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Aug 192014

Last season, it is fair to say that Liverpool were the surprise title contenders in the Premier League, while Manchester United’s fall from grace was equally surprising.

The 2014/2015 has just kicked off and after seeing early action experts are predicting that Manchester United could be out of the title race, Chelsea are the team to beat and of the newly promoted teams Leicester have the best chance of staying up.

But the question remains, can any of the Premier League’s lesser lights be the surprise package of the 2014/2015 season?

Let’s take a look at some possible contenders:

1. Tottenham Hotspur

Outside the top five it is fair to say that Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs are many experts choice for a team that could challenge the dominance of the top five. Certainly in terms of squad size, Tottenham have a squad capable of sustaining a challenge, but there are still a few unanswered questions about the team that finished 6th in the Premier League last season.

In contrast to their heavy spending in 2013, this time around Spurs have been more prudent in the transfer market. As well; as several young players leaving the squad, Jake Livermore, Iago Falque, Heurelho Gomes and Gylfi Sigurdsson have all left the club, with ex-Swansea City duo Ben Davies and Michel Vorm, plus Sporting Lisbon youngster Eric Dier the only signings.

Certainly, manager Pochettino will be hoping for much better things from some expensive signings in 2013. Paulinho and Erik Lamela in particular will need to build on less than stellar first seasons at the club. One positive has been the emergence of Harry Kane as an able deputy, or partner for the resurgent Emmanuel Adebayor, while the club will welcome back Andros Townsend from injury.

While the club have managed to hold on to Jan Vertonghen, defensive weaknesses which blighted their season last year, could still be an issue with no signings aimed at improving this. Can Pochettino, an uncompromising centre half himself in his heyday, improve that defence enough against the top sides? It is a big ask, although Eric Dier may well prove to be one of the bargains of the transfer window.

Prediction: Sixth last season and it is hard to see Spurs improving a great deal on that, indeed they could finish a place or two lower if things don’t go to plan. They have the potential to challenge the top four, but no real sign of realising it just yet.

2. Everton

Roberto Martinez toffee’s were certainly pleasing on the eye last season and they backed that up with some outstanding displays. At one point, after a 3-0 demolition of Arsenal at Goodison Park, Everton looked set to pinch the fourth Champions League spot, but eventually a lack of depth in the squad saw Martinez men run out of steam, eventually finishing fifth.

Having invested over £33m in new players this season, you’d assume that Everton would be in a stronger position, however unfortunately, £29m of that money went on making loan deals for two key men last year, Gareth Barry from Man City for £1m and Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea for £28m, permanent.

That is a lot of money to essentially operate with the same squad you had last season.

Bosnian midfielder Muhamed Besic looks an excellent capture at £4m from Ferencvaros though and he’ll add some bite and pace to the midfield area, while Brendon Galloway looks like a good signing for the future.

Martinez problem this season is that Everton not only have a league campaign to work at but also a Europa League campaign yet he has only added, effectively, two fringe players to what was already one of the smaller Premier League squads.

Everton’s one saving grace however could be their youth academy, with several young players expected to be given their chance in the Capital One Cup and Europa League games. That academy has already produced the likes of Wayne Rooney and Ross Barkley, others such as Ryan Ledson could be set to break through this season.

Prediction: As much as I think Everton have the capability to match their 5th placed finish last season, my one worry is that while Everton have invested £29m in players, they have effectively kept the same squad as last season by doing so, whereas all the teams above them, plus some below, have improved their squad in several key areas. As such, I think 5th is the best place Roberto Martinez team can hope for, though I do expect them to perform well in the cup and I can see them doing very well in the Europa League, if Martinez opts to play his strongest team in the competition.

3. Newcastle United

Last season Newcastle lost 15 of their last 21 Premier League games, clinging on to 10th spot in the league table. Newcastle fans were protesting at the current manager and ownership at the club and the incumbent owner, Mike Ashley, seemed to delight in doing precisely the thing that most Newcastle fans were directly opposed to.

So from this state of complete disharmony at the end of last season, what has changed at the club?

Well, bloody-minded as ever, Ashley defied experts who predicted Pardew would be on his way at the end of the season, by informing everyone that Pardew would be the manager going forward. It wasn’t what the majority of Newcastle fans wanted to hear, but it did introduce something relatively unusual at Newcastle – stability.

With Pardew’s position confirmed, Newcastle have been arguably the busiest team in the Premier League this transfer window and Pardew has made a number of astute signings.

Remy Cabella has come in for £12m, which could be a bargain price if he can reproduce the form that saw him earn a place in the France World Cup squad. Emmanuel Riveire came in from Monaco for £6.3m and while that looks a tad over-priced, the £6m for Siem de Jong of Ajax and £5m for Daryl Janmaat of Feyenoord, both look exceptionally good value.

Add to this Ayoze Perez for £1.5m, Jack Colbeck from rivals Sunderland on a free and another striker, Facundo Ferrerya on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk and this is a strong Newcastle squad. Even minus Mathieu Debuchy, who signed for Arsenal for £12m over the summer and Shola Ameobi who left the club on a free, this is a strong Newcastle squad.

What has also helped has been the fact that Newcastle have held onto key players. Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini and Moussa Sissoko were all strongly tipped to leave the club but have so far remained. Indeed, Newcastle may be looking to trim their squad further with the likes of Gabriel Obertan, Hatem Ben Arfa and Jonas Gutierrez all being linked with cut-priced moves away.

Add to this a group of talented young players coming through such as Shane Fergson, Adam Armstrong and Sammy Ameobi and the return of some key players from injury, such as Ryan and Steven Taylor and Newcastle could be in a strong position to be THE team who springs a surprise in the Premier League this season. Well most betting websites have them even money for a top 10 finish and 12/1 to make the top 6 – they could be wrong here.

Prediction: Can order emerge from the chaos? Could Newcastle genuinely spring a surprise this season? Well, it does depend on a lot of factors. A return to form for Papiss Cisse (or a top quality striker being brought in to replace him) would be a key issue as it is hard to see who will be the focal point of the attack, Riviere and Perez would arguably be the secondary striker to a genuine goalscorer. Defensively and in midfield though Newcastle look strong and if they can get off to a good start, then the European places are a definite possibility.

John Fisher

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