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Mid-Level EPL Teams Who Will Threaten the Top 4 Next Season

Alex GruberCorrespondent ISeptember 10, 2016

Mid-Level EPL Teams Who Will Threaten the Top 4 Next Season

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    The Premier League season is inching closer with each passing day. These are exciting times we are in during the offseason, as intriguing international competitions go hand-in-hand with transfers and speculation as clubs look to bolster their ranks.

    While the teams on top are doing so to stay on top, the teams below them are looking to improve as much as possible to try to challenge the top dogs. Last year's Premier League saw the top five teams sort of separate themselves from the pack, with a nine point gap between fifth and sixth places.

    Sixth and seventh were just two points apart, followed by a whopping 12-point dropoff after that. But the next nine teams were separated by just eight points, a good indicator of the high level of competitiveness in England's top tier.

    And while the upper echelon of the top tier look comfortable enough, the teams below them are certainly looking to make a statement of their own. Read on to see some of the teams who finished outside the top five who look likely to try to get in the hunt for Champions League berths.

Everton

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    Last season's finish: Sixth (63 points)

    Everton have finished above domestic rivals Liverpool twice in a row, inching up to sixth place in the league standings. And while long time manager David Moyes has moved on, new boss Roberto Martinez brings a solid resume of work to his biggest challenge yet.

    He guided Swansea to the Championship several years ago, and headed Wigan's numerous survival battles as well as last year's thrilling FA Cup triumph. With plenty of talent awaiting him at Goodison Park, Martinez can certainly shape this team into a real contender.

    His biggest key will be balancing the players already in tow with possible new signings, while implementing a system that works for both sides. His three-man defense from his Wigan days will likely be jettisoned, with Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman, Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin forming a strong back four.

    Martinez's side was also known for a more dynamic style, which was in full effect in the glorious victory over Manchester City. He'll need to make plenty of adjustments, with new signings sure to influence the path he takes.

    Nevertheless, this Everton squad is one that can easily make up the nine point gap between themselves and Tottenham. All of the top five squads have tons of question marks surrounding them in terms of new signings and managers, leaving the Toffees in prime position to make a charge.

Swansea City

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    Last season's finish: Ninth (46 points)

    Swansea, like Martinez's Wigan, picked up their first major trophy by winning the League Cup over Bradford City. Michael Laudrup's men also cracked the top half of the table, improving on an 11th-place finish in 2011/12.

    A large part of the Swans' success last season can be attributed to the summer signing of Spanish dynamo Michu, whose £2 million transfer fee yielded 18 league goals. Needless to say, this was the best piece of business any side made last year.

    One thing that was disappointing about the Swansea season was their late-season form. After winning the League Cup, they won just two of their remaining Premier League matches, keeping them stagnant in ninth.

    However, this side definitely has the pieces in place to take their challenge to the next level. Laudrup has instilled a new team dynamic, from mentality to tactics, that yielded plenty of good results over the last year.

    It starts with a strong defense led by Ashley Williams and Chico Flores. It then goes to a tricky midfield with the likes of Pablo Hernandez, Jonathan De Guzman and Nathan Dyer supplying Michu with opportunities to score. If Swansea can get him some help up top, they'll be a legitimate threat.

Liverpool

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    Last season's finish: Seventh (61 points)

    Unlike Swansea, who started hot and cooled off, Liverpool were sluggish to start but caught fire near the end of the season. It was an encouraging ending to Brendan Rodgers' first season at the helm at Anfield, with better days sure to come.

    The Reds have not won a Premier League title since its formation in 1992, though a Champions League title and a handful of other trophies have softened the blow. But finishing no better than sixth over the last four seasons is less than ideal.

    Judging by their late season form last year, the turnaround could be under way. Driven by winter signings like Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool lost just three league games in 2013 to hold on to a mid-table finish.

    Already, Rodgers and crew have wasted no time in supplementing their roster with new signings. Celta Vigo attacker Iago Aspas comes in off a strong season in La Liga, Kolo Toure joined on a free transfer from Manchester City and young Sevilla player Luis Alberto has also signed on.

    Having all these strong attacking players will be crucial if star man Luis Suarez is sold as speculation continues to indicate. If he stays, he must serve the last six games of his suspension for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic.

    But with Sturridge and Coutinho leading the way, guided by veterans like Daniel Agger and Steven Gerrard, this team could easily make waves. As Rodgers' side hope to continue their momentum from last season's close, expect them to keep in touch with the top dogs.

Fulham

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    Last season's finish: 12th (43 points)

    Fulham could prove to be a real dark-horse contender. Their poor late season form was a consequence of a difficult schedule—having to battle the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Arsenal. This kept them out of a top-half finish they were closing in on through much of the season.

    Manager Martin Jol has wasted no time in bolstering his side with a series of signings. Dutch international goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg is the big name here, with tons of experience and having worked with Jol at Ajax. He'll compete with David Stockdale, who impressed in a loan spell at Hull.

    Fulham's defense, led by Brede Hangeland and Philippe Senderos, has been reinforced with the signing of Venezuela international Fernando Amorebieta. The 28-year-old had spent his entire career at Athletic Bilbao before leaving on a free transfer.

    But easily the best piece of business to take place has been the permanent signing of German defender Sascha Riether. The right-back was signed on a season-long loan from Cologne last season, and was arguably the club's most consistent performer over the campaign.

    The Cottagers' attack has yet to be bolstered, but there is still a good amount of talent in place. Dimitar Berbatov led the squad with 15 of the club's 50 league goals, a total that was best among bottom-half teams.

    Bryan Ruiz provides danger behind the Bulgarian, while young Alexander Kacaniklic is emerging as a top talent on the left flank. All in all, the pieces are there to—with another signing or two—make this team one to challenge the upper levels of the Premier League.

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