Ronald Koeman must resign himself to the fact that a challenge to break into the top six will probably have to wait until next season. Some wise spending in the Summer transfer window and his astute management should see a more concerted effort from Everton next time out.

He will certainly be expected to improve upon the finishes of Roberto Martinez and David Moyes as he has a sizeable amount of cash available thanks to the new owner, Farhad Moshiri.

There was some expectation of movement during the January transfer window but this hasn’t really materialised. Signing top players is always difficult at this time of year. They are not going to leave Champion’s League or even Europa League clubs to go to a team not competing in Europe at all. There is far more chance of that happening during the close season.

Another team who will hope to be competing for a top six spot will be West Ham who started this season as though they were playing every game away from home. It must have felt a little like that as they slowly and laboriously got to grips with playing at the London stadium.

The return of Andy Carroll, hopefully for an injury-free spell in the team, and a satisfactory conclusion to the Dmitri Payet saga, (satisfactory to the player and Marseille, if not entirely to West Ham), should result in a trouble-free second half of the season which will see them safely in a mid table spot.

Next season more will be expected. With a capacity of 60,000, the London Stadium needs to be nearly full more often than not in order to pay for itself in the budgeted time period. Obviously, to attract the crowds West Ham need to be winning and challenging for trophies.

What of Southampton? They can no longer be called the “surprise” team after relatively successful seasons under Mauricio Pochettino and then Ronald Koeman. Initially, Claude Puel seemed to be going backwards as the Saints couldn’t match the form or style of play produced by the previous two managers, but they now seem to have found their way and have reached the EFL Cup final, beating Arsenal and Liverpool on the way! Can they be more than just a “cup” team?

There’s no reason why not and next season will see a more experienced Claude Puel having got that first season under his belt.

Rafa Benitez should return to the Premier League for next season and he is such a successful manager that it would be foolish to say that Newcastle cannot finish in the top six. He certainly has the experience with both Liverpool and Chelsea having won trophies with both clubs and will not be expecting a relegation battle in his first season back.

He may be happy with a mid-table finish first time out but we doubt it. Rafa just isn’t a mid-table kind of manager, so it will be interesting to see how Newcastle do next season.

Stoke City have flattered to deceive and Mark Hughes has always cut quite a frustrated figure. He knows how well his team can play and also knows that they should be capable of finishing higher than they have done in the past on a more regular basis. Whether that higher place is in the top six remains to be seen but the signing of Saido Berahino shows that the ambition is still there.

Leicester City, sadly, appear to have been one-season wonders. Claudio Ranieri and his team massively overachieved last season and it is unlikely to happen again. In fact, if they are not careful, there is a chance they could be relegated this season. It is probably not going to happen and Leicester need to find their depth again, which is somewhere around the halfway mark in the table.

The few teams mentioned here are the ones who have the best chance of breaking into the top six although, in all seriousness, it is probably only Everton and West Ham who will get anywhere near actually doing it. The reason? The current top six are far too strong and will only get stronger.

They appear to have decided that their table is full and doesn’t have room for any more chairs. It is a private party and all the seats were reserved a while ago and for a while to come. At least it makes a change from the Manchester United/Arsenal then the Manchester United/Chelsea years when there were only ever two teams competing for the league. Then it was far too much like the Bundesliga or La Liga.

Now it is the most competitive league in Europe, if not the world.


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