The new season of Premier League football is now underway, following a summer of typically feverish transfer activity. Among the biggest signings were Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba by Manchester United, as the Red Devils sought to lay down a marker for season, and the arrival of John Stones at Manchester City. However, although the top clubs have spent big during the close season – with United paying a new record transfer fee of £89.3 million for Pogba – this is no guarantee of title glory, as Leicester City showed everyone last season. This piece will look at some of the Leicester-style underdogs of 2016/17 and assess where they will finish in the table.
One club that unquestionably qualifies as one of the underdogs for this season is newly promoted Middlesbrough – as shown by their odds of 1000/1 for the Premier League title. However, last season Leicester City were 5000/1 rank outsiders, having only just avoided the drop the year before, so stranger things have happened. Furthermore, the Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka has been backed by Chairman Steve Gibson with money and has made some intriguing signings – including Alvaro Negredo to bolster his attack and Victor Valdes, a goalkeeper with three Champions League wins under his belt. Despite this however, a title win would be miraculous and a respectable lower middle half of the table finish to consolidate seems more within the club’s reach this season.
One club that perhaps has a better chance, while still fully qualifying as an underdog, is Southampton. They did well last year but suffered a real blow during the summer when highly-rated manager Ronald Koeman upped sticks for Everton, while also losing two of their best players – with the departure of Sadio Mane to Liverpool and Victor Wanyama to Tottenham. The loss of key players and managers has become a regular thing for the Saints and new boss Claude Puel will have a job on his hands just keeping them in the upper reaches of the table. One strong signing they have made is that of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from German giants Bayern Munich, and he could well be one to watch this year. It is hard to imagine that Southampton will be in any relegation trouble, but they don’t have the squad for a title push – suggesting upper mid-table is likely.
Another of the promoted clubs that must be considered real underdogs this season is Burnley – especially given that they do not have anywhere near the budget for strengthening that Middlesbrough enjoy. Despite this, manager Sean Dyche led them back up as the winners of the Championship and Burnley are a well-run club with real stability. They have made modest moves in the transfer market, including picking up Jon Flanagan from Liverpool, but refusing to weaken their defence by selling Michael Keane to Leicester may have been their smartest decision. Burnley’s only realistic aim is to stay up this season, and if Dyche won the league it would be one of the greatest underdog triumphs in sporting history – up there with James ‘Buster’ Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson back in 1990.
For any of these three sides to be crowned Premier League champions in May next year would be extraordinary – but then everyone said that about Leicester City last year.