2017-18 Premier League: 5 Sleepers that Could Finish in the Top Four
While Premier League champions tend to change on a yearly basis, those that finish in the top-four of the league tend to be the usual suspects. With the way money is flying around the world of European soccer these days, it’s never been easier for the richest clubs to just buy their way to the top of the table on a yearly basis. There’s a reason clubs like Paris St. Germain, Real Madrid and Barcelona are winning every year.
The same can be said of English soccer, though there is far more parity in the Premier League than there is in some of Europe’s other top-flight leagues. Just two years ago, we saw Leicester City shock the world in making a run to the Premier League title after being pegged by most as a relegation candidate. The Foxes fell back into the middle of the pack last season, though, and order was restored at the top.
Heading into the 2017-18 campaign, the top of the table looks fairly well established. While we can’t know who will wind up winning the league outright, there are six obvious teams that will be vying for the four Champions League spots. They are, as usual, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. These were the top six finishers last season, and we have little reason to believe that won’t be the case again this year.
Vegas seems pretty confident that Chelsea and both Manchester clubs are going to finish in the top-four. City is listed at -550, while Chelsea is at -350 and United is -300. The other three aforementioned clubs don’t have as strong a chance, but the odds are still favorable. Spurs are -130, while Liverpool and Arsenal each check in at -110.
The next-best odds come from Everton at +800, so there’s a pretty substantial gap between the top-six and the rest of the field. Are any of the big underdogs capable of making a surprise leap into the Champions League spots?
Everton was dealt a huge blow when Romelu Lukaku was sold to Manchester United over the summer. Obviously, losing a player of his caliber is going to leave a huge hole in the Toffees’ front line. Still, if anyone outside the top-six has what it takes to leap into the top-four, it’s Everton.
While they lost Lukaku, they still spent a decent chunk of change to try and upgrade other aspects of the squad. The Toffees spent a pretty penny to bring in talents such as Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Jordan Pickford (Sunderland), Michael Keane (Burnley), Sandro Ramirez (Malaga) and Henry Onyekuru (Eupen). Losing Lukaku (and Gerard Deulofeu) stinks, but it doesn’t spell the end of Everton’s hopes.
There’s still plenty of incumbent talent, too. Ross Barkley has quietly continued to develop into one of the league’s most dangerous attacking midfielders. Kevin Mirallas, Aaron Lennon, and Yannick Bolasie make up a pretty talented midfield. Wayne Rooney is back, though his best days still seem to be in the rearview mirror. Regardless, perhaps he can rediscover the fountain of youth now that he’s back at his old club.
People are going to sleep on Everton because the top-six appear so loaded on paper, but they’re not the worst flier bet in the world at +800 to land in one of the top four spots in the PL table. They don’t have European competitions with which to contend, either, which should make it easier for them to focus their efforts on making the best of the Premier League campaign.
We know Liverpool have negative odds, but we’re going to go out on a limb and label them as stone-cold locks to finish in the top four. The Reds managed to accomplish the feat last season despite having been hit by a rash of injuries to key players. Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and a host of others each missed substantial time last season, yet Jurgen Klopp was still able to guide LFC into a coveted spot in the Champions League.
Given the reinforcements, the team has picked up this summer and the fact that the most noteworthy departure from the club was a rotational midfielder in Lucas Leiva, the Reds not only seem primed to finish in the top-four again but to seriously challenge for the league title for the first time since the 2014-15 campaign.
They haven’t spent as much as teams like Manchester City in the transfer market, but they didn’t have to. Liverpool could still stand to add a center back before the window is closed (hello, Virgil Van Dijk?), but the rest of the squad looks extremely dangerous. The most noteworthy addition to this point is ex-Roma midfielder Mohamed Salah, who already looks right at home dashing down the right side of the field during preseason.
There isn’t another team in the league (and maybe not another team in all of Europe) with the kind of overall speed Liverpool possess. They can just flat-out run by teams and dazzle on the break whenever a counter-attacking opportunity presents itself. If they can shore up what was something of a leaky defense and actually manage to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat this time around, we are 100 percent convinced that the Reds will wind up with another Champions League spot next season.
Lock it in. Liverpool will absolutely finish top-four this season.
Leicester City +2000
The Foxes are something of a longshot here at +2000, but we have plenty of reason to believe they can finish in the top-four. Chief among those is the fact that this team shocked the world in winning the Premier League title just two years ago. It was the most shocking upset in the history of the league, and one of the most unexpected occurrences in the history of team sports as a whole.
Claudio Ranieri was sacked last season after the team stumbled out the gates in its title defense. However, they began to look like the Leicester City of 2015-16 once Craig Shakespeare was installed as Ranieri’s interim replacement. The team thrived under Shakespeare’s guidance as he successfully navigated them out of the relegation zone and into the middle of the table by the time the season was all said and done.
So, the club’s brass rewarded Shakespeare by making him the full-time skipper. The Foxes have lost zero key players during the summer window, and they seem to have fortified the squad by adding players like Vicente Iborra and Harry Maguire so far in the summer. The vast majority of the team that won the title two years ago remains.
Jamie Vardy is still here. Riyad Mahrez, despite transfer rumors, is looking like he’ll start the season with the Foxes. Wilfred Ndidi, Demarai Gray, Marc Albrighton and Danny Drinkwater give the team a speedy and dangerous midfield. Leicester won the title two years ago on the shoulders of a strong defense, and the key cogs are still here, too. Kasper Schmeichel has emerged as one of the league’s best keepers. Wes Morgan is getting a bit long in the tooth, but the likes of Christian Fuchs and Robert Huth can help keep him honest back there.
We’ve seen this team perform at the highest level very recently, so we know very well what Leicester is capable of doing. They’re a fun flier bet at +2000 to land in the top-four.
West Ham +5000
West Ham was a trendy pick to challenge for the title last season before all hell broke loose. The team failed to live up to promising expectations following a very surprisingly solid 2015-16 season and totally fell flat. Dimitri Payet, who had become one of England’s brightest stars two years ago, struggled to regain that form. He shockingly engineered a move back to France halfway through last season.
If this summer has been any indication, though, the Hammers are fully invested in making another run toward the top of the table this season. They’ve made a slew of splashy signings so far since the season ended, as they’ve brought in the likes of Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Marko Arnautovic and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.
Chicharito was the biggest strike of all. He had been linked in rumors to a number of top clubs in England, so to see him move to West Ham was quite the shock. However, the decorated Mexican international brings instant legitimacy and name recognition for a side looking to put itself back on the map. Chicharito has been one of the most prolific goalscorers in Europe during his recent stint with Bayer Leverkusen, and now he’ll bring his talents back to England after previously enjoying a solid spell leading the line for Manchester United.
We are not going to take Slaven Bilic’s side lightly heading into this season. They won’t really be sneaking up on anybody thanks to their slew of big-name acquisitions, but few still expect them to seriously challenge for a place in Champions League. We think they have the talent to get there, and now it’s just a matter of getting results. We love the Hammers as a sleeper at +5000 to get the job done.
As is the case with Liverpool, Arsenal have favorable odds to nudge their way back into the top-four. Their failure to get there last season marked the first time in Arsene Wenger’s 20 years on the job that he failed to get the Gunners into a Champions League spot.
As is usually the case, Arsenal have been fairly quiet on the transfer market thus far this summer. Their lone huge move was the strike to bring Alexandre Lacazette to England from France. Lacazette has been a rising star in Ligue 1 for the last several years, but it took a while for a team in England to take a chance on him.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, goalscoring wasn’t exactly their problem last season. The Gunners bagged 77 goals in the league last season, which was still among the top marks in the league. Their problem was keeping the ball out of their own net, and it was evident from the first game of the season that that area would be a work-in-progress. They allowed Liverpool to come to the Emirates and score four times on opening day, and it’s something Arsenal never fully fixed as the season wore on. Ultimately, defense is what cost them a top-four finish.
Can they shore it up this season? That remains to be seen. The Gunners brought in defender Sead Kolasinac from Schalke 04, but that’s the only other player they’ve gotten so far in the summer. Wenger is banking on incumbent players to improve upon their performance from a season ago. It’s the same squad that mounted a serious title challenge in each of the two prior seasons, so we know they’re capable of hanging with the league’s elite clubs.
We think they get the job done. There are some question marks with several of the other clubs projected to finish near the top of the table, so why can’t Arsenal sneak their way in? They’re a decent value try at -110 here if you fully buy-in.