Bayer Leverkusen 

Cruelly labelled ‘Bayer Neverkusen’ after enduring many near-misses in title races and cup competitions in the past, Die Schwarzroten are presently making a mockery of the pre-season football odds by running away with the Bundesliga.

So much of their unexpected rise can be attributed to Xabi Alonso, a coach who is in high-demand across the continent for his exploits to date, and if that poses a problem for the club in the near-future, for now that can be put on hold with history in the reckoning.

It is no exaggeration to say that Bayer’s high-pressing, possession-based fare has blown away rivals who don’t know how to deal with them, as evidenced by a recent – and critical - 3-0 win over Bayern that had the German giants bewildered. 

Can they finally go all the way? Never say never. 

Ross Barkley

The general response to Barkley joining Luton Town last summer had a distinctly patronising tone. 

Once considered the future of England’s midfield, the 30-year-old was returning to the top-flight after spending several years in the wilderness, plus a season playing in Nice, which amounts to the same thing. 

He was an all-but-forgotten figure, and now plucky little Luton were taking a chance on him, hoping to benefit from his experience as they vied to stay up.

Football Prediction tips at 888sport

It was easy to imagine a scenario where the former Everton schemer turned it on for a couple of games, early in the season, only to then not be heard of again. 

To the surprise of all however, Barkley has been one of the most influential and impactful players in 2023/24, while the Hatters have more than held their own. 

It’s so rare that a gamble such as this pays off. It’s lovely to see when it does.  

Mansfield Town

In their tenth consecutive season in League Two, the Stags finished eighth last term, missing out on a Play-Off spot by a single goal. 

It’s fair to expect that to be psychologically damaging, especially for a club of limited resources. The betting therefore duly priced them up as mid-table fodder. 

Yet, subverting these assumptions, Nigel Clough’s side have only improved, losing just three times in 32 and pulling off a number of notable displays. 

A 2-0 victory at Stockport stands out among them, but even that pales to recently pulverising Harrogate 9-2. 

Harrogate are a decent side as well. 

Ange Postecoglou

Many backed the Aussie coach to revitalise an ailing Spurs, made staid by the successive tenures of Mourinho and Conte, but there were plenty too who questioned the quality of leagues in which he had previously been successful.

Now he was with the big boys and cynics awaited a reality check.

Calculator for bets

They’re still waiting as Postecoglou came in, quickly charmed the media, and assembled an exiting team that play on the front-foot and love every minute of it.

Unbeaten in their opening ten games, until injuries prompted a stumble, Spurs have scored 2+ goals in 79% of their league fixtures, and two-thirds of the way through the season can still be legitimately viewed as title contenders. 

Foul Leniency 

As is so often the case, the Premier League spent their summer tweaking the rules to the beautiful game they preside over. And as is always the case, most have been met with criticism and annoyance.

Adding chunks of time on to the end of games, to better negate the wasting of it, has proven to be an unpopular move, while their intention to crack down on dissent and intimidation of referees has made little to no difference.

A remit to reduce free-kicks however has worked, with officials advised to adhere to a higher threshold for challenges made. It has encouraged games to flow, thus leading to more entertaining fare.

That so many of us aren’t aware of such a remit is proof enough of its success.

*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to Alamy*

Stephen Tudor is a freelance football writer and sports enthusiast who only knows slightly less about the beautiful game than you do.

A contributor to FourFourTwo and Forbes, he is a Manchester City fan who was taken to Maine Road as a child because his grandad predicted they would one day be good.