced than the likes of Solskjaer and Mikel Arteta.

Since their promotion to the Premier League, Wolves have often performed better than clubs like United and Arsenal even and have not for a second looked like loosening this grip on breaking the 'Big Six' barrier.

Nuno Espirito Santo and his men are perhaps the most likely team, at the moment, to be challenging the top six more often, as they have shown that the prospect of European football does not phase their performances in the league. At the same time, the club are signing elite players like Joao Moutinho and able to fend off European heavyweights for the signature of stars such as Ruben Neves and Raul Jimenez.

Both Leicester and Wolves have respectable managers and the right idea moving forward. Whilst clubs like United and Arsenal continue to aimlessly rebuild without a structure, those below them are making all the right moves.

Keep an eye on Newcastle United

Newcastle's takeover seems imminent. As the days pass, the excitement builds around the North East and their potential dramatic windfall at the club. If Amanda Staveley's Saudi-back consortium does go through, St. James Park will bellow with pride once more, no doubt.

As we have seen with Chelsea and City since the turn of the Millennium, a blank cheque wins you trophies. For years now, the Magpies have been involved in relegation fights rather than European battles they had in the 90s and all that has been missing is the cash flow to get them back there.

Over the next few transfer windows, the risky big-money signings like Joelinton and Miguel Almiron will be no longer, and the successful superstars will come in instead. Indeed, it will take a few years to see such memorable names at St. James Park, but Newcastle are almost certainly on the rise with their potential new takeover.

Whilst Wolves are combining a Portuguese blueprint with heavy transfer movement, Leicester are stilling living off Jamie Vardy and struggle to keep the elite names on their payroll. Newcastle, however, may be able to do both of these things with a new owner.

Just like in the late 90s, Newcastle will rise up the league and stay there if they can spend the cash they so desperately need. They, more than anybody, could beak this Premier League hierarchy over the coming seasons.

ICYMI: Read who Newcastle United could sign when from Wilfred Zaha and Philippe Coutinho to Oliver Giroud and John McGinn.

Can the outsiders break the hierarchy?

Although impressing this season and shocking everyone by being in with a chance for Europe, Sheffield may not be a regular feature amongst the Premier League’s European places. The Blades do not have the finances to keep up with the ‘Big Six’ and don't possess the budgets from those around them making moves forward like Wolves and, potentially, Newcastle.

Furthermore, whilst clubs like Bournemouth have shown that sticking true to yourself tends to fare well in this league, similarly, the Blades can't exactly build on their current growth much more. Truth be told, as good as these clubs have been in their top-flight pursuits, the likes of Wolves and Leicester possess more firepower, a bigger budget, worldwide status and international stars, which is header closer to the 'Big Six', rather than the second tier.

Overall, the typical top six sides of City, Liverpool, Chelsea, United, Spurs and Arsenal will stick around. However, with Newcastle potentially rising and teams such as Leicester and Wolves’ growing in stature, the hierarchy is showing cracks.

It was as early as the 2010s when the usual clubs were the only ones succeeding and a break in the European barrier was unheard of. City showed back then a dramatic windfall is a must to jump the infamous roadblocks, but Wolves and Leicester are rising as clubs are falling. Not to mention how the Magpies may well become the next billionaire outfit splashing the cash, just like City.

By Bradley Beecham

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