Sunday’s final day of Premier League action confirmed that Aston Villa finished ahead of Tottenham Hotspur, edging the ailing Londoners out of Europe for next campaign. Unai Emery’s side completed their stunning midseason turnaround with a narrow win over UEFA Europa League-bound Brighton and Hove Albion while a 4-1 win at doomed Leeds United was not enough for Spurs.
Newcastle United in the UEFA Champions League with Brighton in the Europa League and Villa in the Europa Conference League was not expected by many at the start of the term. Even Liverpool, replaced in the UCL places by the Magpies after Manchester United’s late season push, were not expected to drop into the Europa League. Three of the seven European spots then are occupied by teams not in the “big six” with Chelsea and Spurs on the outside looking in.
However, that is how the Premier League table finished this weekend and it is no bad thing that Tottenham and Chelsea will have to rebuild away from the continental stage in 2023-24. The question now is whether or not Newcastle, Brighton and Villa can build on their qualifications to definitively break what was once considered a closed shop between six clubs.
The Saudi-backed Geordies have steadily risen through the Premier League ranks since their takeover and Eddie Howe has done a superb job so far at St James’ Park. This next year will be an interesting test for Newcastle whose sensibly assembled squad will be thrown straight into the Champions League mix without any Europa League or Europa Conference League warm-up. It could be that UEL turns out to be closer to their current level in 23-24, but it certainly feels like the Magpies will be the most serious threat to breaking up the top six long-term.
The Seagulls are the envy of European soccer right now with their emphasis on recruitment and development paying dividends under Roberto De Zerbi’s leadership. A Europa League berth certainly feels deserved based upon Brighton’s steady progress, but their ability to push on or even remain at a similar level will depend upon what happens this summer. A number of the club’s star talents are attracting interest from elsewhere and their ability to not only strengthen for continental competition, but also to plug some gaping holes will be majorly tested in 23-24.
Arguably the least expected of the three teams breaking into Europe this season given where Emery found the club when he took over from Steven Gerrard, the Spaniard has pulled off an almighty feat restoring this one-time European Cup winner to continental action. The Birmingham giants are not afraid to spend big and will likely back Emery in the transfer market this summer to equip him for not only the Europa Conference League but also a crack at bettering seventh place in 23-24. This current squad requires significant work to be ready to compete, but they have a manager who knows how to build a group which can handle both domestic and European competition.
It took until the final minutes of Villa’s win to be confirmed, but it feels as if this has been the inevitable conclusion to the season for Tottenham for some time — at least since Antonio Conte left the club. Spurs are in freefall and despite a late rally away at Leeds, Europe slipped through the Londoners’ fingers at Villa Park a few weeks ago. Big decisions are now needed, notably with regards to the next manager and the sporting setup with high-profile candidates suddenly turned off by the prospect, if they are to return to UEFA competition at the first time of asking.
Mauricio Pochettino will be back at work next season with his arrival at Stamford Bridge set to be made official any moment now. The Argentine will not make an emotional return to Spurs and instead will set about the enormous rebuilding task required by the Blues after a disastrous campaign ended in the lower reaches of the Premier League table. Chelsea are equipped to bounce back immediately, but will that be the case? If so, there is no guarantee that it will be a Champions League return despite the strength of the squad that Pochettino will now be working with.