james debate
james debate

Saturday, 1 August 2009

As the summer continues to drag on and the sensationalist football gossip becomes increasingly stale, thoughts turn towards the upcoming season of Premiership football. Who will be the surprise package? the disappointments? So we gathered our crack team of football experts together to formulate this, the ultimate preview guide for the season ahead.

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: 4th
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. After 6 long years without trophies, last season appeared to be the new low point, 4th place and spending much of the season with a very real chance of not qualifying for the Champions League.

This season however the mood is different. After last season the feeling amongst Arsenal fans is that it can't get any worse, and now with key players like Rosicky and Eduardo back from injury, there is the hope that last season was simply bad luck.

None the less, they have lost their only proven goal scorer in Adebayor and one of their better (read: only good one) defenders in Touré and so far have yet to add to their squad aside from Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen. A bland strikeforce consisting of the erratic Van Persie, the lightweight Eduardo and the mediocre Bendtner may require moving their only real wide player, Arshavin, up front.

Key Signing: Thomas Vermaelen
Key Man: Andrei Arshavin
In Three Words: Not Much Hope

Verdict: Unless they add a striker between now and the end of the summer transfer window, this could be another season that sees them slip further away from the league leaders.


Nickname: The Villans
Ground: Villa Park
Capacity: 42,593
Last season: 6th
Manager: Martin O'Neill (August 2006)

Last season was the same old story for Villa. They started very brightly, and for much of the season really looked like they were going to steal 4th place from Arsenal. However, once again they fell apart towards the end and ultimately finished in 6th place.

This season O'Neill will want to continue the recent trend of improvement and push Arsenal for 4th again, however this time they will have increased pressure from the likes of Everton, Man City and Spurs.

The signing of Emile Heskey during the Christmas transfer window turned out to be a master stroke, and now Stewart Downing has been brought in to add to their already formidable roster of (English) attacking players. They have, however, lost their captain Gareth Barry, but frankly he was extremely overrated anyway.

Key Signing: Stewart Downing
Key Man: Ashley Young
In Three Words: British and Proud

Verdict: Increased competition amongst the second tier teams might actually serve to increase the distance between big 4 and the rest. Of these teams, Villa are likely to suffer most.


Nickname: Blues
Ground: St. Andrew's
Capacity: 30,009
Last season: Promoted (2nd in Championship)
Manager: Alex McLeish (November 2007)

McLeish is a good manager, and he has done well with a very average squad to get them promoted back to the Premiership. James McFadden found himself hampered with injury problems last year, but if he manages to stay fit it will be a big boost to the club.

He has also strengthened the team well with real top flight quality in promising goalkeeper Joe Hart, hotly tipped striker Cristian Benitez (who players of the Football Manager games may recognize) and midfielder Barry Ferguson.

One still feels that they could easily be stuck in a relegation battle come next May. But I suspect they might just have enough to survive.

Key Signing: Barry Ferguson
Key Man: James McFadden
In Three Words: Hungry, but Tired

Verdict: Might just be able to survive, but it will be tough.


Nickname: Rovers
Ground: Ewood Park
Capacity: 31,367
Last season: 15th
Manager: Sam Allardyce (December 2008)

Last season was poor, but in fairness Big Sam didn't even have a full season with the club. The impressive team he built at Bolton wasn't done overnight, but I still expected more transfer activity this summer. As it stands now, Gael Givet is the most noteworthy new signing, and he alone will not be enough to galvanize this thin squad.

On top of this, they have lost their best player Roque Santa Cruz, but this may be a blessing in disguise as Diouf is allowed room to step into a more pivotal role.

Key Signing: Gael Givet
Key Man: El Hadji Diouf
In Three Words: Sam's Our Man

Verdict: This could be a long season for the club that sees them slip further down the table, but they will not get relegated, and Allardyce will build on this team for the future.


Nickname: Trotters
Ground: Reebok Stadium
Capacity: 27,879
Last season: 13th
Manager: Gary Megson (October 2007)

Megson somehow pulled Bolton up the table last season, against the odds, and have bolstered their defense this summer with signings like Zat Knight.

They are not the most glamorous of teams, but they could still upset a few people.

Key Signing: Zat Knight
Key Man: Kevin Davies
In Three Words: Rough and Tumble

Verdict: I don't expect their position to be much changed from last season.


Nickname: Clarets
Ground: Turf Moor
Capacity: 22,546
Last season: Promoted (playoffs)
Manager: Owen Coyle (November 2007)

This is the new team that people will be watching, following a string of high profile cup victories last season against Chelsea and Arsenal and Spurs. However that being said, they are also the weakest. It is worth noting that despite these few big performances, Burnley still only just managed to get into playoff qualification.

On top of this, they have not strengthened their squad much this summer, the highlight being Steven Fletcher from Hibs.

Key Signing: Steven Fletcher
Key Man: Steven Fletcher
In Three Words: Please Be Gentle

Verdict: Likely to be relegated, despite Coyle's best efforts


Nickname: Blues
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Capacity: 42,449
Last season: 3rd
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti (June 2009)

Last season I predicted Chelsea to win the league and despite a bright start, Scolari turned out to be a fraud and the team collapsed, ending up in 3rd place.

The fact is that Chelsea should have been the best team last season, and Hiddink showed us exactly why. Had it not been for inept management from Scolari, they very likely would be champions. So clearly much of their fate this season rides on the ability of new manager Ancelotti. Going a full season without sacking the manager might also be a plus for the team. A lot is riding on whether Ancelotti will turn out to be another Scolari, or another Hiddink. Frankly, I'm not yet sold on him.

Meanwhile they have been surprisingly quiet in the transfer market, an 18 million pound splash on Zhirkov being the only major purchase. Other than that they have signed Man City youngster Daniel Sturridge who looks a real prospect, and goalkeeper Ross Turnbull to be Petr Cech's understudy.

Key Signing: Yuri Zhirkov
Key Man: Frank Lampard
In Three Words: Jeckyl and Hyde

Verdict: It seems likely that given a season of stability and a competent manager, Chelsea will be champions. However this seems to be the case every year and yet they always find a way to collapse, so we'll have to wait and see what Ancelotti can do.


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. Keeping brazilian striker Jô on loan for another season will be a massive boost though.

Key Signing:
Key Man: Tim Cahill
In Three Words: Mission Impossible Team

Verdict: Will push the top clubs again, but with increasing pressure from the well funded likes of Man City, Villa and Spurs are likely to slip.

Latest club news

Nickname: Cottagers
Ground: Craven Cottage
Capacity: 26,000
Last season: 7th
Manager: Roy Hodgson (December 2007)

Let's hand it to the man. Roy Hodgson did a bloody brilliant job last season with Fulham, lifting them from relegation battlers to a Europa League place. Much of this was built on an impressive defense of Mark Schwarzer in goal, having the season of his life, and the likes of Aaron Hughes, Brede Hangeland and Paul Konchesky. They did very well for themselves.

To build on this successful base, Hodgson would do well to invest in some more attacking players. However so far he has not done so, opting to simply add to the squad depth for the season ahead.

Key Signing: Bjorn Riise
Key Man: Danny Murphy
In Three Words: Wily Old Man

Verdict: Unlikely to reach the heights of last season, but will probably not drop down too far either.


Nickname: Tigers
Ground: KC Stadium
Capacity: 25,404
Last season: 17th
Manager: Phil Brown (December 2006)

After an amazing start for first time Premiership members Hull, they collapsed somewhere around the halfway point of the season and slipped all the way down to 17th place, just outside of relegation.

The fact is that they burst out of the gates full of heart and energy, but as the season wore on, it became clearer and clearer that they simply don't have the quality to stay in the top flight. Even more so this season with the lack of additions to the squad.

Key Signing: Steven Mouyokolo
Key Man: Geovanni
In Three Words: Happily Ever After?

Verdict:The fairy tale looks likely to end this season


Nickname: Reds
Ground: Anfield
Capacity: 45,362
Last season: 2nd
Manager: Rafael Benitez (June 2004)

Last season these perennial underachievers finally made good on their promise of becoming genuine title contenders. Much of this likely had something to do with the collapse of rivals Chelsea, but it would still be unwise to ignore the progress that the club has made.

It's been a slow summer for them, aside from splashing out an absurdly over the top fee for former Chelsea right back Glen Johnson. That being said, he is still a decent player, worth about 10 million less than what they paid for him, and will be a big improvement on their current substandard fullbacks.

This season will see them challenge again, and I expect them to be there or there abouts at the end of the season, especially if Gerrard and Torres stay fit. This despite a frankly poor preseason that has seen them lose and draw all their early games against weak opposition.

Key Signing: Glen Johnson
Key Man: Fernando Torres
In Three Words: Finally Their Year?

Verdict: Could be Rafa's best season yet, likely to be there or there abouts at the end of the year.


Nickname: Blues
Ground: City of Manchester Stadium
Capacity: 48,000
Last season: 10th
Manager: Mark Hughes (June 2008)

After a highly disappointing midtable finish last year, the Saudi oil princes have fulfilled their promise of absurd cash splashing, the likes of which is rarely seen.

This summer they have signed underrated Manchester United star Carlos Tevez, along with Roque Santa Cruz and Emmanuel Adebayor. They have also signed overrated midfielder Gareth Barry.

The most surprising thing here is the absurd number of strikers they feel they need. This is in addition to Robinho, Bellamy, Bojinov and Benjani who they already have. This is really a silly move, reminiscent of the kind of blunders old school Real Madrid used to make, as well as new school Real Madrid for that matter. I'm sure Santa Cruz has no intention of warming the bench.

Their preseason has not been particularly good either, with defeats to frankly inferior South African clubs.

Key Signing: Carlos Tevez
Key Man: Carlos Tevez
In Three Words: Too Much Money

Verdict: With such an expensive star studded lineup they now have an attack that is arguably better than even the best in the league, and so it is no surprise to see them being tipped with breaking into the big 4 this season. However I expect them to underperform yet again.


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

Ronaldo is gone, Tevez is gone, which means that the champions are stuck with Berbatov and Rooney, with, I guess, Wellbeck or Macheda as backup.

That being said, they have signed Obertan, a very bright prospect, and risky moves for Valencia and the injury prone Michael Owen could yet prove to be master strokes. Fergy rarely gets it wrong, and fans will be hoping that he proves the doubters wrong again this season.

They are, of course, in with a good shout of trophies if their new signings can gel together quickly, and if Owen can stay fit. But in recent seasons they have looked half a team whenever Ronaldo was injured or suspended, and the general consensus is they will come to rue the loss of Carlos Tevez. Without the two of them, much rests on Wayne Rooney's shoulders.

Key Signing: Michael Owen
Key Man: Wayne Rooney
In Three Words: One Man Team

Verdict: They are, of course, in with a good shout of trophies if their new signings can gel together quickly, and if Owen can stay fit. However I feel that they will fall short without the goals and set pieces of Ronaldo.


Nickname: Pompey
Ground: Fratton Park
Capacity: 20,200
Last season: 14th
Manager: Paul Hart (July 2009)

Following the loss of Harry Redknapp, Portsmouth struggled to find the consistency they had shown in recent seasons. Their defense of the FA cup ended early, and they dropped back down to the bottom half of the league.

The squad, simply, is thin, and players who were previously carrying the team like David James and Sol Campbell are quickly becoming too old for this level. David Nugent hasn't worked out the way fans had hoped and the team is becoming ever more reliant on Niko Kranjcar.

Their movements during this transfer window have also been meagre to say the least, signing only former Blackburn defender Aaron Mokoena.

Key Signing: Aaron Mokoena
Key Man: Niko Kranjcar
In Three Words: Come Back 'Arry

Verdict: Could be a long season in which relegation is a real possibility, but ultimately I expect them to survive.


Nickname: Potters
Ground: Britannia Stadium
Capacity: 28,384
Last season: 12th
Manager: Tony Pulis (June 2006)

After Hull came firing from the gates and drew the early plaudits, it was ultimately Stoke City who secured their place in the Premiership most comfortably with a creditable mid table finish.

Much of this was down to their strength at set pieces, especially from the throw ins of Rory Delap. However, as so often happens I expect them to find their second season in the top flight much more difficult, especially as their set piece gimmicks get old and teams adapt.

It doesn't help that their star signing of the summer so far has been Dean Whitehead of Sunderland.

Key Signing: Dean Whitehead
Key Man: Rory Delap
In Three Words: One Trick Pony

Verdict: Could well struggle this year, likely to get sucked into the relegation battle.


Nickname: Black Cats
Ground: Stadium of Light
Capacity: 48,300
Last season: 16th
Manager: Steve Bruce (June 2009)

Roy Keane is gone, and despite the popularity of Ricky Sbragia amongst fans, he was deemed not qualified for the job. Cue Steve Bruce, stage left.

He has since brought on a few very decent signings, including Fraizer Campbell and Lorik Cana, a truly inspired signing. Sunderland aren't a very good team, but they have a surprisingly decent collection of players, and if Steve Bruce can get them to play well together Sunderland should be safe.

For the first time in their history, Sunderland fans can now look down on their arch rivals Newcastle who were relegated last season. So even if they don't achieve anything this season, the smiles won't leave their faces.

Key Signing: Lorik Cana
Key Man: Craig Gordon
In Three Words: Suck it Newcastle

Verdict: Probably won't improve too much on last season, but are likely to survive.

Latest club news

Nickname: Spurs
Ground: White Hart Lane
Capacity: 36,236
Last season: 8th
Manager: Harry Redknapp (October 2008)

As always, a lot is expected of Tottenham this season, and with Harry Redknapp one feels that they might finally have the man to deliver on that promise.

Their only signing of note so far has been Peter Crouch, a man who invariably receives a bit of a mixed reaction from football fans. Love him or hate him, on his day he can be a handful for any defense. Will Pavluchenko really want to sit on the bench though?

Key Signing: Peter Crouch
Key Man: Luka Modric
In Three Words: Bound to Disappoint

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


Nickname: Hammers
Ground: Upton Park
Capacity: 35,056
Last season: 9th
Manager: Gianfranco Zola (September 2008)

The legend Gianfranco Zola signed last season with West Ham for his first job in management. No one doubts his footballing know-ho, but doubts remain over whether he has the ruthless streak to succeed in management. In any case he has done a decent job in his first season, bringing the club up to 9th.

He has also made decent acquisitions this summer in Luis Jimenez on loan and hot prospect Frank Nouble.

Zola will be looking to build on this team in his first full season, but with the increasing strength of the other clubs around West Ham's level, like Spurs, Man City and Aston Villa, I would not expect much more than they achieved last season, and perhaps even to drop down a few places.

Key Signing: Luis Jimenez
Key Man: Carlton Cole
In Three Words: Mr. Nice Guy

Verdict: A certainty for midtable.


Nickname: Latics
Ground: JJB Stadium
Capacity: 25,000
Last season: 11th
Manager: Roberto Martinez (June 2009)

Had a good start to the season last year against all odds, but ended up finishing midtable. Will do well to improve upon that this season.

They have strengthened their squad well this summer with some understated, yet good value purchases, particularly for a club of WIgan's standing.

Key Signing: Garcia-Penche Jordi Gomez
Key Man: Chris Kirkland
In Three Words: Who Needs Rugby

Verdict: More of the same.


Nickname: Wolves
Ground: Molineux Stadium
Capacity: 28,525
Last season: Promoted (1st in Championship)
Manager: Mick McCarthy (July 2006)

They had a good year last season when they won the Championship, and this season they only look better, having strengthened their squad far more shrewdly than most newly promoted sides do.

In particular, their raid of Reading for the highly impressive goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann and goal machine Kevin Doyle, who is frankly far too good for the Championship.

Add to this the fact that they are in the hands of experienced relegation battler Mick McCarthy, and I think their prospects for the season ahead are pretty good.

Key Signing: Kevin Doyle
Key Man: Kevin Doyle
In Three Words: On the Prowl

Verdict: Easily the strongest looking of the newly promoted teams, I think they will survive.

Predicted table:
1. Liverpool
2. Manchester United
3. Chelsea
4. Arsenal
5. Manchester City
6. Everton
7. Aston Villa
8. Tottenham
9. West Ham
10. Fulham
11. Wigan
12. Bolton
13. Sunderland
14. Wolverhampton
15. Portsmouth
16. Blackburn
17. Birmingham
18. Stoke
19. Hull
20. Burnley

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