james debate
james debate

Monday, 18 August 2008

Well it's that joyful time of year again. After a long and boring summer spent checking the gossip columns every five minutes to see what new and exciting developments were being made in the world of football (spoiler alert: there weren't any) the new football season is upon us. And it may seem cliché to say, but this one really does look to be one of the closest and most exciting in years.

In this guide we preview each and every team, run the rule over their key signings and players to watch and then fill you in on our carefully considered predictions for the season ahead.


Nickname: The Gunners
Ground: Emirates Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Position last season: Third
Manager: Arsene Wenger (September 1996)

It seems every year Arsenal is on the verge of collapse. All the big name players, formally Wenger's young 'wonder kids' who were tipped to form a world beating team, leave for pastures greener and more trophy filled. However despite this, last season they emerged as early leaders and even a few of us at one point or another considered whether they might just be able to keep it going... which they didn't.

They have brought in a number of new players to replace the depletion of an already thin squad. Do they have what it takes? Can wenger keep them all together this time? You can forgive Arsenal fans for being less than optimistic.

Key Signing: Samir Nasri
Key Man: Cesc Fabregas

Verdict: Are sure to have bright moments here and there, but don't look to have the talent or depth of their main rivals. Will probably still qualify for the champions league, but shouldn't expect more.


Nickname: The Villans
Ground: Villa Park
Capacity: 42,593
Last season: Sixth
Manager: Martin O'Neill (August 2006)

Certainly an impressive showing from Villa last season, but faltered in the latter stages of the season and particularly against big opposition.

They have signed well in Cuellar and Sidwell and there is no reason they can't reach similar levels this season.

Key Signing: Carlos Cuellar
Key Man: Gareth Barry

Verdict: Should push for europe but don't expect an infringement on the big four just yet.


Nickname: Rovers
Ground: Ewood Park
Capacity: 31,367
Last season: Seventh
Manager: Paul Ince (June 2008)

Good to see Incey up and about, but he has some big shoes to fill after Mark Hughes departed for Manchester City. He has still inherited a decent team with a very classy striker up front in Roque Santa Cruz. The lost of Bentley was inevitable.

Having not strengthened much this summer I would not expect Blackburn to reach the level they were at last season.

Key Signing: Paul Robinson
Key Man: Roque Santa Cruz

Verdict: Incey will need time to settle into the job, this year won't be that year but next season they could well find themselves competing for Europe again.


Nickname: Trotters
Ground: Reebok Stadium
Capacity: 27,879
Last season: 16th
Manager: Gary Megson (October 2007)

Quite fortunate to escape last season, with both Reading and Birmingham probably being as good if not better than Bolton, but credit to them they pulled it off.

They have also invested well this summer with Johan Elmander, but I wouldn't expect that to propel them any higher than a relegation tussle.

Key Signing: Johan Elmander
Key Man: Johan Elmander

Verdict: Could go down, will almost certainly have to struggle to stay in the league, of the five or six teams fighting around relegation this season expect Bolton to be one of them.


Nickname: Blues
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Capacity: 42,449
Last season: 2nd
Manager: Luiz Felipe Scolari (July 2008)

Well, where to begin. After a very interesting summer, Chelsea have invested shrewdly in some great talent in Bosingwa and Deco and appointed one of the best managers in the world in 'Big Phil' Scolari. On top of this Scolari has been charming his way into the hearts of media all over the world with his straight talking modesty and wit.

Further more the team strolled their way through pre-season scoring 19 goals and conceding just 1, culminating in a 5-0 demolition of Italian super giants AC Milan. On paper, what could possibly stop this from being a walkover?

Well for starters people will still not like Chelsea. People don't realize that it has nothing to do with player conduct, humility, fair play, sexy football, money or anything else. Chelsea being hated has simply worked its way into the national psychy and it will stay there for a while. For starters remember that the majority of the country hates London in general, and the majority of football fans hates anyone who challenges the authority of the old guard Liverpool and Man U. On top of this there's the fact that football has simply exploded in recent years and there are a whole load of silly newbie football fans (like my old flatmate) who clearly have only been following football for this long, and so have no experience of following football without hating chelsea, or from back in the day when man u or arsenal were hated more.

Key Signing: Deco
Key Man: Frank Lampard

Verdict: At the end of the day, the key thing from last season is that Chelsea were equal with United, despite not playing particularly well, and despite heavy squad losses and a mid season managerial change... with a season of stability and competent management ahead, who knows what might happen...

Latest club news

Nickname: Toffees
Ground: Goodison Park
Capacity: 40,170
Last season: Fifth
Manager: David Moyes (March 2002)

For a number of years now Everton have been punching way above their weight, despite having little money and a constant exodus of their big players. This all serves as a testament to Moyes's management skills.

However there is only so far he can take them and I think that limit has been reached unless some heavy investment is put into the club from outside sources. On top of this there have been no new arrivals and some key departures.

Key Signing: n/a
Key Man: Tim Cahill

Verdict: Pushing for champions league a few seasons ago, pushing for the uefa cup last season, likely to finish mid table this year.

Latest club news

Nickname: Cottagers
Ground: Craven Cottage
Capacity: 26,000
Last season: 17th
Manager: Roy Hodgson (December 2007)

Another unlikely escape from last season, mostly down to Hodgson's wily management. The question is, was his effect simply the traditional 'new manager' euphoria or is there more to come this year? we shall see.

Their big signing of the summer is definitely Everton goal poacher Andy Johnson, formally of Crystal Palace, formally of England.

Key Signing: Andy Johnson
Key Man: Andy Johnson

Verdict: Could also struggle this year, will do well to pull above a relegation scrap.


Nickname: Tigers
Ground: KC Stadium
Capacity: 25,404
Last season: Promoted (Championship play-off winners)
Manager: Phil Brown (December 2006)

I imagine I was probably not the only football fan to get goosebumps watching the playoff final last season. Hull gained entry to the premiership for the first time in their history, and who was it other than 40 year old local boy Windass who put them there.

It was a truly romantic footballing story and the stuff of legends but they will have a hell of a fight on to stay here this season.

Key Signing: Anthony Gardner
Key Man: Boaz Myhill

Verdict: Everyone's favorites for the drop. With the heart this club have shown I reckon it could be closer than people expect, depending on how long the euphoria of being in the big time can last with them.


Nickname: Reds
Ground: Anfield
Capacity: 45,362
Last season: Fourth
Manager: Rafael Benitez (June 2004)

Every year it's the same old story. Soppy old nostalgics on tv, mostly old Liverpool players, pine about the good old days when Liverpool were the best club in the world some 20 years ago and how THIS season will finally be the season where they recapture old glories.

It's startling, it really is. Benitez has done a good job and brought some good success to the club but he has yet to show that he has the tactical nuance to see a team successfully through a premiership campaign. People talk about the wonders that new signing Robbie Keane will bring to the club in a boost for silverware, but frankly, in a team with Gerrard and Torres, Robbie Keane is NOT going to make the difference.

Key Signing: err... Robbie Keane
Key Man: Fernando Torres

Verdict: Will push further and harder and likely overtake Arsenal but unlikely to trouble the other two, depending on how United bounce back from their summer difficulties.


Nickname: Blues
Ground: City of Manchester Stadium
Capacity: 48,000
Last season: Ninth
Manager: Mark Hughes (June 2008)

Christ. Replacing Chelsea and Newcastle as the premier soap opera of the league, stand up Manchester City! Thaskin Sinawatra has a warrant for his arrest, his assets are frozen, Mark Hughes preparing to walk out already? it's all going a bit pear shaped for them, which is a shame as they have some decent players.

They have also made their record signing in young Brazilian Jo, remains to be seen if he can live up to such billing though.

Key Signing: Jo
Key Man: Elano

Verdict: Even with good players and a good manager they are likely to be very distracted by the off the pitch shenanigans, like what plagued chelsea and newcastle in recent years.


Nickname: Red Devils
Ground: Old Trafford
Capacity: 76,000
Last season: Champions
Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson (November 1986)

Champions of England, champions of Europe. There's not much more you can say about this team. Sure their devotion to 'attacking' football might be a bit of a media myth from a team that so expertly uses the long ball/counter attack playbook, but no one can deny that it is effective. On top of this they have two of the best players in the world in Rooney and Ronaldo.

The problem? Not so many summer signings to speak of, and to be frank the team looks a bit mediocre without Ronaldo. They have to improve upon last season if they want to win again, but so far it looks like they may achieve the opposite.

Key Signing: none yet...
Key Man: Ronaldo

Verdict: Sure to be there or there abouts at the end of the year but really need one or two more quality signings. the likes of nani, anderson and park simply wont make up for any injury that might befall ronaldo or rooney.


Nickname: Boro
Ground: Riverside Stadium
Capacity: 35,049
Last season: 13th
Manager: Gareth Southgate (June 2006)

Southgate has done a very good job at boro and continues to do so. He has brought in very decent players like Tuncay, Mido and Alves and could well make a good push into mid table this year.

Youngster Emnes has been tipped for big things too having been signed in July.

Key Signing: Emnes
Key Man: Alfonso Alves

Verdict: Likely to stay around where they were last season but could push a place or two higher.


Nickname: Magpies
Ground: St James' Park
Capacity: 52,193
Last season: 12th
Manager: Kevin Keegan (January 2008)

After the ridiculous shenanigans last season, Kevin Keegan did very well to come back in and stabilise the boat. He has done much to revitalize this Newcastle team and could well try and push on for better things this season. His big problem will be that his other fellow mid tablers have also improved and I don't think they have enough about them to really worry any of the higher up clubs. A lot will depend on the fitness of Owen.

Keegan has signed well this summer, including Jonas Gutierrez, a flair player much in the mold of Asprilla and Ginola who were previous Keegan signings way back when.

Key Signing: Jonas Gutierrez
Key Man: Michael Owen

Verdict: If all players (owen) are fit they could push high in the mid table and maybe even europe. in all likelihood though they will just end up mid table as usual.


Nickname: Pompey
Ground: Fratton Park
Capacity: 20,200
Last season: Eighth
Manager: Harry Redknapp (December 2005)

Seriously. Harry has done a hell of a job at Pompey. He has taken them from premiership newboys to a seriously decent club near the top of the table, pushing for Europe. This is an amazing transformation and a testament to his skill. On top of this he went on to win the FA cup last season, the cherry on the cake.

He could well do similarly well this season with the players at his disposal. A striking pair of Crouch and Defoe could well turn out to be inspired signing. This in addition to a brilliant defensive base with David James, Sol Campbell and Glen Johnson makes them a very capable outfit.

Key Signing: Peter Crouch
Key Man: David James

Verdict: Could equal last season's efforts, might even push higher.


Nickname: Potters
Ground: Britannia Stadium
Capacity: 28,384
Last season: Promoted (second in the Championship)
Manager: Tony Pulis (June 2006)

Stoke are big and strong, and performed very well last season. However I think a lack of quality will be their undoing this year.

They have signed well this summer, with Kitson being a good player who will work his socks off for the team.

Key Signing: Dave Kitson
Key Man: Dave Kitson

Verdict: Likely to be let down by a lack of quality and a lack of heart, predicted bottom dwellers this year.


Nickname: Black Cats
Ground: Stadium of Light
Capacity: 48,300
Last season: 15th
Manager: Roy Keane (August 2006)

Much has been said of Roy Keane at Sunderland and there is no doubt that at times he impressed last season, despite a distinct lack of quality about the team. This season however he has done some very good strengthening of the side, with proven premiership players Chimbonda, Malbranque and Diouf joining last season's mid season signing of Kieron Richardson

Key Signing: El Hadji Diouf
Key Man: El Hadji Diouf

Verdict: Will survive again this year and might push a bit higher than last season's 15th. A good mid table finish will cement their premier league status.

Latest club news

Nickname: Spurs
Ground: White Hart Lane
Capacity: 36,236
Last season: 11th
Manager: Juande Ramos (October 2007)

A LOT is expected of Tottenham this season. A lot was expected of them last season after pushing for the champions league in the previous two seasons. However it never came to pass. Since then we have seen a change in management and a large injection of cash, the end result being the Spurs spent more this summer than any other club on the likes of Modric, Dos Santos and Bentley.

If all this investment fails to pay off it will be a disaster.

Key Signing: Luka Modric
Key Man: Ledley King

Verdict: Should push for Europe or better, any less will be a failure, I wouldn't put that past them though, they are Spurs after all.


Nickname: Baggies
Ground: Hawthorns
Last season: Promoted (Championship champions)
Manager: Tony Mowbray (October 2006)

Played some good football last season, won the championship, runners up in the fa cup. However they don't really have much in the way of goal scoring players and that will be their undoing.

In Scott Carson they now have a very dependable goalkeeper.

Key Signing: Scott Carson
Key Man: Luke Moore

Verdict: Could survive, they will have to work hard and pull some goals out of somewhere but they have a capable team for a newly promoted side.


Nickname: Hammers
Ground: Upton Park
Capacity: 35,056
Last season: 10th
Manager: Alan Curbishley (December 2006)

All the drama of previous seasons has settled down, and not so much is expected of them anymore. However last season they can reasonably claim pity for the number of injuries that hampered their progress. It will be interesting to see how they fare without similar problems this year.

Much is expected from new Swiss signing Behrami

Key Signing: Valon Behrami
Key Man: Dean Ashton

Verdict: With some luck when it comes to injuries they will almost certainly improve upon the last two seasons.


Nickname: Latics
Ground: JJB Stadium
Capacity: 25,000
Last season: 14th
Manager: Steve Bruce (November 2007)

Did well to avoid relegation last season. Have money and a good manager. But a lack of real quality, probably will be in the relegation battle this season.

Key Signing: Amr Zaky
Key Man: Emile Heskey

Verdict: Will fight for their right to stay in the prem. good luck is all i can say.

Predicted table:
2.Man U
5.Aston Villa
10.Man City
11.West Ham
16.West Brom

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