Alan Pardew says the likes of Crystal Palace and Leicester City have shown that the Premier League’s big boys can no longer dominate so easily.
This has been a remarkable season so far, with Leicester sitting at the summit over Christmas and reigning champions Chelsea entering 2016 just three points above the relegation zone.
Guus Hiddink’s side will look to push away from danger with victory at Selhurst Park on Sunday, but lying in wait is a Palace side that have gone from the bottom three to fifth place in the space of a year.
Pardew has overseen that rapid progress and believes the landscape has changed because of smaller clubs’ smart business and the 25-man limit for squads.
“It’s a season that’s thrown up a few surprises, but the top clubs will react,” the Eagles boss said, when asked about Chelsea and stuttering Manchester United.
“Don’t think those two clubs are just going to say okay and roll over. We will drive them to get better.
“At the moment the top clubs, apart from Arsenal, who have come through the process and are on an even keel, are searching on how to deal with the up-and-coming stars while running a Champions League campaign. It is proving very difficult for them.
“Suddenly the opportunity has come to get past them and, because we have been able to go out and buy better players, we can compete. It hasn’t totally happened yet, but the opportunity is there. We have definitely upped our game.
“The 25-man squad rule has helped us because when I look at say Chelsea and you see Falcao, they no longer have that squad of 30-35 anymore enabling them to carry players.
“They have to rely on young players and that has made a bigger impact than we all thought. It’s been an astonishing year and probably in terms of the other clubs the Premier League has been shaken up a bit.
“It must give big clubs like Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday hope as well. They must be thinking ‘we can do a Crystal Palace or a Southampton or a Leicester’.”
While Chelsea arrive at Selhurst Park sat dangerously close to the drop zone, Pardew insists there is “no chance” that Chelsea will be relegated.
European qualification, though, could well be beyond them.
“For Chelsea, it is a freak year which I don’t think is going to happen again,” Pardew said.
“I think they are going to find it hard to get into the top six, but they will push.”