Politicians on both sides of the aisle are always saying we need to “focus” on the middle class, or “grow” the middle class, or “serve” the middle class. The reason behind this is two-fold. First, it’s just plain old pandering to the masses, since the middle class has the largest voting bloc. And second, since it’s so large, it’s the sign of a healthy nation if the middle class is doing well.
Well, the same is true of the Premier League; it’s just better with a stronger middle class. So far this season, we are seeing the benefits of this right before our eyes — I mean, how much more fun will this season be if West Ham and Leicester are actually Champions League contenders?
With every new season come shock results, those mid-table Davids knocking off the One Percenter Goliaths, but this year it seems like we’ve already gone over our quota: Swansea 2-1 Manchester United. Norwich fighting to a draw at Anfield. West Ham tearing down the balconies of Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City. And notice I didn’t even include any Chelsea matches, because everybody’s beating them these days.
These early upsets have introduced unpredictability and exhilaration to the most rote EPL matches. It means we are tuning in for a random Leicester-Arsenal game, checking our phones constantly to make sure Crystal Palace aren’t mounting a comeback against our favorite team, and shaking our heads in disbelief when West Ham won again?!
Indeed, ten matches into a Premier League season, we are not accustomed to seeing this many mid-table clubs in the top seven. Even excluding Tottenham (are they mid-table? I can’t decide), we have West Ham, Leicester, and Crystal Palace all sniffing Champions League contention right now. With injury-ravaged Liverpool in mid-season managerial transition and Chelsea’s championship palace already in ruins, there are footholds for the middle class to move upward. In addition to the clubs I mentioned a couple sentences ago, Southampton are still a solid squad, despite losing key pieces from last season, and West Brom are a plucky, defensively sound team.
So what is the cause of this sudden middle class muscle? As always, money. Since that massive Premier League TV deal worth almost $8 billion was announced, the middle class has beefed up. Talent was purchased by clubs that are usually busy selling their top assets to the rich guys. Swansea signed Andre Ayew, Yohan Cabaye left freaking PSG for Crystal Palace, and Stoke somehow convinced Xherdan Shaqiri to come play for them. Other great mid-table signings include Dimitri Payet (who’s been a revelation) to West Ham and Salomon Rondon departing Champions League team Zenit St. Petersburg for West Bromwich Albion. The transfer market in the Premier League looks quite different now than it did only a couple years ago.
In fact, the clubs that have been reticent to spend more, like Sunderland, Newcastle, and Aston Villa, currently make up the three relegation spots. You could even thrown Chelsea into this conversation, considering Mourinho and Abramovich stood pat during transfer season, keeping almost the exact same lineup from last season’s title-winning team. This is the new Premier League: Due to the TV deal, everyone’s richer, so if you aren’t aggressive in acquiring new talent, you can expect to struggle.
Of course, we shouldn’t expect to see the Leicester City Foxes lining up against Bayern Munich next year in the Champions League. History tells us clubs like West Ham and Leicester will come tumbling back to the mid-table in due time. Southampton were among the top four most of last season, only to lose four out of their last six, finishing seventh.
The rich and successful will remain so — TV money allowed Crystal Palace to snag Cabaye, not Raheem Sterling. However, maybe this new era of a strong EPL middle class will see one or two of them consistently challenge in the top four. Maybe we’ll have a shock title winner in the next few years, I don’t know. Ten matches into this season, all that’s certain is that we have one of the most exciting Premier League campaigns in recent memory.