Foxes can break Big Six stranglehold
There is a growing feeling that this could be the season when a new name breaks into the Premier League top six, following a run of three consecutive seasons when the so-called big six have monopolised the top positions.
Wolves, Everton and Leicester were best of the rest last season – in that order – and all three clubs have the ambition and the spending power to lay down a stronger challenge this time.
The pick of them is Leicester, who ranked sixth in the form table after the arrival of new boss Brendan Rodgers in February and should improve again now that he has had more time to work with his talented squad in pre-season.
The Foxes scored at least two goals in six of their 10 matches under Rodgers – two of the exceptions were against Manchester City and Chelsea – and their ability to change formation and playing style gives them the look of a potential top-six side.
Youri Tielemans, a loan star in midfield last season, has joined permanently from Monaco and Ayoze Perez, the other big summer signing, looks a good addition to complement Jamie Vardy up front. Perez is an upgrade on Shinji Okazaki in terms of scoring rate and could improve on his Newcastle stats now that he is in a better team.
The departure of Harry Maguire to Manchester United need not be a mortal blow, especially if Rodgers manages to bring in a solid replacement with Premier League experience, and there is plenty of depth in the squad.
Wolves made a brilliant return to the Premier League under Nuno Espirito Santo but they need more goals to move forward again and prolonged involvement in the Europa League could have a negative impact.
Evertonwill have a real shot at the top six if young striker Moise Kean proves a hit after his move from Juventus, although doubts remain over Marco Silva's capabilities as a defensive coach despite improvement at the back towards the end of last season.
If the big six monopoly is difficult to break, the solid claims of Wolves, Everton and Leicester may leave only one other place up for grabs in the top 10.
Last season that went to West Ham but only narrowly after Watford's league form faltered during their run to the FA Cup final. Those two clubs should be in the mix again and West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini may be ready for a bigger push as he goes into his second season bolstered by the arrival of midfielder Pablo Fornals from Villarreal and striker Sebastien Haller from Eintracht Frankfurt for a combined cost of almost £65m.
The two that appeal at bigger odds are Southampton and Aston Villa.
The Saints were much improved under Ralph Hasenhuttl and, having dug them out of a hole to finish 16th, the Austrian could turn them into this season's Watford. Che Adams is the marquee signing to provide the goals that were lacking last season, with winger Moussa Djenepo bought to provide the ammunition.
Villa have been the biggest buyers bar Manchester United in the summer window and, while ‘spend, spend, spend' went badly wrong for Fulham last season, last season's playoff winners might be more likely to follow the Wolves example and claim a top-ten finish.
Dean Smith is an attack-minded coach but, in contrast to Fulham, he is building on much more solid defensive foundations with the permanent signing of centre-half Tyrone Mings, a key loanee last season, and the arrival of goalkeeper Tom Heaton from Burnley.
It remains to be seen how striker Wesley Moraes and winger Trezeguet take to English football but Smith's system will give them every chance to shine.