Since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, global audiences have watched the so-called ‘Big Four’ dominate for the majority of its lifetime - Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. Abu Dhabi owned Manchester City have most recently joined the frame under the ownership of Sheikh Mansour and the Abu Dhabi United Group. Excluding the early lifetime, when the likes of Ipswich and Norwich City were making the grade, there have been few new faces in the top four of the Premier League. There have been some close run-ins and some late drop-outs, although where is that fresh injection to the competition?
Newcastle United, for instance, were a team flying high for the majority of the 2011/2012 season only to slip away at the last minute. Southampton, another example, a team promoted not three seasons ago after successive promotions from League One to the Premier League, look a team likely to break that spell - only if Arsenal don’t again work their mid-season wonders. But who can finally break that spell in the modern era? At this moment in time, with heavyweights Liverpool and Arsenal resurgent, it looks unlikely that Southampton will hold their edging grip on a third or fourth spot for a whole season. In the modern footballing world, it appears only a fresh Russian or Middle Eastern bankrolling would lever a mediocre club up to the top four heights. A famous example to question the possibility was two-time Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan in 2008, in an angry rant about the dominance of Manchester United and Chelsea, who had together won the last five Premier League titles, also attacked the unbreakable top four barrier.
Following on from this fact of Premier League dominance, the modern Premier League has only seen five different winners - Manchester United with 13 titles, Arsenal with three, Chelsea with the same number, Manchester City with two and Blackburn with their 1995 triumph. For example, Manchester United won the big prize during four of the first six Premier League seasons, and triumphed again eight times in twelve seasons from 1999 to 2011, having been top of the pile for thirteen of the twenty-two Premier League seasons to date. Has this become a modern problem? Simply no side other than Manchester City and their neighbours, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal could foresee themselves winning the Premier League title in at least the next six or seven seasons. On the bright side, however, the Great British competition has four sides in contempt for the title compared to Spain’s two (or perhaps three) competitors and Italy and France’s two.
From this evidence, the Premier League, in reality has a declining level of competition with the only realistic modern contenders being Manchester City and Chelsea, and having that seemingly untouchable fourth spot adding to that fact. If Southampton can hold on and finish the season in third or fourth spot it could mark a whole new era for the Premier League. The likes of Everton and Newcastle United themselves have come close but failed thus far. Can the Saints do it? In truth, a top four finish for the south-coast club would not come of any surprise to myself or many others with the current form on display, although only time will tell.