Saturday, 24 August 2013
The barren, football-less summers of odd-numbered years come all too frequently; but men of England rejoice, the new season is almost upon us! As per usual the Ephemeric is here to run the rule over every team in the Premier League and render a few solid predictions. Read on for the ultimate preview of what awaits us these next nine months.
Premier League 2013/14 Predictions in a nutshell:
Champions League qualifiers: Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham
Relegated: Hull City, Sunderland, Crystal Palace
Golden Boot winner: Sergio Agüero (Manchester City)
Golden Glove winner: Petr Cech (Chelsea)
Player to watch: Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
New signing to watch: Fernandinho (Manchester City)
Young player to watch: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea)
First manager to get the sack: Paulo Di Canio (Sunderland)
Shock of the season: Arsene Wenger to leave Arsenal at the end of the season
Nickname: The Gunners
Ground: Emirates Stadium
Position last season: 4th
Manager: Arsene Wenger
The summer began with cautious optimism for the Gunners, spurred on by the transition and potential frailty of their rivals in Manchester and the now mandatory trumpet blowing regarding the club's impressive financial assets that never get used. Once again very little has materialised ahead of the season's curtain raiser, so the main issue remains squad depth, particularly with the Arsenal players' spotty fitness records exacerbating the situation. Of the probable starting lineup only Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and potentially Laurent Koscielny stand out as elite players; the fact that the rest of the team relies on frontmen like Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott perfectly sums up the issues the club currently faces.
In the old days Arsenal at least had their impressive array of young talent to fall back on, but such priorities have since become the norm at top tier clubs making it far harder for Arsenal to compete with more prestigious clubs. The potential youth stars of Jenkinson, Gnabry and Bellerin don't exactly compare to Ashley Cole, Nicolas Anelka and Cesc Fabregas.
Key Signing: Yaya Sanogo
Key Man: Laurent Koscielny
Verdict: Wenger has made a habit out of overachieving with the squad he has, but with the increasing challenge of Tottenham and Liverpool, 4th place may be just beyond their reach this season.
Nickname: The Villans
Ground: Villa Park
Last season: 15th
Manager: Paul Lambert
Aston Villa managed to avoid the drop last season and Paul Lambert will be looking to repeat the feat again. The club has the solid foundations to do just that, with Brad Guzan's imperious shot stopping earning plaudits last season along with Christian Benteke starring as one of the standout strikers in the entire league.
Add to this the fact that Lambert has brought in some decent young talent, chief among them Danish defender Jores Okore who so impressed in last season's Champions League, and survival should be a pretty reasonable expectation.
Key Signing: Jores Okore
Key Man: Christian Benteke
Verdict: A push into mid-table is likely, but any higher may be beyond Lambert's boys.
Nickname: The Bluebirds
Ground: Cardiff City Stadium
Capacity: 26, 828
Last season: Promoted (Champions)
Manager: Malky Mackay
The tastiest prospect out of the league's newcomers, Cardiff have been all over the news in recent years for the investment of Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan, and the bizarre off the pitch disputes involving club branding and colours. Despite inevitable fan outcry the new changes do seem to have improved the team's fortunes on the pitch and Cardiff were duly promoted last season as champions.
However the Premier League is an entirely different prospect, and as QPR showed us money does not automatically guarantee success. Reinforcements are sorely needed, and at the time of writing the club has spent almost £30 million in bringing in new talent. Most notable among these new players is Danish youngster Andreas Cornelius who averaged more than a goal every other game in the Danish league last season.
Key Signing: Andreas Cornelius
Key Man: Bo-Kyung Kim
Verdict: Survival is not guaranteed, but heavy investment and solid talent pool afford Cardiff the highest prospect of any newly promoted club.
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Last season: 3rd
Manager: José Mourinho
Another new season, another new manager, but this time the new manager is in fact the old manager José Mourinho. José's first spell at the club saw him promoted to "club legend" status with his contribution toward Chelsea becoming one of Europe's most successful clubs of the past decade, and his return to the hotseat with the additional experience and sated ambition of his successes in Italy and Spain has Chelsea fans elated.
José also has a solid squad to work with, and the opportunity to build a successful new dynasty around the core of young talent that fills the Chelsea ranks these days. A fairly quiet summer in the transfer market indicates that he intends to use the talent he already has. This is a squad bristling with attacking quality; the likes of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Fernando Torres, Frank Lampard and Ramires, not to mention the young talents of Romelu Lukaku, Andre Schurrle and Kevin de Bruyne.
Key Signing: Andre Schurrle
Key Man: Juan Mata
Verdict: One of the clear favourites for the title along with Man City.
Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Ground: Selhurst Park
Last season: Promoted (Playoff)
Manager: Ian Holloway
Palace return to the top flight after eight years in exile, but staying there will be a challenge. Ian Holloway for all the jokes and charm does not exactly have a glowing Premier League record, and as it turns out that counts for a lot. His job is not made easier by the departure of key player Wilfried Zaha to Manchester United.
On the bright side, Palace have been busy strengthening this summer with no fewer than 9 signings, including ex-Arsenal poacher Marouane Chamakh, veteran striker Kevin Phillips, and bizarrely the Spain U20's captain José Campaña.
Key Signing: José Campaña
Key Man: Mile Jedinak
Verdict: Enjoy Holloway while you can, because Palace are unlikely to stay up.
Ground: Goodison Park
Last season: 6th
Manager: Roberto Martínez
Hard to believe that David Moyes has finally moved on from Everton, the question on everyone's mind will be what becomes now of one of the Premier League's most consistent clubs. Roberto Martínez has done much to be proud of at Wigan, notably keeping them alive all these years and winning an FA Cup in his final (albeit relegation bound) season, but at a club with a history like Everton's he will find a great deal more expectation.
A lot will rest on the retention of prize assets like Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines, both of whom are relentlessly linked with moves away from the club, although nothing has yet materialised. A few signings have already been made, including the bright spark of Gerard Deulofeu on loan from Barcelona's famed academy. More will be required if the old guard should leave. One thing is for sure that Roberto Martínez will be well suited to Everton's spendthrift transfer policies.
Key Signing: Gerard Deulofeu
Key Man: Leighton Baines
Verdict: A real transition year that could see the club drop down the table somewhat, a top half finish is probably the highest achievable result.
Ground: Craven Cottage
Last season: 12th
Manager: Martin Jol
Now under new ownership, fans will be watching with interest for any major shifts in policy, not least of all what becomes of Al Fayed's infamous Michael Jackson statue. In footballing terms though for the moment it appears to be business as usual.
Martin Jol begins his third season with the club and so far looks set to continue his preference for more experienced players in the transfer market. Notable signings so far include Darren Bent, Derek Boateng and highly rated goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg. Elsewhere Fulham have completed a loan move for Adel Taarabt, a player of which much has been promised in the past, and so far very little has been seen.
Key Signing: Maarten Stekelenburg
Key Man: Dimitar Berbatov
Verdict: Little change of note this season could result in lost ground on other mid-table rivals, but unlikely to face the threat of relegation.
HULL CITY TIGERS
Nickname: The Tigers
Ground: KC Stadium
Last season: Promoted (2nd)
Manager: Steve Bruce
An unexpected addition to the Premier League, yet Hull will surprise many with a vibrant, if inconsistent system of play that saw many wins and losses last season, but few draws. In Steve Bruce they have a wily and experienced manager who has been in this same position many times, and often come out with a positive result.
Despite this there's no getting around the fact that Hull have arguably the most paper thin squad in the league, and have inexplicably not strengthened a great deal over the summer. In particular Hull don't have anything even vaguely approaching a goal threat and will struggle to get points off of Premiership level opposition.
Key Signing: Ahmed Elmohamady
Key Man: Robbie Brady
Verdict: No goalscorers and a defence that lacks depth means Hull are a likely relegation candidate.
Last season: 7th
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Liverpool's slow but steady improvement continues under Brendan Rodgers as they edge their way back towards the big boys. Rodgers has adapted the trademark possession football he engendered at Swansea albeit now with the quality and budget of a big club like Liverpool. For all his much vilified negative qualities, Luis Suarez is one of the best players in the league, and now he is partnered by Daniel Sturridge, who also ranks undoubtedly among the league's best goalscorers. The emergence of Brazilian magician Coutinho rounds out one of the most fearsome attacking lineups in England.
What will once again be Liverpool's undoing is the leaky defence in the absence of Jamie Carragher, and the worrying dearth of quality on the squad's fringes. Add to this the doubt over whether star man Suarez will remain a Liverpool player and there is plenty for Liverpool to be concerned over as the curtain raises on the new season.
Key Signing: Simon Mignolet
Key Man: Luis Suárez
Verdict: Still a few key signings away from a top four contender, top 6 is a good possibility.
Ground: Etihad Stadium
Last season: 2nd
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
While it may seem very harsh to sack Roberto Mancini after winning the league and FA Cup in his first two full seasons, it goes to show how disappointing Man City were in the way they slumped out of the title race so early. This year will see them revitalised with the guidance of a highly underrated new manager and with their illustrious neighbours in a seemingly vulnerable state. Optimism is high.
No fewer than four big money signings strengthen the squad, including Jesús Navas, Fernandinho, Álvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic. Man City remain the only club other than Barcelona who will spend £25 million on a bench player. Fernandinho in particular will be one to watch, his scintillating performances for Shakhtar earned his side a place in the knockout stages of last season's Champions League. These new signings strengthen an already intimidating side, but the key man will undoubtedly be Sergio Agüero; if he can shake off last year's second season blues he stands a good shout at winning the Golden Boot.
Key Signing: Fernandinho
Key Man: Sergio Agüero
Verdict: A good shout for the title, pretty much tied with Chelsea in the odds as the season commences.
Nickname: Red Devils
Ground: Old Trafford
Last season: Champions
Sir Alex Ferguson David Moyes
The football world is still in shock over the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson after a legendary 40 year career and a decade of will-he-won't-he rumours. Without doubt one of the men with the toughest jobs in football right now is David Moyes who undertakes the impossible task of replacing him, a job that has been made even harder by a very weak pre-season.
United fans are now divided into two groups, those who think this season is going to be an absolute write-off and Moyes will be sacked, and those who think he will do just fine. One way or another, as long as last season's golden boot and player of the year winner Robin Van Persie remains fit and up front, United can never be counted out.
Key Signing: Guillermo Varela
Key Man: Robin Van Persie
Verdict: Faces a tough challenge to retain the title, Moyes' lack of elite experience could prove too much to overcome.
Ground: St. James' Park
Last season: 16th
Manager: Alan Pardew
Only Newcastle could rebound so quickly from the lowest depths in the club's history, and then dive right back down even more quickly. After coming within a whisker of Champions League football two years ago, last season they came just as close to relegation. After finally mending the behind the scenes schism and tossing out the drama, owner Mike Ashley has once again undermined his manager by appointing Joe Kinnear as Director of Football. All of a sudden it's looking very bleak for Newcastle once more.
Yet despite the similarities to the Newcastle side that was relegated 5 years ago, this one contains a far more talented array of players. Yohan Cabaye, Fabricio Coloccini and Hatem Ben Arfa would be welcome at many of the league's top clubs, while Papiss Cissé has great potential if he can recapture his early form.
Key Signing: Olivier Kemen
Key Man: Yohan Cabaye
Verdict: Worrying signs for the Toon, but surely have enough talent to stay up.
Nickname: The Canaries
Ground: Carrow Road
Last season: 11th
Manager: Chris Hughton
Chris Hughton has done well to steady the ship at Norwich, as he did at Newcastle before, and the club managed not only to avoid relegation last season but even finished in a respectable mid-table position. Much of the team's success can be attributed to their proficiency at set pieces, both on the attack and back in defence. Elsewhere John Ruddy has been a hero in goal, earning himself a regular place in the England squad.
Goals have been hard to come by, but Norwich have strengthened well over the summer with the hotly tipped Ricky van Wolfswinkel up front and one of last season's Championship leading lights Nathan Redmond.
Key Signing: Ricky van Wolfswinkel
Key Man: John Ruddy
Verdict: Have enough about them to survive the drop again, but unlikely to threaten the upper mid-table, likely to be involved in any relegation battles.
Ground: St. Mary's Stadium
Last season: 14th
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Southampton managed to survive last season, and in doing so earned a reputation for collecting big-name scalps despite their generally inconsistent form. A big part of their success has been the goalscoring feats of recent England debutant Rickie Lambert and Saints player of the year Morgan Schneiderlin, but serious questions must be asked of their defence.
Signs are good for the future with a decent amount of summer spending on promising players, an up and coming manager, and the youth system that produced Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott. However that leaky defence so far looks not to have been addressed, and as history shows "second season syndrome" tends to strike those who fail to tighten up the team's core.
Key Signing: Victor Wanyama
Key Man: Rickie Lambert
Verdict: If Southampton can meet the potential they showed last season then they will stay safe in the Premier League.
Ground: Britannia Stadium
Last season: 13th
Manager: Mark Hughes
Another member of the new manager club, and with the departure of Tony Pulis an era is ending. Pulis is the man who took Stoke to the Premier League and turned them into Premier League regulars on a shoestring budget. His replacement Mark Hughes comes off the back of a number of failed appointments and with great skepticism from the fans. Winning them over will be job number one for the new man.
As for the squad many of the old boys have departed this summer, leaving a thin squad that needs a good deal of investment. So far things have gotten off to a good start with the signings of Erik Pieters from PSV and Marc Muniesa from within the Barcelona youth camp. Despite this the squad remains threadbare, and key positions rest with unproven players like Jack Butland and Michael Kightly.
Key Signing: Erik Pieters
Key Man: Steven N'Zonzi
Verdict: A difficult season lies ahead for Stoke, with a real chance of relegation
Nickname: Black Cats
Ground: Stadium of Light
Last season: 17th
Manager: Paolo Di Canio
A bizarre decision to sack Martin O'Neill was followed up by an even more bizarre decision to hire the volatire Paolo Di Canio, who's only previous managerial position ended in spectacular fashion and involved accusations of theft and breaking and entering. The story of Paolo Di Canio is weird enough, without even mentioning past assaults and fascist salutes, one can only wonder what a first full season of management in the Premier League will bring.
But this is only one of the problems the club will face in the coming months. The squad lacks both depth and quality, the star man Steven Fletcher is perennially crocked, and with a large outlay on players this summer the marquee signing is Jozy Altidore, a striker notable mostly for being American and therefore very marketable to 315 million people. It is also worth noting that the transfer strategy currently is being directed by a man who did the same job for Inter Milan during an era where they were known for spending hundreds of millions of pounds and winning nothing.
Key Signing: Modibo Diakité
Key Man: Steven Fletcher
Verdict: The Di Canio experiment could blow up sooner rather than later. Relegation candidates.
Nickname: The Swans
Ground: Liberty Stadium
Last season: 9th
Manager: Michael Laudrup
Swansea keep going from strength to strength, impressing greatly in their first ever season in the top flight, and then improving upon that last season with their first ever trophy. Even more impressive is the entertaining brand of football for which they are becoming known. Remarkably for such a short amount of time Swansea have reached the point where mid table is no longer the high aspiration of the club, and a push for Europe is the expectation.
This time last season I was tipping Michu to be one of the signings of the season and he duly delivered. However despite his excellent goalscoring form it was still all too obviously a midfielder being played out of position, borne out of necessity. This summer Swansea have rectified their lack of an out and out striker with the signing of Wilfried Bony.
Key Signing: Wilfried Bony
Key Man: Michu
Verdict: Swansea have strong foundations and a good potential for improvement further up the table.
Ground: White Hart Lane
Last season: 5th
Manager: André Villas-Boas
It's beginning to feel like it's never going to happen for Spurs. So many seasons ending up so close to the Champions League, and never quite making the cut. All this despite the fact that they are consistently among the top spenders in the league and in Gareth Bale boast a player who is currently considered one of the hottest in world football.
This season has seen an even greater outlay in the summer, with Tottenham breaking their transfer record twice so far, on Paulinho and Soldado and being linked with yet another record move for Willian. It's arguable that their squad now is at least as good if not better than Arsenal's, meaning a push for the top 4 might finally be in play. Much will depend on the future of star man Gareth Bale and whether he does in fact finalise a move to Real Madrid.
Key Signing: Paulinho
Key Man: Gareth Bale
Verdict: Probably Tottenham's best shot yet at a top four finish.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
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Ground: The Hawthorns
Last season: 8th
Manager: Steve Clarke
Last season marked a very impressive managerial debut for Steve Clarke. West Brom not only clinched an unlikely top half finish, but spent much of the season floating around the top 6 with the league's elite teams.
However this season poses a much bigger challenge. For starters Romelu Lukaku, who led the club's scoring and ranked among the top scorers in the entire league, has returned to Chelsea following his loan spell. Without his goals West Brom would have finished much lower down the table and replacing him will be a big ask. More dangerous is the sense that the club may already be playing beyond their means. The club's owner has intimated the opinion that with the current level of financial and fan support, West Brom is more akin to a Championship mid-table team than a Premier League one.
Key Signing: Nicolas Anelka
Key Man: Youssuf Mulumbu
Verdict: Unlikely to impress as they did last season, but the general lack of ambition from their mid-table rivals should permit a safe finish in the top 12.
WEST HAM UNITED
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Nickname: The Hammers
Ground: The Boleyn Ground
Last season: 10th
Manager: Sam Allardyce
If anyone knows how to take a team and punch above their weight it's Sam Allardyce, who has been doing precisely that for many years. His latest job has seen him take West Ham to promotion and help them achieve an impressive 10th place position on just their first season back in the Premier League.
Now the club sees themselves in a very promising position, building on these successful foundations, as well as enjoying the benefits of the Premier League's new TV deal and their status as heirs to the Olympic Stadium. A few years of stability could see some great steps forward for West Ham. The improved financial position of the club has permitted investment in new talent, including Andy Carroll, who if fit could be absolutely massive for the club, and Stewart Downing. They join an already experienced squad that features Joe Cole, Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble and an array of surprisingly impressive players.
Key Signing: Andy Carroll
Key Man: Kevin Nolan
Verdict: Mid-table is a sure bet, and if their key players stay fit a push for Europa League is not out of the question.
2. Manchester City
3. Manchester United
8. West Ham
10. West Brom
11. Aston Villa
18. Crystal Palace
20. Hull City