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
Monday, 10 August 2015
On August 6th, 2015, we witnessed the figurative end of an era as Jon Stewart retired from the Daily Show after sixteen years. He retires as one of the world's most respected names in nightly news, and the pioneer of a new genre of satirical journalism. His legacy is assured, but in his wake we are losing one of television's last great voices of integrity, one of the few remnants of sanity left in the political discourse.
Looking back at the Daily Show's innocuous beginning as a piece of light entertainment on a mediocre basic-cable comedy station, it seems hard to believe what it has become. Jon Stewart's blend of satire and poignant journalism has far exceeded Comedy Central's meager audience, to the point where Time Magazine has twice named him America's most trusted newsman. But what exactly was so special about Jon Stewart?
Of course, Stewart's contribution to comedy itself can't be overstated. The Daily Show has ultimately sparked a whole new genre in news satire, spawning a series of copycats in the process. Nowadays every network has its own comedy news show, and for many years Comedy Central was running two back to back.
Indeed the Daily Show has turned into one of the industry's greatest producers of comedy talent, serving as the debut theatre for some of today's biggest names in comedy, from Steve Carrell and Josh Gad, to Ed Helms and Lewis Black. Rob Corddry, Aasif Mandvi, Kristen Schaal, Olivia Munn, John Hodgman, the list simply keeps going, full of people who have gone on to have renowned careers in acting and comedy. Then there's John Oliver, who's become a superstar in his own right on HBO, and Stephen Colbert, the man selected to replace legendary talkshow host David Letterman. Few people have ever had the eye for talent that Jon Stewart has.
Stewart and his astounding supporting cast have undoubtedly produced some of television's funniest moments of the past two decades, but it's the insightful commentary and ability to use humour as a spotlight for important issues that made the show truly essential. Nothing on the show was made up, everything came from truth, and the comedy merely served to highlight the absurdity and hypocrisy of the real events around us.
One of the earliest memories The Ephemeric has of watching the Daily Show is with Stewart's "Bush vs Bush" segments, where he would play a clip of the then President saying something, and contrast it to an earlier statement, which would of course be completely contradictory. Then you would switch on CNN and see Wolf Blitzer making some lazy "well that was a pretty convincing speech from the President" comment, with seemingly no regard paid to what should be a fundamental part of journalism; was it right? Was it accurate?
That Jon Stewart's "comedy" show was the only news show in America that deemed it relevant to refer to the facts and call the President a liar when deserved revealed a sad truth about news media to the American people. The liberal and conservative propagandists on the MSNBC and FOX "news" networks may be happy to embrace that the "truth" on Friday may not be the same as the truth on Monday and present obfuscating jargon as "news" in the hopes that nobody notices, but Jon Stewart time and time again would bring them to task, relentlessly and with intellectual honesty. It's this which was his greatest contribution.
So as much as for the jokes, Jon Stewart will be remembered as the man whose common sense deconstruction shut down CNN's Crossfire overnight, the man who singlehandedly pushed the issue of aid for 9/11 emergency workers when partisanship brought Washington to a standstill, the man whose record-setting political rally attracted 250,000 people in a clarion call for sanity. Jon Stewart wasn't just a funnyman, he took on big issues, and in real depth. Perhaps it should say more about the abject, agenda-driven state of today's news coverage that a basic cable comedian could be considered a more reliable source and a more poignant commentator. Ultimately this burden of responsibility is what has worn Stewart down over the years.
It has been clear ever since the infamous Crossfire incident just how big a threat Jon Stewart is to the industry of political theatre. Pundits on both the left and right have stepped up their attacks on Stewart, none more laughably than FOX News, whose standing policy for deflecting criticism of its own horrendous track record for fact-checking and even-handedness seems to be to simply dismiss its critics as biased. That's not even the pot calling the kettle black, that's the pot calling snow black.
Yet even though any sensible person who watches more than just redacted FOX News clips would know to dismiss such plainly self-serving allegations as a mockery, there always remain that section of the populace who will blindly accept as they are told. This is the undeniable and sad conclusion of the work that Jon Stewart has been doing; the reason this hypocrisy and absurdity exists at all is because there is the market for it.
The partisan political theatre is so deeply ingrained into the national discussion that many people, tragically those who are most engaged in politics, simply don't care what is right, what is accurate. It's sport, self-affirming nonsense for people who somehow manage to detach the political process from the real-life consequences it has for the most vulnerable among us. We have disengaged from critical thinking in favour of shortsighted self-gratification. Jon Stewart's entire message is falling on deaf ears.
There's only so many times one can stomach MSNBC's insipid stories and idiotic framing of the news, or FOX and its overt dishonesty and willful perpetuity of ignorance. There's only so many times one can listen to every cable news network's blatant propagandizing and lowest common denominator condescension. Quite frankly there's only so many times one can watch veterans and the poor continually pay the economic and social consequences for policy decisions that have little or nothing to do with the substance of their needs. All the while getting a free-pass from the news media which is more concerned with harnessing the fabricated drama for ratings than presenting the relevant information to the public.
It's tiring enough for a regular person to see all the nonsense that goes on out there, one can only imagine how draining it must be for one's entire career to be focused on obsessively watching and listening to every drop of the crazy. The absurdity and innate silliness of it all isn't changing any time soon, but for Jon Stewart it's just not funny any more.
So where will Jon Stewart go from here? Despite the fact that fans have long called for an entry into politics, he has made it pretty clear that he has no interest in becoming part of the theatre himself. Nor is it obvious how someone who has committed so much of his career to fighting the concept of partisanship would fit into either political party. But that is not to say that Stewart will disappear from the scene completely.
Jon Stewart liked to say (paraphrasing Oscar Wilde) that his show was simply a "conversation" with the public. The conversation will continue, possibly in the form of more film making, following on from the critical success of his debut, Rosewater. As Jon Stewart departs his show he leaves a huge gap of much needed counterpoint to the deteriorating function of our society, but it's clear that wherever he goes next he still has plenty to say.