It goes without saying that the so-called 'Top six' clubs in the Premier League have been isolating themselves from the remaining fourteen clubs, this feels especially true over the course of this season that has just passed. It feels like there are two divisions in the Premier League: The top six and the rest. When looking at those two 'divisions', the final table looks as if someone had picked random teams out of a hat before the season started.
My reason behind this is that positions in the table have thrown up several surprises. For the second consecutive occasion, Chelsea fail to qualify for the Champions League whilst defending their title. Ourselves, of course, achieving a top half finish - the first team since West Ham (2012/13) to achieve this immediately after gaining promotion. For the first time since the 2011/12 season, all three promoted clubs from the previous season managed to achieve survival. West Brom experiencing relegation following from their top half finish from the previous season - the first time since Birmingham (2010/11) to be relegated from the Premier League immediately after achieving a top half finish. But to save the best until last, the biggest surprise package (with no disrespect intended, of course), has to be Burnley achieving European football for the first time since 1966 and achieving their highest finish since 1974 especially after many had written them off for relegation before the season's start. A shock win at the home of the Champions, Chelsea on the opening day was the start of something special for Sean Dyche's team.
This article is looking at what the league table would look like if it was just between the 'Bottom fourteen' teams in their combined total of twelve matches against the 'Top six' sides. My inspiration for this article idea came following the grand finale of the season with the 3-0 win over Chelsea. The win signified that we had beaten three of the top six at home this season. Prior to playing Man United at home, we had only gained one point against the teams in the top half (dated 5th February). Over the course of the second half of the season, we managed to greatly recover that poor record and transformed it into a record that most teams around us would be envious of.
So without further ado, let's have a look at this alternate league table.
Won: 3, Drawn: 1, Lost: 8, GD: -10, Pts: 10
A fairly considerable 23% of our points over the course of the season came against the Top six - a percentage which only West Brom managed to exceed (details to come shortly). Despite losing on all six occasions when we were the visitors in these matches, we still managed to come top of the table thanks to the excellent home record with the season-high feeling wins over Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea. Another interesting stat is that we are the only team in this list to have a positive goal difference (+2) in the home matches against the top six. We were in a very unpleasant situation going into the new calendar year with having to rely on picking up points against the teams around us. Luckily those fortunes were turned around and we picked up a small handful of fantastic wins against big sides. In my view, my favourite of these has to be the win over Arsenal as that (barring a miracle) secured our safety with a handful of games to spare to lift the pressure going into the final chapter of the season.
2nd: West Brom
Won: 2, Drawn: 4, Lost: 6, GD: -13, Pts: 10
Do not worry, you are reading that correctly: West Brom are literally second in a table where the higher you are, the better. However it may come as little surprise when I mention that the two West Brom wins against the top six came in the closing stages of the season when Darren Moore took temporary charge and showed excellence during that time which has landed him in being deservedly given the West Brom job on a permanent basis as the Baggies will, no doubt, aim for an immediate return to the Premier League. A staggering 32% of West Brom's points came against the top six - the best percentage out of the teams on this list. It shows that the Baggies should have simply done better against the teams around them. Now that the season has concluded, West Brom fans are now left to ponder what might have been if Alan Pardew had been sacked sooner considering the upshot in form following his departure in April, but it proved to be too little too late. One good achievement from the season that West Brom can take away with them is that, considering their dire position around late February/early March time, they ended up not becoming the first side to have their relegation confirmed as Stoke showed no improvement whatsoever under Paul Lambert.
Won: 2, Drawn: 2, Lost: 8, GD: -9, Pts: 8
The only thing that is noteworthy with regards to Leicester's placement in this table is that they came slightly unlucky as the Foxes played out two world class and highly entertaining matches coming on the opening and final day against Arsenal and Tottenham (both away) respectively. The first match of the whole campaign began with a 4-3 thriller in Arsenal's favour at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal would then go on to beat every side from the bottom fourteen when they came to visit the Emirates. With Claude Puel facing pressure from the Leicester fans despite comfortably achieving a top half finish, their end of season did not make this pressure any easier for him. With both Tottenham and Leicester having nothing to play for when they met on the final day of the season, an incredible 5-4 was played out - once again, a thriller of a match going against Leicester. However, they can be happy with home wins against Arsenal and Tottenham.
Won: 2, Drawn: 2, Lost: 8, GD: -19, Pts: 8
Similar to ourselves, all of the points that Watford gained over the top six teams came at their home ground. The most notable win out of the two matches has to be their 4-1 win against Chelsea which came when new boss, Javi Gracia was still in his honeymoon period as the club's new manager - a period that would go on to become something of a distant memory for the Hornets. Considering the board's ruthless attitude towards the sacking of their managers, it would not surprise me if Watford are lining up the job advertisement at the ready for when Gracia makes one more small mistake.
Won: 1, Drawn: 4, Lost: 7, GD: -14, Pts: 7
A decent record against the top six teams meant that the Clarets had to step it up a gear against the teams around them and that is exactly what they did. A great start to the season felt like it came to an end in the couple of months following Christmas. A lengthy difficult run right in the middle of a season is difficult to recover from (just ask us; we had the "league's best manager", John Carver in charge and "even" he could not get us out of that rut). However, for Burnley, they managed to recover and rekindle that dream and ambitious target of qualifying for Europe. A strong finish meant that they did just that and even managed to put a bit of pressure on Arsenal going into the final few matches.
6th: West Ham
Won: 1, Drawn: 4, Lost: 7, GD: -18, Pts: 7
Following the sacking of Slaven Bilic, the difficult run showed no signs of stopping in the early days of David Moyes being in charge of the Hammers. However, their one win in this table came at home to Chelsea in December which signified something of a turning point in luck and fortunes at the London Stadium.
Won: 2, Drawn: 1, Lost: 9, GD: -21, Pts: 7
I am not the biggest fan of Brighton as a club but, just like many Geordies, I love Chris Hughton. It was a fantastic occasion for the manager as Brighton beat Man United at the AMEX Stadium to secure their Premier League survival. There other win in this 'division' came at home to Arsenal at a time when the Gunners were showing signs of not being able to cope in matches away from home which would result in a glum trip back to North London wherever they went.
Won: 2, Drawn: 1, Lost: 9, GD: -22, Pts: 7
Surprising home wins against Arsenal and Liverpool (both occurring in January) set the Swans in good stead to clamber away from the relegation zone under Carlos Carvalhal and many Swansea fans were already setting their sights on next season with the assumption that they would be in the Premier League and beginning to ponder what awaits for the club when Carvalhal is given a full season at the Liberty Stadium. However it was not to be in the end. Despite the wins against Arsenal and Liverpool, a lack lustre strike force cost them dearly, not to mention the high price they paid to bring back Andre Ayew for a second spell at Swansea, only for the Ghanaian to emulate his brother, Jordan and make scoring look as difficult as brain surgery and rocket science.
Won: 2, Drawn: 0, Lost: 10, GD: -19, Pts: 6
Early on in the season, Bournemouth were incredibly unlucky to lose at home to Man City in a game where Charlie Daniels scored a Goal of the Season contender. However it was not all doom and gloom whenever Bournemouth came up against the league's biggest sides. One of the highlights of their season would be their 3-0 away win at Stamford Bridge. Many would have found the result surprising but I would imagine that all, even the Bournemouth fans, would have found the scoreline incredibly surprising. For that match, the Cherries were on top (see what I did there?) throughout the second half and, thanks to that result, began to space themselves away from the really tight areas of the bottom half at that point in the season.
Won: 1, Drawn: 2, Lost: 9, GD: -23, Pts: 5
Huddersfield's home win against Manchester United in October would have undoubtedly been special however I believe Huddersfield's biggest highlight of their season, similar to Bournemouth, came against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge as the Terriers secured their Premier League safety to avoid an immediate return to the Championship. Following Stoke and West Brom's confirmed relegation, the pressure was really on for Huddersfield to deliver in their final few matches which came against Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal. The dream was beginning to become true reality when they took the lead at the start of the second half at Chelsea. A Chelsea equaliser moments later enabled Huddersfield to hold on in excellent style. Huddersfield's survival is an example that success is possible without possessing a bottomless pit of cash, although that definitely helps nowadays.
Won: 1, Drawn: 2, Lost: 9, GD: -29, Pts: 5
Stoke's abysmal record under the mid-season managerial arrival of Paul Lambert confirmed an end to the Potters' ten year spell as a Premier League team. Their relegation means that Everton are now the only non-top six team to be ever-present in the Premier League since 2008. Their one win against a top six team came at home to Arsenal in the second game of the season where Jese scored the only goal of the game.
12th: Crystal Palace
Won: 1, Drawn: 1, Lost: 10, GD: -17, Pts: 4
Four points from a possible thirty-six does not make for good reading even if that is against the top teams. However, the excellent transformation at Selhurst Park inspired by Roy Hodgson has meant that they have remained in the Premier League courtesy of doing well against the teams around them. Their one win against a top six team this season was the first match they became unbeaten in the season as they beat Chelsea at home in October. Wilfried Zaha playing out a superb performance on his return from injury in that match just showed how much the Eagles missed him in that very difficult start to the campaign. One other noteworthy occurrence is that Palace were very unlucky not to beat Man United in March at home after going 2-0 and looking comfortable in the second half. A quick flurry of goals brought Man United back into the game. Palace still seemed content to settle for a draw which they would have certainly accepted if offered before kick off. However a Nemanja Matic wonder goal in the dying moments of added time turned the Palace fans' mood from ecstatic to drained in the space of thirty-five minutes.
Won: 0, Drawn: 4, Lost: 8, GD: -24, Pts: 4
With Everton and Southampton being the only teams to not beat any of the top six this season, it makes me question whether the views of Everton fans believing that they should be amongst and on a par with the top six teams is a realistic view. The fans' treatment towards Sam Allardyce has been nothing short of a disgrace considering that Big Sam did everything and more that he was asked to do for the club and in a shorter space of time than expected. With no wins against the top six this season, it shows that the Toffees have got some way to go and the fans are going to have to be patient and believe in delayed gratification if they are going to be part of that elite group at the top of the table, I cannot see it happening in the near future.
Won: 0, Drawn: 3, Lost: 9, GD: -15, Pts: 3
It is a rather unpleasant record belonging to the Saints but they'll consider themselves lucky that they managed to escape relegation because of the points they picked up against the non-top six sides. Despite the lack of wins, they did however put in impressive fighting performances against Arsenal and Chelsea, both in April and both resulting in a 3-2 loss. With Mark Hughes setting himself for a long term future at the club, we will see whether Southampton have the capabilities of avoiding relegation at a much earlier date next season compared to this season.