Eye On EPL

Smaller teams must pounce on post-Euro rust

As the big clubs are still settling down in the new English Premier League (EPL) season, it is a chance for the smaller clubs to take advantage of that rustiness and post-Euro 2016 fatigue.

The top teams are loaded with players who were on international duty at the European Championship and have probably entered the new season jaded.

So the less-fancied clubs with fewer international players have fresher legs when the EPL kicked off.

Hence, it was not a surprise when England striker Jamie Vardy failed to score for Leicester as the reigning champions slumped to a shock 1-2 loss to newly promoted side Hull City in their opener.

Tottenham Hotspur, who have five players who played for England at Euro 2016, also struggled as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Everton.

This period of time is the best chance for smaller teams to win some games and pick up points. Because once the season reaches its halfway mark at Christmas, you will see the usual contenders making their move towards the top.

This period of time is the best chance for smaller teams to win some games and pick up points.

Last season, Leicester showed everyone how starting well could fuel a team's overall confidence and belief. The Foxes won 11 out of 17 games before Christmas and they stubbornly clung on to the top spot to become unlikely EPL champions.

But this year, I feel that it will be tough to see a repeat of another fairy-tale run like Leicester's.

The appointment of new managers Pep Guardiola (Manchester City), Jose Mourinho (Manchester United) and Antonio Conte (Chelsea) indicates that these clubs, after floundering last season, mean business this time.

Even before a ball was kicked, the battle had already begun in the transfer market as the big guns rushed to beef up their squads.

Taking over from the unpopular Louis van Gaal, Mourinho had already broken the world transfer record with the £89 million (S$156 million) signing of Juventus' Paul Pogba, on top of new Red Devil recruits Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Guardiola's Citizens bought England defender John Stones for £47.5 million from Everton, along with Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gundogan, while Chelsea weakened Leicester with their capture of N'Golo Kante for £30 million.

For these teams, it is clear that they will spend big to lift the title and challenge in Europe.

Ominously for others, they have the budget to buy even more players in the transfer window.

I'm excited about seeing a battle in Manchester like Real Madrid and Barcelona in the days of Mourinho v Guardiola. This could be the most competitive EPL season ever.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Smaller teams must pounce on post-Euro rust'. Print Edition | Subscribe