The Premier League’s monopoly over European club competition last season brought an end to five years of Spanish dominance, as the financial might of English football finally bore fruit.
However, whilst each of the teams that placed between third and fifth in the top flight reached a European final, there are no signs of any of them capitalising on the feat and bridging the gap with what is increasingly becoming a ‘big two’.
The 25 point gap between second and third in the 2018/19 season was an increase from the 16 point gap the season before and, although Liverpool didn’t finish in the top two in 2017/18, their form in the second half of that season was a clear indicator that they would be there soon enough.
Remarkably though, that gap may increase again next season if the chasing pack don’t take serious strides to address the imbalance. It is looking like an increasingly difficult task.
Whilst Real Madrid have grabbed most of the transfer headlines so far this summer with a £272 million splurge on a series of eye-catching signings, the only transfer of note made by the English top six has been Daniel James’ move to Manchester United for £15 million.
The signings will come, there’s no doubt about that, but it already seems unlikely that either Liverpool or Manchester City will ultimately prove to be the transfer window losers this summer, as each of the sides below them have serious question marks over their ambitions and abilities.
Chelsea, who finished third last season, are in disarray. They continue to be an absolute basket case of a club and are without a manager after Maurizio Sarri grew weary of the drama that surrounds them and opted to take over at Juventus.
More significantly, Eden Hazard has departed for Real Madrid after single-handedly dragging the Blues through recent seasons. With young prospects Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi both on the long term injured list and a two window transfer embargo in place, they seemed destined to slide down the table next season.
Tottenham will be looking to recruit after a self-imposed two window transfer ban and, with a fundamentally strong first eleven already in place, seem the best equipped to mount a challenge if they can make some smart signings.
However, with a flashy new stadium to pay off and the ever-frugal Daniel Levy in charge of the kitty, they will inevitably continue to bargain hunt rather than embarking on a heavy spending spree.
Arsenal can relate to stadium related austerity and spent the latter years of Arsene Wengers reign scouring the bargain basement due to their financial commitments with the Emirates. However, despite the stadium now being paid off, they are also unlikely to go wild this summer.
If you believe media reports, their loss in the Europa League final and subsequent failure to qualify for the Champions League means a reduced budget of £40m. Those kinds of funds won’t go far for a club who need at least two high class defenders as well as a replacement for Aaron Ramsey, mystifyingly allowed to join Juventus on a free transfer.
Then we come to Manchester United. They are the one club who you can confidently predict will spunk well over £100 million on transfers yet, do you trust them to spend it wisely? Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer has never been in charge of a budget like that in the past and it isn’t clear exactly how we will manage it.
Solsjkaer’s boss, Ed Woodward, seems more interested in securing the club official noodle partners than quality signings and, with a declining Gareth Bale linked with the club, time will tell if they have learnt from the spenidng errors of their past.
Meanwhile Manchester City and Liverpool are extremely attractive destinations for any top player. With outstanding squads already in place and two of the finest managers in world football at the helm, they hold all the cards in the transfer window and can afford to be picky, aiming to improve their already impressive options rather than desperately rebuilding.
It would take a brave man to predict any other outcome other than the Manchester City / Liverpool duopoly continuing next season and the chasing pack may be more concerned with retaining their position in the top six, with a host of clubs now hot on their heels.
Wolves and Everton, in particular, are improving at a rate of knots and it would hardly be a surprise should one of them enter the fray for the European places next season.
Naturally things can change extremely quickly in football and an unlikely but sudden compulsion to spend heavily at Arsenal or Tottenham, for example, could result in revised expectations. However, as things stand, we should probably expect more of the same.