For the past three seasons, the top of the Premier League has been a closed shop. While both Manchester United and Arsenal have recently dropped out of the Champions League places, so far their financial advantages and traditional pulling power for top players have kept their heads above water.
Last time out, Spurs did just enough to finish in the top four, but also had their run to the Champions League final to contend with as Mauricio Pochettino juggled a thin squad and a number of injuries.
That the three teams who finished directly above Man Utd last season — Tottenham, Chelsea, and Arsenal — went all the way to European finals and Solsjkaer’s side couldn’t take advantage, suggests United may be most at risk from a bolter this season.
But who? The four other top 10 sides from last season —Wolves, Everton, Leicester City and West Ham — all have their eyes on breaking into the top six.
Everton are on an upward trajectory under Marco Silva, who has finally settled with a Premier League project after short stays at Hull City and Watford. This season will be a litmus test for the highly-rated Portuguese manager, with a busy summer of acquisitions from Portugal and Italy increasing the pressure to deliver consistently and break through the glass ceiling as they have done in the past.
Leicester City looked reinvigorated last season under Brendan Rodgers, who has a point to prove in the Premier League, but the loss of Harry Maguire will prove a challenge. West Ham likewise will look to mount a challenge but will do so without striker Marko Arnautovic.
Manchester United look the most vulnerable of the big six in part because the club has been on a downward trajectory since the departure of Alex Ferguson. A season in the wilderness could be just what they need though to shake some life into the team and provide hard evidence that the way the club is being run, by both the Glazers and Ed Woodward, is unsustainable.
The Arsenal hierarchy appears to have learned that lesson by spending big this summer, recognising that the climb only gets tougher if you’re waiting for others to slacken.
Which provides a word of caution to this season’s pretenders — getting there is one thing, but with the financial might of the traditional big six, staying there will be a completely different challenge.