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    Three Biggest Surprises in 2016-17 Premier League

    "Southampton's Charlie Austin strikes towards goal during an EPL contest vs. Swansea." Credit to FreshSaints.com)


    Not only in the Barclays Premier League, but in any sport it's not how you begin the season but how you finish it. You could start the season undefeated, and somehow find yourself in a relegation scrap near the end.

    With the first half of the 2016-17 campaign coming to a close this Saturday, I have decided to take a look at the three biggest surprises so far this season. All of these teams have been a surprise to the rest of the footballing world, but not all of them have been a good one.

    With that being said, lets dive into the three surprises so far of 2016.

    1.) Southampton F.C. -- Current position eighth, 24 points. 2015-16 finish sixth, 63 points.

    After Ronald Koeman left Southampton in the summer to join Everton, a lot was made about who would take over, and if they would be as successful. Claude Puel has taken over since and has done a fine job keeping the Saints in the top half. The former manager of Monaco, Lille, Lyon and Nice has been able to keep some key players at the club and even have Southampton a match away from making it into the Round of 32 in the Europa League. Saints lost the likes of midfielders Sadio Mane (Liverpool) and Victor Vanyama (Tottenham) who were both influential to the team's success a year ago. Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg followed Koeman to Merseyside, while striker Graziano Pelle left for China.

    Alex McCarthy replaced Stekelenburg as the #2 keeper to Fraser Forster. Pierre Hojbjerg joined from Bayern Munich, and Sofiane Boufal was acquired from Lille. Striker Charlie Austin has been a nice surprise with six goals so far, while a healthy Jay Rodriguez (three goals) adds another weapon up-front for Puel. The midfield brings grit and determination, with James Ward-Prowse, Steven Davis, and Oriel Romeu leading the bunch. Virgil van Djik has played superbly so far defensively, gaining interest from a bunch of the Premier English teamsJose Fonte have a strong partnership in the back-line. They have held Liverpool and Manchester City to draws, while defeating Everton and Bournemouth. With matches against Tottenham and West Brom to end the year, Southampton knows they need good results to remain in the top-half when 2017 begins.

    "West Brom players celebrate during a 3-1 EPL victory over Watford." (Credit to Sky Sports.)



    2.) West Bromwich Albion -- Current position ninth, 23 points. 2015-16 finish 14th, 43 points. 

    Since Tony Pulis became manager of West Brom in 2015, his tactics have not changed. Playing strong defencive football comes first, with counter-attacking coming second. So far this campaign, Pulis has his side in the top-half and only 20 points behind their 2015-16 total. Against the top six though, they have lost five out of six matches, with the only draw coming vs Tottenham. Wins over Crystal Palace, West Ham, Burnley, and Leicester have been key to their success so far. Ben Foster has been a solid #1 in-goal, while Craig Dawson, Gareth McAuley, and Jonny Evans all are experienced defenders.

    Matt Phillips (three goals, five assists) has been a play maker in midfield, while Nacer Chadli (four goals, two assists) has contributed since joining from Spurs. Due to weight issues, Saido Berahino has been a lost figure for West Brom this season allowing Venezuelan international Salomon Rondon (seven goals) to lead the attack. I could definitely see West Brom sneaking into a Europa League spot if they are able to defeat some top competition. Matches in January against Hull, Sunderland, and Middlesbrough are winnable and could start the new year off with a bang for the Yorkshire club.

    "Leicester players walk off the field dejected after their Opening Day defeat at Hull." (Credit to Mirror UK.)


    3.) Leicester City -- Current position 16th, 17 points. 2015-16 finish, first, 81 points. 

    What a difference a season can make, especially if you are Leicester City. After lifting the top-flight trophy last season for the first time in their history, Leicester currently sit four points clear of the relegation zone. Claudio Ranieri's side have struggled for most of the season, despite advancing to the knockout stage of their first ever UEFA Champions League appearance. Losing three matches all last season, Leicester have tripled that mark in 18 matches so far this season. Falling on opening day to Hull was a shock, but the Foxes have also lost to West Brom, Watford, Sunderland, and Bournemouth so far in 2016-17.

    Defensively, the back-line leaders of Robert Huth and Wes Morgan look a shade of what they did a season ago. Leicester have allowed 31 goals so far this season, six fewer than all of last season. The loss of N'Golo Kante to Chelsea has left Leicester with a huge defencive gap in midfielder that they have yet to fill. Riyad Mahrez (three goals, two assists) has struggled to find consistency after a breakout campaign a year ago. Jamie Vardy (five goals) has looked frustrated at times up-top, with Islam Slimani (four goals) Shinji Okazaki (two goals) having to pick up the slack. Leicester could see themselves battling against history if they don't turn things around fast, becoming the first team since Manchester City in 1938 to go from league champions to relegation. Ranieri needs to get the "fight" back in his players that we saw a lot last season, or else the Italian could be managing somewhere else next year.

    Be sure to check back on Premier League Preview for all the news, recap, previews, and opinions regarding the top football league in England! Follow @lhenry019 and @PremPreviewMag on Twitter for all the updates!  
     
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    Item Reviewed: Three Biggest Surprises in 2016-17 Premier League Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Larry Henry Jr
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