EPL Predictions: Mid-Sized Clubs That Will Contend for European Berth
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Sometimes the best part of the Premier League offseason is working out which clubs can emerge from semi-obscurity to challenge for a European place. Yes, the title race is always going to be a talking point, but there aren't many newcomers to that discussion.
The new TV deal granted smaller teams access to more spending money and aspirations of European football—three of whom are listed below.
Is it too early to rank the Canaries among the top six teams in the league? Maybe, yes. They had a very patchy season last year. They beat Arsenal and Manchester United before plummeting toward relegation and then saving themselves with an away victory against Manchester City.
Since then they have acquired Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper, addressing the need for goals that was so obvious last year. Grant Holt is gone, but Van Wolfswinkel and Hooper have the potential to make their mark.
The team could do with some more presence in midfield, but Wes Hoolahan has impressive awareness and individual skill, plus Jonny Howson showed a huge improvement toward the end of the season, contributing a couple of great goals.
Conservative play dogged Chris Hughton's team last year, and he'll need to rectify that in order to get the best out of his new strikers. If he can do that, there's no reason why Norwich won't be in the hunt by the end of the season.
For Southampton to push for a European place, they have to build on Mauricio Pochettino's attacking style of play. Much of this burden will rest on Rickie Lambert, especially if he is employed as a lone striker. He's not had the best of starts to the new Premier League season, however, so new signing Victor Wanyama could be required to bolster the midfield and provide Lambert with space.
In an age where most teams sell off their brightest stars for as much cash as they can, Southampton have instead signed their young players to long-term deals. Another striking option would be of great benefit, but don't count out the Saints just yet.
Newcastle United were in the Europa League last year and avoided relegation by not very much at all. There's always the danger that a team playing more fixtures will suffer in the league, and that fear is present within Swansea's ranks.
However, while they might not boast the squad rotation of Chelsea or Manchester City, there's absolutely no reason why they will suffer the kind of slide that plagued the Toon.
Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins has built a team on continuity and a strong sense of community, while Michael Laudrup is one of the better young managers in world football. He has brought in Jose Canas, Alejandro Pozuelo and Jonjo Shelvey over the course of the offseason, and the squad should be well-prepared for European football—this year and next.
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