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Everton’s top four hopes, Irish World Cup contingent and more Premier League talking points

Erik G

1. Martin O’Neill’s World Cup contingent

THIS IS A massive season for Irish players playing in the Premier League. Simply put, competition is going to be fierce to book a place on the plane to Russia should Ireland qualify for next summer’s World Cup.

Martin O’Neill’s side are currently level on points with the Group D leaders, but upcoming fixtures against Georgia and Serbia in three weeks’ time will be crucial. Players are out to impress this season, not wanting to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime to play in the greatest competition in international football — a first World Cup for the nation in 16 long years.

Darren Randolph showed his dedication to making the number one shirt his own by dropping down to the Championship in order to be first choice between the sticks. However, questions could be raised as to whether other Irish regulars can nail down a starting position.

First team football is imperative ahead of the run-in to Russia and with only 23 making the final cut, especially in oversupplied positions like midfield, getting minutes under one’s belt and remaining injury-free will be crucial this season. All we have to do is qualify first.

2. Spurs’ lack of spending

Danny Rose caused a PR disaster for Tottenham this week when the defender criticised his club’s lack of spending in the transfer window this season.

However, despite a lack of self-awareness and perhaps ulterior motives to force through a departure from White Hart Lane, Rose was not wrong in stating Spurs had not spent very much at all this season.

Mauricio Pochettino has actually not brought in a single player this season, but let eight players go — four on loan and Kyle Walker the most noted sale to Manchester City for £50 million.

The club have come so close to winning a first Premier League title since 1961 in recent years. Many admitted they were a better footballing side than champions Chelsea last season, and were once again unlucky not to have been crowned title winners.

Keeping Harry Kane, Rose and other mainstays like Hugo Lloris and Christian Eriksen has been their best piece of transfer business this season, but also their only business with £0 spent thus far. Many would have expected the club to challenge in 2017/18 with some marquee signings that might push them over the line.

With Ross Barkley the most high-profile of their summer speculations and Rose’s outburst, Spurs might have missed a chance this season to add to the outstanding work Pochettino has already done in his first two seasons in charge.

3. Everton aiming for top four

Now, this really is a question for debate — can Everton possibly break into the top four? Well, let’s look at the evidence. Since being appointed manager, Ronald Koeman led Everton to a seventh place finish last season, maintained a 46% win rate and is on course to qualifying them for the Europa League.

Add to that the additions of Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Davy Klaassen and prodigal son returned Wayne Rooney and the Toffees have the makings of a side more than capable of causing an upset.

The loss of Romelu Lukaku will be massive. The Belgian’s 25 goals represented 40% of his side’s goals last season, but his departure was not all that much of a surprise, the only question mark being where he would end up.

His absence will be noted and the addition of Rooney in his place may not prove to be an adequate replacement. Unlike when he first came onto the scene in performances of fury and goals galore, Rooney is no-longer a consistent goal-scorer.

This means Everton will be reliant on Kevin Mirallas unless they bring in a suitable replacement for Lukaku. The addition of Gylfi Sigurðsson would further their cause for top four aspirations. However, goals win games and despite the nostalgia and his impressive record, Rooney may no-longer be that player.

4. The race for the title

While seven sides will be battling for a place in the top four alone, there can only be one winner. The candidates could stretch from six of those seven sides (Everton apart) and while anything is possible, the real and true contenders have to be Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham, right?

It’s hard to tell, really. With Spurs’ lack of investment in new signings combined with the fact that their competitors have all been happy to splash the cash, even Spurs’ chances at the title may look slim.

Leicester showed us that anything is possible and Pochettino has proved his pedigree to achieve high-level success without needing to break the bank, but when the Manchester clubs can bring in players like Lukaku, Nemanja Matic, Bernardo Silva, Ederson, Kyle Walker and Danilo, it’s hard to look beyond them for top spot.

Money talks and with many theories stating that a club’s spending will, eventually come the end of the season, reflect their position in the league table, it may well prove true again this year.

City have spent £215m this summer. It should be enough to win them the title come May. If it doesn’t, what does that say about Pep Guardiola?

5. Bournemouth’s rise and rise

At times in the Premier League it can become easy to get lost in the vast quantities of cash and greed that is splurged by the top six or seven clubs.

Therefore it would be advised to take an avid interest in the proceedings of Bournemouth this season. Plucky at first, they have risen and risen throughout the divisions each and every season and with Eddie Howe in charge there is no season why that shouldn’t be the case again this year.

The side finished a remarkable ninth in the Premier League in 2016/17 and with additions like Nathan Aké, Asmir Begovic and Jermain Defoe they may even have aspirations of a top seven finish and a first ever run in European competition.

It’s worth reiterating that this was a side playing in League Two just four years ago and who this summer broke their own transfer record with the £20m acquisition of Aké. Meanwhile, the introduction of Defoe could be one of the single best pieces of business done by a Premier League side this season.

The player will turn 35 in early October but still managed a whopping 15 goals for Sunderland last season. He wants to be on the plane to Russia for England next summer and will be looking to go out with a bang in what should be his final year in the Premier League.

Add striker Joshua King, who managed 16 of his own last season, to the consistent quality in front of goal that Defoe brings and Howe has at his disposal a side more than capable of beating their own high expectations.

In a world where a European Super League seems more and more likely with each passing season, a story like Bournemouth’s is worth keeping tabs on. In a season where the transfer market values Kyle Walker at £50m, it may just maintain your sanity.

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