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Three Premier League surprise teams for the season… and three flops

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Every year has its big surprises, and it’s just as true that each Premier League season features a team or two that drastically underperforms.

Sometimes this occurs during a season — recall Newcastle pre- and post-Yohan Cabaye last season, and Crystal Palace pre- and post-Tony Pulis — while other times clubs use the entire season in unforeseen ways (last season’s Norwich City disaster).

[ RELATED: Premier League schedule ]

So how about 2014/15? Who can we peg to defy expectations? Who can we guess will fall further down the table than many guessed?

Three surprise teams

source: Getty ImagesNewcastle United – Remember December of last season, when the Magpies shot into European contention after barely surviving the drop in 2013? The club sold Yohan Cabaye and everything fell apart. This summer  Alan Pardew has brought in a wealth of attack options to help fill the Cabaye void, while replacing the other notable departure — Mathieu Debuchy — with a younger, cheaper and perhaps as effective Daryl Janmaat.

Stoke City – Manager Mark Hughes quietly put together a top-half side last season, with goalkeeper Asmir Begovic bailing the club out a few times when needed. Now he’s added steady defender Phil Bardsley and electric Barcelona talent Bojan Krkic to a club that already had promise.

Swansea City — Perhaps Michael Laudrup’s sights were set too high, but Garry Monk can bring the Welsh side into a new era of responsible play. That’s because he has forward Bafetimbi Gomis to take defenders’ focus away from the deadly Wilfried Bony. Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jefferson Montero could combine to make Swans dance past the bottom of the table and dare to shoot higher.

Three teams to flop

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Queens Park Rangers — Maybe the addition of Glenn Hoddle will make Harry Redknapp’s 3-5-2 soar, but it’s still an aging squad that is relying on a bunch of questions: Can striker Charlie Austin succeed at this level? Will Mauricio Isla adapt to the English style quickly? Is Redknapp actually a decent manager? All are tough questions.

Aston Villa — Paul Lambert would become the first Villans boss to oversee the club’s fall out of the Premier League if they were to be relegated, but it seems possible. The addition of defenders Philippe Senderos and Aly Cissokho to Ron Vlaar’s back line should help, but there are a lot of questions in attack, including whether Christian Benteke will return from injury the same dominant force he was to start last season.

Sunderland — Poor Gus Poyet seems like a strong manager, having guided the Black Cats to a League Cup final, but cannot attract players to the Northeast. He has perhaps more questions to answer than QPR, a club that was just promoted. Can Will Buckley transition from the Championship? Will Patrick van Aanholt and Jack Rodwell be too rusty to thrive? Is Jozy Altidore going to find his national team or Eredivisie form? Could be plenty of trouble for a team that barely survived last season.

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.