Sunday, 27 December 2015
Welcome once again to this most glamorous and esteemed of events. It's the definitive epilogue to a year gone by, considered by some to be greater than shark, tornado, and sharknado combined. It is of course The Ephemeric's famous annual tradition. Live from the Swiss Alps for some reason, It's The Debbie Awards: the year ends when we say it does.
So without further ado, let the curtain fall upon 2015 as we begin our definitive review of the past 12 months:
2015 Debbie Awards
Cinema & TV
1. The Debbie for TV Show of the Year
Winner: Mr. Robot
Runners Up: Fargo, Man in the High Castle
This year's most buzzed about TV show came seemingly out of nowhere, from the oft forgotten USA network. It's swept awards and earned widespread plaudits, and now Mr. Robot can add a Debbie to it's growing list of accolades. Mr. Robot's tale of cybercrime, social inequality and psychology could not be more timely, but it's the slick quality of production that stands out. Dazzling, thrilling, and pleasantly self-aware, this is the rare type of drama that makes everything else look lacklustre by comparison. The strongest start we've seen to a series since Lost.
Runner up prize goes to last year's winner Fargo. Different cast, different decade, same sharp writing. While these hit series come and go (see True Detective) in the blink of an eye, Fargo has proven itself to have real staying power, and remains one of the very best things on TV.
Lastly we give honourable mention to another new show, Man in the High Castle. The first major success from Amazon's original programming, Man in the High Castle is based on the Phillip K Dick novel of the same name. Set in 1960s America in an alternate history where the Nazis won World War II, the show explores what a world under Nazi rule might have looked like, from the extrapolation of the party's hard line right wing ideology, to the complex cold war politics between a post-war German Reich and Japanese Empire, and focusing in particular on the inevitable resistance movement.
2. The Debbie for New TV Show of the Year
Winner: Mr Robot
Unsurprising that the best TV show of the year would also win best new show of the year. Mr. Robot really is that good. Season 2 duly approaches in 2016, and you would do well to ensure it's top of your list.
3. The Debbie for Film of the Year
Winner: Steve Jobs
Runner Up: Ex Machina, The Martian
Billed as a Social Network 2.0 due to the Aaron Sorkin script, this moniker does a disservice to the overall quality of Steve Jobs. Director Danny Boyle brings his trademark kinetic style and is once again on song, while Michael Fassbender puts in perhaps the best performance of the year. What really stands out is the unique film structure, focusing on just three key moments in Jobs' career and using them to illustrate the late Apple CEO as a man and as a tech innovator. Capturing an entire person, an entire life's worth of story in just three scenes leads to some starkly dream-like sequences, unlike any other biographical film you'll have seen. Steve Jobs is one of the most glowingly reviewed films of 2015, and yet it disappointed at the box office. Why the disconnect? Attribute that to the general public animosity towards Steve Jobs the person, the brand confusion caused by the cheap and crummy Ashton Kutcher movie two years ago, and all the behind the scenes drama, something that was only revealed during last year's massive Sony hack. It's a shame that this film will be so dwarfed by factors outside its control, because it is as brilliant as one would expect.
Indie film Ex Machina is the first of our runners up. A film that looks likely to fly under the radar of many of the Academy, it nevertheless remains one of the best received films of 2015 by critics and moviegoers alike. It takes an important contemporary issue like AI, adds in the impressive debut direction of veteran screenwriter Alex Garland, and a top cast that includes Oscar nominee Oscar Isaac, and the incredibly hot up and coming duo of Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander. A truly excellent film that would be most deserving of the Debbie in another year.
Also worthy of note, but behind Steve Jobs and Ex Machina in the pecking order, The Martian has been one of the big Hollywood success stories of 2015. In many circles, Ridley Scott has recently been considered a bit past his prime, long overdue for a critically acclaimed hit, while Matt Damon has yet to convince the critics that he has what it takes to be anything other than a franchise movie star. With this movie they are both vindicated, and what we have is a smart, thrilling survival movie, one which is rightly being hailed alongside the other top movies of the year.
4. The Debbie for Talk Show Host of the Year
Winner: John Oliver, Last Week Tonight
Runner Up: Stephen Colbert, The Late Show
The retirement of John Stewart has left a hole in television. America badly needs an intelligent and informative host to offset the Doocys and the Borgers of the media. Leading the charge in 2015 is Stewart's former charge John Oliver. Oliver was always a talented comedian from his Daily Show tenure, but now with the support and freedom that a network like HBO provides, he has taken his craft to a whole new level. Some of Oliver's work on Last Week Tonight has been revelatory. Oliver consistently picks important and complex issues, the kind that the rest of the media won't touch with a 6 foot pole, and tackles them with an energy and wit that has become trademark of his show. Oliver has long been seen as a second-string to the more famous Stewart and Colbert, but after a year on his own he is fast becoming the most important voice on television.
Oliver isn't the only one with a new show, Stephen Colbert has also this year taken over The Late Show from the outgoing David Letterman. Some of Colbert's work on his old show was up their with the very best political satire every created, most notably his work on SuperPACS, and his testimony before Congress on the issue of migrant labor. The good news is that Colbert's trademark intellect and unmatched showmanship have carried over to the new format well. The trouble is that on a major network like CBS, one often gets the impression that Colbert is having to reign in his edgier ideas and appeal to a broader audience. The jury is still out as to exactly how he will settle in this new role, but so far he still looks to be one of the best on TV.
5. The Debbie for Hollywood Rising Star of the Year
Winner: Domhnall Gleeson
Every year has that one star, the one who all of a sudden goes from the c-list to being in absolutely everything. Previous years have included such actors as Chris Pratt, Ryan Gosling, and Benedict Cumberbatch. This year our pick for this esteemed prize goes to the young Brit Domhnall Gleeson.
Gleeson has in recent years has starred in the Richard Curtis movie About Time, the Harry Potter series, and the art-house flick Calvary. But this year has moved his career to a whole new level, with roles in no fewer than four of the year's biggest films: the critically acclaimed Ex Machina, the hotly tipped for awards duo of Brooklyn, and The Revenant, and also a little film called Star Wars. An astonishing cv for any actor, it's been a year to remember for the man.
Music & Theatre
6. The Debbie for Best Theatrical Production of the Year
Runner Up: Sleep No More
This year all of London may have been abuzz about Cumberbatch's sold out production of Hamlet, but the real highlight in theatre has been the Royal Court's Hangman. Written by the twisted but brilliant Martin McDonagh, best known for writing and directing the films In Bruges and Seven Pyschopaths, as well as a host of other theatre productions. True to form, McDonagh's 1970s tale of a retired hangman running a pub is dark, uncomfortable, and absolutely hilarious, offering an exploration of male ego, teenage angst, and psychotic detachment, as well as a well thought out period analysis of England's transition to end capital punishment. Fans will recognise the style, the blend of menace and absurd humour. The balance here is about as perfect as it's ever been done. This is a play that really no one else could or would ever write, and one of the funniest things you'll see all year.
7. The Debbie for Album of the Year
Winner: The Desired Effect - Brandon Flowers
Runner Up: Every Open Eye - Chvrches
A pleasant surprise and a return to form for The Killers frontman Brandon Flowers with his second solo LP after a few duff albums. The Desired Effect was a nearly perfectly honed pop-rock record, with some of the most irresistible tunes on the radio in 2015, including tracks like Lonely Town, and Still Want You. The Desired Effect is what happens when an undeniably gifted songwriter finds the right producer and strut their collective talent.
Our runner up goes to the highly impressive sophomore album from Scottish electro-rockers Chvrches, Every Open Eye. Chvrches burst onto the scene in 2013 as one of the hottest tipped new artists in Europe, with widespread coverage and acclaim. Their debut was solid, and the follow up takes them one step closer to realising that potential. Every Open Eye is slicker, bolder and just a much tighter album. While it's hard to pick stand out tracks from such a solid album, Never Ending Circles, Clearest Blue, and Empty Threat seem to be the key singles to look out for. They have gone from fairly interesting hype band to genuinely solid headline act, we look forward to what the future holds.
8. The Debbie for Debut Album of the Year
Winner: In Colour - Jamie xx
Runner Up: Goon - Tobias Jesso Jr
In an impressive year for debut albums, In Colour, the debut studio album from Jamie xx, stands out. Jamie xx is better known as one half of the Mercury Prize winning band The xx, and fans of theirs will feel right at home with his solo debut. Widely acclaimed by critics everywhere as one of the best albums of the year, it is indeed very deserving of the praise it has received. Jamie xx has a real flair for understated complexity, and with In Colour he has crafted a wonderful, and rich collection of tracks. A slow burner, we predict this is going to be one of those albums that hangs around for a few years yet. In the mean time go and enjoy the key track, Loud Places.
Elsewhere we have Goon from Tobias Jesso Jr, an album which has become by some pundits' reckoning the 2015 soundtrack for heartbreak. There's no gimmick here, and nothing too audacious, just 12 smooth songs with a vintage aesthetic. In particular the tracks Hollywood and How Could you Babe are standouts.
9. The Debbie for Song of the Year
Winner: Lifted Up (1985) - Passion Pit
Runners Up: Lonely Town - Brandon Flowers, Loud Places - Jamie xx
We have had some excellent songs this year from which to choose, and while Passion Pit's new album Kindred may have disappointed, its lead single Lifted Up (1985) did not. Lifted Up is a balls to the wall uplifting good-times song in the classic Passion Pit mould, deliciously over the top, and incessantly catchy. Frisson all around, this is an absolutely top song that will get the room jumping.
First runner up is our pick from Brandon Flowers' album of the year winning The Desired Effect, Lonely Town. A spiritual successor of sorts to Sting's Every Breath You Take ode to stalkers, Lonely Town is the catchiest song that has been released all year, with that toe-tapping, get stuck in your head quality that few can match. Pure pop gold.
And finally Loud Places, the impressive single from Jamie xx's debut solo LP In Colour. Soulful, inventive, and the track most reminiscent of the xx, Loud Places is a glorious track worth listening to on repeat for a while.
10. The Debbie for Live Performance of the Year
Winner: Passion Pit
Passion Pit is always good. Passion Pit live is even better though. The band is known for its euphoric choruses and high energy, but experiencing it live is a whole other proposition. The energy is palpable, the music feels as though you could reach out and touch it. It is a few hours of pure euphoria.
Videogames & Technology
11. The Debbie for Greatest Technological Innovation of the Year
Winner: Net Neutrality
At last year's Debbie Awards we raised the issue of Net Neutrality as our cause of the year. It may seem an unusual choice with all the strife and worthy charitable causes in the world, but Net Neutrality is one of those deceptively crucial issues, one that effects everyone even when most people will have no idea what it actually means. The internet has been one of the most revolutionary inventions in the history of mankind, and yet we have barely even scratched its potential.
The internet has the capacity to provide endless and instant information to every person in the world, this gives it the potential to be a singularly important device for education, to say nothing of its promise as a tool for driving awareness and social change. The key to realising this potential is to keep the internet unbiased and equal, not giving anyone control over the content or prioritising one piece of content over another. The moment you start doing that you open the door to propagandising. This year the FCC reclassified the internet as a title II (common carrier) telecommunications service, which guarantees net neutrality in the United States. It's flown under the radar for a lot of people, but in the long term this may be the single most significant action of the Obama administration.
12. The Debbie for Greatest Scientific Discovery of the Year
Winner: Liquid water, everywhere
The Universe is a desolate, empty place, full of dust and ice. Only the jewel of the Solar System, Earth, is different, with its water, climate, and life. Or is it? Until now, the guiding principle of all exobiology has been the search for liquid water. Everywhere we have found liquid water so far, we have found life. Now, for the first time, we have definitive proof of liquid water somewhere other than Earth. Liquid, albeit highly salinated, water is now known to exist on the surface of Mars, with potentially even more under the surface.
But that's not all! In the same year, we have confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that there is liquid water under the icy surfaces of Jovian moon Europa, and the Saturnian moon Enceladus. Add to this the fact that we are pretty damn certain that Ganymede, Callisto and Titan also have water, and several other bodies may also do so, and suddenly our entire view of the universe has been transformed. Liquid water is not a rarity, it is common. Everywhere we have found liquid water until now, we have found life.
13. The Debbie for Videogame of the Year
Winner: Kerbal Space Program
Runners Up: Fallout 4
It has been a big year for gaming. We've seen some huge AAA releases, and big money mega-hits. Yet our pick for the winner of this grand prize goes to the indie darling, Kerbal Space Program. A deceptively complex simulator of realistic space travel mechanics wrapped in a cute shell and a competent management game to boot, KSP is a game you can lose countless hours to. It's a triumph for such a small development team to produce such a tight and enjoyable product, and the greatest vindication we have yet seen that the crowdfunding early-access model can really work.
Our runner up choice may come with some controversy. Fallout 4 is an undeniably excellent videogame, and the biggest release of 2015 in terms of both hype and sales. It comes with more than its share of bugs, and is held back from true greatness by poor design choices, a probelm entirely of its own making, but this is nevertheless one of the essential games of 2015.
14. The Debbie for Videogame Console of the Year
For all the competition between Microsoft and Sony, and to a lesser extent Nintendo, PC gaming has been making a quiet resurgence. In recent years the vogue has been for developers to focus on the consoles, you can charge more for games, the infrastructure for paid add-ons is well developed, and crucially since every console is the exact same design, you only need to design your game to run on one piece of hardware. But PC gaming has its own advantages, flexibility, customisation, better control options, and of course the wonderful Steam platform. In 2015 the winds seem to have changed back towards the PC, with several of the year's biggest releases, including our two game of the year contenders, releasing on PC, and a new raft of developers deciding to focus solely on the PC platform, particularly in the indie and Kickstarter scene. With the advent of the new Steam Machines, the use of this platform for gaming will increase further, so we expect this trend to continue.
15. The Debbie for Company of the Year
Runner Up: Alphabet
They've been all over the news this year, and not always for the right reasons, but there is no denying that Uber are one of the most disruptive companies in the world today. The potential for cheap and convenient transport, available to everyone, at any time, in any place, will revolutionise city life, and even more so as prices continue to decrease. In London right now, Uber taxis are still relatively expensive, albeit cheaper than any competitor. In other cities a single ride can be as cheap as a few pounds. But that's just the start. Going forward, the stated goal for Uber is ultimately to transition to driverless cars. When that happens, with no driver salaries, benefits or related recruiting and administrative costs, the price for an uber taxi will crash to the point where it is practically negligible. At those prices, what justification is there for ever not using Uber to go somewhere? The potential ramifications are huge.
In a similar vein, we have Alphabet, the newly rebranded parent company for Google, and all associated Google companies. Alphabet/Google have always been on the cutting edge of technology, in particular the research-oriented Google X branch. Now we are at the point where some of the company's loftier ideas are coming to fruition, and the sheer breadth of their operations is staggering. For starters there's the driverless car tech they are in the process of testing, the very technology that Uber are likely to use. Then there is Project Loon, due to launch shortly, which will use a network of high altitude balloons of all things to provide uncensored internet access to the world, particularly those in repressed autocratic nations. Project Sunroof has the lofty goal of making roof solar panels mainstream, easily available and convenient to install anywhere in the country. Last but not least there's Calico, a company with the no less lofty ambition of significant life extension. Alphabet has their finger in a lot of pies, all with astonishing ambitions and the massive financial heft of Google. This can only be a massively good thing for humanity, so why is this only second on their list? Uber represents an active, existing business. These Alphabet ideas, incredible though they may be, are still just ideas. Stay tuned over the coming years and we'll see which of these come to fruition.
16. The Debbie for Small Company of the Year
Winner: Gilead Sciences
Runner Up: Organovo
This year we're going for something a little bit different with Gilead Sciences. Not a household name like some of the other companies we've discussed on this blog, but one that looks set to be equally significant. The pharmaceutical company's growth over the past 10 years has been staggering and earned such hyperbolic praise as "the Apple of pharmaceuticals". Over the top gushing aside, Gilead is indeed an up-and-comer, and while right now is heavily focused on the hepatitis market, is set to branch into many huge areas of research from oncology and liver disease to rheumatoid arthritis and HIV/AIDS. Gilead has shown its ability to identify, acquire, and market drugs as second to none, this will be a very big player in pharmaceuticals indeed.
Our runner up stays in the biomedical field. Organovo has got to be one of the most unique and potentially groundbreaking ideas in the field today. Essentially, the idea is to combine the burgeoning field of 3D printing with medicine, 3D printed cells. Currently the company is close to being able to print actual functioning human tissue. That in itself is a remarkable achievement. The next logical step after that is printing whole organs. The potential significance of such a breakthrough needs no further elaboration, it would change the world to be able to print even the more simple organs, let alone vital systems. One to keep an eye on over the coming years.
17. The Debbie for Gadget of the Year
Winner: Apple Watch
Wearable technology is the big thing in gadgets right now. Apple is one of the world's biggest tech companies. It's about time they got involved in this growing field. Their addition to the market is the Apple Watch. This is far from the first smartwatch to be released, there are already several Android alternatives available, but as one would expect from Apple they manage to find that little bit extra quality to stand out in an increasingly crowded market. The physical design is clever for a start, intuitive to control despite the obvious limitations in size, and the ability to easily switch watch bands is nothing short of brilliant. The fitness and exercise features make another nice addition for those who have not yet invested in an Up3 or Fitbit. The cherry on top is the addition of Apple Pay features. You can use this watch as a credit card, oyster card, airplane boarding pass, cinema ticket, and just about anything else that's scannable. This is technology that allows you to control an increasing amount of your life from a tiny device on your wrist, and that's pretty remarkable.
18. The Debbie for Subreddit of the Year
Reddit at it's best can be a place of real insight, performing great service to the goal of free exchange of information, whilst offering the pinnacle of crowdsourced wisdom, and crucially featuring highly specified subreddits to cater to every interest or hobby. If ever there was one single website that could handle every need on the internet, it's Reddit.
This year for our all new subreddit of the year Debbie we're looking to the other side of Reddit, the users' penchant for the silly and surreal. In the past year the best of these has been /r/BatmanAdvice, an alternate take on the popular legal advice sub, this time imparting wisdom on the best way to Batman. Includes such pearls of wisdom as dress for the job you want, and how to choose your Batman name. However, and important disclaimer as stated on the subreddit sidebar: "A place to ask for advice on being Batman. Any advice here will NOT make you into the actual Batman. Reddit is not a substitute for a real Batman".
19. The Debbie for Footballer of the Year
Winner: Lionel Messi - Barcelona
It might seem like a way too obvious choice, but there's a reason for that. Lionel Messi is the best footballer in the world right now, and this season has seen him back at his best, and heads and shoulders above the rest.
His record in the past year has been incredible, 58 goals last season being his third highest ever tally in a season that saw his Barcelona team claim both the league title and Champions League. The good form has continued into the current season, as the team sits pretty at the top of the table once again, largely a result of this man's form.
20. The Debbie for Under-21 Footballer of the Year
Winner: Angel Correa - Atletico Madrid
Picking one player as the next big thing is a near impossible task, but The Ephemeric prides itself on having a pretty solid prediction record. This year the exciting young talent to catch our eye is Atletico Madrid's Angel Correa. The 20 year old Argentinian forward has been out of the game for a year due to health concerns, but despite that has come back and immediately become a key influential player in this impressive Atletico side. Correa's speed and skill makes him a deadly opponent for even the best of the defences, and if he can stay healthy then he can become one of the best players in Europe without question, and an important player at both the club and international level.
21. The Debbie for Football Manager of the Year
Winner: Luis Enrique - Barcelona
It's been a year of struggle for some of the world's best managers. Ancelotti won la decima, only to be sacked a year later. Mourinho won a league and cup double, only to be sacked 7 months later. Klopp was out of a job, and only just restarted his career with Liverpool, and of course Pep is Pep, master at the art of underperforming with the best team in the world. Really this year the award has to go to Luis Enrique by default, and it's hard to suggest he doesn't deserve it. A league and Champions League double, plus seemingly on course for another title this year. Enrique has firmly reestablished Barcelona as the best team in the world after Pep's dire last few seasons, and certainly has earned this cherished prize.
22. The Debbie for Politician of the Year
Winner: Barack Obama
Runners up: Hilary Benn
Alright, bring it on you lot. It's always popular to bash on the sitting President, especially during his lame duck years. We almost didn't go for him, but frankly with objective analysis of the past 12 months it became impossible to deny that 2015 was a very good year for Barack Obama indeed, one filled with a succession of strong accomplishments. It may not be the popular thing to say, but it is undeniably true. Obama's 2015 has included his administration's successful arguing at the Supreme Court that resulted in the legalisation of same sex marriage nationwide, realising finally the dream of marriage equality. It has included the institution of strong Net Neutrality laws, ensuring the validity and equality of history's greatest education and information tool. It has included the Paris climate accord, currently being hailed as a watershed moment in the fight against man-made climate change. These three historic accomplishments already top anything ever accomplished by the previous President, and probably any for decades, let alone in a single year.
Our runner up is the British Labour MP and probably future party leader Hilary Benn. Anyone who knows The Ephemeric will know that we are no friend of the Labour party, in fact we have a strong disagreement with the majority of their policies. This year Benn had a moment, a moment where he stood up to his party's fanatical leadership and did what he believed was right, arguing in favour of increased military action against ISIS in Syria. The speech went viral, considered by many to be one of the finest speeches on the floor of Commons of all time. Benn is an example of how politicians should really be, saying what needs to be said and doing what is right in spite of the political consequences. We give Benn this accolade as recognition for his bravery.
23. The Debbie for Political Scandal of the Year
Winners: Ben Carson has problems with reality
This one's just hilarious. Ben Carson came onto the scene as a popular conservative figure, and used his outsider position to become one of the top polling candidates in the GOP primary. Then something happened, Ben Carson happened. It started off with a claim that Carson had attempted to murder a friend as a teenager. He described himself as an angry person, "consumed by rage" who, and I'm not making this up, has to pray in order to control his urges. Yes, a Presidential candidate went on record as describing himself as a violent deviant, who needs the solace of an imaginary friend in order to control his tendencies. Just the kind of guy you want to have his finger on the nukes.
But that's not the ridiculous part. The ridiculous part is that this was all a lie. Yes, a Presidential candidate lied and pretended to be a violent deviant, who needs religion to prevent himself from destroying the world in nuclear fire. I just... don't even. But that's not all! After this somewhat bizarre lie, all the crazy started pouring out. Whether it's Ben Carson pretending that he got offered a scholarship to West Point, or Ben Carson pretending that he attended a class in Yale that it turns out never even existed... this... this is the guy who was for a while top of the polls in America. Seriously guys WTF?
24. The Debbie for Cause of the Year
Winner: Humanitarian crises in the Middle East
There is a lot of awful stuff going on in the world. This is not a secret to anyone anymore. But this knowledge doesn't do justice to just how horrific the violence being perpetuated in certain parts of the world really is. We all lose our shit when a bomb goes off in Boston and 3 people die, while in places in North Africa and the Middle East you have attacks that claim the lives of hundreds in a single day with alarming regularity. Even that only scratches the surface; there are millions suffering as a result of the civil war in Syria and the ongoing conflict in Iraq, 4 million refugees at the last count.
Now humans are notoriously bad at tangibly picturing large numbers. We can sense that there is a big difference between 1 and 10, or even 1 and 100, but when you start talking about the millions, we are very bad at conceptualising just how much that is. So here is a pictorial representation of a million. You see how that big square is made up of smaller squares, and each of those smaller squares made up of even smaller squares? Well if you zoom in you will see that each of those even smaller squares is made up of even even smaller squares, and there are a million of those in this image, and that's a lot. There are four times that many refugees from Syria alone. Clearly it's a tragedy when a handful of people are affected by terrorism in the West, but compared to this, well that's a level of human suffering that simply has not been seen since World War II.
25. The Debbie for Person of the Year
Winner: Bill Gates
Our 2015 Person of the Year, Bill Gates serves as a great example of how much a person's image can change over time. When I was growing up, the reputation of Gates was far from flattering; an unethical, monopolising, tyrant, constantly in the courts over antitrust suits and ruthlessly crushing the little guy in competing start ups. There were whole movies based on this.
In 2015 Gates has reinvented himself as a towering figure in philanthropy. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the wealthiest charity in the world, and one of the most prominent forces for good. Huge resources have been devoted to such causes as malaria, clean water in third world countries, clean energy, and other agricultural and healthcare initiatives. Gates also recently announced the creation of a historic multi-billion dollar fund for clean energy R&D. He has previously declared that the majority of his fortune will go to charity. There are few people in the world who are doing as much good as Bill Gates, and even fewer who have the means and reach to actually bring it to fruition.
Social & Lifestyle
26. The Debbie for Restaurant of the Year
Runner Up: The Ledbury
London is fast turning into one of the foodie capitals of the world, blessed with some of the hottest and most acclaimed restaurants anywhere. Our pick of the bunch for 2015 is Peruvian restaurant Coya. The Green Park establishment specialises in char-grill, ceviche, and other Latin American classics. But it really is difficult to convey just how good the food is until you try it for yourself. The lomo de res beef skewer melts in your mouth, the patatas bravas is finger-licking good, but the undoubted highlight has to be the arroz nikkei seabass with rice, a dish that simply needs to be tasted to be believed.
Our runner up is a restaurant generally considered to be one of the top one or two in all of London, The Ledbury. Let's be clear, it may have lost out to Coya this year, but really when you're talking about restaurants of this calibre there isn't much between them. The Ledbury is a very different sort of restaurant of course, two michelin star, multi-course tasting menus (although they do offer a la carte as well). But the Ledbury stands out not for its pomp and accolades, but because its food is absolutely excellent. Every single dish, excellent, no matter what it is. See something on the menu that you don't think you would ever eat? You'll like it, trust me.
27. The Debbie for New Restaurant of the Year
Winner: Taberna do Mercado
Chef Nuno Mendes was all the buzz in London last year when he launched the Chiltern Firehouse, which quickly became the hottest restaurant in the city. Its celebrity was well deserved, but Mendes may already have outdone himself with his newest creation, Taberna do Mercado. In complete contrast to the grandiose Chiltern Firehouse, Taberna is a tiny, unassuming place, in the most unassuming of locations near Liverpool Street, you could honestly be forgiven for walking by and thinking nothing of it.
The menu itself is also the complete opposite of the creative, themed dishes at Chiltern. On the surface it appears to be mostly just small sharing plates of meat, cheese and various homemade breads, with some fish and veggies thrown in for good measure. Once you try it, you realise that Nuno is just as intricate and innovative as ever. Whether it's in the preparation or treatment, the unusual combination of simple ingredients, this is delicious, well sourced food that's greater than the sum of its parts. We most highly recommend the outrageous sandwiches.
28. The Debbie for Nightclub/Bar of the Year
Winner: The Holly Bush
The temptation when considering this award is to think of the trendy speakeasies, the wild clubs, the quirky new bars, but this year we are just going with a classic English pub, The Holly Bush. There's a marked difference between the city pub and the country pub. Your typical city pub leans more towards just being a regular bar, tries hard to be trendy, uptight management. A country pub is a relaxing place, friendly to all, usually has a dog running around somewhere and board games to play. A friendly local. The Holly Bush manages to hang on to that old fashioned country feel despite being located in London. Part of that is down to the more secluded location up in the suburbs of Hampstead, but the atmosphere, the service, and the extras are all spot on for that right pub feel. The Holly Bush is currently undergoing refurbishment, so we shall see if it maintains its charm, but for now it's a lovely spot.
29. The Debbie for Mixologist of the Year
Winner: Alessandro Palazzi
Another Debbie for... guess who? The Duke's Bar owner Alessandro is famous across London for making Ian Fleming's drinks, and in particular his flair for unique martinis turn heads. Whether he's making his signature Fleming 89 or whipping up some original creation on the spot, there's no finer cocktail around. This year's special creations include the coffee flavoured Oracabesa martini.
30. The Debbie for Destination of the Year
Winner: New York, USA
This year's destination of choice is New York, USA. If you're going to visit a city, you might as well make it the biggest in the world. Too obvious? Perhaps, but there's a reason why it's the world's most popular tourist destination, from the wall-to-wall landmarks, the shopping, the gorgeous central park, to the world class restaurants, nightlife, and theatre. Now even the formerly undeveloped areas, the industrial, warehouse districts, have all been turned into wonderfully trendy neighbourhoods bristling with new developments like the Highline. Still one of the best ways to spend a week.
31. The Debbie for Wine of the Year
Winner: Haiku 2009
Patrons are unanimous, the Castello di Ama vineyard is consistently among the very best in Tuscany, and this year we bestow our most coveted award in wine to their Haiku 2009 vintage. Elegant and delicately fruity, this wine is a 50% sangiovese and 50% equal parts cabernet franc and merlot. A smooth drinking wine, very fine to drink now, but can also keep cellared for another 3-4 years.
32. The Debbie for Champagne of the Year
Winner: Nyetimber blanc de blancs 2007
Whisper it quietly, but the English sparkling wines are starting to develop a name for themselves. Thanks to global warming, the English climate is becoming increasingly favourable to the traditional grapes of the Champagne region, to the point where many are declaring southern England as the future of sparkling wine in Europe. It is now becoming commonplace for the top English wines to win blind tastings against even the biggest names of Champagne, and in that regard no English wine is more celebrated than Nyetimber. Nyetimber operate a vineyard on a par with any other in the world. Specialising entirely in sparkling wine, their classic cuvée is award winning. However our pick from the bunch is the Nyetimber blanc de blancs. 100% chardonnay as all blanc de blancs are, this is a supremely crisp and memorable sparkling wine, and a fine choice for any festive meal. Drink well, drink British my friends.
Well there you have it. 2015 will go down as a troubled year for sure, but here's to the next one being better!
Thursday, 17 December 2015
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results" - someone who wasn't really Albert Einstein, but everyone attributes it to him anyway.
Chelsea football club have just sacked the most successful manager in the club's history, Jose Mourinho, for the second time. the result last time they did this was a slip from being one of Europe's top clubs to 8 years with only one league title. Bringing him back, within two seasons he had returned the title to Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho is not only Chelsea's most successful manager of all time, he is also the most successful manager in the world over the past 10 years, with the most major silverware of any single manager, attained at a variety of different clubs and leagues to boot. Chelsea football club have determined that the best manager in their history, and in the world for the past 10 years apparently isn't allowed to have one bad season.
The real issue, of course, has been the players. Awful transfer policy by the club honchos, and poor attitudes on and off the pitch of the players themselves. Now these same failures are covering their ass by putting the blame on the one competent person in the club's management. The players should be ashamed of themselves, and the club directors aren't fit to run a Tescos. If Juande Ramos comes to the club I'm going to have a god damn stroke, and I hate everything.
The Ephemeric politely submits into consideration that the Chelsea boardroom eat a whole bag of dicks.
Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Developed by Bethesda Game Studios
Published by Bethesda Softworks
Genre Action RPG
Platform PC, Xbone, PS4
Few events in the gaming calendar have the hype of a new Bethesda game, especially when that game is the long-awaited next installment in the celebrated Fallout franchise. It's been five years of secretive development and back-room wrangling over the ownership of the IP, but finally, we have Fallout 4 in our mittens.
Great credit needs to be given to the manner in which Bethesda have orchestrated this release, keeping perfect secrecy for many years, and then promptly releasing barely a few months after the initial announcement. Fallout 4 was the talk of this year's E3 festival, and now it releases in the height of fever pitch. Many developers could learn from this example.
Fallout's concept is perhaps one of the most unique ever developed; a darkly comedic satire on post-war American 1950s pop-culture/propaganda and its optimistic view of the "wonders of the atomic age". Fallout ironically imagines a world where all the atomic powered flying cars, robot butlers, and other promises came true, but so did the less tantalizing aspect of atomic power, nuclear war. The Fallout series sees players exploring a crumbling nuclear wasteland, full of camp sci-fi/retro aesthetic, thick Americana, and gallows humour.
Before we begin, The Ephemeric would like to take a moment to uncharacteristically pat itself on the back for calling this one at the start of the year, before this game had even been confirmed to exist. We were right, and Fallout 4 has landed. Does it live up to the hype?
Starting life in the 1990s as a top-down RPG, Bethesda reinvented the series as a first person RPG in the mould of their Elder Scrolls franchise and haven't looked back. The core gameplay components of the typical Bethesda RPG are combat, crafting, exploration, and conversation. In Fallout 4, each of these components have been hugely overhauled.
Old Bethesda games were clearly an RPG first, with little care seemingly paid towards honing the shooting and melee combat side of the game. Fallout as a series has the unique combination of real time and turn-based combat modes. The bulk of the gameplay takes place in real time, but when in combat players have the (useful, but completely optional) VATS ability to freeze gameplay and select specific targets to attack, which the game will then do autonomously until the moves have been exhausted.
In Fallout 4 the shooting has been massively improved. There is no single thing that stands out significantly different, it just looks and feels better overall. The weapons have real weight and recoil to them, enemies actually react to being hit, Fallout 4 would actually be a very competent shooting game. Melee has also been improved with a series of perks designed to add extra flourish and extravagance to what you can do with, for example, a baseball bat. In the meantime VATS has been tweaked such that it no longer fully pauses the game while you plan your attack, merely slowing it down, further shifting the combat gameplay into real time.
In previous Fallout games you had some small recipes you could use to craft items or food, and certain pre-made modifications you could add to a weapon, like adding a silencer or a better sniper scope. In Fallout 4 item crafting returns, and every single gun is entirely modular, made up of components like stock, barrel, magazine, scope, etc which can all be crafted in the same way. Every one of these can be mixed and matched to create truly personal and unique weapons, and the sheer quantity of options and combinations is quite staggering.
Armor modification has pretty much the exact same system, with the exception of power armor. Previously, power armor was essentially just an overpowered version of regular armor. You equipped it in the same way, and functionally it behaved the same, only better. Not so in Fallout 4. Power armor in this game behaves more like a vehicle. It is a persistent object in the game world that you enter and exit, and when you exit you park it at power armor stations. More cumbersome than before, but the trade off is that power armor is now even more overpowered than before. The gulf between regular and power armor has never felt so tactile in game, and when you don your suit this time, you truly feel invincible. And of course, power armor can be fully customised as well.
But the biggest addition to crafting is the new "settlement" system. The world is full of individual settlements dotted around the map; usually small groups of civilians, farms, hideouts, or empty plots of land. As you complete missions and explore, you unlock more of these settlement sites. Once unlocked, you can build on them, and we don't mean you can plop down a few pre-made huts or beds to sleep on, this is a full-on first person town building mode. From a series of floor, wall and roof tiles you can design buildings of nearly any size, pretty much in any way you can imagine. Want to build a few modest townhouses? A giant citadel fortress with crazy turrets, bridges and tunnels? A sprawling market? You can build pretty much anything you can imagine.
But that's not all. You can furnish these buildings with an array of furniture types, all of which are functional rather than merely decorative. You can plant crops for food and develop infrastructure for power and water. Once built and furnished, settlers will move into your settlements. You can equip them with weapons, clothes, assign them to jobs, even establish trade routes with your other settlements. Certain special settlers can even be recruited from your exploration out in the game world.
It's remarkable how much depth they've put into this feature, and how well integrated it is to the core game. A good 20 hours in, and The Ephemeric had barely even dented the main part of the game such was the substance of this settlement building subgame. Hours later, and we have ourselves a whole network of burgeoning towns, some of which are dedicated farms, some are huge military fortresses, and some are just friendly towns complete with shops. It's like a whole separate strategy game has been attached to the core Fallout experience, and it's amazing.
Exploration has mostly stayed true to the Bethesda style, which is just as well seeing as it has been one of the franchise's main attractions. The world is big and packed with things to do; minigames, quests, collectibles, interesting characters, Easter eggs, and simply miscellaneous unmarked detail intended to add life and flesh out the world they have created. Fallout 4's commonwealth is at least an equal to any other world they have created, and as with previous entries in the series, hours of entertainment can be had simply by wandering around.
The major addition, which brilliantly ties together exploration with the new settlement and crafting gameplay, is that everything, from the buildings to the furniture to the weapon and armor modifications, can be built by you from scratch. To do this all you need to do is collect building materials. In older Fallout games, the world was littered with junk: bits of metal, old appliances, scrap rubber and circuitry, and it was all completely useless. Fallout 4's masterstroke is using all these random bits of junk as building materials, making them not only useful, but essential. For the first time, you actually have a reason to scavenge the wasteland for scrap, and that makes the setting feel more real and convincing then it ever has before.
The general RPG elements of Fallout have been largely overhauled as well. Gone is the old skill point system, opting instead for one made almost entirely out of discrete "perks". So instead of assigning points to medicine or speech, you instead choose perks which grant you additional abilities in those fields. Despite this, skill-books reappear. Only now instead of bestowing a boost to skill points, they offer perks, or permanent ability boosts. A pleasantly creative twist also sees magazines unlocking new content, for example games to play on your pip-boy, new furniture for your settlements, new hairstyles, paintjobs for your armor, etc.
Then we come to the overhaul of the conversation system, and things turn decidedly more sour. For the first time, Bethesda have opted for a more cinematic, Mass Effect-style, system. This means that conversations no longer take place in first person perspective, but through cinematic cutscenes, and it also means that for the first time your character is actually voiced, rather than simply text. The Epehemeric was mostly fine with these changes..
Slightly more troubling is how the player chooses dialogue options. Previously the player would have the full text of their response in front of them, and choose as they wish. Now the player sees a one or two word paraphrasing, Mass Effect-style, and needs to guess which one most closely resembles what they actually want to say.
Worse still is the complete detachment between dialogue and the character decisions you have made previously. In Fallout New Vegas you would have special dialogue options that you could only use if you had made certain decisions previously, or if you had attained the appropriate level of skill in a particular subject. As an example, if you have a high medicine skill, you would get special medical dialogue to demonstrate that fact in game, which might even help you complete your quest.
In other words, the world around you would actually react and reflect your own personal decisions, whether that means befriending an old prospector with your knowledge of explosives, using your high barter skill to get a better deal, or using your "intimidate" perk to simply scare off the enemy. Very little of this is in Fallout 4 outside of a few specific scripted moments, and it really is a disappointment because the lack of dialogue nuance means your decisions, and the specific experiences of your character become largely meaningless and outside the main quest have little effect in the game.
The loss here is one of player agency. Usually when you play a videogame, you have to choose one of a few pre-determined paths, and those potential decisions do not always mirror what the player is actually feeling. One of the greatest design elements of Fallout 3 and New Vegas was the freedom and autonomy offered to the player to behave and react to situations in a way that felt natural and true. Previously the main character was essentially a vehicle for the player's own volition, now there is that extra level of detachment between what the player wants and the character does. The player now no longer feels as though they actually are the character, but merely that they are watching the character like a movie. It's an immersion breaker and a real step back for the series.
It's not all a disaster though. Companions in the game have been hugely improved from old entries to the series. For the first time, Fallout has actual romance options, and a full friendship system between player and companion, complete with its own perks and bonuses, not to mention a few unique quests. These companions typically have a far greater sense of personality than what we have seen previously, and go a long way towards bringing the player back into the game world after being pushed away by the other points above.
There are also some other clever little touches, like dialogue changes depending on whether your character is drunk or on drugs, interjections whenever you skip dialogue, and though the quality of writing itself is generally inconsistent, there are still some very well written lines here and there.
One final criticism needs to be made about the quests in the game. The main story quests are fine, and the faction system, though not as well thought out as in New Vegas, is still pretty compelling. The side quests, however, are a disappointment. For starters there are surprisingly few, barely a third of the number in Skyrim. Most of these are pretty tedious and lacking in creativity as well; simple fetch quests or, even worse, "go here and kill a bunch of people" quests. What made old Fallout games great was the variety in quest gameplay, less dependent on violence and action, more on good story telling and clever design.
For comparison have a look at the endgame of New Vegas, which gave you the (optional) potential to form alliances, make deals, and generally outsmart and influence everyone to put yourself in a more advantageous position without even firing a shot. One of the most satisfying endings involved double crossing both main factions as a result of careful groundwork being laid throughout the story. Or the confrontation with your initial antagonist Benny, which gave you several options for how to get your revenge, from plain violence to manipulation and film-noir intrigue. This sort of clever interplay between factions peaks its head out once or twice in Fallout 4, but not enough, and never convincingly.
You could, of course, still go the soldier route and just go guns blazing on everyone, but New Vegas at least gave you the option of using more nuance. This more intricate and clever form of story telling is at the heart of the Fallout series and one of the main ties to the hardboiled mid 20th Century cold war aesthetic. So it is legitimately disappointing to see Bethesda ostensibly trying to turn Fallout into retro Call of Duty.
Then there are the bugs. As with every Bethesda RPG, Fallout 4 is plagued by bugs. These includes simple performance issues; for example a lot of players have reported severe lag in dense areas due to the way the game draws shadows. Others have had serious glitches associated with the rendering of "god rays". Both of these can be largely fixed by simple ini file edits, which begs the question why the game appears to have been so poorly optimised. Hopefully this will be mostly sorted in future patches.
Then there are the more extravagant bugs. Most of the ones that we have seen are related to the new settlement system which, ambitious and substantial though it is, is rough enough around the edges that one suspects it was a late addition to the game, with poor interface design and glitches. For example there is a common bug which causes settlement happiness to plunge which somehow appears to be related to placing TVs in your settlement. Even more irritating is the propensity for miscellaneous decorative objects to inexplicably sink through furniture and floors when you reload your settlement, which currently can only be avoided by placing these objects in a very round-about, burdensome fashion.
And of course the miscellaneous bugs: AI glitching out, people's appendages turning invisible, poor NPC pathfinding, invisible Pip-Boy, and random freezes and crashes (though to the game's credit these are much less frequent than with New Vegas).
We have raised a lot of negatives in this review, so its a testament to Fallout that despite the obvious flaws we have described, Fallout 4 is still one of the finest games we've played in a while, into which we will easily sink 100 hours. For all the unwise design decisions that have been made, the end product is still undeniably one that has been crafted with love and skill.
Gameplay has been drastically improved in almost every way. There are a myriad of new and fleshed out features like settlement management, building and far deeper crafting, and a lot of creative new details to existing mechanics which really bring the game to life. What holds Fallout 4 back from true greatness are the poor decisions that have gone into the RPG elements of the game; speech options, quest variety, skills etc.
It's also worth mentioning that most of the criticisms we have raised will probably be fixed by modders, if not official updates. One of the greatest enduring elements of Bethesda RPGs is how incredibly easy it is to mod, and to plug that mod straight into an existing game. Be it gameplay tweaks, interface overhauls, or even new quests and characters, the mod scene for Fallout will ensure that the lifespan of this game is essentially infinite. New content still comes out routinely for Fallout 3 and New Vegas, and it will be the same with Fallout 4.
Your money here gets you a staggeringly huge open world RPG, one which will be expanded indefinitely. You will easily sink 100 hours into the base game, and many more besides through the expansions and mods. Value for money indeed.
Bethesda are masters of the genre, and they come tantalizingly close to making the perfect game. If the series takes a few steps back in certain areas, it takes a huge leap forwards in others. For all its flaws, Fallout 4 is an easy game to recommend, and an unmissable event in gaming.
Thursday, 22 October 2015
Directed by Lyndsey Turner
Written by William Shakespeare
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds,
If you are even passively tuned in to the London theatre scene you will no doubt have heard of the Barbican's newest production of Hamlet. It is the hottest show of the year, with tickets having sold out almost instantly. A production of Hamlet on a major London stage is always big news, but this time it is doubly so for the participation of Benedict Cumberbatch, a celebrated stage actor, Oscar nominee last year, and the latest in a line of British thespians to catch fire in Hollywood.
This is about as hyped a show as we've seen in London for some time now, and yet the early reaction has been mixed at best. Is this simply an inevitable backlash against the hype, or something else? The Ephemeric went undercover to bring you the lowdown.
The first thing that jumps out is that director Lyndsey Turner has not been shy about bringing the changes to what is usually a pretty conservative play. The order of opening scenes has been shifted about, dialogue has been altered, and there are some significant tonal shifts from what one might traditionally expect from Hamlet.
First there is the modern setting, which seems to have taken a late 19th Century Prussian style in set design and costume, with some contrasting modern flavour in the form of mid 20th Century music and even some 21st Century flair, most notably with Horatio's appearance as a tattooed East-London looking hipster.
At the same time a greater emphasis has been placed on the politics of Hamlet, an element of the script which usually remains largely in the background. Several scenes take place in the war room, with palace staff racing about getting ready for impending tensions between Denmark and Norway. It has more of the feel of a West Wing or House of Cards style political thriller, with a greater link between the ongoing personal drama and an apparent Cold War-era geopolitical context.
It's a strangely anachronistic cobbling together of eras, but for the most part it manages to work. Much of this is thanks to the superb production design; the set is impressive, and the small detail in costumes and props do well to bring out the themes of Turner's vision, to say nothing of the ambitious "special effects" used throughout. The only time things really don't work is with the various time-lapse and frozen time effects attempted, which just doesn't look right in live action.
It's an adventurous approach to what for most theatre-goers is a familiar play. It may not work 100%, but it is undoubtedly positive to see some fresh perspective on offer, giving proceedings the kind of modern flair that few directors have been bold enough to combine with Shakespeare's most austere tragedies on stage.
Noted thespians have often given Hamlet the persona of a deeply tortured man, with an emphasis on his madness. Cumberbatch puts his own mark on it with a superficially lighter interpretation. This is a younger, more irreverent Hamlet, who often has the countenance of a rebellious adolescent than a brooding monarch-in-waiting. His "madness" here is portrayed as more of a ruse to get the better of his rival Claudius than anything darker. It's a credit to Cumberbatch's versatility that he pulls this off without losing the substance of his character's internal struggles, his existential doubts, his familial honour, and maintaining this internal thread even during some of his sillier moments.
The rest of the cast is more mixed in its performance. Ciaran Hinds is a very fine stage actor, and probably the highlight of the cast aside from Cumberbatch with his appropriately machiavellian Claudius, while Sian Brooke is fairly impressive in her frenzied, delirious portrayal of Ophelia. But then elsewhere the hipster Horatio doesn't really make an impact, and duo of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem strangely underplayed.
So clearly there are flaws, and it's easy to see why the typically conservative Shakespeare aficionados in the press would take issue with the litany of bold changes. But if you look past that, you will find a uniquely engaging version of the classic play, and much faster paced than Hamlet's usual ponderous internalising. For all the emotional complexity of Shakespeare's dialogue, no one would describe Hamlet as entertaining, but this production is enjoyable and gripping in a way that the play rarely has been before. It's down to Cumberbatch's charm and humour, the fast-paced political machinations, the grand settings and snappy directing. This is a production that respects the text's intellectual depth without allowing the drama to lull too deep into self-indulgence, and that keeps the audience firmly in the moment.
It's a realisation that really hits at the interval, that unmistakable feeling that can only be likened to binge-watching your favourite series on Netflix, and the inevitable compulsion to click through to the next episode. Ultimately that's what this is. It is Hamlet for the modern audience; a slick and crowd-pleasing reimagining of one of literature's most classic texts. Whether or not that is a good thing is down to personal expectations, but it is hard to be too critical of this entertaining, if occasionally uneven production, and easy to recommend.
Wednesday, 19 August 2015
It has been a long and football-less summer, but fear not men of England, your suffering is at an end. The Premier League season is about to commence, and as per usual the Ephemeric is here to run the rule over every team in the Premier League and render a few inevitably accurate predictions. Read on for the ultimate preview of what awaits us these next nine months.
Premier League 2015/16 Predictions in a nutshell:
Champions: Manchester City
Champions League qualifiers: Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal
Relegated: Watford, Sunderland, Norwich
Golden Boot winner: Sergio Agüero (Manchester City)
Golden Glove winner: Joe Hart (Manchester City)
Player to watch: Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
New signing to watch: Petr Cech (Arsenal)
Young player to watch: John Stones (Everton)
First manager to get the sack: Shteve McClaren (Newcastle United)
Shock of the season: Chelsea go trophiless
Nickname: The Gunners
Ground: Emirates Stadium
Position last season: 3rd
Manager: Arsene Wenger
It has been a long time since Arsenal have been genuine title contenders. Every season some dastardly pundit decides to tip them for glory, a few dewey-eyed Arsenal fans get caught up in the hype, and Arsenal-mania sweeps the news for a few days, but it never lasts, and is never justified. This season, however, things may be different. Arsenal may finally be ready for the big time, and all it took was a complete abandonment of everything they once stood for.
Long gone are the boo-boys who cried foul over rival clubs' spending, now that Arsenal have the cash to burn on £50 million signings like Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez. Indeed Sánchez was one of the league's outstanding performers last season, perhaps third only to Eden Hazard and John Terry, while Giroud showed signs of finally finding consistent form.
Still, the biggest boon for their title hopes will be the signing of goalkeeper Petr Cech, still one of the world's finest goalkeepers and arguably the best in the Premier League. His signing at long last addresses Arsenal's perennial weakspot at the back, providing both quality and leadership in a defence which sorely needs both.
Still doubts remain over the long term consistency of the club. Özil is still seen by many to be something of a big-money flop, while injuries continue to persist the likes of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. There is no doubt that this is one of the stronger and more rounded Arsenal sides we've seen in years, but are they a match for their more illustrious rivals?
Key Signing: Petr Cech
Key Man: Alexis Sánchez
Verdict: Arsenal are well positioned to stage their first title challenge in over a decade, but will face a tough challenge from their strengthened rivals.
Nickname: The Villans
Ground: Villa Park
Last season: 17th
Manager: Tim Sherwood
The drama continues with Aston Villa. Last season they reached an FA Cup final and were unlucky to lose, but at the same time they nearly got relegated from the Premier League. They've made some interesting signings in Jordan Ayew, Scott Sinclair, Micah Richards and others, but then they've lost Christian Benteke and Fabien Delph. Add the fact that the long proposed club takeover is dead, and this is very much a club of mixed blessings at the moment. The drama looks set to continue, and it could get worse before it gets better.
Paul Lambert, as predicted, is gone, and in comes Tim Sherwood, seemingly the least wanted manager in the league during his brief tenure with Tottenham. Sherwood seems adamant that the club's current squad is good enough to break the cycle of flirting with relegation every recent year, but the rest of us are not so sure.
With so many players incoming and outgoing, it's anybody's guess exactly what Villa's team is going to look like for the season, and Sherwood will have little time to gel this new squad with a tough start to the season's fixtures ahead. No doubt the team will look to the consistently steady hands of Brad Guzan in goal, one of the few mainstays in this shifting Villa defence in recent years, while Jordan Ayew has some big shoes to fill if he is to be expected to ease the pain of losing Benteke. And of course, all eyes will be on Jack Grealish, the youngster who had his breakthrough towards the end of last season and now looks to be essential for the club.
The club is asking a lot of it's new players and its youth, while even the more experienced hands on deck have question marks about them.
Key Signing: Jordan Ayew
Key Man: Jack Grealish
Verdict: A tough season with a real threat of relegation.
Nickname: The Cherries
Ground: Dean Court
Last season: Promoted (1st)
Manager: Eddie Howe
A dream come true for Bournemouth, who have pulled of a remarkable two promotions in three years to rise from League One all the way to the Premier League for the first time in their history. In fact it's the first time they have ever been in the top flight, including the pre-Premier League days. It's new ground for the club and its fans. Surely such a lack of big-league experience makes them destined to be cannon-fodder for the coming season?
Well not so fast there Sparky. Bournemouth have strengthened very well with players who know how to play Premier League football. The experienced defensive skills of goalkeeper Artur Boruc and defender Sylvain Distin are very shrewd signings indeed, while the signing of hotly tipped left back Tyrone Mings from Ipswich may turn out to be quite the coup. Perhaps most exciting of all is the loan of hotly tipped Chelsea youngster Christian Atsu, many clubs will be watching his development with interest.
Of course let's not forget that this side did win the Championship last year as well, clearly they have a side already full of solid talent. Dan Gosling and Junior Stanislas have a wealth of top flight experience, despite only being in their mid-twenties, while top scorer Callum Wilson has the potential to make a big impact in the Premier League. Elsewhere right winger Matt Ritchie is also one to watch this season.
Key Signing: Artur Boruc
Key Man: Callum Wilson
Verdict: The Premier League will be a huge step up for the club, but they might just survive.
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Last season: Champions
Manager: José Mourinho
Widely tipped as one of the favourites for the title last season, Mourinho and co duly delivered, and in quite comfortable fashion as it turned out. Chelsea were by far and away the best club in the country last season and few will deny it. So it's no surprise to see all the pundits making Chelsea their favourite for the title. However the Ephemeric has a quite different view.
That Chelsea have a solid defence is a given. Courtois, Terry, Ivanovic, Azpilicueta, and Matic are among the best in the world in their positions. But it was their much improved attack last season which gave them the edge. Eden Hazard tore the league apart and established himself as one of the finest players in the world, Diego Costa had a magnificent, if injury prone start to life in England, and Cesc Fàbregas had arguably one of his finest creative seasons in the heart of the Chelsea team. Elsewhere the Chelsea youth were crowned champions of Europe and double winners, the future looked rosy. With these solid foundations everyone expected them to kick on and start building a side truly capable of challenging the very best in Europe, which makes their lack of direction this summer all the more confusing.
Chelsea have been inexplicably inactive this transfer window, refusing to strengthen or patch up weak spots. Of grave concern will be the worsening fitness of Diego Costa, the inconsistent form since January of Fàbregas, and the consistent "just-ok"-ness of Willian and Oscar. Increasingly this Chelsea team is looking dependent on Hazard, and opposition teams are starting to see that if he gets injured or marked out of a game then Chelsea look completely helpless as of late.
Chelsea's squad looks far too thin and far too weak to challenge for the title, but of equal concern at the moment is the bizarre new team selection policy that sees Mourinho picking out of form big names like Falcao and Cuadrado as opposed to the seemingly more in-form Remy and Moses. The moment your manager stops picking his team on merit you know you're in trouble. To say nothing of the complete lack of faith in any of Chelsea's youth products, even as they sweep the youth competitions and wrack up transfer values in the 10s of millions playing for their rivals.
For all these reasons this Chelsea side look likely to settle for a top four position this season, their best hope is that the coming nine months of failure snap the club management out of its current complacency.
Edit: since writing this Chelsea have signed Barcelona's Pedro. Without wanting to do a complete rewrite this is obviously hugely beneficial, but not enough to compensate should Costa and Cesc fail to recover their form.
Key Signing: Asmir Begovic (he doesn't have much competition)
Key Man: Eden Hazard
Verdict: Chelsea will pay for a baffling summer of transfer inactivity by missing out on silverware.
Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Ground: Selhurst Park
Last season: 10th
Manager: Alan Pardew
What a bizarre few seasons it has been for Crystal Palace. Tony Pulis seemed to be pulling off some great work turning them into a solid Premier League club against all odds. Then he quit. Neil Warnock came in and promptly the club sank into relegation territory. He got sacked. Then in comes Alan Pardew of controversial Newcastle tenure-fame. Pardew turns out to be the reincarnated ghost of Brian Clough, gets Palace to their highest ever league position. It's a great time to be a Crystal Palace fan, but then again maybe Pardew will quit tomorrow and they'll be back down in relegation again. Wouldn't surprise us based on all the recent turbulence.
Adding to the optimism is some rather impressive business over the summer, including the signings of Yohan Cabaye and Connor Wickham, as well as the loan of Chelsea youngster and last season's Championship player of the year Patrick Bamford. Suddenly Palace's squad is looking pretty darn solid, already stocked with players like Wilfried Zaha, Brede Hangeland and Yannick Bolasie.
For the first time, Palace will be starting the year optimistic that they should be looking beyond mere survival, and even push for a top half finish.
Key Signing: Yohan Cabaye
Key Man: Yannick Bolasie
Verdict: A positive year beckons for Palace.
Ground: Goodison Park
Last season: 11th
Manager: Roberto Martínez
Well then, file this one under "we spoke too soon". Martínez had a great first season with Everton, leading some to speculate that the club was finally in a position to really push on for European qualification, but last year was a disappointment by any metric, culminating in a midtable finish.
If his predecessor David Moyes was the master at playing down his club's stature and exceeding expectations, Martínez now finds himself in the unenviable position of being under pressure to deliver. Especially in the wake of huge money signings like last season's £30 million Lukaku transfer.
Given the club's long term aspiration for Champions League football, it must be a concern to see the squad being only modestly improved this summer. The permanent signing of Gerard Deulofeu is a good move, and Tom Cleverly has his uses too, but key to Everton's aspirations will be keeping hold of the team's core of John Stones, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku. Stones in particular has been linked with a move away recently, his loss could prove a bitter blow to an Everton side that arguably needs more defensive reinforcement already.
Everton have a fine squad and a fine manager, but that doesn't cut it anymore in a league so awash with money that every side, right down to the bottom, can look good on paper. The standard of competition is rising rapidly, and questions have to be asked whether Everton is progressing enough to keep up.
Key Signing: Gerard Deulofeu
Key Man: Ross Barkley
Verdict: Improvement will be expected, but top six might be too tough to crack this season.
Nickname: The Foxes
Ground: King Power Stadium
Last season: 14th
Manager: Claudio Ranieri
Much has been said about Leicester City's rollercoaster of a first season back in the Premier League. Mired in a relegation battle all year, with an abysmal record throughout, and then suddenly, a miraculous turnaround. Leicester City came to life right when it mattered, winning a series of matches in style, claiming some big scalps in the process. Bizarrely, they ended the season as one of the form teams in the league.
Then the downright bizarre happened. Hero manager Nigel Pearson got sacked, ostensibly for non-footballing reasons (his son made a racist sex tape). His replacement is Claudio Ranieri of Chelsea fame, and no one is quite sure what to make of him. Many have criticised his record in recent years, asserting that perhaps the best years of his career are behind. The fact is that Ranieri has time and again proven himself a capable manager, and is frankly an excellent appointment for a club of Leicester City's meagre stature (no offence).
But manager aside, the big question is which Leicester City are we going to see, the early season no-hopers or the imperious end-of-season heroes? Key to their efforts will be maintaining the consistency of those who emerged during the side's uplift in form, players like Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez, particularly following Esteban Cambiasso's departure. Meanwhile the side's problem position is arguably up front, where Leonardo Ulloa struggled for form after a solid start to the season. James Vardy has shown himself to be a useful front-man, but the team badly needs a goalscorer. Japan's Shinji Okazaki has been signed in the hopes that he is that man.
Ultimately it's hard to argue that this side looks any stronger than they did last year, their fortunes will hinge on which of last season's two diametrically opposed performances shows up.
Key Signing: Shinji Okazaki
Key Man: Marc Albrighton
Verdict: Will be safe so long as their strong end of season form continues.
Last season: 6th
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
The Liverpool revolution looks to have ended before it began. After coming wretchedly close to winning that long sought after title two seasons ago, the sheen has worn off, and Liverpool are back to the top seven side they have been for much of the past decade.
Maybe Luis Suárez was just too difficult to replace, and certainly Daniel Sturridge's injury woes made the job harder, but still the sense is now of a Liverpool side that have taken a step backwards. Their return to Champions League football was short-lived indeed. Brendan Rodgers has gone from golden boy to man under pressure. He knows he's fighting for his job this season.
So can he turn it around? Well he's going to try. The club has spent big this summer, and more importantly they look to have spent well. Nathaniel Clyne has had a superstar season at Southampton, while the mega-money move for Belgian Christian Benteke could finally fill that gap left behind by Suárez. Workhorses Danny Ings and James Milner round out a very solid summer's shopping. Add to that a hopefully fit-again Daniel Sturridge and the newfound form of Brazilian magician Philippe Coutinho and this is a Liverpool side that looks as strong as any in the league.
The key will be shoring up that fragile defence from last season. To that end Clyne is a perfect investment, but they will still need big improvements from goalkeeper Mignolet and Dejan Lovren. If it all comes together then they can push for Champions League qualification, otherwise another top seven finish beckons.
Key Signing: Christian Benteke
Key Man: Philippe Coutinho
Verdict: A real threat for top four, but against tough competition look likely to miss out.
Ground: Etihad Stadium
Last season: 2nd
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
Amazing how quickly things can change. The season began with talk of Pellegrini's City side making history and finally thriving in Europe, and ended with Pellegrini being hotly tipped for the sack. Last year was far from what this squad are capable.
Still Pellegrini has been given another year with which to redeem himself. There's little doubt; no Premier League title and no decent run in Europe and he will surely be out of a job by next summer. Manchester City still have the strongest and deepest squad in the Premier League, and in Sergio Agüero one of the league's very best players. There is no excuse not to win.
This is a squad which already oozes quality in every position, from Hart in goal to Kompany and Sagna in defence, Silva, Touré and now Sterling in midfield, and Agüero and Bony up front. And they've strengthened well over the summer too, with big money transfers for Raheem Sterling and Fabien Delph, also stopping to snap up hotly tipped Fulham youngster Patrick Roberts at the same time. All young, all English, and all very good.
Compared to even their highly regarded Premier League rivals this squad looks strong. Chelsea have a fine starting lineup but no bench, United have a solid squad but few world class performers, and Arsenal have a few world class performers but a mediocre lineup and no depth. City really are the best side in the league, and they should win. The fact that they appear to be getting short shrift among many pundit circles just goes to show why you should always come to The Ephemeric for your football tips and predictions instead!
Key Signing: Raheem Sterling
Key Man: Sergio Agüero
Verdict: Without doubt a title favourite.
Nickname: Red Devils
Ground: Old Trafford
Last season: 4th
Manager: Louis Van Gaal
Another make or break season. Van Gaal has had his year to settle in and performed admirably, returning Manchester United to the Champions League and creating an air of progress about the club. Now the club will be expecting results.
Last season's squad was already among the deepest in the league, albeit ridiculously skewed towards attacking players. This appears to have been remedied somewhat over the summer, with the likes of Van Persie, Nani and Di Maria moving on, whilst the club has invested wisely in defensive minded players like Matteo Darmian and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Memphis Depay may be the club's big money signing of the summer, and he will bolster the attack nicely, but the real key signing could turn out to be Morgan Schneiderlin, who provides a real engine in the midfield, something that this side was lacking previously.
They will line up alongside the survivors of the transfer window cull, with the squad firmly focused on a spine of Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Michael Carrick down the middle.
It must be said though, for all the quality in this side, and for how strong the depth is in this squad, how many of these players would truly command an instant place in the best sides of Europe? Wayne Rooney is the key here, but he's getting old now and has struggled for consistency in recent seasons, Juan Mata was pushed out at Chelsea, and their defence is still dependent on the likes of Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling, neither of which have so far been able to live up to the hype.
The biggest concern will be over goalkeeper David de Gea, probably the team's star performer last year, who now appears destined for the exit. Such is the doubt over his remaining a Manchester United player that he's been dropped from the squad for the time-being, with the untested Sergio Romero stepping into his place. If de Gea goes, that could be a real vulnerability for this team.
Key Signing: Morgan Schneiderlin
Key Man: Wayne Rooney
Verdict: With David de Gea, a title contender, without, top four.
Ground: St. James' Park
Last season: 15th
Manager: Steve McClaren
So that great Dutch manager Steve McClaren is back in the Premier League, and hoping he will be an improvement on John Carver, tough shoes to fill. When God opens a window he closes a door or something to that effect. Is McClaren the right man for the job? Well that remains to be seen, he did a solid enough job at Twente, and not a whole lot else besides. But he brings experience and new ideas.
Most probably, talks of returning to contention for European qualification are far too premature. This season the club will do well to stay out of the tussle for relegation, into which they nearly got dragged last year. To help accomplish that, a reasonably sizable amount has been injected by owner Mike Ashley for investment. So far that has delivered the likes of Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic, and Chancel Mbemba, all very promising signings.
The problem right now is that the existing squad is looking increasingly threadbare. Papiss Cissé is still dependable, Moussa Sissoko and Remy Cabella offer something in attack, and Tim Krul is solid in goal. Otherwise the squad just isn't very strong. The new signings will have to bed in right away for the team to develop the kind of chemistry that they had under Pardew and push on for a good solid mid table position.
It doesn't help that concerns still remain over Ashley's ownership of the club, is he going to sell? What hair-brained scheme will he come up with for monetization next? The club tries to project that air of stability, but it's proving too easy too often to poke holes in that illusion.
Key Signing: Georginio Wijnaldum
Key Man: Papiss Cissé
Verdict: Need to gel quickly to push into mid table.
Nickname: The Canaries
Ground: Carrow Road
Last season: Promoted (playoff)
Manager: Alex Neil
God bless Delia Smith, she's always good fun to have in the Premier League. Sadly it doesn't look like she'll be around for long. This is a Norwich side with some real problems about them.
The manager has stressed the importance of sticking with the same group of players, not necessarily a winning strategy for any promoted team, much less when it's still the same group that got you relegated the year before. Out of this bunch it's only really Nathan Redmond who looks full of top flight promise, and one has to wonder if this might be the youngster's last season with the club should things not pan out.
So much will depend on the club's new transfers. Andre Wisdom on loan from Liverpool and Youssouf Mulumbu look like good solid defensive additions, while Robbie Brady has something to offer in midfield. Yet little seems to have been done to address the problem position up front. Cameron Jerome isn't up to it, Ricky van Wolfswinkel is still a flop with a funny name, so the main man looks to be one Lewis Grabban at the moment. Reinforcement here is surely needed before the end of the month if they want to stay up.
Key Signing: Robbie Brady
Key Man: Nathan Redmond
Verdict: Early favourites for relegation.
Ground: St. Mary's Stadium
Last season: 7th
Manager: Ronald Koeman
One of the Premier League's great success stories in recent years, Southampton's rise to the top has been hugely impressive. To think that only a year ago people were writing them off as a club in crisis. Only The Ephemeric had the foresight to predict a strong season amid the doomsayers, and sure enough we were proved right once again.
This season will be hoping for more of the same to consolidate their presence in the top half of the Premier League. Some more big money outgoing transfers have been made, and an assortment of very promising looking signings have come in their place. Cedric Soares and Steve Caulker on loan will be welcome reinforcements at the back, while midfielders Jordy Clasie and Oriol Romeu are very exciting indeed. Southampton appear to be masters of the art of bringing in two very fine players for every one that goes out, all while turning a profit. We'll see if they can maintain consistent performance on the pitch in the coming years, but at the moment they look to be a model for how to run a football club.
It all goes to strengthening what is an already impressive squad. Fraser Forster in goal, Chelsea youth product Ryan Bertrand one of the best left backs in the league last season, while Graziano Pelle had a very solid start to life in England.
But at the same time they will faced much stronger opposition from their improved rivals, while certainly missing the presence of Morgan Schneiderlin in midfield. This is a strong squad, but matching last season's finish will prove a tough ask, any top half finish will likely be considered a decent result.
Key Signing: Cedric Soares
Key Man: Graziano Pelle
Verdict: Looking to consolidate their top half presence but will do well to break into the top eight again.
Ground: Britannia Stadium
Last season: 9th
Manager: Mark Hughes
Last year we predicted a strong season from Hughes and the boys, and they duly delivered. Mark Hughes has done a very impressive job with this team in shaking off the utilitarian ways of Tony Pulis and building a side that can play real football and play it well.
But they don't look done just yet, so far being the most active Premier League side in the transfer market this summer. They have brought in experience and quality in the likes of Glen Johnson, Shay Given (albeit to replace the outgoing Asmir Begovic), Ibrahim Afellay, record signing Xherdan Shaqiri, and Marco van Ginkel on loan from Chelsea. These are the kinds of players that Stoke fans would never have dreamed they'd see at the club. It appears Bojan was not an outlier, but the start of a new trend of exotic European imports at the club.
For this reason Stoke will be one of the more interesting sides to watch this season. No one expects them to push for Europe, and they probably are safe from a relegation tussle, but to watch this club's continued evolution from the rugged jalopy of football into something representing more of, if not a ferrari then an alpha romeo, is fascinating.
Key Signing: Xherdan Shaqiri
Key Man: Ryan Shawcross
Verdict: Could be a special season for Mark Hughes and his team.
Nickname: Black Cats
Ground: Stadium of Light
Last season: 16th
Manager: Dick Advocaat
The sacking of former up-and-comer Gustavo Poyet came as something of a surprise, but by the end his position had clearly become untenable. In Dick Advocaat, however, they have appointed well. Advocaat has long enjoyed high regard in his own right, he's a good choice to steady the ship and build for the future.
But Dick has a hard time ahead of him if he wants to avoid the drop again this season. He's started well, recruiting Kaboul and Coates in order to shore up that creaky defence, while the loan of Yann M'Vila will give them energy in the midfield. And there is undoubted quality in this team, the likes of Chelsea youth product Patrick Van Aanholt who was one of the signings of last season, midfield engine Lee Cattermole, Jack Rodwell, Steven Fletcher, and even Jermain Defoe is still worth a few goals.
The loss of Connor Wickham will be a big blow, however, and that far too many of the club's recent signings have proved disappointing bodes ill. This squad still lacks a top flight quality striker, and the team depth is paper thin. Advocaat is the right man for the job, but is that enough?
Key Signing: Younès Kaboul
Key Man: Lee Cattermole
Verdict: A tough season and likely relegation contender.
Nickname: The Swans
Ground: Liberty Stadium
Last season: 8th
Manager: Garry Monk
Ex-captain Garry Monk's appointment as full time manager was greeted with some skepticism initially, but last season he proved himself to be one of the sensations of the year. Swansea last year reached their highest ever Premier League finish, and did so while maintaining their commitment to swift attacking football. Monk seems to have them firing consistently on all cylinders, and the groundwork is there now to consolidate their position.
On paper Swansea are still a very impressive team. Gylfi Sigurðsson has been on top form since his return to the club, while Gomis has proved himself to be an able replacement for Bony. Jefferson Montero and Jonjo Shelvey are dangerous attacking players, and new signing Andre Ayew could prove to be an inspired bit of business. Crucially, the club has not lost a single first team player this summer, which can only foster the kind of consistency that teams need to develop in this league.
Expectations are probably set at another top ten finish, while semi-realistic hopes can be pinned on pushing for a top seven spot and a potential European place, or alternatively a strong cup run with a day out in Wembley. Hitting these hopes will rely on the board staying strong for the rest of the transfer window, and the club's new signings bedding into the team quickly.
Key Signing: Andre Ayew
Key Man: Gylfi Sigurðsson
Verdict: Swansea have strong foundations and will push for another top half finish.
Ground: White Hart Lane
Last season: 5th
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Mauricio Pochettino has had a strong start to life at Tottenham. Finishing in the top five was not a result beyond the realm of possibility last season, but certainly at the higher end. Ultimately Spurs were able to maintain greater consistency than a host of close rivals including Liverpool and Southampton.
Now they need to kick on. They've brought in a lineup of solid, if hardly headline making, signings, and offloaded a few of their big money flops like Paulinho and Soldado. They've kept ahold of Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen, and in Eric Dier they have a rock solid defensive prospect.
They have a solid squad and a new stadium on the way now, but still one gets the impression that they haven't improved over the summer to keep pace with their rivals. The holy grail of Champions League qualification looks just as far away now as ever, and instead it looks as though they'll be fighting a familiar battle to be top of the Europa League qualifying sides.
There also has to be some worry over Harry Kane, about whether he was just a flash in the pan or if he can keep his form going from last season. Time will tell, but ultimately Pochettino is unlikely to have any higher ambition than repeating last year's finish.
Key Signing: Toby Alderweireld
Key Man: Harry Kane
Verdict: Top seven probably, top six, possibly.
Ground: Vicarage Road
Last season: Promoted (2nd)
Manager: Quique Flores
It's hard to make heads or tails of this Watford side. Four managerial changes in one season, a summer of transfer free-for-all that has seen no fewer than eleven new signings come in. It's been a hectic year for the club, and no one is quite sure what to think.
For starters, there's not much use in appraising their performances last season as a guide of future success when so much of the team has changed. Sure, these are some solid signings, Premier League talent in Valon Behrami and Etienne Capoue, some old La Liga charges of Flores, most notably Jurado with whom Flores combined to great effect at Atletico. But few of these players have ever played together, and it's anyone's guess how well they will gel.
If Flores can get them to play as a unit and do it quickly, then they have a solid chance at survival, otherwise it could be a bad year for the club. In the meantime, what does this say to the fans and players that the squad which so admirably achieved promotion is cast aside so unceremoniously, deemed not enough to cement their place in the top flight?
Despite all the spending and new faces, this is still a squad with serious holes in it. Watford could badly use another wide player, and probably another striker to partner captain Troy Deeney. Ultimately this all adds up to a season of uncertainty ahead.
Key Signing: Jose Jurado
Key Man: Troy Deeney
Verdict: Premier League enigmas, but will do well to escape relegation.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Ground: The Hawthorns
Last season: 13th
Manager: Tony Pulis
An up-and-down season for the Baggies saw them headed, as predicted, for relegation. But before that could happen the board swooped in and replaced the outgoing Alan Irvine with one Tony Pulis, and thus the day was saved.
Tony Pulis is one of the very best when it comes to winning Premier League points with only meager resources at your disposal. He did it with Stoke, and he did it with Crystal Palace. With Pulis at the helm, West Brom will be safe from relegation.
Instead the club find themselves in a much different position. Sound financial footing, squad stability (assuming Saido Berahino stays), and a solid foundation to build on. Indeed keeping Berahino has been the most important news of the summer, but equally the signing of Rickie Lambert will serve them well, and while the big money move for Hull defender James Chester may have raised some eyebrows, he was one of the few shining lights of Hull's doomed season, and should proved a good addition.
Still there is no denying that this is a small squad by Premier League standards. A few key injuries could land the team in hot water, and a great deal will depend on whether they can get a few more faces in before the transfer deadline.
Key Signing: Rickie Lambert
Key Man: Said Berahino
Verdict: Should be safe, but on the lower end of mid table.
WEST HAM UNITED
Nickname: The Hammers
Ground: The Boleyn Ground
Last season: 12th
Manager: Slaven Bilić
As we predicted last year, Big Sam got the boot from West Ham, despite doing a pretty solid job of consolidation in a season that saw the club finish one place higher than the previous, and make a long awaited return to European football via the Fair Play rules.
Decisions like this usually do not have pleasant consequences, which would make West Ham a serious contender for disaster this year, especially with the added burden of Europa League football taking its toll on the players. Fortunately for Hammers fans, the club have done well in recruiting Slaven Bilić as the new man on the bench. You may remember Bilić from when he was the next big thing in management while at the helm of Croatia a number of years back. While he never really hit those heights, his buzz was still well earned, and he will do a good job of juggling the club's various priorities this year.
We're expecting a rather strong season from the club which should see them finish in much the same part of the table as last year. They've brought in an impressive few players, most notably Dimitri Payet and Angelo Ogbonna, while keeping ahold of key players like Diafra Sakho and Cheikhou Kouyate.
Make no mistake, the club will be relieved to have dropped out of the Europa League so early in qualification. After all the last several years are full of stories of recently promoted clubs doing well, only to collapse the following year under the weight of all those fixtures. Their elimination means the club has freedom to concentrate on the league, and with these players and manager they should be in for a fruitful nine months.
Key Signing: Dimitri Payet
Key Man: Diafra Sakho
Verdict: A nice solid mid table finish.
1. Manchester City
2. Manchester United
10. Crystal Palace
12. West Ham
13. Newcastle United
15. West Brom
16. Aston Villa