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Premier League: European contenders

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For the so-called 'big clubs', qualifying for the Europa League is no more than an annoyance they could do without in the hunt for other riches. But European competition at any level should be looked at as prestigious and a lot of clubs fight tooth and nail to even qualify.

As ever, the Premier League usual suspects have the Champions League places locked down and the chasing pack are generally thought to be the likes of Liverpool or Everton, but what of the Premier League dark horses?

Here we see which clubs could spring a surprise and mount a serious challenge to qualify for the Europa League next season. 

Aston Villa

The Midlands club have started the season promisingly, with a stunning victory at Arsenal before pushing Chelsea all the way in their encounter last night.

This may seem surprising to some people considering Villa's relegation worries last season, but Paul Lambert's young team looked very promising at the back end of the last campaign, even in games where they weren't getting results.

When Lambert arrived at the club, there was a major upheaval and there was a new focus on developing a younger and more vibrant squad. This was always going to take time to get right, but the club did the right thing sticking with the Scotsman and now surely the only way is up.

Villa's biggest signing of the summer was not a new arrival but Christian Benteke signing a new four-year contract. The bludgeoning Belgian was their standout performer last year and has got off the mark already this term with three goals in two games. 

If he can carry on in that vein and Villa continue playing as they have done in the early stages of this season, a Europa League push may not seem so farfetched.

Southampton

Eyebrows were raised last season when Southampton chairman Nicola Cortese sacked adored manager Nigel Adkins and replaced him with the Argentinian Mauricio Pochettino.

The former physio was a beloved figure at St. Mary's and fans were in uproar when he was replaced with the club clear of the drop zone in their first season back in the top flight.

And despite the club not experiencing a major upturn in results after his arrival, Pochettino has used the considerable cash at his disposal to excite the fans this summer with several high-profile signings.

Having spent almost £35m on centre-back Dejan Lovren, midfielder Victor Wanyama and striker Pablo Osvaldo, Southampton suddenly look to have a very capable squad. And if you add the talismanic figure of Rickie Lambert into the mix, there is a real chance the men from the south coast could push for European football in the very near future.

West Ham

This may be the most surprising inclusion on the list, but unfancied West Ham could definitely make some waves this season.

Manager Sam Allardyce has built a squad that perfectly complements the style of play he employs, and while its not always pretty to look at, it can be incredibly effective.

He also has previous experience guiding a relatively unheralded squad into the Europa League, when he did it twice with Bolton Wanderers, who went on to record victories over sides such as Atletico Madrid on a run to the knockout stages.

The signing of Andy Carroll was West Ham's major move in the summer transfer window and add to that the capture of Stewart Downing and the presence of crossing machine Matt Jarvis on the wings, it is pretty obvious what their main mode of attack will be.

Another major factor in West Ham having a successful season will be the form of Kevin Nolan. The 31-year-old Liverpudlian excelled last season, making a living out of feeding off Carroll knockdowns, and if the Hammers can keep that trend going throughout this campaign they certainly won't be far away from Europe.

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Topics:
Premier League
Football
Southampton
Aston Villa

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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