The new Premier League season gets underway today, lets have a look at the movers and shakers from pre-season and see who will be contending for the title come the end of the football season and who is looking to be doomed to relegation once again.
There is no shame in fourth place but Arsenal fans must be hoping things will finally be different this year. Have the FA Cup and Community Shield finally taught this team how to win? Will Alexis Sanchez make more of a sustained impact than Mesut Özil, and will they bring the best out of each other? Or will the deep problems of last season – predictable football, fragility against the best –continue, with the extension of Arsène Wenger’s tenure?
Villa have been moving in the wrong direction for years and Randy Lerner’s attempts to sell the club show he knows it. They nearly went down in both of Paul Lambert’s seasons so far, and their signings do nothing to suggest this season will be different. Lambert’s attempts to manage by ethos alone have gone full circle, with Alan Hutton and Darren Bent back in the squad. Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann might save them, but not for long.
If Burnley were to exceed their achievement of 2009-10, and stay in the Premier League, it would be a feat even more remarkable than Sean Dyche getting them there in the first place. They had the perfect chemistry for the Championship but bad early defeats to Chelsea or Manchester United could shatter their balance for Premier League life. They have good strikers in Sam Vokes and Danny Ings but the early focus must be on organisation and resistance.
Before Liverpool’s dramatic collapse last spring there was Chelsea’s own surrender of the title. Jose Mourinho should have won the league, and would have were it not for his team’s inability to unpick parked-bus opponents in March and April. Rather than waiting and hoping, Chelsea have tackled the problem by buying two established stars, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas. If they perform as well as they can, it is hard to see Chelsea failing to win the title.
The glow from last year’s great escape has long gone, as Steve Parish and Tony Pulis’s disagreements over summer spending have poisoned the off-season. Palace now find themselves without a manager, without much reinforcement and desperately trying to prepare a team that was, before Pulis arrived last season, simply not ready for the Premier League. Parish and Iain Moody have two weeks to move fast or they may not be here for much longer.
Roberto Martinez’s optimism is one of the most powerful forces in English football but even that is likely to run into the simple reality of short resources this year. Everton were enjoyable and exciting last year, finishing fifth, but all of their spending this summer – beyond the signing of Muhamed Besic – has been to retain players they already had. The Europa League will be a challenge, although Everton could win it; keeping pace with Arsenal, Liverpool and the rest will be even harder.
Steve Bruce deserves to be the next England manager on the back of his work with Hull, and this year he has a Europa League campaign as a reward for last season’s achievements. That campaign, unfortunately, will make Hull unlikely to qualify again but they have added well to the squad, with real quality in Tom Ince and Robert Snodgrass. If they replace Shane Long – for whom they got an excellent price – they can still aim for the top half.
They won the Championship last year, showing impressive strength, resilience and athleticism, but it is not clear they have the quality to stay in the top flight. The £8m gamble on Leonardo Ulloa is surprising, and it is not difficult to see him and David Nugent struggling to make the required impact this season. Only through stacks of clean sheets will they be able to stay up. Much is therefore demanded of goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
They were the story of last season, even with nothing to show for it, but it is hard to see Liverpool doing nearly as well this time. The psychological impact of their May collapse will trouble them, as will the departure of Luis Suarez. Add the challenge of European football every week, after their 43-game season last time, and Brendan Rodgers will have a weighty task to keep his team competitive.
City are the best team in the country and yet their two titles in the last three years have relied on a dramatic late slip by an opponent. When their spine of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Touré, David Silva and Sergio Aguero are all fit, City are untouchable. But extended absences from any of those – especially Kompany, given the lack of alternatives – undermine the whole team and reveal fragility. Good luck with injuries is required to stay on top.
After the historical anomaly of last season, Manchester United again have a manager of suitable personality, talent and achievement. Louis van Gaal is certainly good enough to win the Premier League but it remains to be seen whether this squad – still short of experience in defence and pace in midfield – is. They will benefit, as Liverpool did last year, from not playing any European football, but even that may not be quite enough to restore them to previous heights.
On the surface, no one is better equipped than Newcastle to pierce the top seven. After their 10th place finish last year they have improved with the summer additions of Rémy Cabella and Siem de Jong. But last year was also a season of drift and discord, all ambition ending with the departure of Yohan Cabaye in January, and calls for Alan Pardew’s dismissal by the end. Will that atmosphere have healed over the summer?
Queens Park Rangers
Queens Park Rangers’ last spell in the Premier League was a two-year lesson in how not to do it, but there is more nous and stability at Loftus Road now, even after missing most expectations last season. They should be far more solid this year, and well balanced in a 3-5-2 system. The only problem is goals: they did not score enough last year and if Loïc Rémy leaves there will be even more pressure on Charlie Austin to come up with the goods. They may well need another signing to share the burden up front.
The turnover of staff at St Mary’s was one of the stories of the summer, as Mauricio Pochettino left for Tottenham and was swiftly followed by five first-team players. Ronald Koeman has taken over and been trying to build a competitive team from not much of a base. It will be one of the harder managerial jobs of the season, and his career has been mixed so far. He will need two or three of his buys to impress quickly, which is far from guaranteed.
An interesting project in changing a deeply rooted football culture could bear more fruit this year. Mark Hughes spent last year coaxing Stoke into playing attacking football, with some success, and they should continue their transformation. With Peter Odemwingie, Marko Arnautovic and one-time Barcelona golden boy Bojan Krkic, they have more pace and skill in the side than any Stoke team in years. They will score goals and win games, which is precisely what Hughes is hoping for.
After the great escape of last season – four wins in the last five, including Chelsea and Manchester United – Gus Poyet has momentum on his side as he hopes to lift Sunderland into mid-table. He might not have the quality, though, having failed to tie up a permanent deal for Fabio Borini. The signings have been promising – Jack Rodwell, Will Buckley and Patrick van Aanholt – but they may spend as much time looking down as up.
Garry Monk stabilised the club well enough to earn the permanent job at the Liberty Stadium and is better equipped than anyone to produce the ambitious, successful football Swansea have shown in the top flight. Michu, Ben Davies and Michel Vorm have left this summer but Lukasz Fabianski and Bafetimbi Gomis have arrived and if they can keep Wilfried Bony they should have the goals to go with their passing football to stay at the respectable end of the division.
Tottenham Hotspur fans have been here before. Two summers ago they dispensed with a straight-talking English coach to hire a new foreign alternative with a clear “philosophy”. Mauricio Pochettino is a better fit than Andre Villas-Boas was, with a better track record in the Premier League. Fourth might still be beyond him, though, with this post-Modric, post-Bale side. Spurs need inspiration and Pochettino will have to get the most out of Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela to achieve his aim.
West Bromwich Albion
WBA came dangerously close to relegation last year and while they have improved their squad they have replaced Pepe Mel with the underwhelming appointment of Alan Irvine. In Joleon Lescott, Chris Baird and Craig Gardner there could just be enough experience to drag them through, but there is very little else to cling on to here, and the chances of anything approaching the top-half finishes of 2012 and 2013 are certainly slim.
West Ham United
It is hard to see how this summer could have gone much worse at Upton Park. West Ham could have backed Sam Allardyce, or made a clean break with him in May, but in fact have done neither. Allardyce limps on in charge, undermined by David Sullivan’s comments about style of play, Ravel Morrison and Andy Carroll. With Carroll out until November, West Ham will be struggling to create or score goals, unless Mauro Zarate beds in quickly.
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