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Dividing the Premier League into tiers

Seven matchdays into the Premier League season, teams have played enough to create an identity and define expectations for the rest of the season. For the purposes of this column, I’ve divided the 20 Premier League clubs into tiers and briefly explained why I’ve placed them where I have.

Title contenders – Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham

These are the teams I believe have a genuine opportunity to challenge for the Premier League title. Two of them are here after blazing starts to their league campaigns, the other two simply have too much talent not to compete at this level.

Manchester City is the juggernaut that was expected after four titles in the last five years and is undefeated through 7 matches. Their summer signing of striker Erling Haaland has turned out better than anyone could’ve hoped with the Norwegian sitting on 11 goals through his first 7 games.

Tottenham has built on their success under Antonio Conte last season and are off to an undefeated start this season as well. Harry Kane is back to his best with 6 goals in 7 games after a down season last year.

Chelsea has underwhelmed early after a $300 million+ spending spree this summer transfer window. They even fired their Champions League-winning manager Thomas Tuchel after a loss to Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb in Champions League group play. Regardless, they have an insanely talented squad and I believe in new manager Graham Potter who has been sensational at Brighton over recent years and figures to do well with a far stronger Chelsea squad.

Finally, there’s Liverpool. The club – along with City – has been the team to beat in the Premier League over the last three seasons. They’ve been an elite club at the European level as well, reaching 3 Champions League finals and winning one over the last five seasons. This year though they’ve had a wretched start to the season. They lost Sadio Mané over the summer and his $82.5 million replacement, Darwin Núñez hasn’t been as effective as hoped. He was even suspended for three games after receiving a red card against Crystal Palace for headbutting a defender.

Regardless, Liverpool has too much talent to play like this all season. They have a track record of success and have proven that they’re capable of going on a run. They’ve also got Jurgen Klopp at the helm and I’m not sure there’s any other manager in world football I’d trust more to turn it around than him.

European places – Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle United

These are the teams that will compete for the lower Champions League places and the Europa and Conference League places.

First is Manchester United. The most successful club in Premier League history looked brutal after two games. A 4-0 defeat against Brentford had fans imagining the worst. But new manager Erik ten Hag has turned it around and now United has won four straight and played some good football. They’ve also brought in Casemiro to address their midfield vulnerability and a victory over rivals Liverpool has revived the mojo in Manchester and made the Champions League a legitimate goal for the club.

Arsenal has been unbelievable to start the season and they top the table after seven games. However, I think it’s unlikely that their storming start will keep going throughout the year dropping them to the second tier. Even as recently as last year, the Gunners were in a strong position toward the end of the year before losing 5 of their last 10 games to fall out of the Champions League places.

Meanwhile, Newcastle has spent well in the transfer window and played well under manager Eddie Howe. Allan Saint-Maximin is electric up front and summer-signing Alexander Isak has done well to start the season.

Upper mid-table teams – Brentford, Brighton, Fulham and Leeds United

These are what you might consider “the best of the rest” teams that are good enough to comfortably avoid relegation but not quite enough to challenge the upper echelon of the league.

Brighton has started really well and even beat Manchester United at Old Trafford earlier in the year, but losing Graham Potter to Chelsea is a huge loss that limits the ceiling for a team currently sitting 4th in the table ahead of giants like Liverpool and United.

Fulham is another team who have gotten off to a great start with leading man Aleksandar Mitrović leading them after scoring 6 goals in 7 games. Around Mitrović the team has built a relatively strong core of youth and experience so I back the newly-promoted Fulham to stay up with ease.

Leeds United is another team with a lot of potential and I back manager Jesse Marsch to prove the doubters wrong and lead them to a strong finish in the league. A 3-0 victory over Chelsea showed their potential and there are good vibes all over this team that make it easy to believe.

Lower mid-table teams – Aston Villa, Everton, Leicester City, West Ham and Wolverhampton Wanderers

This is an interesting group. Aston Villa and Everton are two teams that fought off relegation last season and then made some smart transfers in the summer. Villa kept Coutinho after he was essential for them as a loanee last season. Everton lost top-scorer Richarlison but signed some proven Premier talent to replace him. They’ve also got some Premier League legends at the helm in Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard who I trust to keep them up once again this season. 

Then there’s Leicester and West Ham. These two teams finished comfortably in the upper half of the table last season but have played very poorly to start the season. Both managers, Brendan Rogers for the Foxes and David Moyes for the Hammers, have a long and successful track record. However, they both have a reputation for leading good teams that eventually fall apart. It seems that collapse may have arrived at their current clubs. Still, I hesitate to say these teams will go down. There’s simply too much talent and Premier League pedigree on these squads for me to believe they will get relegated. 

That leaves Wolves who find themselves in an interesting spot. After some hugely competitive seasons under Nuno Espíritu Santo, they’ve been on a bit of a downward trajectory for the last few seasons. This summer there were rumors they might lose their best player, midfielder Ruben Neves. They were able to keep him though and even add some more young talent to the squad. They’re currently in a bit of a bind with injuries to strikers Diego Costa and Raúl Jimenez limiting their options up front too so it’s reasonable to expect some positive regression as they get healthy. 

Relegation-threatened teams – Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest and Southampton

These are the teams that I expect to be fighting for their Premier League lives down the stretch. Two of these clubs, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest, are newly relegated and I believe they will struggle to match the level of competition in the first division. 

Crystal Palace was a solid team last year but had a quiet transfer window while a lot of teams around them improved. This reality coupled with a difficult start leads me to believe there might be a long season ahead for Patrick Vieira and his Palace squad. 

That leaves Southampton. The Saints are one of the stranger teams in the league. They seem to have games every season when they just don’t show up. Last season they had a 6-0 loss to Chelsea and they had a pair of 9-0 losses, once to Man United in 2021 and in 2019 to Leicester. Still, manager Ralph Hassenhutl has found a way to keep them up. I’ve got a feeling their magic might run out this season.