UEFA Champions League: 5 Sides That Could Be Surprises Next Season
The race for next season's UEFA Champions League is hotting up, and it's always intriguing to see a new face make a splash on Europe's elite competition.
We look at some of the lesser-established—but far from lesser-talented—clubs who are on the brink of qualifying and assess who the surprise packages could be.
Add your own in the comments if a particular club has caught your eye!
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
Unless Napoli slump pretty hard in the final five games of the season, they're set for a second-placed finish in Serie A and with it UEFA Champions League qualification.
They featured in the competition last season and beat Manchester City to qualify from Group A, but fell at the next hurdle to a revitalised, Roberto Di Matteo-inspired Chelsea.
In all honesty, the last time we saw them on Europe's biggest stage the team was built on two or three star players, but now they're a well-rounded squad with talent all over the field.
Questions remain over Walter Mazzarri and Edinson Cavani's futures, and if the summer goes well for the Partenopei they can be a real force next time around.
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
It's arguable that Atletico Madrid's deep run into the UEFA Europa League last season cost them a place in this season's UEFA Champions League, but this time they got their priorities spot on.
Bowing out early in the Europa League has paved the path for a tremendous La Liga run, and although it might rankle a bit to finish beneath bitter rivals Real Madrid, they're a shoo-in for next season's premier competition.
Will Radamel Falcao leave? There's so much speculation, his price tag is so high; Would it surprise anyone if he didn't move a muscle this summer?
Diego Simeone is a great coach and he'll be quietly confident his side can turn some heads next year.
David Ramos/Getty Images
Real Sociedad look odds on for that fourth spot in La Liga table, and with it UEFA Champions League exposure.
Philippe Montanier's side have been tremendous after recovering from a poor start, exciting us with attacking football sourced from young, prodigious talent.
Casual observers will not bat an eyelid at their presence next season, but the likes of Carlos Vela, Antoine Griezmann, Asier Illarramendi and company will soon change their minds.
Paul Thomas/Getty Images
Benfica are regular contenders in the UEFA Champions League group stages, but this season they've made massive strides toward becoming a European behemoth.
Next season, with the philosophy and players they have at the club, there's no reason they can't assert themselves as a dominant force in the groups and qualify for the Round of 16.
With a young core including Nemanja Matic, Ola John and Andre Gomes, the Eagles can pull up some trees next season.
Whoever Takes Fourth in the Bundesliga
Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
With the Bundesliga title race over, turn your attentions to the race for fourth place.
Schalke, Eintracht Frankfurt, Borussia Monchengladbach and Freiburg are all within two points of each other, making that coveted last UEFA Champions League spot anyone's to grab.
The run-in will be rather exciting, but who has the edge? All four teams seem to be choking and stumbling to the finish line, but all four can make a sizeable impact in Europe next season if they make it.
Schalke are a resurgent force after retaining Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and promoting Julian Draxler to the No. 10 role vacated by Lewis Holtby.
Freiburg play some of the best football around, but that shouldn't be a surprise under head coach Christian Streich.
Eintracht Frankfurt were only promoted to the BuLi this season, but who would bet against them considering the young talent at their disposal?
Monchengladbach have recovered well from the sales of Dante and Marco Reus, finding form after a poor start from their new signings.