Each season there are teams that confound expectations by finishing much higher than predicted. This article is an attempt to seek out sides that could potentially do this based on their pre-season decision-making.
Potential Premier League Dark Horses
3. Huddersfield Town
David Wagner has worked miracles in the brief time he has spent with the Terriers. His decision to implement a high-pressing style of play was brave due to it being unfamiliar in the Championship. However, it certainly paid off with a victory in the play-off final against Reading. The club has recognised this by giving him a new two-year contract.
There are doubts about whether Wagner can translate this success to the Premier League due to the gulf in quality between the two leagues. Also, the fact that he had to heavily rely on loan players such as Aaron Mooy, Danny Ward and Izzy Brown is a worry. Ward returning is a slim possibility, but they have signed Mooy for a club record and reports suggest a deal for Brown is being actively pursued.
This isn’t anything new for Wagner and the team because there was surprise at his appointment. They also weren’t expected to be victorious in the play-offs. Wagner’s ability to quickly adapt and play exciting football at the same time suggests that they shouldn’t be underestimated. He also had one of the smallest budgets in the league, which makes his achievements even more remarkable.
His decision to have a clear style of play and the ability to find players that suit it puts him in good stead. There is a rich history here of similar teams that have done well. Bournemouth and Swansea both came up to the Premier League with a clear vision. The Cherries employed a high pressing style of play under Eddie Howe. In contrast to this, Swansea played more of a possession based game starting from the defence. However, both teams were successful with their different ways, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Huddersfield do the same.
2. Crystal Palace
The Eagles have been underachieving in the past few seasons based on the squad they have. Appointing Frank De Boer is a clear indication of their intentions. He has a mixed reputation due to his recent stint at Inter Milan, but he has plenty of experience due to his five years at Ajax prior to Inter.
The Inter job was tough in hindsight because of the high expectations of the club. They have a large profile due to the famous history of the club as well as new owners. Therefore, his time there shouldn’t be judged too harshly. Instead, his time at Ajax should be focused on because he won four consecutive titles which is a club record.
Sam Allardyce showed that this squad has potential once a clear style is implemented. Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend are a deadly front three which could propel the team to the top half. They just need a stable team behind them and a ball-playing centre back to replace Mamadou Sakho if he doesn’t come back. They also have a nice mixture of defensive protection, ball retention and creativity in midfield with James McArthur, Luka Milivojević and Yohan Cabaye.
De Boer’s experience at creating a successful, rigid system along with the tools at his disposal here could bring positive results. The club is also able to back him in the transfer market due to the TV rights deal which allowed them to spend £30 million on Benteke last season. There is also less expectation here to play exciting football, so his disciplined style of play is more likely to be accepted.
The appointment of Marco Silva was a smart move due to his heroics at Hull. He was a popular managerial target, so his decision to join suggests the Hornets have changed their strategy. The Pozzo family have changed managers frequently in the clubs they own with seven managers in four years at Watford. This has brought results at Watford because they have stayed in the league relatively comfortably. However, the fact that Silva had plenty of options suggests they may have offered better job security to entice him.
Silva proved that he can handle difficult situations if needed, though, during his time at Hull. He picked up 21 points from 18 games, which is impressive considering they only had 13 points when he arrived. His signings were shrewd and clearly fitted in to his system. The best examples of this were Andrea Ranocchia, Kamil Grosicki and Oumar Niasse.
At Watford, Silva has a significant player pool to choose from due to the vast network that the Pozzo’s have. This includes talented players such as Adalberto Peñaranda who was one of the standout players at the U20 World Cup. It hasn’t taken him long to identify targets because Kiko Femenía and Daniel Bachmann have just joined the club.
Silva was even able to continue his impressive home record, while at Hull, which stretched across multiple clubs until Sunderland ended it at 41 games unbeaten. Prior to Hull, he had impressive spells at Estoril, Sporting and Olympiacos. This experience and the ability to create an unbeatable mentality at home should serve Watford well. They could easily break into the top half and further boost Silva’s impressive credentials.
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