So much of the talk in the Premier League this season has surrounded either the “Big 6” or the “Bottom 6”, as many call it. The Big 6 represents the top of the table – Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool, City, and United. The Bottom 6 is currently the relegation battle – Sunderland, Palace, Hull, Swansea, Leicester, and Middlesbrough. It makes sense when you think about it – the relegation fight and the title race are obviously the most intriguing parts of any league. But when this happens, great runs of form, as well as poor ones, from the other 8 teams in the league are often ignored. So, I’m now going to take a look at what’s been going on with the neglected mid-table clubs (positions 7-14), and how each of them can take the next step.
Everton (7th place – 41 points)
Of all the mid-table sides, Everton has by far looked the most entertaining. Their electric attack has netted 40 goals this season, led by Romelu Lukaku. In my honest opinion, when Everton have played to their full potential, they can beat anyone. The problem for them has been consistency. They are currently on an 8-game unbeaten run, but right before that was a stretch where they only won 2 of 12. In a more recent example, they followed up a 6 goal performance against Bournemouth by being shut out against Middlesbrough. And while Middlesbrough are a tough defense to break down, Everton has more than enough quality to cope with it. Wingback Seamus Coleman is probably one the most underrated players in the league, as he looks dangerous every time he gets the ball. The final stages of the season will be a real sign for the future, as we will see how they do against clubs like Tottenham and Arsenal. I think if the club can hold on to Lukaku, they could be a Champions League contender as soon as next season.
West Brom (8th place – 37 points)
West Brom sit in 8th place currently, but they are nowhere near being European contenders in my opinion. The simple reason for this is their form against top teams – they have not had a single win against any team in the top 6 (1 draw, 6 losses). Contrast that with the fact that they have not lost a single game against a team below them. And while I did just criticize Everton for their lack of consistency, at least they are capable of beating a team like City 4-0. And while West Brom’s consistency has put them high up in the table, until they take the next step and bring in a real superstar, I think that the top 6 is well out of their reach. They have all the side pieces, in Morrison and Phillips, but are just missing someone who can take them over the hump.
Stoke City (9th place – 32 points)
This is the part of the table that gets really congested – just 2 points separate 9th place Stoke from 13th place, Watford. And to me, that’s a fair reflection of what Stoke have been this season – a middle of the pack squad. They just never have looked convincing to me. Even when they get good results like the 1-1 draw against United, they had their backs against the ropes for most of that game. For me, what’s missing is a simple spark off the bench. Stoke need to look to bring in a pacey youngster that can provide the energy and counter-attacking threat in the late stages of the game. I think this type of player would really compliment Shaqiri and Arnoutovic, and could take Stoke out of this congested area.
West Ham (10th place – 32 points)
West Ham have responded to Dimitri Payet’s departure in a much more positive way than I expected. Players like Lanzini, Antonio, and Carrol have really stepped up their game, and they have lost just 1 of their last 5. For me, what West Ham is missing is a clinical striker – Andy Carrol is a dangerous threat, but his problem has always been staying healthy. West Ham have been linked to Alexander Lacazette in the past, and bringing him in would provide more of an all-around consistent threat. Another area that needs to be improved is the fullbacks. Aaron Cresswell had a great year last season, but has drastically dropped off this year. In addition to this, the other wingback position is virtually empty, with no first-team quality players. West Ham are currently unable to stop the supply out wide, which results in way too many goals conceded
Southampton (11th place – 30 points)
Southampton have been struggling as of late, losing 6 of their last 8 games. And while the 2 wins they’ve had have been emphatic (a combined margin of 7-0), they have both been against relegation battlers, in Leicester and Sunderland. Things don’t look to be getting much easier for Southampton, as they have fixtures against Arsenal, Tottenham, and United coming up. And while they are 10 points from safety, they may be slightly nervous given their form and upcoming matches. I personally don’t think they will have any problem staying up, but you never know. For me, Southampton are just missing a creative attacker, like Sadio Mane. Gabbiadini has looked promising in his first couple of matches, and bringing in an attacking midfielder could provide the clinical link up play Southampton need.
Burnley (12th place – 30 points)
The contrast between Burnley’s home and away form is remarkable – they have racked up 29 points at home (3rd best in the league), but just 1 point on the road (worst in the league). If Burnley can find a way to replicate their home success in away games, they could be a really dangerous side. This, of course, is easier said than done. Just like West Brom, I think Burnley are really just missing a star that can take over a game. And while they may not be able to afford a world-class player, maybe someone like Erik Lamela could provide what they need. While he may not be a superstar, Lamela has shown signs that he can dominate the midfield and wide areas.
Watford (13th place – 30 points)
Watford has shown promising signs many times this season. They recently beat Arsenal 2-1 as part of their 4 game unbeaten run, and took down sides like Everton and United earlier in the season. Unfortunately, they’ve also dropped points against sides like Middlesbrough and Sunderland. I think Niang is a promising signing, but they are still just missing a dangerous wide player. Holebas has been decent, but a player like Jesse Lingard (who may be looking for an exit this summer) could provide a dangerous threat that could propel Watford into the top half of the table.
Bournemouth (14th place – 26 points)
Bournemouth really have just never picked up any momentum this season. They’ve followed up wins that should provide a real spark going forward by going into a slump. For example, they followed up a 6-1 win against Hull by winning just 1 of their next 5. Currently, they have won just one of their last 8 games. With matches against City, West Brom, and United coming up, Bournemouth are in serious danger of joining the relegation battle. I think their entire center-midfield needs an upgrade. Players like Arter and Gosling just haven’t done enough to provide protection for their back four, leading to the 3rd worst defense in the league. As soon as these changes are made, I think Bournemouth has the potential to move into the top half of the table.
Let us know what you think in the comments!