Nine points. That’s what ultimately stood between the Premier League’s best and the rest at the end of the 2018/19 season.
Arsenal and Manchester United may have suffered over the course of the campaign, with the likes of Wolves, Everton and Leicester City all enjoying successful seasons, but the top six remained untouched.
It served as an illustration of the gulf that has opened up at the top of the English game.
This has been the way of things for years now. The Premier League has become two divisions within one. Since Leicester City’s glorious title win of 2016, a season which also saw Southampton finish ahead of Liverpool in sixth, the usual suspects have occupied the top six places for the past three seasons straight.
A renegotiation of broadcast revenue, which will see the biggest clubs receive a bigger piece of the pie from this season, looked to have tightened the grip of The Big Six at the top of the Premier League. And yet the 2019/20 season arrives with more hope than ever that somebody outside the elite can pull up a seat at the top table.
Wolves enjoyed a remarkable first season back in the top flight after promotion and having kept hold of their best players, including Raul Jimenez who they have now signed on a permanent deal, they will surely continue to improve.
The only thing that could derail them is if Nuno Espirito Santo is lured away.
Marco Silva took some time to get his feet under the desk at Everton, with the Portuguese coming close to losing his job at several points over the course of his first season in charge. A strong finish demonstrated the Toffees’ potential, though. With Andre Gomes signed permanently and a few more signings expected, they could build on that.
Imagine what Ralph Hasenhuttl could achieve in a full season at Southampton. The Austrian was appointed to save the Saints from relegation last season and ended doing much more than that, pointing the club in the right direction again.
Close to £50m has already been spent on Danny Ings, Che Adams and Moussa Djenepo and there is a feeling Hasenhuttl will continue to develop a team guilty of underachieving in recent times.
Then there’s Leicester City.
Brendan Rodgers inherited the best squad outside the top six upon taking over from Claude Puel and took them to eighth place in just a matter of weeks.
In the likes of Jamie Vardy, Kasper Schmeichel and Wes Morgan the Foxes still boast a title-winning core, with James Maddison, Ben Chilwell, Wilfried Ndidi, Youri Tielemens (expected to be signed permanently in the coming days) and Harry Maguire good enough to play for every team in the Premier League.
Is there really all that much between the starting line-up of Leicester City and that of Arsenal or Man United?
Is their centre back pairing of Maguire and Jonny Evans really any worse than Arsenal’s of Laurent Koscielny and Shokdran Mustafi? Their full back duo of Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira is comparable to Man United’s of Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Leicester may be lacking somewhat in the wide areas, but they have the strength of a top six side everywhere else.
Of all the teams targeting a top six place this season, the Foxes look the most likely to crash the party.
Rodgers has plenty to work with at the King Power Stadium and surely privately recognises the lofty potential of this team.
Of course, this would require a drop-in-quality, or stagnation at the very least, from some of the top six.
But, with Chelsea now without Eden Hazard and with a new manager in the dugout, Arsenal treading water and Man Utd embarrassing themselves in the transfer market yet again, the opportunity is there. But who will take it?