The Champions League is the Holy Grail of European football and the most lucrative domestic competition in the world. The vast income from television money allows those taking part to invest in the best players and pay the highest wages. These clubs get stronger and are better placed to qualify again so the wheel keeps turning. Breaking into the top four of the Premier League is required for qualification and it has now become any four from six. Two of the superpowers must miss out.
There are three leagues within one in the top tier of English football. The big city clubs based in London, Manchester and Liverpool (but not Everton) are always in the top six and it’s virtually impossible to break into that select group. These clubs have the financial clout to offer the best wages and attract the best players. Leicester City were the exception to the rule when they won the Premier League in the 2015/16 season. They caused the biggest shock in sports history to beat the rest.
Leicester are now established in the second band of teams in the Premier League. They will never be the champions in the current setup but will not fall into the relegation places with the squad. There have been some departures from the title winning team but the club is financially sound. The overseas owners will invest in players if required to maintain their top flight status. There are about 8 clubs that will more often than not achieve mid-table safety.
The bottom tier includes the clubs that have been recently promoted from the Championship the previous season and perennial strugglers. Teams like Brighton, Huddersfield and Watford do not have the ground capacity or resources to avoid the struggle of staying in the top division. Burnley have a small budget and are overachieving but will find their level and that could be among the group for which the nightmare scenario of dropping into the Championship is feasible.
Last season all the teams that were promoted in the four divisions did not suffer an immediate return to the lower level. The trick is to survive the next season and invest the television money in players who can establish the clubs in the Premier League. Huddersfield were fortunate to survive their first season in the Premier League. They had a great start but lack quality and could struggle this time. All the pundits think Cardiff are up against it and will go down. Newcastle will be in trouble if or when Rafa Benitez gets fed up with no transfer funds and leaves.
At the other end of the table it will take something extraordinary to prevent Manchester City not defending the title. In any case there is a nil percent chance of the champions not finishing in the top four. The three champions before last season failed to make the top four the following year but City will not finish outside the Champions League qualifying positions. United may be one of the elite to miss out. Jose Mourinho is up to his old tricks and it could all end in tears.
Naby Keita is a massive signing for Liverpool and they now have a world class keeper. Overhauling City may be beyond them but a top four position looks assured. Tottenham have not bought any players but conversely they have a settled squad and look booked for another top four finish. Chelsea are better equipped to adjust to a new manager so Arsenal could miss out again. The Gunners will miss the leadership and preparation skills of Arsene Wenger and that means finishing outside the top four and no Champions League football again.