By Ray Hamill
Predicting the top six in the English Premier League is one of the easiest calls in all of sports.
Predicting the order of that six, however, is one of the most difficult.
Sure, sometimes a Leicester City comes along and throws a spanner in the works, but that type of thing happens once in a lifetime (or two), and any dreamers harboring hopes of a Huddersfield Town miracle in 2017/18 would do well to remember that money talks in the EPL and the teams that spend it more than anyone else are the same teams that generally occupy those top six spots.
The most likely of the other 14 teams to potentially crash that party (at Arsenal’s expense, dare I say?) is perhaps Everton.
The Toffees, apart from having one of the worst nicknames in all of sports, have been busy bees during the summer months, but how quickly these new faces gel could decide the season.
Manager Ronald Koeman will have his hands full, especially with such a brutal start to the schedule.
Of the so-called big six, Arsenal, as I mentioned, could be the most vulnerable right now.
Manager Arsene Wenger seems to have lost the locker room and the team appears in disarray, although the Gunners still retain more talent than most teams in the EPL and I don’t expect them to fall too far off the pace.
Clearly Manchester United looks like the cream of the crop through the opening three weeks of the season, winning all three games by a combined 10-0.
Second season has usually been the charm for manager Jose Mourinho. We’ll see if that trend continues this year.
Liverpool currently sit second in the standings on goal difference, with only an injury time corner kick letdown against Watford on the opening weekend separating the Reds from their bitter rivals atop the table.
The Reds have a lightening fast and exciting front six, but with that defense I can’t see them keeping pace over the course of a long winter and 38 games.
One team who should keep pace and contend for the championship is Manchester City, which despite some early season jitters has as much talent as any team in the EPL, and perhaps even beyond.
Champions Chelsea, meanwhile, will have its depth tested with Champions League football back on the agenda this season, not to mention manager Antonio Conte’s patience being tested with owner Roman Abramovich.
One of the biggest questions facing the Blues this season is whether or not Conte will still be in charge in the new year.
History and the rumor mills suggest he may not.
And then there’s Tottenham, perhaps the most unlikely of the top six and a club batting above its average in recent years.
This summer it became only too obvious Spurs don’t pay their players the way the other top clubs do and this has been a (public) bone of contention for some of the team’s players.
Manager Mauricio Pochettino has done a remarkable job with the club over the past couple of seasons, but you have to wonder if the window of opportunity hasn’t passed Spurs by and if they can continue to compete week-in-week-out with the other top guns.
(You also have to wonder just how long Pochettino will stay with the team as well.)