Can Everton or Aston Villa crash top four party?
With the Premier League spotlight elsewhere, Aston Villa and Everton have gone about their summer business relatively quietly.
Yet in David Moyes and Martin O’Neill, each has a skilled manager who has been given the time to build a thoroughly impressive squad, capable of challenging noisier opposition.
When you consider that Chelsea (1/25 to finish in first four), Manchester United (1/16), Manchester City (4/7), Arsenal (4/6), Tottenham Hotspur (11/8) and Liverpool (11/4) are all above the duo in the market, the difficulty of the task is made apparent.
Yet both the Birmingham club and the Merseysiders represent great value for money in this particular market.
The main aim for both teams after the season ended was to keep hold of their best players, and so far each has managed this.
James Milner could still go to City of course, but should O’Neill convince him to stay, then the team that got to within six points of fourth will be entact.
Everton have only shed the surprisingly cynical Dan Gosling, but with a midfield bristling with talent his loss should be minimal.
They have added Leeds United’s Jermaine Beckford for nothing (a bold call reminiscent of Tim Cahill’s transfer) and 20-year-old Portuguese striker Joao Silva, who scored 14 goals in 32 league apperances last year.
With Phil Jagielka and Mikel Arteta for a full season, and Jack Rodwell a year older, they could replicate their fine end-of-season form, which saw them gather the third highest points total since January 1st.
It’s clear that Villa need a proven goalscorer to help Gabriel Agbonlahor (they scored just 52 goals last year) especially with a Europa League campaign to take part in, a trophy they are 16/1 to win.
If they could secure £10million-rated Aiden McGeady their hopes of repeating wins against Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool would be boosted.
Everton also claimed big-name scalps last year, beating Chelsea and United in a matter of weeks, and doing the double over City.
Such one-off results show that both teams have the quality to challenge the very best teams over 90 minutes, the question is whether they can do it over a whole season.
Both teams lost their opening games last year but good starts are needed if the sides are to break into top four – a feat Everton managed in 04/05. Aston Villa are 8/13 to beat West Ham, while Everton are 6/4 to win at Blackburn.