BLOG: Premier League's dark horses
Football writer Molly Burke looks at three teams that might throw up a few surprises during the second half of the Premier League season...
Southampton appeared to face a tricky season in the Premier League after Ronald Koeman departed for Everton as well as three of their key players - Victor Wanyama, Graziano Pelle and Saido Mane - signing for clubs elsewhere.
Claude Puel arrived on the South-coast with the mission of helping Southampton succeed in both the Premier League and the Europa League. The Frenchman brought in the likes of Sofiane Boufal, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Nathan Redmond in the summer, but can they fill the boots of their predecessors?
Southampton have looked a force to be reckoned with in the first few months of the season, beating Italian giants Inter Milan in the Europa League before they were narrowly knocked out in the group stages. The Saints have won three from six since they departed the competition and currently sit in tenth place in the league, with a EFL Cup semi-final approaching after beating title-chasers Arsenal in the previous round.
With Charlie Austin bagging nine goals in all competitions so far and Jay Rodriguez finding form too, can Southampton prove capable of battling for a top five spot?
West Brom are a team that most people would have predicted would have a steady season, perhaps finishing safely in the bottom half of the table. However, Tony Pulis’ new contract has transformed them into a top side, claiming six wins and a draw from their last ten games – the losses coming from Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal.
After ending the season in 14th place in May, a top-half finish for West Brom could be looking likely this time round, with the Midlands side looking like they have no intention of crumbling.
Club-record signing Salomon Rondon ended last season with ten goals in all competitions and is already catching up to that, with seven goals in 20 appearances for the side. With a hat-trick of headers against strugglers Swansea, the in-form striker will be looking to help guide the Baggies higher up the table.
Bournemouth are currently sitting comfortably in ninth in the league table, seven places above where they ended last season. With the return of Callum Wilson and Eddie Howe’s position no longer in doubt after the role of England manager became up for grabs in the summer, things are looking up for The Cherries.
Despite looking as if they will be safe from relegation already, Bournemouth will need some consistency in their results if they are to stay a mid-table team. The side have endured a rollercoaster start to the season; losing to Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Burnley and Preston North End. Between these disappointing games, Bournemouth have also been victorious over Liverpool, Leicester and Everton, while banging in six against Hull and drawing to Spurs and Arsenal.
Howe will need to turn these losses into three points as the season continues, with The Cherries only five points off seventh place.