Three Premier League managers bidding to spring a surprise next seasonby Jack Kitson / 16 July 2015, 10:54Tweet
The eagerly anticipated 2015/16 Premier League season is now just over three weeks away, and it's safe to say excitement is reaching fever pitch. The title race, and who will be in it, unsurprisingly dominates newspaper space, with the likes of Man Utd and Liverpool once again splashing the cash in the transfer market.
While the quest for top-flight glory will undoubtedly be a riveting spectacle, The Sack Race has chosen to fire the focus at three top-flight managers who have the potential to spring a surprise next season.
Alex Neil (Norwich City)
Since the end of last season Norwich City and their boss Alex Neil have been cast in the shadows somewhat, while the other two promoted teams, Bournemouth and Watford, have hogged the spotlight, albeit for differing reasons.
LMA Manager of the Year Eddie Howe has deservedly won heaps of praise for his simply stunning achievements with the Cherries, with whom he led up to the Premier League for the first time in their history.
Meanwhile, Watford chose not to renew the contract of their promotion winning boss, Slavisa Jokanovic, and instead opted to appoint Quique Flores as their fifth manager in the last 10 months. Yes, you did read that correctly.
Norwich, who returned to the top-flight via the play-offs, have quietly gone about their business so far this summer. Few are giving the Norfolk outfit much hope of staying up, however both the Canaries and Neil arrive back in the Promised Land brimming with confidence, and gunning to cause a stir next season.
At just 34 Neil is the youngest manager in the Premier League. The former Hamilton boss is hungry, determined and confident that he can continue his startling rise, having impressively led Norwich to promotion following his surprise appointment in January.
The club may be the second favourites to drop straight back down to the Championship, but with no pressure on their shoulders who says Neil and his troops can't spring a surprise at 12/1 (Sky Bet) to finish in the top-10.
Steve McClaren (Newcastle United)
Wait, this is not a joke, please read...
When Steve McClaren was appointed Newcastle manager back in May he boldly claimed that a top-8 finish was within reach, while simultaneously expressing his desire to end the club's staggering 46-year trophy drought.
Of course, no one took the former England boss seriously, with even the most optimistic of supporters scoffing at these early predictions. It's no secret that McClaren needs to prove himself in the north east, but if he can survive a daunting opening period - Southampton, Swansea, Man Utd & Arsenal - then both confidence and expectation will gradually rise,
Given the topsy-turvy nature of the Premier League, simply anything can happen. It's easy to forget that the Magpies were up in the top-half of the table when Alan Pardew departed, before suffering a disastrous crisis of confidence, and sliding dramatically down to within the clutches of the relegation zone.
At the time of writing Newcastle are priced at 7/2 (Bet365) to finish in the top-10, while McClaren can be backed at 16/1 (Coral) to win a trophy next term, while the ex-Derby gaffer has been handed odds of 25/1 (Sky Bet) to exceed all expectations and bag the Manager of the Year award.
Slaven Bilic (West Ham United)
While it's true that many West Ham supporters were desperate for Sam Allardyce to leave, in contrast others were keen for Big Sam to stay on for one more season, in order to ensure that the Iron would head into the Olympic Stadium (2016/17) as a Premier League team.
In the end the Hammers and Allardyce parted ways, while the club installed former player Slaven Bilic as his replacement in the dugout. The Croatian, who is sure to light up the Premier League with his entertaining personality and fiery nature, is undoubtedly an exciting appointment who will get the fans off their seats...for the right reasons.
West Ham have been warming up nicely for the opening day of the season. The Hammers are involved in the Europa League qualifying stages, meaning they will have had a decent amount of competitive games under their belt by the time the Premier League campaign kicks-off in August.
No one is expecting miracles at Upton Park under Billic, but there is definitely potential. The east London outfit were flying high up in 3rd last Christmas, and if they can start the season strongly, then Upton Park will be rocking once again following a desperately flat second-half of the 2014/15 campaign.