Neil Humphreys: Wolves and Foxes in the hunt for scalps
TNP continues the countdown to the EPL season with a look at the teams who might spring a surprise or two on the big boys
1) WOLVES IN CITY'S CLOTHING
If Manchester City were less wealthy and more Portuguese, they'd look like Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Wolves' bald and bearded manager, Nuno Espirito Santo, might appear as if his head is on upside down, but there's nothing the wrong way round about his style of play.
Wolves are Pep Guardiola's treble winners on a budget. A seventh-placed finish was the very least Santo's stylish side deserved for their positive approach, typically favouring three in defence, quick wing-backs and inventive midfielders slipping passes to Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota.
Indeed, Jimenez is the poster boy for Wolves' progress. After a fine season, picking up 13 goals and seven assists, the striker had his admirers.
But Wolves spent £32.5 million (S$54.4m) to turn their on-loan forward into a permanent attraction, a clear sign of their ambition. And yet, his blossoming partnership with Jota didn't satisfy their manager.
Earlier this week, Santo signed AC Milan striker Patrick Cutrone for £16m, a decent addition for a burgeoning squad.
At centre-back, Conor Coady remains the rock of Wolverhampton and Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves offer both Portuguese experience and youth.
Last season, victories against Manchester United and Arsenal were considered exceptional triumphs.
They won't any more. The EPL hierarchy should be wary of the big, bold Wolves.
2) CINDERELLA FOXES DESERVE SEQUEL
The EPL's best and worst moments belong to Leicester City.
Andrea Bocelli singing Nessun Dorma, beside a weeping Claudio Ranieri, at the King Power Stadium in 2016 ripped hairs from the back of the neck.
Outside the same venue, just two years later, club chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha died in a helicopter crash.
Both moments were handled with humbling grace and dignity and left everyone in admiration of the club's impeccable conduct.
No team deserve a second act more than Leicester City.
Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, Vichai's son and current chairman, understands that more than most. He's promised a renaissance to honour his father and he's proving to be a man of his word.
Brendan Rodgers was poached from Celtic and a master plan quickly put in place.
The Foxes had drifted towards predictability so Rodgers signed the opposite for £30 million.
Ayoze Perez's versatility has already been tested in pre-season.
The utility man has featured out wide and up front and recently scored when partnering Jamie Vardy.
The Spaniard gives Rodgers different tactical options. Youri Tielemans gives reliability.
In an inflated marketplace, £40m for reliability is a bargain.
Tielemans impressed on loan last season, but the 22-year-old midfielder's CV impressed even more.
The former Anderlecht and Monaco metronome had 250 appearances in all competitions under his belt before he'd started shaving properly.
Nothing fazes the Belgian. With the likes of Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel around, Leicester are expected to improve upon their previous ninth-placed finish.
The owners expect Champions League football. If they pull it off, no one would begrudge them their success.
3) IT'S HAPPY HAMMER TIME
Spare a thought for West Ham United supporters. They are struggling with the unthinkable. Hope.
Traditionally, West Ham's masochists epitomise the football martyr.
They even have an ode to their martyrdom, the one about having dreams fade and die. But now, they should be blowing bubbles.
In pre-season, West Ham spent superbly. A magician and a man mountain have taken up residence.
Spanish midfielder Pablo Fornals and French striker Sebastien Haller were excellent purchases.
A dependable No.9 and a promising No.10 are rarities, but manager Manuel Pellegrini and sporting director Mario Husillos managed to ensnare both.
Firmly in charge of recruitment now, Pellegrini and Husillos are pursuing a top-six finish that befits the club's size and wage structure.
Haller boasts the presence of Andy Carroll and the finishing of Marko Arnautovic, without being cursed with the physical and mental flaws of either.
The former Eintracht Frankfurt forward creates almost as many chances as he takes, which is terrific news for Fornals.
The 23-year-old tends to start wide, but roams inside.
Teammate Jack Wilshere played one half with Fornals in pre-season and declared the newcomer one of the best No. 10s in the EPL.
A bit of hyperbole, undoubtedly, but Fornals' progress at both Malaga and Villarreal was monitored at elite clubs across Europe.
Honestly, West Ham's smash and grab was a surprise, with the club taking advantage of Pellegrini's connections to his former clubs.
Suddenly, the Hammers have a tantalising line-up with the likes of Haller, Fornals, Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini.
After a breakout year, Declan Rice has been linked to Manchester United. But the 20-year-old playmaker believes another full campaign with the Hammers will only enhance his credentials.
At some point, Rice might hit the ceiling of his talent at the London Stadium and seek a move to a loftier venue. But until then, the Hammers have a front six to concern anyone in the top six.
The West Ham anthem insists that their fortune is always hiding. But Pellegrini might just have found it.
TOMORROW: HOW DO REDS, CITY MEASURE UP AHEAD OF COMMUNITY SHIELD?
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