Thoughts on an Upcoming Season

I usually do one of these prior to the start of the season. They end up being as accurate as the typical media preview (not very), so take anything below with a grain of salt. That’s not to say United will be relegated or anything.

1. Chelsea
Jose Mourinho has returned to West London after a confrontational final season at Real Madrid. He is presented with a team that is capable of winning any match, but lacked the consistency to push for the title last season. An aging corps of Petr Cech, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard contributed well last season while captain John Terry accepted his role as 4th choice central defender in the Europa League winning side.

Marco van Ginkel and Andre Schurrle are the primary additions for this term while Romelu Lukaku’s return from a productive loan spell at West Brom should bring strength up front. The future of Fernando Torres remains in doubt as Mourinho pursues the unsettled Wayne Rooney from Manchester United.

2. Manchester City
Manuel Pellegrini takes over a City side that was well off the pace of United last term. They’ve spent big in the transfer window on Stevan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas and Fernandinho to replace the departures of Carlos Tevez and many others signed by Mark Hughes.

While they are almost certainly expected to compete for the title with the sheer number of exciting players in attack, worries about their defence persist. The health of Vincent Kompany and the promising Matija Nastasic could determine the destination of the title come May.

3. Manchester United
David Moyes takes charge of arguably the biggest club in the world without having won a major trophy in management. The champions should have the quality to contend for the title this season regardless of who would have taken over from Alex Ferguson. The biggest challenge Moyes faces may be in seasons ahead as Robin van Persie, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic begin to decline.

The transfer market has proven frustrating for United fans this summer as their 2 rivals for the title splash the cash. Guillermo Varela remains the only significant signing off the summer, though Wilfried Zaha signing from Palace in January should help if he can replicate the form of last season. The potential departures of Rooney and Nano will trim the attacking power of this side despite the decreasing returns of both in recent seasons. The rumors of moves for Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini from Everton persist as signings aren’t happening at Old Trafford.

4. Arsenal
The summer Arsenal were finally supposed to open the wallet for big talent hasn’t gone to plan. Only Yaya Sanogo’s signing from Ligue 2 side Auxerre has been their biggest arrival. While their tit-for-tat through the media over Luis Suarez has been well documented, no movement for his signature seems imminent.

Arsene Wenger continues to win the “trophy” of a top 4 finish and Champions League football each year, but 8 years have passed without real silverware. To put that in perspective, Championship sides Wigan and Birmingham have won trophies more recently than the Gunners. Only a finish outside the Champions League places would seem to put Wenger’s job under threat.

5. Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs always seem to come up short when it matters most. Andre Villas-Boas’s side has seen plenty of turnover this summer. Clint Dempsey scored a few important goals last season, but has now returned to the States since he was no longer wanted. Steven Caulker decided to trade a spot on the bench for a relegation battle in South Wales and a chance of a spot in the England squad in Brazil. Of course the real drama has been over the future of Gareth Bale who has been subject to a world record bid from Real Madrid.

There is still hope for getting that elusive Champions League spot for Spurs judging by their signings. Paulinho was hugely impressive for Brazil at the Confederations Cup and a partnership with fellow countryman Sandro could give them the best central midfield in the league. They’ve also signed Roberto Soldado to bang in the goals Emmanuel Adebayor couldn’t last season. Nacer Chadli may have to fill the Bale-sized hole this season should that transfer come to pass.

6. Liverpool
Liverpool begin the second season of Brendan Rodgers reign as a club that seems more willing to accept the mediocrity it has fallen into since it was capable of going deep in the Champions League and consistently finishing in the top 4. Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas are proven goalscorers in the second tier of Spanish football, while attempts to sign Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid seem misguided as they prepare to lose the talismanic, yet-troubled Luis Suarez. Kolo Toure seems a like-for-like replacement for the Jamie Carragher of last season, that is managing to put together the occasional good match as the body struggles to keep up with the strain of a season. Simon Mignolet is a definite upgrade over Pepe Reina, though.

The signings made last season, Phillipe Coutinho in particular, should see them as the best of the clubs not able to compete for the final Champions League spot, but they leap to the next level will require significant investment from an owner who has decided to buy into the American newspaper industry.
7. Newcastle United

Loic Remy is the only significant signing for the Magpies and even that is only on loan. He shone brightly in his half season at QPR after rejecting the advances of…Newcastle. Scoring goals became a real issue last season following the departure of Demba Ba to Chelsea. Papiss Cisse was unable to replicate the form he showed after his initial transfer to the northeast.

As for why I have Newcastle rated 7th, even as a poorly managed club there will be a time when Alan Pardew’s time runs out and they appoint someone who can manage this club with so many French-speaking players at the club. When that happens, the club that deservedly finished 5th 2 seasons ago should rocket back up the table.
8. Aston Villa

Paul Lambert has built on the work of bringing through young players that began with the much hated Alex McLeish. Underperforming veterans like Shay Given and Darren Bent were scrapped for those who could play within a team. Brad Guzan turned into one of the better keepers in the league and Christian Benteke’s goals kept the Villa up. Toward the end of last season, the experience gained by the young group of players made them the most formidable of the relegation strugglers last term.

They’ve added young players from across Europe in the transfer window to add some depth to the squad that lacked depth in the best of times. Jores Okore should turn out to be the solid presence at the back that was sorely missing last season and is one to look out for. Their biggest move in the summer by far was signing Benteke up to a new contract as Arsenal and Tottenham circled around him.
9. Everton

It should be remembered that Roberto Martinez got his side relegated last season even if Wigan did win the FA Cup along the way. There has to be a concern about the difference in playing styles between the side David Moyes left and the naivety that Wigan players with in recent seasons. Taking one of the more defensively solid teams in the league and adding some additional attacking emphasis could work out or it could backfire horribly. It’s the question that remains secondary to the futures of Fellaini and Baines.

Martinez went for 3 players who were part of the Wigan side last season to bring to Goodison Park. Arouna Kone makes sense for a team with questionable options up front. The signings of Antolin Alcaraz and Joel Robles make much less sense, but they cost little. Gerald Deulofeu is an intriguing signing on loan from Barcelona, where he had no hope of getting into the team at this stage of his career, but he is potentially a future Spain player. This will be an interesting season in the blue half of Liverpool.
10. West Ham United

Sam Allardyce guided the Hammers to safety last season with the physical tactics that his sides always excel at. Razvan Rat brings depth at the back where they were exposed numerous times last season by any side with quick wingers. They also made the signing of Andy Carroll from Liverpool permanent and he will be hoping to secure his place in the England team for next summer’s World Cup.

West Ham under Allardyce may be one of the sides that can sail to mid-table mediocrity and not get noticed. They finished 10th last season on their return to the Premier League, but that was about where his sides at Bolton and Blackburn usually finished. Once again, he has assembled a group of experienced, capable players who do their simple jobs well.
11. Swansea City

The Swans won their first major English trophy last season in the Capital One Cup. However, that final win over Bradford was effectively the end of their season as they limped along to the end of the season. The strains of a European campaign and the new television deal allowed the Welsh side to splash some cash in the summer window.

Wilfried Bony was the most expensive signing made so far by Swansea and he already has 2 goals which were scored in their opening Europa League match against Malmo. Jonjo Shelvey represents an interesting gamble as well since he appears to be the type of player that Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers would have signed when they were in charge at the club. The latter sold him for a modest £5 million. The key to improving on last season’s 9th place finish will Michu’s goals. Can he replicate the 15 he scored in the league last season?
12. Southampton

Saints finished 14th last season after sacking Nigel Adkins and appointing the Argentine Mauricio Pochettino. An improvement in form came with the deserved win over Manchester City proving the highlight of last season. There should be enough talent in Saints squad to survive another season in the top flight especially given the quality of the teams coming up from the Championship.

There have been just 2 signings in the transfer window this summer at St. Mary’s. The Croatian international Dejan Lovren will try to plug the numerous holes that emerged in a Saints defence that leaked many goals early last season. The bigger signing, and evidence of the money available to mid-table English clubs was Saints’ 8-figure move for Victor Wanyama from Celtic. The Kenyan midfielder played well against the likes of Barcelona and Juventus in last season’s Champions League, and now finds himself financially better off at a club where there are long odds on any sort of European football any time soon.
13. Norwich City

The Canaries continue to be a side in transition with nothing more symbolic than the departure of Grant Holt to Wigan. Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper bring big match experience to the bottom end of the Premier League, but will they be able to cope with the pressure of a probable battle against relegation.

Some of the fun is gone from in this period of transition. Last season saw the older players who guided Norwich to consecutive promotions under Paul Lambert get found out as their collective form reverted to the mean. Chris Hughton did just enough to manage the team to safety near the end of the season. He may be relying on the poor form of others to repeat the trick again this season.
14. West Bromwich Albion

With Romelu Lukaku banging in the goals last season, the Baggies stayed in the hunt for a European place last season before falling away in April and May. Steve Clarke has reacted to the departure of the Belgian by bringing in Nicolas Anelka to his 6th English club. The 34-year-old will obviously not be expected to start every match; that job belongs to Shane Long after all.

The signing of the Uruguay captain Diego Lugano is interesting as he brings Champions League experience to a side that could well revert to the mean after last season’s 8th placed finish. Perhaps shoring up the defence took priority after the season ended with a 5-5 draw with Manchester United.
15. Sunderland

Paolo di Canio has made physical conditioning a priority as he prepares for the start of his first full season in the Premier League. That seemed to work well in their win over Tottenham in the Premier League Asia Trophy as their fitness carried them all the way. Di Canio came in to inspire a side to survival at the end of last season and raw emotion guided them to survival, but one has to be worried about fitness come the end of the season. It seems likely that Sunderland will start the season well, but fatigue will set in early and they may struggle to obtain Premier League safety come the end of the season.

Di Canio made his feelings known at the end of last season about the personalities of the players still at the club. He’s overhauled much of the playing squad with 8 new signings expected to play a role this season. Jozy Altidore had an ineffective first spell in English football scoring just once for a Hull side that went down. Since then, he’s started to find the goals for AZ in Holland and for his national team. Emanuele Giaccherrini was a regular in the Italy side at the Confederations Cup mainly for his versatility and is likely the reason why Sunderland were able to sign him for £6.5 million.
16. Fulham

After hitting the 40 point mark and ensuring safety last season, Fulham went on a run of 5 consecutive defeats before a win at a Swansea side on their summer holidays catapulted them back up to 12th. The playing personnel hasn’t changed all that much. Mark Schwarzer left for Chelsea and was replaced by Maarten Stekelenburg. Fulham will be hoping he can perform as well as the last Dutch keeper to start regularly at Craven Cottage. Derek Boateng and Fernando Amorebieta were both signed on free transfers. In the end, they will be reliant on Dimitar Berbatov’s goals to keep them in the Premier League.

The biggest change came in the ownership of the club as Mohamed Al-Fayed sold the club to the American Shahid Khan. Those who are familiar with Khan’s running of the Jacksonville Jaguars, his NFL franchise, will be worried about how he maintains the interest of the fans. Having a video screen installed to show other Premier League matches is unlikely, but not beyond the imagination when Khan is involved. Can the Premier League sue one of its owners for illegally showing matches?
17. Cardiff City

Of the promoted sides to the Premier League, Cardiff seem to have the most resources available at their disposal. Though their club crest resembles a beer mat, it’s indicative of the measures Vincent Tan has taken to boost the image of the club in his native Malaysia. Many of the fans have deserted the club over the change to the crest and the change from blue to red shirts last year. They have made some curious signings though to boost a side that played a physical style that made Big Sam’s West Ham side look like a passing side.

One prolific season in the Danish top flight was enough to convince Cardiff to make a move for Andreas Cornelius. The tall strikers return in his brief international career hasn’t resembled the more than 1-in-2 matches strike rate he had in Copenhagen last season. Also joining is Steven Caulker in a bid to boost his England chances and a return to south Wales where he enjoyed a successful loan spell at Swansea.
18. Stoke City

Mark Hughes really has his last chance at management if it doesn’t work out at the Britannia. His attempt to become Aston Villa manager 2 years ago sums up his career post-Manchester City more than anything. He inherits a side that was increasingly looking bereft of ideas at the end of Tony Pulis’s reign. There are few expectations that he will try to force Stoke to play differently from the extremely physical manner with large men.

The Potters were virtually begging for width come the end of last season. Stoke succeeded early on because of their use of the flanks, whether that was by employing conventional wingers or Rory Delap’s throws, that’s now all gone. How has Hughes addressed this problem? By bringing in a pair of defenders who were unwanted at their previous clubs. Erik Wieters seems to fit the classic Stoke archetype in being a big defender with an anger problem. Yet, one gets the sense that the rest of the league has figured out how to play Stoke and there is no Plan B.
19. Crystal Palace

In 4 previous seasons in the Premier League, Palace have never managed to stay up. The influx of cash as a result of promotion will be nice and their transfers indicate that financial well-being is taking priority over the financial ruin that fans of the club are used to. That may result in the club performing badly this term, but they are attempting to follow the West Brom model of a yo-yo club.

Manager Ian Holloway returns to the Premier League 2 seasons after his Blackpool side were relegated on the final day. He brings good copy for the press which is why he is so popular in the media, but he’s changed clubs so often for a reason. Just ask fans of Leicester and Plymouth if they fondly recall his times there. Expect lots of attempts to play out of the back by an extremely limited side with a 40-year-old Kevin Phillips to come off the bench to try to poach one. This could be a long but financially lucrative season at Selhurst Park.
20. Hull City

Much like Cardiff, there are worries of a stealth rebranding of this club going on. Hull’s last spell in the top flight is largely remembered by overachievement, Phil Brown, that halftime talk on the pitch at Eastlands, Phil Brown singing and a second season where they were hopelessly out of their depth. The similarly inspiring Steve Bruce is now in charge at the KC Stadium.

Expectations of a lengthy stay in the top flight have to be tempered at this stage. Having Curtis Davies as one of the club’s prominent summer signings will do that. They’ve also signed George Boyd and Ahmed Elmohamady permanently after loans last season. The pressure will really be on Nick Proschwitz (3 goals in 27 matches last season) and Danny Graham (3 goals in 29 matches last season) on loan from Sunderland to score the goals to keep them up.

Other Predictions

Top Goalscorer: Robin van Persie (Manchester United)

Player of the Season: Robin van Persie (Manchester United)

Young Player of the Season: Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

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