Every season, there are teams who completely exceed everyone’s expectations. Newcastle, who caught everyone by surprise and ended up grabbing a Europa League place last season, spring to mind.
Pre-season favourites for relegation Swansea and Norwich stayed up very comfortably, and QPR also managed it by the skin of their teeth. However, with every overachiever, there is an underachiever.
Staying with last season, Bolton, Wolves and Blackburn will all have been disappointed to be relegated with the squads they had, boasting the likes of now-Premier League players Jussi Jaaskelainen, Steven Fletcher and Steven N’Zonzi.
Sunderland also had a poor season for the most part, along with perennial strugglers Wigan. So who has been filling these roles this season?
Once again, Swansea have done very well. When Brendan Rogers left for Liverpool there was a worry that the new manager would not be as successful, but Michael Laudrup has, if anything, improved Swansea’s style.
While Rogers put everything into possession, Laudrup has made the Swans more attacking, throwing in the occasional long ball or cross-field pass, and this swashbuckling style has seen Swansea defeat some big names including Arsenal and Chelsea.
It of course helps that they’ve signed such a fantastic finisher in Michu, but Swansea are no one-man team. Ashley Williams is one of the best ball-playing centre backs in the business and Chico Flores has proved to be an astute signing.
In midfield, Jonathan de Guzman and Leon Britton have no problem in bossing the middle of the park and up front Danny Graham is always a menace and, while he has found opportunities limited this season, he has taken his chances with both hands and his recent goalscoring form leaves Laudrup with two top-quality strikers.
Everton, too, have had an excellent season. In previous years they have tended to started slowly, and only pushing towards the top eight towards the end of the season.
This year, however, they stormed out of the blocks with the likes of Kevin Mirallas, Phil Jagielka and especially Marouane Fellaini all performing extremely well, and the team lost just one of their first nine matches.
An unfortunate injury to Mirallas curtailed his season but his partnership with Nikica Jelavic was impressive and should see Everton improve even more upon his return.
Impressive performances of course lead to transfer speculation, and there has been increasing attention on Fellaini and England left-back Leighton Baines, but it will take a significant sum to prise the Toffee’s star assets away.
As for underachievers, Aston Villa are surely the first team who come to mind.
Paul Lambert has focused on youth and, while they have impressed at times, there seems to be a lack of experienced heads in the squad.
Injuries have limited Darren Bent’s appearances, although Lambert tends to prefer Christian Benteke when both are available.
Ron Vlaar and Richard Dunne have both sustained long-term injuries which leaves Villa vulnerable in defence, and a recent dreadful run has seen them slip into the bottom three.
There are reasons for Villa fans to be optimistic, however, as Vlaar is close to returning and Lambert will certainly know how to get the best out of his young squad.
The Scot will be hopeful that, with a couple of experienced signings, Villa can get out of danger.
Newcastle have also vastly underachieved this season, and it’s hard to see why.
Over the summer they retained their key players and many were expecting a successful season, especially if Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse could keep on scoring.
But this didn’t happen, as Cisse struggled to score and the Toon suffered injuries to Yohan Cabaye, Cheick Tiote and influential captain Fabricio Coloccini.
With the same squad that did so well last season it’s hard to see them being relegated, but Alan Pardew will certainly need to replace Ba who completed a £7 million to Chelsea.
There will always be underachievers and overachievers in every league, and their eventual success tends to rely on key signings, avoiding injuries and having the players to battle to victory in most matches.
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