We all live in a brave, new football world after last season’s Premier League championship campaign by Leicester City. The Foxes stunning rise from the relegation zone to the pinnacle of the English game in a short amount of time has provided a sense of opportunity to many clubs throughout the country.
Where the Premier League title and Champions League qualification were once thought to belong to a select few (fourth place for Arsenal, of course), there is more balance and competitiveness within the English first division at the moment than perhaps any other European league.
Improvements through previous changes and transfers have set some clubs up for what could be a very successful 2016-17 campaign. We look at two Premier League teams ready to make a big splash and surprise some folks along the way.
Take one look at the roster and it is easy to see why the days of Rory Delap’s long throw-ins are a thing of the past. Despite finishing ninth in the Premier League table for the previous three seasons, this could be the time for the Potters to make the jump back into European competitions.
Manager Mark Hughes leads a talented lineup that boasts incredible skill and quality on the ball in attack. Austrian forward Marko Arnautovic tallied 11 Premier League goals and added one more in the League Cup as well, as he has started to display an active adaptation to English football.
A famous phrase from commentator Andy Gray for many coming to the EPL for the first time is “but can he do it on a cold rainy night in Stoke?”, highlighting how difficult it can be for anyone to play well on those tough visits to the Britannia Stadium.
In this regard, the attack of Ibrahim Afellay, Bojan and Xherdan Shaqiri do not read like a usual Stoke City lineup.
With so much talent at the top of their 4-3-3 formation, the excellent goalkeeping of English international Jack Butland and the addition of Joe Allen in the midfield this summer, we will see European football return to Stoke-on-Trent shortly.
Premier League Title Contender: West Ham United
The Olympic Stadium in London will be the Premier League’s newest home ground this upcoming year, and the Hammers could make it a year for the ages.
Croatian manager Slaven Bilic led West Ham to a seventh-place finish in the Premier League table last season and had the club in contention for the top 4 for almost the entire campaign.
Victories against strong opposition like Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United highlighted their ability to take on the best in the division.
Midfielder and team captain Mark Noble leads a side that was finding goals with much more consistency than in past seasons, with forwards Enner Valencia and Andy Carroll providing a combined 14 goals across all competitions and becoming more and more accustomed to one another’s playing style.
The real catalyst for what could be an extraordinary journey this season for West Ham is French international Dimitri Payet.
The 29-year old attacking midfielder was the star of Euro 2016 in his home country and provided several moments of brilliance throughout the tournament, like his late winner against Romania in the competition’s opening match.
Payet’s creativity and skill on the ball could bring West Ham to another level in the Premier League.
Surprise teams sometimes come out of nowhere, while others will build up over a period of time. In Stoke City and West Ham, we could see the football world shocked by the quality these two clubs have to offer.