Around the Premier League: European Challengers

There'll be more tussling between these two this year.

Yesterday as part of our four-part look at the changes around the Premier League we had a look at the title contenders, including Manchester City, United and Arsenal. Today we/re going to have a look slightly lower down the table at those sides we can reasonably expect to be challenging for European qualification, meaning this piece will cover Tottenham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Everton.

Let's start with Tottenham, firstly by taking a moment to remember how hilarious it was that we nipped a Champions League spot away from them by winning the competition itself. Their moves after the heartbreak in Munich have been well documented. They sacked Harry Redknapp somewhat controversially (but as Kevin McCauley sensibly demonstrates, sometimes "sackings don't require glaring mistakes") and replaced him with Andre Villas-Boas. They then followed up this appointment with the signing of Glyfi Sigurrdson and Jan Vertonghen, both of whom young, technically gifted and poised to become symbols of a new era at Tottenham. It's clear there's been a shift of the Tottenham transfer policy and internal club operations, elucidated in Villas-Boas's official title of ‘Head Coach', and personally I think this makes Tottenham a far more threatening force in the Premier League this season. If Villas-Boas can correct the mistakes he made at Chelsea and build upon, for all his flaws, the solid framework laid by Harry Redknapp, Villas-Boas will certainly be in a position to make Spurs consistent Champions League entrants (a title seems a little far-fetched at this point in time).

There is still work to be done around White Hart Lane, however: the most prominent issue being to end the transfer saga surrounding Luka Modric. It's clear that Spurs are willing to let their prize asset go in exchange for £40 million, but there's not many clubs capable of paying that much for a 27 year old in a Financial Fair Play environment. Daniel Levy drives a hard bargain, and should Spurs be able to wrangle that sort of cash out of Real Madrid, then they should be in a real position to make some more good moves in the market. Their first target will undoubtedly be a striker: they've failed to tie up a deal for Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe is simply not good enough to be first choice at a side looking to push on into the top four again. It's unclear who exactly Spurs might be targeting on this front, but long-term target Leandro Damião is a good bet. In terms of replacing Modric the latest noises have been around Rennes defensive midfielder Yamm M'Villa, while there was certainly some interest in Oscar, who thankfully chose the west side of London instead. In terms of departures, there haven't been many, but captain Ledley King has retired after a career plagued by knee problems. Spurs are definitely a side to keep an eye on this year, especially for Chelsea fans curious to see if Villas-Boas really can transition his form at Porto into the Premier League. It's a big test for Andre, and one I'll certainly be watching closely.

Another side generating a lot of interest is Liverpool, who have also had a change in their management: Kenny Dalglish has gone out the door, and Brendan Rodgers has come in the other side, also looking to transition a stagnant club into a new playing style. For all the talk of Liverpool embracing the historic ‘Liverpool Way', Rodgers is actually quite a pragmatic manager, using the tiki-taka principles in a manner similar to that used by the Spanish national side. It will take some time and effort to actually implement the same successful system he had at Swansea, although bringing in allies from his old clubs will go a long way to aiding the evolution. Hence the signings of Joe Allen and Fabio Borini are logical and central to any Liverpool success this year. It will be especially fascinating to see how Borini performs as an ex-Chelsea academy player.

Other movement in out and out of Merseyside includes the departures of many familiar faces, including Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez, Albert Aquliani, Fabio Aureilo and Craig Bellamy, while there have been persistent talk about moving Andy Carroll away from the club either on loan or as a sale. Also of interest is Luis Suarez's new contract which has supposedly seen his wage packet double. Rodgers faces a tough ask in taking Liverpool back to the top four, and he is unlikely to do it this year, but he should be able to show some sign of progression in what is a massive rebuild on Merseyside.

Newcastle surprised many with their consistent form last season, and while they won't have the same element of surprise, they've managed to be as consistent with their roster over the summer which should translate to more continued success in the Premier League this season. The extra games demanded by Europa League participation could prove troublesome though, meaning Alan Pardew's most pressing need was to strengthen Newcastle's strength in depth.

Newcastle's dealings so far have included signing Gael Bigirimana from Coventry, Romain Amalfitano from Reims and Australian defender Curtis Good, and all three are underpinned by a theme of youthfulness and versatility. It seems the best is yet to come for Newcastle supporters however, with Ajax's Vurnon Anita and Twente's Douglas rumoured to be incoming, while Mathieu Debuchy has been a target since the end of May. On the whole, Newcastle will remain the same, well-balanced outfit that is able to switch seamlessly from one style of play to another, able to take the game to an opposition as well as sitting back and looking to hit on the counter attack. They will welcome the return of Steven Taylor to the defensive line, while Sylvain Marveaux suffered an unfortunate injury that ruled him out of the entirety of last season. He remains an exciting talent, and could be one of the breakout stars of the new season. They will also look for greater inspiration from Hatem Ben Arfa after the Frenchman showed glimpses of his quality last season, and provided they are not the subject of a last minute bid for Tiote or Ba, they should remain in the top eight for another season even if European commitments do threaten to derail their league campaign.

Finally, Everton face up to a new campaign facing the perennial question: how do they stop the slow starts? Not much has changed with David Moyes and company, as you might expect: the club is somewhat infamously poor and can't afford to loosen the purse strings all that much. They have made some movement during the summer, the most notable being the re-signing of Steven Pienaar for £4.5 million and snapping up Steven Naismith from the ramshackle that is Rangers. What Pienaar adds to the squad is well-documented, especially because the South African spent last season on loan, but Naismith is a more intriguing signing: he's known for his work rate and versatility, but can he translate form in Scotland to England? The success of Nikica Jelavic last year suggests that is certainly possible, although there is a big burden on the Croatian's shoulders to replicate his goal scoring feats. He will be assisted by Marouane Fellaini, who has remained at Goodison Park despite interest from both Chelsea and abroad, and will most likely be playing a more advanced role this season, filling the hole left by the departed Tim Cahill. While Cahill will always be remembered as an Everton legend, his age was beginning to show, while removing his wages from the bill will be a big relief for the accountants. The bookkeepers will also love the sale of Jack Rodwell to Manchester City: there could even be an argument to say Everton got the better of that deal, what with Rodwell's notorious injury record and the relatively large fee they received for the player. Looking at Everton's dealings, they've had a very productive summer, but the hard work starts when they kick off against Manchester United. If they can avoid treating the start of the season like the race between the tortoise and the hare, then they could push on to bigger things, although we tend to say that most years. Still, Everton are being a pretty good tortoise right now.

Tomorrow will see the mid table sides being covered as the days tick down until the start of the Premier League season.


Club blogs: Cartilage Free Captain (Tottenham) | The Liverpool Offside (Liverpool) | Anfield Asylum (Liverpool) | Coming Home Newcastle(Newcastle) | Royal Blue Mersey (Everton) | Follow WAGNH on Twitter

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