Premier League Transfer Window Preview, Part III: Europa League Hopefuls

COVENTRY, ENGLAND - APRIL 23: Ibrahima Balde of Senagal celebrates his goal during the London 2012 Olympic Qualifier between Senegal and Oman at Ricoh Arena on April 23, 2012 in Coventry, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

In the third part of our Premier League Transfer Window preview, we look at the summer ahead for the bigger mid-table clubs - Everton, Aston Villa, Fulham, and Sunderland.

In the third part of our Premier League Transfer Window preview, we look at the bigger mid-table clubs - Everton, Aston Villa, Fulham, and Sunderland.

Everton

Last year proved familiar territory for Everton as they repeated their ‘poor start, strong finish' schtick that has been winning David Moyes plaudits for some time. However, things could be very different in the upcoming season - Everton have long been held back by a lack of firepower up front, and in January, the signing of Jelavic - not only a goalscorer but a number 9 with excellent all-round play - solved a problem as long-running as Manchester United's midfield and Chelsea's lack of width. If they make a strong start and have luck with injuries, Everton may be able to once again be able to threaten the Champions League spots. Unfortunately, most of the gossip columns seem to only mention Everton in the context of players leaving, with Leighton Baines likely to be leaving. The minor upside is that may give Moyes a small amount of money with which to boost his squad...

What they need

More goals. The danger of Jelavic's signing is that Everton risk becoming too reliant on the Croatian, and they could do with an alternative, particularly with Tim Cahill appearing to be in decline. Steven Naismith from Rangers would be inexpensive, and can play on either wing too. Alternatively, Everton may wish to enter the race to sign Huddersfield's Jordan Rhodes, if they have enough money to spare.

A replacement for Baines. Baines, one of Everton's key players, looks highly likely to join Manchester United, and David Moyes will need to find a cheap replacement for him. Provided his wages are affordable, Croatia international Danijel Pranjic is available on a free transfer, who also provides a high degree of versatility to fill positions elsewhere. If he proves to be too expensive, Lee Wallace of Rangers may be another option - essentially the Scottish Leighton Baines, for which you can read "not as good, but a lot cheaper."

What they'll get

Will depend highly on who is sold, and there are very little suggestions as to who Everton are even interested in at present. There are also suggestions Marouane Fellaini could be Chelsea-bound, though nothing formal at present. If nobody leaves, Everton will probably be dependent on loan signings, but given the club's financial status, that would be a victory in itself for the blues.

Aston Villa

No team will be more eager to start the new season than Aston Villa - after all, with the possible exception of Blackburn Rovers, nobody else had begun to wish the last one would end so early. Now, however, with Paul Lambert replacing Alex McLeish as manager, the feeling around Villa Park has transformed, with the former Norwich boss seen as the antithesis of his predecessor in two ways - his attractive football, and his potential to see through a long-term project.

Despite that, it's unlikely that Lerner's new austerity-era Villa will have the funds to back a major squad overhaul, so Lambert will have to use his resources wisely if he is to take Villa back to the comparative glory days of Martin O'Neill's reign. But bettering last season's display should be a relatively simple task, at least.

What they need

A midfield schemer. Aston Villa have, for a long time, relied on width for creativity, but doing so after having sold and failed to replace the likes of Stewart Downing (who, it must not be forgotten, was excellent in his second season at Villa Park) proved to be Alex McLeish's downfall. As well as bolstering that department, however, Villa require an alternate strategy. Stephen Ireland has failed to impress, and though the emergence of Barry "ounces of fun" Bannan has been a positive, Stilyan Petrov's tragic illness means that Villa's midfield now, more than ever, requires an overhaul.

There is one outstanding candidate, and the same could be said for most Premier League teams, but Villa will not find better value than attempting to persuade Steven Davis to return to the club that birthed him. A product of a much-hyped young team to emerge from the Aston Villa academy, Davis ended up leaving for Scotland, where he has since consistently been the SPL's finest player. Cheap, an excellent passer and controller of games, and with an eye for goal too, he is the ideal player to suit Villa's needs.

Another winger. Marc Albrighton has shown in his career so far that he almost certainly has what it takes to cut it in the Premier League, but Villa remain light out wide, and will need to rectify that in time for the new season. Paul Lambert's transfer record thus far has not seen him delve outside of his own country for potential signings, and in this case, he may not have to - Matt Jarvis would surely leap at the chance for an instant return to the Premier League, and his ability will be perfect to replace the gap left by Stewart Downing in Villa's squad.

What they'll get

Lambert looks certain to increase his popularity at his former club by taking advantage of Grant Holt's transfer request, so with Bent, Holt and Agbonlahor, Villa's strikeforce will at least have the necessary firepower to see them do well next season. Who he will move for to supply the passes and crosses they will require remains to be seen, but either of the above suggestions are highly feasible.

Fulham

Under Martin Jol, Fulham appeared to take on Wigan Athletic's mantle of unpredictability, dishing out and being on the wrong end of shock results and proper shoeings in equal measure. The result was, in terms of league position, mid-table mediocrity, but Fulham are quietly building an excellent squad, and with some tinkering, they'll surely have what it takes to qualify for the Europa League once again.

What they need

To improve their defence. Fulham have probably the most exceptional set of attacking players comparative to their stature in the league, with Dempsey, Ruiz, and Pogrebnyak in particular providing goals, creativity, and an excellent range of options up front. What they need is a defence worthy of playing behind them. Hangeland is still an excellent centre-back, and the player that Fulham should build their defence around.

Solidity in midfield. Again, a lack of discipline proved to be an unlikely problem for Fulham in the post-Hodgson era, and they'll need a midfield general to aid their efforts in achieving a greater degree of consistency. Jermaine Jenas is one target rumoured to be heading to Craven Cottage - although often derided for his perceived mediocrity, he could form an effective part of Fulham's midfield.

What they'll get

Jol is likely to have a respectable budget, and it's likely that, Jenas aside, he'll delve into the foreign market once again to find the players he needs. On the downside, Moussa Dembele has been heavily-linked to other clubs, and there is tentative speculation linking some of Fulham's other forwards with moves away too. Expect Fulham to join the fight to sign Jordan Rhodes should they lose any of their current frontline.

Sunderland

Upon signing Martin O'Neill as manager, Sunderland embarked on a remarkable run of form which saw them top the form table for a number of games before sliding back into their previous ineptitude. O'Neill should be the man to extract consistency out of what is a very good squad, with solidity, a good range of options, and a couple of stars such as Stephane Sessegnon. In order to do it, however, he's likely to have to make a few tweaks to his current set of players.

What they need

A goalscorer. Despite the obvious potential of Ji Dong-Won and the unfortunately-injured Connor Wickham, Sunderland have been in need of a reliable goalscorer since the departure of Darren Bent, with Asamoah Gyan seeming to fill the void only to unexpectedly demand an exit. If O'Neill has learned from his mistakes, he will recall the lack of such being a significant problem of his Aston Villa side, and reports indicate he is indeed making a number 9 his first priority. Louis Saha is one rumoured target, while the £8m release clause of Osasuna striker Ibrahima Balde, who had a respectable 1-in-3 scoring record in La Liga last year, may be exploited. Steven Fletcher has also been rumoured, but Wolves are likely to demand a high price.

What they'll get

It's unclear how much money O'Neill will have to spend, but the club have been linked to a variety of players - Carlos Cuellar is out of contract and could be due for a reunion with his former manager, while Keith Andrews is another free transfer who could be in line for a move to the North-East. A slightly more exciting Irishman, Aiden McGeady, has also been mooted for a move, but he is likely to command a not-inconsiderable fee.

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