Can you feel it? Wea��re less than 48 hours away from the English Premier Leaguea��s first match of the season. Before that, wea��ve got a little bit more business left to take care over, such as the four teams who will represent England in the Europa League this season. Are all four clubs capable of competing on four fronts this term?
Tottenham Hotspur are perennially competing for Europea��s second tournament, which is where they will play this upcoming season. That carries a negative undertone, but last season was by no means a disappointment for the Lilywhites. Rebuilding spirits after an abysmal 2013a��14 which saw two managers come and go and countless starting XIa��s was the primary task to be undertaken by new manager Mauricio Pochettino and his staff.
Harry Kanea��s rise was the major storyline of last season. The young striker burst onto the scene with a late winner against Aston Villa after proving himself capable in the Europa League and Capital One Cup. Kane scored 31 goals in all competitions, including 21 in the league and one on his debut for the English national team. In the process he became Spursa�� first 30-goal striker since Gary Lineker in the 1991a��92 season. For him to continue his fine form, though, hea��ll need some help.
Tottenham held off late pushes from Liverpool and Southampton to secure a fifth-place finish in the league and a berth into the Europa League group stages. However, their domestic cup performances were staggered. The league cup campaign nearly ended perfectly as they advanced all the way to the final only to fall to Chelsea. Meanwhile, their FA Cup performance was nearly the exact opposite. Spurs needed a replay to surpass lowly Burnley before choking late on to gift a win to Leicester.
The club has made incredible steps to shore up its back line, signing Belgian center back Toby Alderweireld, English right back Kieran Trippier, and Austrian center back Kevin Wimmer. Loaned out midfielders Dele Alli and Alex Pritchard return from MK Dons and Brentford, respectively, and should figure in Pochettinoa��s plans.
Tottenham surely are looking to replace the struggling Roberto Soldado and lazy Emmanuel Adebayor. As such, they are linked to a handful of forwards, including Lyona��s Clinton Na��Jie and West Broma��s Saido Berahino.
They have sold off much of the dead weight acquired in 2013a��Paulinho has moved to Guangzhou Evergrande, A�tienne Capoue to Watford, and Vlad ChiricheAY to Napoli. In addition, Younes Kaboul left for Sunderland and Benjamin Stambouli was sold Paris Saint-Germain. Kaboul was a loyal servant to the club that took his game to its highest levels, but injuries ultimately hindered his career trajectory. Stambouli was a low-risk signing, but one that did not pay off as he hardly featured in the first team. Lewis Holtby was loaned out to struggling Hamburg before the season, and that loan became a permanent deal after they avoided relegation.
Kane will have to produce similarly to last season whereas Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen will be counted on much more heavily. The midfield duo of Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason has potential, but perhaps a stronger and more defensive-minded central midfielder is required. Lastly, French captain and No. 1 Hugo Lloris will have to remain the wall that he has been during his stay in North London.
Tottenham are accustomed to competing on four fronts and 2015a��16 will be no different. There will be less travel as Spurs have qualified for the group stage of the UEL, avoiding qualifying matches. This will enable Pochettino and his squad to focus more on where it counts: the pitch. With their depth, they can and will adequately compete in all competitions.
Prediction: EPL, fourth.
Liverpoola��s star-crossed season saw them drop from a second-place finish in 2013a��14 to sixth last term. The selling of a star player is never east to cope with, and Luis SuA?reza��s departure set the club back several steps. Liverpool spent the Suarez money recklessly, buying with eight players that made varying levels of impact.
Of the three defenders, only Alberto Moreno really impressed. Javi Manquillo heavily disappointed, while Dejan Lovrena��s performance was absolutely abysmal and not worth the A?20 million they paid Southampton.
Lazar Markovic didna��t sway too many critics after his A?20-million move from Benfica in Portugal. Adam Lallana was possibly the most consistent performer of the transfers. Six goals in his 41 club appearances doesna��t justify the A?25-million price tag, but it was not so bad compared to other signings.
Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert never showed up, combining for three league goals. Central midfielder Emre Can played admirably as a center back in Brendan Rodgersa�� back three, but was also prone to error in what was an unnatural position. In 2015a��16, he may move back up to midfield to cope with the loss of Steven Gerrard.
Gerrarda��s departure leaves Liverpool without their most important player over the last 15 years. The midfielder elected to not sign a new contract with his boyhood club, opting for the MLSa�� LA Galaxy. Ita��s fair to say he lost a step, but his leadership was undeniable and the club will greatly miss him.
It wasna��t all bad for the Merseyside club, though. Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho time and again put in stellar performances and was rewarded with the PFA Player of the Season and Young Player of the Season nominations.
The shortcomings of the club should not only be attributed to the players but also to Rodgers himself. He targeted the wrong players after SuA?reza��s departure, causing tactical issues that werena��t figured out until the end of the season.
Their domestic cup performances were just short of exemplary, making the semifinals in both before losing to Aston Villa in the FA Cup and Chelsea in the Capital One Cup. A third-place posting in their Champions League group, one they really should have advanced out of, relegated the club to the Europa League. After 210 minutes of play, BeAYiktaAY bounced the Reds on penalties in the round of 32.
Liverpool have already taken the steps to improve their forward line, activating the A?32.4-million release clause for Aston Villaa��s Christian Benteke. They also added Danny Ings, while Divock Origi is set to return from his loan at Lille.
The teama��s other big-money signing was Roberto Firmino, who joins from Hoffenheim for A?29 million. However they did make more smaller moves as well, nabbing James Milner on a free transfer from Manchester City, and continuing to poach from Southampton by signing right back Nathaniel Clyne. Clyne will replace Manquillo, whose loan was cut short before being sent back out by AtlA�tico Madrid to Marseille.
The Reds let Glen Johnson leave on a free transfer to Stoke, where he should be more valuable. The former English No. 1 right back suffered a terminal drop in form over the last couple seasons; it was clear his future did not lie with Liverpool.
Most detrimentally, of course, is the sale of Raheem Sterling to Manchester City. The fee of A?44 million (possibly rising to A?49 million for performance related add ons) is a nice return for a player who was bound to leave. They are surely relieved now that the saga is over, and they have readymade replacements in Milner and Firmino.
The first half of their Premier League campaign will be difficult as the new signings try to adapt to their new surroundings, but certainly have the means to compete on all four fronts this season. Rodgers is still propped firmly on the hot seat and it isna��t getting any cooler. Depending upon how early results go, he may be lucky to retain his job into 2016.
Prediction: EPL, sixth.
Southampton continue to surpass expectations. Theya��ve improved on their final league standing each successive year: 14th in 2012a��13, eighth in 2013a��14, and seventh in 2014-15. That seventh-place finish set a club record for their highest Premier League finish. It could have been better yet had the club not slumped over the final weeks, earning only four points in their final six matches.
The Saints did not disappoint in the League Cup, reaching the quarterfinal before unceremoniously losing to League One side Sheffield United. In the FA Cup, the club was handed a fourth-round exit courtesy of Crystal Palace.
Most assumed Southampton would have suffered the drop because of last summer, that time when they lost five first-team playersa��Calum Chambers, Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, and Luke Shawa��and manager Mauricio Pochettino to other clubs. Additionally, Jay Rodriguez missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
Manager Ronald Koeman replaced the Spurs-bound Pochettino, being appointed following a successful tenure as the manager of Feyenoord in his native Netherlands. Luckily for him and the rest of the club, the mass exodus stopped before Nathaniel Clyne and stud defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin could leave.
New arrivals Fraser Forster, Shane Long, Sadio ManA�, Graziano PellA?, and DuA?an TadiA� all played big rolls in the cluba��s successful campaign. Loan signing Toby Alderweireld partnered with Portuguese international JosA� Fonte to form one of the more formidable center back partnerships in the top flight. The club managed a staggering defense record of 33 goals conceded, only one more than top-ranked Chelsea.
However, Clyne has now gone to Liverpool, and Manchester United bought Schneiderlin for A?25 million. Alderweirelda��s loan spell ended and he went back to AtlA�tico Madrid. Their efforts to secure him on a permanent transfer werena��t enough, however, as he opted to sign for Tottenham instead. Shortly before that deal went through, Liverpool bought Clyne.
Koeman has utilized his Dutch contacts and brought in Jordy Clasie to fill the Schneiderlin-sized void. Also arriving are fullbacks Cuco Martina and CA�dric Soares from FC Twente and Sporting, respectively. Spanish striker Juanmi was also brought in to provide depth and add another goalscoring option.
Southampton brought Maartin Stekelenberg in on loan to deputize during Forstera��s extended absence as he recovers from a broken kneecap. The former Dutch No. 1 brings with him years of first team and international experience and assurance between the posts.
The club still have yet to find a replacement for Alderweireld. Romanian center half Florin GardoAY was tabbed to fill the Belgiana��s boots but unfortunately suffered a knee injury in preseason that will keep him out until next year at the earliest. They will need to recruit central defenders to join with Fonte and Japanese international Maya Yoshida.
Southampton introduced themselves to the Europa League with a 3a��0 thumping of Vitesse in the first leg of the third qualifying round. They should qualify for the group stages and, given their depth and Koemana��s managerial experience, have the potential to go even further. Balancing the different competitions may be more of a shock to the club, and much like Everton last season, they may falter in the league. However, they should still be expected to post a top-10 finish. They may also improve upon last seasona��s cup performances.
Prediction: EPL, eighth.
West Ham United
No one is certain what became of West Ham last season. The Hammers went into Christmas sitting in fourth, a feat unmatched in the top flight since the 1985a��86 campaign. They struggled in the second half, however, only taking 16 points after winning 32 in 2014 en route to a 12th-place finish. Interestingly enough, the club was awarded the least amount of yellow and red cards and therefore qualified for the Europa League via fair play.
West Hama��s success last season is largely due to the play of Senegalese striker Diafra Sakho, who arrived from FC Metz in France before the campaign on the back of a 20-goal haul in Ligue 2 and proceeded to score 10 goals in his first Premier League season. His goals alone picked up 12 points for the club, helping them avoid getting sucked into the late-season relegation battle. Fellow new striker Enner Valencia joined the club after a solid showing for Ecuador at the 2014 World Cup.
On-loan midfielder Alex Song performed admirably for his adopted club, serving as a powerhouse of a defensive midfielder after being cast away by Barcelona. This was a position of need to the East London outfit, and Song filled it perfectly with timely tackling and chance creation. With the Cameroonian going back to his parent club for this season, Senegalese midfielder Cheikhou KouyatA� will be more heavily relied upon.
The Hammers have made a number of signings to prepare for the stresses of playing domestic and European competition. They signed Scottish left back Stephen Hendrie as cover to incumbent Aaron Cresswell and Pedro Obiang from Samprodia to ease the burden of Songa��s absence. Obiang will create chances for his teammates and will prefer to take on opponents more so than the Cameroonian. Ex-Birmingham a��keeper Darren Randolph joins on a free transfer to replace outgoing Jussi JA�A�skelA�inen.
West Ham also brought in center back Angelo Ogbonna, who was seeking more playing time that he got at Juventus. The dynamic Dimitri Payet joins the Hammers on a multi-year deal from Marseille. In league play last season, the French winger scored seven goals and created 134 chances for himself and his teammates. He should provide the creative spark that West Ham lacked in the run-in to last season. Lastly, Carl Jenkinson has signed on loan yet again and will stay at Upton Park until 2016.
The Irons have done well to retain most of their team from last season. Aside from Song, theya��ve sold attacking midfielder Stuart Downing to Middlesbrough, but his loss will be a bit easier to cope with.
West Ham have a lot to look forward to in the near future. After the season, the club will move into the vast Olympic Stadium and say their goodbye to Upton Park. European competition will be a good measure to see how the club is progressing but at the same time, the Hammers may not be well-suited to playing on four fronts. They may make the Europa League group stages, but if they do, their domestic form will likely suffer.
Prediction: EPL, 15th.