With the Premier League in sight, teams will be making their final preparations before the season finally begins at the weekend.
Much of the focus has been on Chelsea’s lack of forwards, United’s summer spending and David De Gea’s future, Arsenal’s sublime pre-season, and the controversial transfers of Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph, but there are a couple of clubs who have been going about their business under the radar and making sure that they are set to make a splash once the season starts.
They might not have made headlines, but teams like Palace and Stoke look like they are shaping up pretty well, and could well surprise a couple of the top teams and try to make a push for European football next season.
With that in mind, we take a look at which sides could surprise us this season.
Gone are the days of long-ball Stoke, and the Rory Delap throw-in being their main weapon.
In fact, Mark Hughes has made some excellent signings this summer, on paper at least, with Marko van Ginkel and Affellay certainly being the key picks. In fact, Stoke now have more Champions League winners in their squad than Arsenal and Liverpool.
Their first aim will surely be to build on their 9th placed finish last term, which saw them just six points off the final Europa League spot.
The combination of these signings, as well as Bojan not being too far away from full fitness, could well mean that they make a push for the Europa League positions.
Losing Asmir Begovic was a blow, but they’ll be hoping Butland and Given will step up to the plate, and ensure they’re difficult to get past.
Prediction – 7th
Crystal Palace have seemingly dismissed the tag of being a yo-yo club – or so their fans will hope.
Alan Pardew has allowed Palace to play some exciting, attacking football, which has brought the best out of players like Bolasie over the past few months.
And, with signings like Yohan Cabaye, bought from one of Europe’s giants, and Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford, who scored a hat-trick on his debut, not to mention the powerful Bakary Sako, the Eagles are sure to be a force again this season.
After finishing 10th last season, despite flirting with the lower end of the table, I’m expecting a stronger, more consistent performance throughout the season from Pardew’s men.
Prediction – 10th
The first Welsh side in the Premier League, who certainly performed better than their counterparts Cardiff did, in their singular season in the Premier League.
Despite losing Wilfried Bony midway through last season, the Swans still ended strongly and managed to finish in 8th place, just one spot and four points off European football.
That’s a massive turn around from 11 years ago, where they were at the bottom of the Football League.
Signings like Andre Ayew and Eder are certainly strong coups on paper. And, Garry Monk will surely be hoping to push for Europa League football next time out.
Position – 8th
They fought tirelessly to prevent immediate relegation back to the Championship, and secured during the penultimate game of the season, with a draw at Sunderland.
After signing the experienced Robert Huth, and Austrian international Christian Fuchs from Schalke, they’ve improved on what they had last season.
The only real loss for the Foxes is Esteban Cambiassio, but they’ve got players like Drinkwater, King and Matty James who’ll be pushing to step up now the Argentine has left.
Ranieri has experience of managing in the Premier League too – Chelsea fans may or may not have heard of this chap – and his experience should be able to push Leicester to a more positive finish this time out.
I’m expecting big things from Jamie Vardy following his first international call-up this season too.
Prediction – 12th
Last season was very disappointing for the Toffees, after spending most the season in the lower half of the table, and they ended up scrambling their way to an 11th placed finish.
Barkley, Mirallas, Deulofeu, and Lukaku have the potential to be a real force for Everton going forward this season. Meanwhile, Martinez must work tirelessly to ensure John Stones remains in an Everton shirt at least for now.
Some seem to be writing off Everton already, but I’m expecting a much better performance this time out.
Prediction – 9th