Premier League 2019-20 preview -Top-six material: Wolves, Everton, Leicester, West Ham

Shaking up the established order

Clockwise from above: Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo, Everton's Marco Silva, Leicester City's Brendan Rodgers and West Ham's Manuel Pellegrini will lead their teams into the new Premier League season. Their involvement in an active summer transfe
Above from left : Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo, Everton's Marco Silva, Leicester City's Brendan Rodgers and West Ham's Manuel Pellegrini will lead their teams into the new Premier League season. Their involvement in an active summer transfer window suggests they may have the firepower to rock England's "Big Six".PHOTOS: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A new football chapter awaits as the 28th EPL season is upon us. The Straits Times ends its countdown with the dark horses.:- Flurry of new signings reveal clubs' ambitions to be more than simply the best of the rest

LONDON • If Nuno Espirito Santo needs any advice on just how hard it is to balance Europa League commitments with the demands of the Premier League, Sean Dyche is just a phone call away.

Unfancied Burnley were the toast of the English top flight after their seventh-place finish in the 2017-18 season - their highest finish since 1974 - as they qualified for Europe for the first time in 51 years.

However, it all went sour as they exited the play-offs to Greek outfit Olympiakos. Dyche later admitted he had underestimated the toll European football would take on a stretched squad not used to playing twice a week across the continent unlike the "Big Six" of the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal.

The Clarets flirted with relegation last season, finishing just six points above the bottom three, and Dyche told the Daily Mail that having to miss a big chunk of pre-season to play the qualifiers and the long-distance travelling "changes the realities of what you are trying to achieve as a group".

The same thing happened to Newcastle in 2013 after qualifying for Europe the previous term under Alan Pardew and it almost cost the Magpies their top-flight status.

So Nuno is understandably worried about the increased expectations placed on his squad after Wolves defied the odds as a newly-promoted side, qualifying for Europe for the first time since 1980.

His players have already started their season two weeks ahead of everyone else because of their participation in the qualifying rounds.

  • WOLVES TRANSFERS

    IN

     • Raul Jimenez from Benfica, £30 million

     • Leander Dendoncker from Anderlecht, £12 million

     • Jesus Vallejo from Real Madrid, on loan

     • Patrick Cutrone from AC Milan, £23 million

    OUT

     • Helder Costa to Leeds, on loan

    WEST HAM TRANSFERS

    IN

     • Pablo Fornals from Villarreal, £24 million

     • Sebastien Haller from Eintracht, £45 million

     • Roberto from Espanyol, free

    OUT

     • Andy Carroll, released

     • Samir Nasri, released

     • Adrian, released

     • Lucas Perez to Alaves, £2 million

    • Pedro Obiang to Sassuolo, £8 million

    EVERTON TRANSFERS

    IN

     • Andre Gomes from Barcelona, £22 million

    • Fabian Delph from Manchester City, £8.5 million

    • Moise Kean from Juventus, £29 million

    • Jean-Philippe Gbamin from Mainz, £25 million

    • Jonas Lossl from Huddersfield, free

    OUT

     • Idrissa Gueye to Paris Saint-Germain, £29 million

     • Ademola Lookman to RB Leipzig, £22.5 million

     • Nikola Vlasic to CSKA Moscow, £14 million

     • Ashley Williams, released

     • Phil Jagielka to Sheffield United, free

    LEICESTER TRANSFERS

    IN

     • Ayoze Perez from Newcastle, £30 million

     • Youri Tielemans from Monaco, £35 million

    OUT

     • Shinji Okazaki, released

     • Danny Simpson, released

    Note: Transfers are selected and accurate as of press time.

    £1 = S$1.67

They have been to Northern Ireland, eliminating the Crusaders, and will fly to Armenia tomorrow to face Pyunik in the third round, before travelling to Leicester for their league opener on Sunday.

Should they get past the Armenians, Italian Serie A side Torino are likely to be their next opponents before Wolves can reach the group phase of the Europa League proper.

Perhaps that is why Nuno has played down his side's chances of breaking into the top six, claiming "it's not on our horizon".

The Portuguese has turned loans for Mexico striker Raul Jimenez and Belgium defender Leander Dendoncker into permanent deals, snapped up Italy forward Patrick Cutrone, while Spain Under-21 defender Jesus Vallejo has also joined on loan from Real Madrid.

But the Wolves manager told The Telegraph he still needed "to bring more players in" to cope with their exertions ahead of the English transfer window closing tomorrow, adding: "We are not fighting for the top six. What happened last season, we can only repeat that if we work harder and dedicate more. The players know that.

"With the travelling... it's just a question of adapting (to) it."

However, if Europe proves to be debilitating for Wolves as history has shown, then Marco Silva's Everton look best placed to take their spot as the "best of the rest" - if they can capture Wilfried Zaha.

The Toffees have been in talks with Crystal Palace after Arsenal ended their interest in the Ivory Coast forward. According to the Independent, he is edging towards a move to Goodison Park by Thursday's deadline day, with a £65 million (S$109.5 million) cash plus player deal being readied.

Should Zaha join, he will turn Everton's front line, also featuring Richarlison and highly-rated Italy forward and new recruit Moise Kean, into arguably the most tantalising outside the "Big Six".

Leicester should also improve under Brendan Rodgers. In the 10 league games following his appointment in February, the Foxes took home more points than United, Tottenham and Arsenal.

The capture of Spanish forward Ayoze Perez, Newcastle's top scorer with 12 league goals last term, will also lighten the load on Jamie Vardy and soften the "disappointment" at seeing England defender Harry Maguire depart for Old Trafford.

And then there is the case of West Ham. The Hammers have made some shrewd signings in the form of Spain midfielder Pablo Fornals and former France Under-21 striker Sebastien Haller and wily manager Manuel Pellegrini is already predicting they will bring a "different dimension and a strong mentality".

While it will take an exceptional season - like the Foxes' historic league win in 2016 - or an unforeseen collapse by one of the big boys for Wolves, Everton, Leicester or West Ham to end the top-six monopoly, their summer activity does indicate they will be a match for any club in the league.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2019, with the headline 'Shaking up the established order'. Print Edition | Subscribe