Bournemouth, Norwich and Watford will make the Premier League stronger
The overall quality of the Premier League isn't primarily defined by the strength of the big sides. If anything, the quality of the newly promoted trio is more vital; if there's three formidable teams, the relegation battle is much more exciting, and the unpredictability of the league increases significantly.
Last season, the quality was poor. Of the newcomers, both Burnley and QPR were relegated, and only an unthinkable late surge from Leicester City, who were bottom for nearly half the campaign, prevented an immediate return for them, too. The knock-on effect was that poor sides like Newcastle and Aston Villa coasted along and avoided the drop -- in another campaign, they might have gone down.
This time around, things are more exciting. None of the three newbies are traditional big clubs, but they look in good shape ahead of the forthcoming league campaign.
Having narrowly escaped relegation from the entire Football League in 2008-09, and suffered serious financial problems, Bournemouth's rise to the top division is hugely impressive. This is their debut in the Premier League, meaning exactly half of the 92 current Football League clubs have played in the Premier League since its formation in 1992.
Eddie Howe is the most promising young British manager around. A hugely popular player with Bournemouth, to the extent their supporters effectively crowdfunded his return from an unhappy period down the coast at Portsmouth. He was the youngest Football League manager upon his initial appointment in 2008, and although he had a brief spell at Burnley, is the man primarily responsible for Bournemouth's rise.
A good organiser, a methodical tactician and an engaging media presence, Howe could make the step up to a bigger side on the back of a successful first campaign.
Howe was determined to assemble a squad boasting good depth last season, although Bournemouth's promotion campaign was largely about consistency of selection. The centre-back pairing of Steve Cook and captain Tommy Elphick, for example, started all 46 league games. There was a strong focus upon reliable, hard-working, traditional British players across the side, and in that respect there's an element of Burnley about Bournemouth.
There is also attacking spark, however. Right winger Matt Ritchie was outstanding throughout 2014-15, arguably the Championship's best player and rewarded with his first Scottish caps, while Callum Wilson is a hard-working striker who's cool in front of goal.
Sylvain Distin provides considerable experience -- he's made more Premier League appearances than any other foreign outfielder. Joshua King has been captured from Blackburn, and could turn out to be a fine signing, having been sporadically brilliant last season.
The most eye-catching arrival, though, is the £8 million Bournemouth have shelled out for Tyrone Mings, who had been watched by Arsenal. A composed, intelligent defender formerly of Ipswich, his signing shows Bournemouth's ambition. Howe has indicated the majority of purchases will have experience in English football, so don't expect many foreign purchases.
Bournemouth's main strengths are obvious. They have an intelligent manager, a hard-working squad boasting great team spirit and also have momentum from last season. They haven't lost a game since February, and often that good form carries over into the beginning of a team's debut Premier League campaign. Blackpool, for example, were superb in the first half of 2010-11 before fading, and there's a danger that could happen here.
Nevertheless, Howe will impress with his tactical acumen. Bournemouth must make sure they establish 11,700-capacity Dean Court as a difficult ground to travel to; if so, they could get enough points to stay up.
This is Watford's third season in the Premier League, having previously competed in 1999-2000 and 2006-07. On both those occasions, they finished bottom, and they're the bookmakers' favourites to make it a hat trick. The most interesting thing about the club is the ownership: The Pozzo family, who also control Udinese in Italy and Granda in Spain, took charge in 2012, and have frequently shipped players between their three clubs on season-long loans.
Slavisa Jokanovic took Watford to promotion last season, but was dismissed after less than a year in charge and replaced by Spaniard Quique Sanchez Flores, famed for his spells in charge of Valencia, Benfica and Atletico Madrid over the past decade, winning the Europa League with the latter in 2010. The switch was mildly controversial -- it's the first time in 20 years a newly promoted club have changed manager in the summer -- but Watford are clearly thinking big, and more globally than Bournemouth.
Sanchez Flores is a very astute coach who organises his teams well, preaches universality by encouraging defenders to play out from the back and attackers to help defend, and is intelligent enough to change his tactics according to individual opponents.
A peculiar mix. There are plenty of foreign internationals: ex-Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, who mixes outrageous saves with ludicrous errors, flying Ecuadorian international right-back Juan Carlos Paredes, wily Hungarian midfielder Daniel Tozser, who plays alongside Almen Abdi, who briefly looked excellent in Serie A for Udinese. British players are few and far between, although centre-back Craig Cathcart emerged as a regular in the second half of last season, and Troy Deeney finished as top goal scorer.
Another odd bunch, although some appear to be genuinely exciting buys. Sebastian Prodl was occasionally excellent for Werder Bremen and can play either in defence or midfield. Valon Behrami is an underrated scrapper who could prove crucial in a relegation fight. Etienne Capoue didn't receive enough chances at Spurs and his ball-winning ability will be vital. Greek left-back Jose Holebas is forever 20 yards too high up the pitch but will certainly provide entertainment.
Good quality players and an excellent manager; there's no reason, on paper, why Watford should make another instant return to the Championship.
There's a worry, however, about how this group will click. Individually they have great quality, but we've said that about QPR, and their lack of togetherness proved crucial. Sanchez Flores has no experience in the Premier League, and there's a danger Watford will try to be too clever.
Nevertheless, this is a well-equipped side capable of causing some shocks to the big boys, particularly at Vicarage Road.
Norwich haven't been away from the Premier League for long, bouncing back after just a single season in the Championship. They've returned with a similar squad, but a new manager and a more attractive playing style.
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Alex Neil turned 34 over the summer, and is staggeringly inexperienced for a Premier League manager, having enjoyed two seasons with Hamilton Academical before taking charge of Norwich midway through last season.
Nevertheless, Neil is extremely highly rated within British coaching circles and has impressed with both his tactical ability and his man management, getting the best from inconsistent talents like Nathan Redmond. Norwich's 2-0 playoff final victory over Middlesbrough, who had beaten Norwich twice in the league last season, was surprisingly comfortable and showed Neil's ability to prepare his side for a big game.
Reasonably familiar from Norwich's previous Premier League experience: seven players who started the playoff final also played in Norwich's final Premier League game the previous season. Even players signed for the promotion push, like Cameron Jerome and Graham Dorrans, have Premier League experience.
Jerome was the club's top scorer with 20 goals last season, although he seems the archetypal "too good for the Championship, not good enough for the Premier League" striker. Bradley Johnson also had an excellent campaign, while Jonny Howson was one of the top flight's most underrated players two seasons ago, and Alex Tettey is a fine destroyer just behind.
Not much to speak of here. Youssouf Mulumbu is a good free signing from West Brom and adds more ball-winning ability in front of the back four, but the only other buy has been the permanent signing of Dorrans, a quietly effective wide midfielder.
Neil seems frustrated about the lack of transfer activity.
"You always want to do business by this stage but there are certainly reasons behind why we have not done business," he said earlier this week. "I would go as far as to say the reasons behind that are not due to us ... it is always difficult when we are trying to get someone else's players because ultimately they are not ours."
This is either ludicrously matter-of-fact, or evidence that Neil isn't accustomed to dealing with recruitment at this level of football.
Much depends upon Neil. This is a similar squad to the one relegated two seasons ago, although then Norwich had badly underperformed and had the potential to finish midtable.
Neil should be able to get the defensive side of the section organised well, the midfield features some talented, underrated and hard-working footballers, but Norwich really need more going forward. Jerome, at best, will "lead the line," but it would be a surprise if he reached double figures.
Overall, this is one of the most exciting trios of newly promoted clubs in recent memory.
All appear well equipped to survive in the top division, and most intriguingly, all three are going about things in a different way in terms of their squad composition. Norwich already boast plenty of Premier League experience, whereas Watford are recruiting players from various far-flung countries, while Bournemouth are determined to stick with the British core that earned them promotion in the first place.
It would be a surprise if all three survived -- it's only happened twice before in Premier League history -- but the quality of the division will be much better than in 2014-15.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.