Every year we get the same preseason chatter, the same age-old questions: Who’s going to win the league, who’s breaching the top four and who’s going down?
The big-name transfers dominate the headlines, the nouveau-riche clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco are forced down our throats.
But taking a deeper look at Europe’s leagues this season, there’s the potential for many clubs to go in a fairytale run (of sorts) and truly surprise the general public.
Here, we take a look at five teams who are primed for a great 2013-14 season.
Those who paid close attention to Villa over the course of 2013 should not be surprised they went to the Emirates on the opening day and upset Arsenal.
The 3-1 scoreline was richly deserved, and Paul Lambert’s settled group of young charges now look to have the belief and hunger to achieve a top-half finish in the Premier League.
It’s essentially the same side who, if you take their form over the second half of the season into account, would have been challenging for a UEFA Europa League spot in the table, and the manager has added quality in the right places.
New contracts to key players—including Christian Benteke, Brad Guzan and Matthew Lowton—and smart acquisitions in Jores Okore and Antonio Luna capped off a successful summer, and this team has started the season at full throttle.
Ernesto Valverde has taken the reins at Athletic Club after Marcelo Bielsa’s exhausting, yet enthralling, two-year spell as manager.
He started the season with a 2-1 victory away to Real Valladolid, and although the Pucela caused them more problems than originally anticipated, he essentially took a strong side back to basics and rekindled the belief and thirst for success.
Iker Muniain is off the mark at the earliest opportunity, and that can only spell good news for a player who is immensely talented but suffered horrendously last year due to loss of form.
Beñat has come into the midfield and replaced the spark Javi Martinez used to provide, while the right side of Markel Susaeta and Andoni Iraola looks as strong as ever.
PSV Eindhoven are working miracles already this season, crushing domestic rivals in the Eredivisie with ease despite fielding a side made up largely of 20-year-olds.
Jeffrey Bruma (21) was the oldest player in the back line on Wednesday night as the Boeren took on Milan, and despite the inexperience, played a good game and drew 1-1.
Going forward they’re fantastic, with precocious young talents Memphis Depay, Adam Maher and Georginio Wijnaldum combining pace, technical talent and fearlessness to great effect.
Phillip Cocu, a former Barcelona star, is the manager, and he has his young charges playing some extremely eye-catching football. Tune in and watch them at work…before the vultures of Europe ruin the party.
La Real enjoyed the ultimate fairytale season last time out, sneaking into the UEFA Champions League at the expense of Valencia.
There’s a lot to admire about Jagoba Arrasate’s side, and despite reaching the Mecca of European football, still lost Asier Illarramendi—the lynchpin of their midfield—to Real Madrid for €30 million this summer.
Ruben Pardo steps into the void and despite a shaky first performance in a 2-0 win over Getafe, he is expected to improve and control the midfield this year. Esteban Granero has been brought in on loan, while Haris Seferovic is a real gamble up front.
Early form is good, performances have been fantastic and there’s a great feeling in San Sebastien right now. La Real should be your second team this season.
Mauricio Pochettino has bought three brilliant players this summer, adding doses of quality to a squad already looking to challenge for a top-half spot in the Premier League.
Victor Wanyama now partners Morgan Schneiderlin in midfield, and the two will combine to ensure no playmaker on earth gets time on the ball to dictate proceedings. Dejan Lovren has shored up the defensive line, and although the Croatian remains a gamble, Pochettino will believe he can extract his best form.
Dani Osvaldo is the latest acquisition, a truly classy striker from Roma, who but for his poor conduct in Serie A last season, would have been representing Italy at the Confederations Cup this summer.
It’s no longer a question of whether Saints will breach the top half—they will—it’s about whether they’ll achieve European football for next year.