Premier League Top Four race: Stock up, stock down (and level)
We’ve been telling you for weeks that the first three matchdays after the January transfer window were going to tell us a lot about the Premier League’s Top Four race.
Now that we’re staring down that window of matches with the window closed, which candidates improved or devalued their Top Four stock.
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We’re ignoring impending champions Liverpool and no-doubt Top Four side Manchester City. We’re drawing a line above Southampton, who is nine points back of fourth with 14 matches to go and four teams ahead of it.
Everyone else is fair game.
Leicester City: Stock level. Veteran PL defender Ryan Bennett arrives on loan from Wolves for some nice depth. You might want to say stock down without a marked improvement at center back and I’m still not sold on the Foxes finishing any higher than fourth, but a 14-point gap on fifth is huge.
Chelsea: Stock down.Frank Lampard’s Blues signed no one despite the lifting of a transfer ban, so obviously Kylian Mbappe isn’t there. And Frank probably should’ve consulted someone before issuing this comedic bit:
“Now what remains to be seen will be seen and from my view – and this is not to talk down ourselves because we’re six points clear in fourth – now we become probably the underdogs and the outsiders to some point because the teams around us have strengthened.”
Look, Frank. It’s stunning that the your bosses didn’t splash the cash and you’re the loser of this group of six. Still, If you blow a six-point lead on the field, that’s gonna be a you problem.
Manchester United: Stock up.There’s no guarantee that Bruno Fernandes will adjust to the Premier League quickly, but he’s a massive talent and a big capture. And I’ll say this: Not getting a striker until the very last minute is laughable, but Odion Ighalo is more than capable of being a solid short-term fix. Five goals at AFCON, prolific finishing in China, and 20- and 16-goal PL seasons in his locker.
Tottenham Hotspur: Stock up.Champions League drop off is another story, but Steven Bergwijn and Gedson Fernandes bring more spunk and danger to a side that often looked like it was resting on, well, whatever laurels you get from getting a lot better over a few years and going to a UCL final. Jose Mourinho adding wide danger reminds us that he’s done a lot with false nines before, and Harry Kane will come backl.
Wolves: Stock level.Daniel Podence is a truly intriguing add and gives their attack some relief during what will be a congested challenge for both the PL Top Four and Europa League. But ultimately, Nuno Espirito Santo is trusting that the horses he’s been riding aren’t going to tire. Hanging onto Raul Jimenez is big, but he’s already admitted to needing some respite.
Sheffield United: Stock up.It’s difficult to overstate the message the Blades sent their room by saying, “We see you in the top half. We didn’t expect to be there either. But the big boys are shuffling their feet so here’s the most expensive player we’ve ever bought. Why not, right?” It’s a big statement. The Blades also have six-straight winnable league fixtures before a run of the big boys.With a Championship foe in the FA Cup, the Blades don’t have a free skate in terms of focus but at this point you might like their odds in that tournament -- at least as much as anyone not named Liverpool or Man City.