The battle to be best of the rest in the Premier League – that is, to have the honour of finishing outside the Big 6 – is a market that if anything was threatening to become even more monotonous than the title itself, with Everton turning the race into a procession. They have finished inside the top-seven in nine of the last 14 campaigns, but recent upheavals have robbed them of their place in seventh, with the departure of David Moyes in 2013 giving way to some rocky seasons, including a couple outside of the Top Half of the league.
That they finished eight last seasons is a testament to the quality at Goodison and the steady hand of Sam Allardyce, but Marco Silva was the man they wanted for a long time and they eventually got him after a tug of war with Watford and he does have a decent amount to work with.
Cenk Tosun scored five times from March onwards, Theo Walcott retains his pace on the right, the pairing of Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye is robust, and Leighton Baines can still move at left back whilst Michael Keane is a good centre back with an even better goalkeeper behind him in Jordan Pickford.
The worry for them is a lack of options outside the first XI, and the fact Silva has not spent more than a year at any of his past four clubs, and they could be a little vulnerable again to Leicester. deserved their ninth-place last season and despite the sale of Riyad Mahrez they should be aiming for at least the same again. The rest of the side is well balanced, and they still have Kasper Schmeichel, Harry Maguire, Wilfried Ndidi and Jamie Vardy at the time of writing. That is a strong spine for any team and there’s high hopes for James Maddison and Richardo Periera too, with Maddison having impressed at Norwich last season and Periera having been very important for Port’s title-winning campaign. They look big to finish seventh.
So impressive were Wolves in the Championship last season – they were nine points ahead of Cardiff and then 11 ahead of Fulham – that they are third favourites in this market and they can aim at the top half of the table.
Their summer additions have been impressive. Rui Patricio is a goalkeeper with tons of experience and his capture is a smart piece of business although even better is the arrival of Joao Moutinho from Monaco. He continues the Portuguese theme at the club, the same one that took the Championship apart last season, but he is a Champions League player and so is Patricio.
Diogo Jota was a hit after coming from Atletico last season as was Rueben Neves, and the spine of the team should be more than good enough to look to the top half finish if punters are interested.
So too should West Ham, who have made every effort to forget the nightmare that much of last season was. David Moyes saved them from relegation peril with assurance, however, and there’s now a new core that ought to put them closer to the top half.
Firstly, Manuel Pellegrini is an upgrade on Moyes with enough experience to handle a lot of talent and big personalities at the London Stadium, and he’s got plenty to work with.
Lazio’s Felipe Anderson was a huge coup with his forward-thinking attitude and ability sure to set the pitch alight. He scored 34 goals in 177 appearances for Lazio and made seven assists last season and along with Andriy Yarmolenko, should give West Ham a real threat going forward with two players than can beat their opposing man.
Jack Wilshere needs to stay fit but if doing so then there’s still a place in the upper echelons of the Premier League for him and the Hammers ought to be much more threatening going forward than they were last season. That looks more important than the arrival of Issa Diop and Lukas Fabianski, although they should improve the rear-guard enough for them to be well clear of the drop.
Fulham were equal with Wolves for the second half of the Championship season and can more than hold their own. They have been canny in the transfer market by managing to bring Andre Schurrle from Dortmund on loan whilst Jean Michel-Seri was linked with many big clubs during his time at Nice. Aleksandar Mitrovic scored 14 times from February onwards and is now back for good to enhance a side that went 23 matches unbeaten.
Burnley were seventh last season, an incredible feat from Sean Dyche and his men, and whilst European football might stretch their squad, the can have another strong season. They have added just the one player over the summer at the time of writing, but Ashely Barnes and Chris Wood had good seasons with both hitting double figures last year and the rear-guard, with Tom Heaton or James Pope both ready to step in and James Tarkowski now a centre back with an England cap.
How far they can go in Europe will be interesting, but they might possibly regress to the mean given that 12 of their 14-wins came by a goal and perhaps they might end up just outside the top 10.
Southampton survived by the skin of their teeth, saving themselves by winning a nine-pointer with Swansea last season under the guidance of Mark Hughes. They did lose Dustan Tadic but they have added reasonably with Mohamed Elyounoussi having performed well in the Champions League for Basel whilst Jannik Vestergaard blocked 39 shots in the Bundesliga last season whilst in midfield Stuart Armstrong can help create.
In the likes of Maya Yoshida, Oriol Romeu, Mario Lemina and James-Ward Prowse they have enough quality to be out of the relegation dogfight, although they don’t make as much appeal as other teams aiming for the top half of the table.
Advice -Without The Big Six
2 pt each/way Leicester (5/1 BetVictor)
1 pt each/way West Ham (7/1 general)
Advice – Top Half Finish
3 pts Leicester (11/10 general)
2 pts West Ham (3/2 SkyBet)