Does The Premier League Still Have A Big Six?

The English Premier League traditionally has six big teams who reign superior in terms of competitiveness, strength, popularity and wealth. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspurs. These sides are historically some of the more successful sides in English Football, and in recent years, have accumulated the most wealth through player sales, club revenue and sponsorship. Their league table positions reflect this.

For example, only once in the last decade did fewer than five of the big six finish in the top six positions. However, there is a growing argument that the title of “Big Six” needs to be revoked, or at the very least expanded. This is due to the increasingly competitive nature of competition within England. As a result, it has seen several sides, once considered to be lesser, begin to compete and challenge the big six hierarchy. 

This was perhaps overly prevalent last season due to unusually poor seasons by the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham. However, the increase in competitiveness has been gradually trended upward for several seasons. It is important to stress that league results will never be as important as final league positions. However, increasingly in recent seasons teams outside the top six have become synonymous with taking points off the big sides.

Once a David vs Goliath narrative, lately, sides such as Brighton and Hove Albion and Newcastle have become more than just a potential banana skin. Both sides have become genuine threats, and the two clubs are both poised to break the existing Big Six hierarchy.

The sudden rise of Brighton

In the last two seasons, Brighton has transformed from a mid-table side to a team who both plays beautiful football and also wins football games. Last season was Brighton’s first big push which saw Italian tactician Roberto De Zerbi revolutionize Brighton. A sixth-place league finish meant Brighton will compete in European competition for the first time in their history. They will feature in Europe’s second-tier competition the Europa League.

Brighton’s 2022/2023 campaign was simply incredible. The Seagulls took points from almost every Big Six side. These included home and away victories over Manchester United, as well as a thrilling draw with Manchester City. Brighton also beat Arsenal toward the end of the season, which was crucial in the Gunnes losing out to Manchester City in the title race.

Brighton played high-quality possession football, with a focus on positional fluidity and chance creation through neat passing and numerical overloads. They may struggle in the upcoming season given their increase in matches due to European competition. However, there is no doubt that Brighton should be considered one of the big sides in English football for now.

Money, money, and more money: the return of Newcastle

Newcastle is even better placed than Brighton. Not only do their results mirror those of an elite club, their newly acquired financial muscle may push them to the very top. The Magpies were bolstered financially by their new owners the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, Newcastle also played an effective style of football which earned them fourth spot in the 2022/2023 Premier League season.

Eddie Howe’s side was incredibly strong defensively, ending the season with the joint fewest goals conceded alongside Manchester City. Similar to Brighton, Newcastle won several games against big teams, including a 6-1 victory over Tottenham. However, what separates Newcastle from Brighton and other sides vying for a spot among the elite, is their ability to win ugly, as well as their financial backing.

Newcastle is a gritty and determined side, receiving a mix of praise and criticism for their effective methods of time-wasting. Nevertheless, the elephant in the room is the financial muscle Newcastle possesses.

The newly crowned richest club in England now has the power to not only compete on the field, but also in the transfer market. This has made them a more attractive option for players. For instance, Italian superstar Sandro Tonali has recently moved from AC Milan to Newcastle for a reported €70 million, where he will reportedly earn upward of €7 million a year. A statement signing but not to be unexpected, given their new position of power within English football.

Will the Big Six stay the Big Six?

Newcastle broke into the top four in the 2022/2023 season, and this may yet prove to be the new norm, which begs the question, is there still such a thing as a Big Six?

It is not a simple answer. The Big Six will likely always be the most heavily supported sides globally given their existing stature and hold over the modern game. However, if sides such as Newcastle and Brighton can continually break into the top six, at the expense of one or more of these big teams, there will be a power shift within the league. Qualifying for European continental competition not only attracts better players, but also offers more financial revenue possibilities.

This could create continuity and stability as a top side in English football, and therefore disrupt the existing hierarchy of the Big Six. Therefore, the largely fan-made concept of a Big Six may remain, however, new competitors for the top spots in the English Premier League may yet continue. Competition breeds excitement, and with sides like Brighton and Newcastle breaking the mold, regardless of financial backing, the Premier League will likely continue being the most popular league in the world. 

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