There are just a matter of days until the 2017/18 English Premier League (EPL) campaign gets underway and already the anticipation is palpable. Hundreds of millions have been spent by the title contenders in pre-season, with Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola already spending over £200m in a bid to bring the trophy back to the Etihad.
However, it didn’t take hundreds of millions for Leicester City to become champions back in 2015/16. Some may call it a fluke, others may say it was simply perfect timing while their rivals had an ‘off’ season. Regardless, it’s difficult to argue that the EPL hasn’t become tougher in recent times.
The parachute money that is filtering down from the top flight into the Championship is making the English second tier stronger in many ways and this is ensuring that the promoted sides that come into the EPL are better prepared than before to compete at the highest level.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at three sides that could potentially spring a surprise on the rest of division and gatecrash the top half of the EPL table in 2017/18:
Brighton & Hove Albion
The Seagulls are returning to England’s top flight for the first time since 1983. Albion have been knocking on the door of the EPL for many seasons and following a string of failed Championship playoff campaigns, boss Chris Hughton eventually took them up last term, finishing second to Newcastle.
The club’s Falmer Stadium is fit for EPL football and Hughton has been quietly adding to his squad over the summer, without making wholesale changes to those who earnt the club promotion. Holding on to enigmatic wide man Anthony Knockaert will be key, while it promises to be interesting to see how on-loan Chelsea front man Izzy Brown fares following a successful loan spell in the Championship last term with playoff winners Huddersfield. Albion are attracting interest in the Premier League odds markets to stay up and are already as big as 5/1 to finish last.
While it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise to see the Cherries in the top half again given their ninth-place finish in 2016/17, Bournemouth are doing what they can to become firmly established in the EPL. Young boss Eddie Howe has been given the wherewithal to splash the cash and reinforce his squad for 2017/18, including a £20m purchase of defender Nathan Ake following a good loan spell last term. Experienced top-flight goal-getter, Jermain Defoe returns on a free transfer for a second spell with the club, adding further firepower to complement Josh King who smashed home 16 league goals last season.
Combine that with the attacking flair and directness of wingers Ryan Fraser and Jordon Ibe, and the Cherries are likely to be well amongst the goals again this season. A top-half finish is certainly not beyond them, while the ambitious Howe may even consider European qualification as a goal, either through domestic cup success or through finishing in the top six.
It’s been all change at Selhurst Park this summer, following the departure of Sam Allardyce at the end of 2016/17. The Eagles only secured top-flight status in their final home league game of the campaign, routing relegated Hull City 4-0 at Selhurst Park. Survival wasn’t deemed a success in south-east London, however, and with Allardyce seemingly keen to spend some time out of the EPL spotlight, Palace moved to appoint their first ever foreign manager, Frank de Boer, who signed a three-year contract with the club.
The former Ajax and Inter Milan head coach has already been relatively busy in the transfer market. His Dutch connections have seen him return to his homeland to capture promising defender Jairo Riedewald from Ajax, while Chelsea’s versatile youngster Ruben Loftus-Cheek has signed a season-long loan deal at Selhurst Park.
There is a clear emphasis on youth and player development this term and with a number of players boasting the power, pace and strength that’s now required to prevail in the EPL, it would be no surprise to see de Boer transform Palace into top-half contenders in 2017/18. Much may rest on what de Boer can get out of Belgian centre forward, Christian Benteke, who is a 50/1 outshot for the EPL 2017/18 golden boot.