After an exciting start to the summer transfer window and a series of intriguing pre-season fixtures, the 2015/2016 Premier League season is upon us and it promises to be the most competitive yet.
Aside from the obvious title challengers and the contenders for a Champions League spot, there are several teams that can pose as serious threats to the league’s top sides.
Stoke City’s humiliation of Liverpool on the final day of last season was just a glimpse of what they are capable of. While the big spenders recruit, Mark Hughes has been cleverly and quietly conducting some impressive transfer dealings. The signing of former Barcelona man Ibrahim Afellay demonstrates how ambitious the club has become. Afellay will be an important player in injecting confidence and a desire to win into Stoke players having played at the very highest level.
The prospect of Afellay featuring for Stoke alongside his former Barcelona team mate Bojan is an exciting one; such a partnership recognises the shift from Stoke being labelled as a ‘long ball’ side to one that has technically gifted individuals at its disposal.
The unbelievable work ethic and physicality of this current Stoke City side, defensively, makes them a tough test for any attacking set up that comes up against them, especially at the Britannia Stadium. The added grace and technical ability of former Barcelona man Marc Muniesa at centre back also adds balance to the side. The high intensity of Stoke’s attacking play also makes them a real force this season.
A top 8 finish is a realistic target for them. Despite their rise as a team, Stoke must look to make more additions to the squad following the loss of Steven N’zonzi, who was so important in winning the midfield battle for his side last year.
Crystal Palace also have the potential to emerge as a surprise package this season, though success for Alan Pardew’s side may come as less of a surprise given their tenth place finish last season. The arrival of Yohan Cabaye from Paris St Germain marks some excellent transfer business. The former Newcastle playmaker could be pivotal in improving Palace’s performance in the final third of the pitch, offering creativity that will give Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha more freedom in terms of not having to act as technician as much as they were required to last year. His technical ability in midfield will also work well with the power and leadership of Mile Jedinak while his famously impressive passing ability will benefit new strikers Patrick Bamford and Connor Wickham.
The added arrival of both Bamford and Wickham represents an extremely impressive summer of recruitment at Selhurst Park. The pair’s flair and confidence will work well alongside that of Bolasie, Zaha and Puncheon while offering the side a more technically gifted edge. Alan Pardew looks to have created a solid set up at Palace, with a mixture of youth and experience in the side. Holding on to Yannick Bolasie is vital as he will be a key man for the side this season. A trip to Selhurst Park is now a nightmare for any team in the division.
Stoke and Palace fans can expect a top ten finish again and perhaps even a challenge for a Europa League spot. Both sides can trouble the top sides enough to make a real difference to the race for the Premier League title.