WELCOME TO PART three of our Premier League countdown series in which we run the rule over those teams who should end up pressing for a place in Europe next season.
But who are they, and are any of them good enough to potentially break into the top four? Our list begins at Craven Cottage with Martin Jol’s Fulham…
Last season: 8th
Under new management since the arrival of Martin Jol, Fulham have the potential to ensure another a top-half finish this season. Their defence, marshalled by Brede Hangeland and backed by Mark Schwartzer, has always been their strong suit — only City, Chelsea and United conceded fewer goals than them last term. There have been no groundbreaking signings or departures, but the addition of former Liverpool man John Arne Riise will add another option at the back. Their sixteen draws last season were more than any other team in the league and, if they can convert a handful of those to wins, they should be in for another comfortable season.
9. Aston Villa
Last season: 9th
For the first time in a long time, Aston Villa fans will enter August without that familiar feeling of trepidation. Brad Friedel, Stuart Downing and Ashley Young are no longer at Villa Park but the cause for concern isn’t as significant as those high-profile departures would suggest. Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia are two players who many Premier League clubs would love to have in their ranks and, if he manages to get back to his best, Stephen Ireland has the potential to be more valuable than any new recruit. For the most part though, Villa’s fortunes will depend on two things: the speed with which new boss Alex McLeish settles, and the form of Darren Bent who could bag 20+ league goals this season.
Last season: 7th
David Moyes will have had one priority in the off-season, and it seems that he has succeeded admirably. Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka are all still part of the Goodison Park set-up, for now at least. With the Premier League’s top six becoming increasingly hard to break into, it seems that Everton are still one or two players short of a push for a Europa League place, though they remain one of the trickier tests on the fixture list.
Last season: 10th
Sunderland’s intentions for the forthcoming season were made quite clear by Steve Bruce’s summer activity. The Black Cats have made 11 signings since the transfer window opened, the majority of whom will considerably improve both the first team and the periphery. At the back, John O’Shea and Wes Brown might be getting on in years, but they have bags of Premier League class and will be excellent additions. Just 18 years old, Connor Wickham may take a little bit of time to repay his £12m price tag, but he will be a valuable asset. As soon as Bruce figures out his preferred 11, expect Sunderland to start stringing together some wins.
6. Tottenham Hotspur
Last season: 5th
Perhaps it is slightly unfair to drop Spurs down to sixth in the power rankings. After all, they finished four points clear of Liverpool last season and now look to have dealt with one of their major problem areas by signing Brad Friedel on a free from Aston Villa. That aside, Spurs haven’t quite strengthened to the extent that some of their rivals have. The attacking quartet of Modric, Lennon, Bale and van der Vaart is lethal when it comes to unlocking defences. But, until the transfer window closes and all four commit to staying put, there are still one or two causes for concern. Wigan were the only side to take all three points away from North London last season. If Spurs can maintain that sort of home form, they’ll be in the shake-up for a Champions League spot.