All summer down, just one week to go. It’s almost here.
With seven days remaining until the start of the new Premier League season, we take a look at the likely candidates for the Europa League spots. Finishing seventh in the table often earns a club a spot in the Europa League, as it did for Wolverhampton Wanderers last campaign in the club’s return to Premier League action.
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Thanks to an impressive – and surprising – seventh place result last season, Wolves are currently involved in Europa League qualifying, blitzing past Northern Irish side Crusaders 5-1 on aggregate. That has set them up with a two-legged matchup against Armenian club Pyunik Erevan, with potential victory putting them into the playoff round.
So, who could challenge for seventh place next season? Will it be Wolves again, building themselves as perennial contenders? Will it be someone who just missed out last season? Or will it be someone new who makes a significant jump from last season? Here are the likely candidates.
Obviously, having secured seventh last year, Wolves are a strong candidate to find themselves back in the Europa League. They appear better equipped than many of the mid-table sides of the last few years to wind up in European play, as last year’s qualifiers Burnley appeared overmatched by the additional fixtures and heavy travel.
This Wolves team is deep and dangerous, and Raul Jimenez has carried his spectacular form with him through the summer and straight through to this season. The Mexican international already has a pair of goals, scoring a brace in the 4-1 clincher over Crusaders on the road.
While the club didn’t add much new other than 21-year-old striker Patrick Cutrone from AC Milan, they spent big to keep Jimenez and Leander Dendonker around permanently, securing long-term squad squad strength. Wolves challenged every Premier League side last season and could win on any given day, meaning they should be right in the thick of things again this coming season.
The Toffees finished eighth last season, missing out on European play by a measly three points. While they still have holes to fill, Everton has done well to secure Andre Gomes permanently, and they picked up a quality addition in Fabian Delph, a player transformed by Pep Guardiola. If they can get Moise Kean over the line, the Toffees would have to be considered one of the more improved Premier League sides at great transfer value.
The Toffees can only make the jump, however, if they improve against the top sides. Whereas Wolves felt threatening on any given day, Everton was poor against the Premier League’s best teams. They made a charge down the stretch by beating Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal all in a row through March and April, but otherwise found little success against those finishing in the top six.
The Foxes have been a firm mid-table side ever since shocking the world by winning the Premier League title, and it speaks to the club’s front office that they have not faded after that fateful season. Selling Harry Maguire will provide the club with a massive windfall despite the departure of a spectacular player and rock-solid base, and should they figure how to reinvest soon, Leicester City could see a return to European play.
The loss of Maguire will be softened by smart additions in Caglar Soyuncu and Filip Benkovic, both of whom could make a legitimate run at a consistent place in the starting lineup despite their young age. Benkovic especially is a bright prospect and could help the Foxes hit the ground running.
The permanent acquisition of James Maddison will help maintain their 51-goal haul from last season, and if Kelechi Iheanacho can finally make the leap to a dangerous, everyday Premier League striker, this could be a dual-threat club.
West Ham United
A 10th place finish last season was somewhat disappointing for a Hammers squad that bursted with talent but struggled mightily with consistency. The club suffered through four separate winless runs of three matches or greater, with a four-match losing streak to start the season and a three-match losing streak in early April giving their final table position a somewhat false negative. Still, there is no doubt that Manuel Pellegrini must keep the ship steadied this season if West Ham wishes to challenge for a spot in Europe.
West Ham secured one of the glitzier signings of the summer by swooping in for striker Sebastian Haller whose 20-goal haul for Eintracht Frankfurt last season catapulted him towards the top of the striker wish lists for many clubs. With a pair of goalkeepers brought in on free transfers to give Lukasz Fabianski and Adrien something to think about, the club did well to target needs.
Still, the loss of Marko Arnautovic will be felt, and if Pablo Fornals can’t adequately replace the Austrian, there will be something missing from West Ham’s attack that could threaten any attempt at improved consistency.
On the outside looking in:
Watford – a dangerous squad at times but has been absent in the transfer market this summer
Bournemouth – didn’t do enough this offseason to fix massive defensive issues.
Crystal Palace – another team capable of pulling out a result on any day, but they have done next to nothing this summer except extend the Zaha saga, leaving them extremely vulnerable
Southampton – A much-improved side that was brought down last season by a brutal start to the campaign, but even if they avoid the early slump the leaky defense was not addressed this summer.