You hear it at the start of every season, but this time it really is true. The coming Premier League season promises to be the most competitive of all time from top to bottom.
Sir Alex’s retirement has helped to open up the title race, with new boss David Moyes facing a tough first season in charge whilst Manchester City and Chelsea strengthen. In the battle for fourth, Tottenham will be praying they can hold onto Gareth Bale and finally overtake their North London rivals into a Champions League spot. It looks more likely than ever that that will happen.
Everton, under new management themselves after Moyes’ departure, will be looking to grab an unlikely Champions League spot, along with the likes of Liverpool and Swansea, with the trio set to battle it out for sixth place.
Those sides in mid-table have all improved their squads well, and the battle for a top half finish is set to be contested by more teams than ever before. As a result, some teams who expected to challenge higher up the league may find themselves in a relegation battle along with the three promoted teams.
New managers, new world class signings, a new season of excitement; the Premier League is back.
Season number eight has been and gone for The Gunners without a trophy; a great source of frustration for the fans, with Arsene Wenger’s position coming into question, and excellent ammunition to mock the club with. But in that time, Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League every season without failure; a feat that seems to be the club’s main objective at the start of every campaign. But focusing on Champions League qualification is no excuse; Arsenal are a huge club and should have the resources to challenge on several fronts. There’s always this year.
However, for the last few seasons, it’s been a case of scrapping into Champions League qualification by the skin of the teeth. North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur have finished one point off the Gunners for the past two seasons, and at times throughout both seasons it seemed as if Spurs would be the ones playing at club football’s highest level. With Spurs having a four point lead on their rivals for a number of weeks towards the back end of the season, Arsenal did well to capitalise on Tottenham’s dropped points and clinch fourth place with a 1-0 win over Newcastle United on the final day.
With Spurs continuing to strengthen, looking more and more of a threat to that treasure Champions League place each season, another source of Arsenal fans’ frustration with Wenger is his lack of spending in the transfer market. Big money departures, such as Cesc Fabregas, Sami Nasri and Robin Van Persie, haven’t been replaced to the level Arsenal fans expect, with Wenger taking an extremely cautious approach to his club’s transfer activity. This trend has continued into the current transfer window, with over 25 players leaving the club in one way or another, including the likes of Gervinho, Andrei Arshavin and Johan Djourou. You could call it a clear out, but a clear out normally occurs in order to make space for new arrivals. Young French striker Yaya Sanogo, signed in the first week of July, remains the only new addition at the Emirates.
Their main transfer target this summer has been Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, the sort of quality signing the club should be making. But despite Suarez’s desire to leave Anfield, Liverpool are desperate to hold onto the controversial striker, and it’s set to be another prolonged transfer story that won’t resolve itself until the window slam shuts. In the meantime, Arsenal must turn their attentions to other potential signings, with the squad containing just 24 players, including the forgotten pair Park Chu-Young and Nicklas Bendtner. All areas of the pitch need some form of reinforcement, and leaving their transfer business so late won’t do much to help the club.
With the likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, in addition to English trio Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, already at the club, new additions would add to the incredible quality within the squad. But unless deals are completed soon, this stands to be Arsenal’s toughest season yet in the hunt for a trophy and to hang onto fourth place. Even praying to the football gods for Gareth Bale to leave Spurs might not be enough. 5th
You don’t have to look too far back to find a time in which Aston Villa challenged for a top four place. After two consecutive seasons in sixth, Villa were in fourth at the halfway stage of the 2009/10 season. Martin O’Neil’s side, containing the likes of James Milner, Ashley Young and Stuart Downing, eventually fell away and once again finished the campaign in sixth, but two Wembley appearances, defeat in the League Cup Final to Manchester United and in the FA Cup semi-final to Chelsea, showed just how impressive the team was.
However, with both O’Neil and the bulk of his squad departing, the last three seasons haven’t been quite so fruitful. Gerard Houllier led Villa to ninth after spending much of the 2010/11 season in the bottom half of the table, the much despised Alex McLeish finished with a club record low of 38 Premier League points in 2011/12, just two points and two places above the drop, whilst Paul Lambert’s first campaign in charge needed something of a great escape after a season spent in and around the relegation zone. Add former captain Stiliyan Petrov’s unfortunate retirement due leukaemia and a League Cup semi-final defeat to League Two Bradford into the equation and the result is a season that Lambert, and Villa fans, will be hoping to move on from as quickly as possible.
Lambert’s position was called into question a number of times last season, no more so after the semi-final failing, but owner Randy Lerner stuck by his manager, a decision which was justified with the Scotsman leading Villa to safety. He’s now been given the chance to push Villa back up the table with a squad full of exciting young talent.
The likes of Richard Dunne, Brett Holman and Jean Makoun have all departed over the course of the summer, whilst Darren Bent, Stephen Ireland and Shay Given are amongst the underperforming experienced heads that are expected to leave the club before the end of August. The clear out has given Lambert the opportunity to begin his revolution with a number of excellent additions to the youthful squad. Former England U19 goalkeeper Jed Steer, 20, joins from Norwich, former Spain U20 left-back Antonio Luna, 22, joins from Sevilla, whilst current Netherlands U21 international winger Leandro Bacuna, 21, joins from FC Gronigen. A trio of young full internationals have also joined the club with Bulgaria’s Aleksandar Tonev, a 23-year-old winger from Lech Poznan, coming in alongside a pair of Danish internationals who will be familiar to players of ‘Football Manager’, 22-year-old striker Nicklas Helenius from AaB and 20-year-old defender Jores Okore from Nordsjaelland.
Despite the plethora of new names, the most important signing this summer might well be star striker Christian Benteke signing a new contract. The Belgium international, who scored 19 times last season, handed in a transfer request at the start of July, before u-turning 11 days later and agreeing a new four-year deal. With Gabby Agbonlahor enjoying his most prolific season in three and the highly rated Andreas Weimann signing a new deal, the forward options for Villa look as good as any club outside those battling for Europe.
With the likes of ‘keeper Brad Guzan, defender Ron Vlaar and midfielder Karim El-Ahmadi providing some experience to complement the never ending supply of players 23 or under, Villa look to have a promising, talented and, at least to some extent, a balanced squad. They won’t be ready to return to the clubs previous highs this season, but Lambert’s Villa may well be a serious threat in years to come. 14th
After four seasons of near misses and play-off heartbreak, Cardiff finally got over their ‘bottlers’ tag and won promotion to the Premier League in emphatic style as champions by a considerable margin of eight points. However, the backdrop to which the title win occurred took some of the gloss of the success. Chairman Vincent Tan opted to rebrand the club with a change of kit colour and a new badge, angering and alienating the fans who felt their club’s identity had been lost. With the club heavily in debt, it was a step that had to be taken to safeguard the club’s future, but the logic of the decision doesn’t make it any easier for Cardiff fans to take.
With the original bitter anger dying down somewhat, attentions are almost entirely focused on Cardiff’s battle for Premier League survival. It would be soul destroying for the club to come straight back down after such a prolonged fight to get into the top flight, and the summer signings will help to safeguard against that.
Promising young striker Andreas Cornelius joins for a club record fee of £7,500,000 from FC Copenhagen, replacing Heidar Helguson, who has retired. One criticism, if you can call it that, of The Bluebirds last season was that their strikers didn’t score enough goals, and Cornelius will be looking to correct that in his first season in English football. That fee was a club record for all of a few weeks, as £8,000,000 was spent on Tottenham defender Steven Caulker. The highly rated England international is an incredible signing for the Welsh club, and looks set to form a partnership with fellow Englishman and City skipper Mark Hudson. Another pair of Englishman, ‘keeper Simon Moore from Brentford, and Derby’s John Brayford, also come in. Both players have proved themselves to be exceptional players in the Football League and, whilst Moore will be second choice to David Marshall at first, will be looking to make an impact on the Premier League.
With a £9,000,000 fee agreed for Toulouse midfielder Etienne Capoue, the club record transfer fee was almost broken again, but it would seem Spurs have come in at the eleventh hour to complete a deal for the Frenchman. However, it does show Cardiff still have cash to splash, and the £9,500,000 signing of Gary Medel from Sevilla days after missing out on Capoue shows just that. A very impressive signing.
With the likes of Peter Whittingham, Fraizer Campbell and Craig Bellamy possessing Premier League experience, and players such as Aaron Gunnarsson, Craig Noone and Kim Bo-Kyung looking to prove themselves at the highest level for the first time, Cardiff have the right mixture of drive and knowledge a newly promoted team needs to succeed in the Premier League. It’s not going to be easy though for the side that has spent so long in the Championship, especially with the additions mid-table sides have made to their squads. Survival will be an incredible achievement. 17th
You always knew they were going to get back together, they didn’t want to break up in the first place and they’ve been flirting without each other ever since. Finally Jose Mourinho has returned to Chelsea, for who he won two Premier League titles, and a host of other trophies, during his first spell at the club. Since he’s been gone, Chelsea have added another Premier League, a Champions League and a Europa League to their trophy cabinet, but it’s never felt quite right. A bit like being happy with someone else who isn’t your true love. Now with the happy couple reunited, ‘The Special One’ will be looking to add further to his list of honours at the club.
After the Champions League win in 2011/12 and the Europa League victory last season under Rafa Benitez, who eventually won over his critics, Mourinho has a tough act to follow. Success of some kind will be demanded at the Bridge this season, and the new boss has responded by chasing England’s leading striker. Manchester United may claim he’s not for sale, but Chelsea have been persistent in chasing Wayne Rooney, and as with the Suarez and Bale transfer sagas, this one won’t be resolved until the window slams shut.
However, Mourinho has been busy preparing his team of the coming season in other ways, starting with a huge summer clear out. Almost 30 players have left the club in one way or another over the course the off-season, including Oriol Remu and Marko Marin, who both leave on loan, in addition to Florent Malouda who joins Trabzonspor. There is also some speculation that defender David Luiz will be leaving the club with the Brazilian subject to a bid from Barcelona, but Chelsea will be desperate to hold onto him.
As a result, a number of players have come in. In addition to Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne returning from loan spells and looking to make an impact on the first team, Mourinho has made a trio of confirmed summer signings to bolster his options. Mark Schwarzer, an excellent keeper, joins to take the place of Ross Turnball and warm the bench until Petr Cech picks up an injury, whilst young Dutch international midfielder Marco van Ginkel joins from Vitesse. The stellar signing this summer so far is that of Andre Schurrle, who arrives for a fee of £18,000,000 from Bayern Leverkusen. The winger-cum-striker gives Chelsea an incredible wealth of attacking options, whether Rooney arrives or not.
Chelsea have quality in every area of the pitch, from Branislav Ivanovic to Fernando Torres, and from Oscar to Juan Mata. It’s very difficult to pick a fault in the squad. With Mourinho back in charge, it promises to be an exciting, and potentially successful, season at Stamford Bridge. 2nd
After four nightmare seasons of administrations, points deductions and just about avoiding the drop to League One, Palace were again made favourites for relegation at the start of last season. They’d proved their doubters wrong in the past, but not quite so emphatically as this. Instead of scrapping for survival, The Eagles were up the other end vying for automatic promotion. After Dougie Freedman’s excellent start, Ian Holloway maintained Palace’s promotion push, eventually falling away towards the end of the season, settling for a play-off place that looked impossible to achieve at the start of the campaign. A win over rivals Brighton in the semi-finals before an extra-time win over Watford at Wembley saw the Eagles return to the Premier League for the first time since 2004/05.
The stars of the show last season were winger Wilfried Zaha, who leaves to link up with Manchester United after agreeing a move in January, and top goal scorer Glenn Murray, who will miss the start of the season through injury. The pair added quality to an otherwise average Championship squad last season and, whilst Murray remains injured, the pair will leave a sizeable gap in Palace’s XI.
The summer transfer activity Holloway has overseen does little to increase hopes of survival. In addition to Zaha, midfielder Andre Moritz also departs, leaving for Bolton despite playing an important role in Palace’s promotion last season. 40-year-old Kevin Phillips, scorer of the goal that took Palace to the Premier League joins permanently, but he’s unlikely to have much impact in the top flight, whilst journeyman Stephen Dobbie also joins after a loan spell. Elliot Grandin, who worked with Holloway at Blackpool, joins after doing little to suggest he’s Premier League standard, whilst Jerome Thomas spent very few minutes on the pitch last season, but can be a threat if he can find his best form once again.
However, two signings will excite the Selhurst Park faithful. Dwight Gayle, who arrives for a club record fee of £6,000,000 from Peterborough United, enjoyed a successful season in the Championship, and has the potential to be success, if a little overpriced. Once fit, him and Murray will form a potent partnership. The other excellent addition is that of Spain U20 international Jose Campana, snapped up from Sevilla for £1,750,000. The 20-year-old already has 20 games under his belt in the Spanish top flight and will add a touch of class to the centre of Palace’s midfield. The potential loan signing of Marouance Chamakh, who showed some sign of ability in his first few months at Arsenal, could also be a good one. He’ll act as decent cover until Murray returns.
After overachieving last season, it promises to be a tough campaign for The Eagles. Palace fans will hope the likes of Julian Speroni, Mile Jedinak and Yannick Bolasie can help the club to prove the doubters wrong once again and maintain their Premier League status. It looks unlikely though. The main concern for Palace fans is that defence hasn’t been strengthened. Only one team in the top half of the Championship last season conceded more than the Eagles, and, as shown by the last time Holloway managed a team in the Premier League, goals alone won’t keep you up. 20th
After eleven full seasons in charge, Everton must now adjust to life without David Moyes. The Scot took over in March 2002 with the club just three points above the relegation zone in 15th. The Toffees eventually ended the season six points clear of the drop, but remained in 15th, their 9th bottom half finish in ten Premier League season. In the following eleven seasons, Moyes’ Everton finished outside the top eight twice, including seven top eight finishes in a row between 2006/07 and 2012/13. In 2004/05, Moyes’ Everton managed to break into the top four, which at the time was an almost exclusive club, and reached an FA Cup semi-final in 2011/12, three seasons after losing out at Wembley to Chelsea. When financial constraints that meant Moyes often had to sell before he could buy are considered, his achievements on Merseyside have been nothing short of remarkable.
But there was a growing sense amongst Everton fans that Moyes had done all he could; the club was going sideways. A disappointing defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup and missing out on Europe for the 4th consecutive season meant that many see Moyes’ move to Manchester United as a positive for all concerned. The appointment of Roberto Martinez, who led Wigan to FA Cup glory last season, is an excellent one, and he’ll be look to take Everton to the next level. His brand of attacking football, both home and away and against any side, will please the Toffees’ fans after years of being frustrated with Moyes’ negative setups away from home against the top four.
Moyes isn’t the only figure who has been at the club for a number of years to depart in the summer. Former captain Phil Neville announced his retirement from football and, rather like Moyes, although he will be sorely missed after an excellent nine seasons at the club, his performances were in decline and it was the right time for him to leave as Everton. He remains the only major departure from the playing staff this summer, with Martinez building upon the foundations left by Moyes.
A trio of players that worked with the Spaniard at Wigan come in, ‘keeper Joel Robles, defender Antolin Alcaraz and striker Arouna Kone, whilst the highly rated Gerard Deulofeu joins on a season-long loan from Barcelona. With Everton still restricted by a lack of funds, the signings are excellent value for money, especially the £6,000,000 paid for Kone, which could prove to be one of the bargains of the summer considering the cost of prolific strikers in recent times.
It remains to be seen as to whether Everton will hold onto star players Leighton Bains and Marouane Fellaini, but should they do, the squad is packed full of quality. Add Kevin Mirallas, Phil Jagielka and Nikica Jelavic into the mix and it’s clear to see Martinez has a number of excellent players at his disposal. Martinez’s influence will help to push the club on this season; expect them to do well in both cups and the league. 6th
Fulham are like that old pair of trainers you wear when it snows; completely unfashionable, you almost got rid of them a few years ago and yet they remain in your show cupboard and are likely to stay there for years to come. The Cottagers are about to the start their 13th consecutive season in the Premier League, quite an achievement for a club the size of Fulham, and their place in the top flight hasn’t been under any serious threat since their great escape in 2007/08. They’ve ended the season in the top half of the table for three of the past five seasons and even managed to reach the final of the Europa League in 2009/10. Unfashionable, but highly effective.
However, last season was Fulham’s lowest points total (43) since 2007/08, and Martin Jol will be looking to put that right in his second season in charge. Just six points from a possible 42 against the top seven is one of the reasons why The Cottagers couldn’t emulate their 52 point haul from 2011/12. Jol will be aiming to move the club back into the top half of the Premier League, and some excellent summer signings will help that cause.
Excellent Dutch international ‘keeper Maarten Stekelenburg joins for a fee of £4,760,000 from Roma, replacing stalwart Mark Schwarzer, who departs to see out the final season or so of his career on Chelsea’s bench. A defence that was the second leakiest at home in the division last season has also been bolstered by the signing of Fernando Amorebieta from Athletico Bilbao on a free, whilst Sascha Riether joins permanently after a successful spell on loan from Cologne. In midfield, experienced Ghanaian Derek Boateng joins from Dnipro alongside young French midfielder Ange-Freddy Plumain joins from Lens, although the transfer is currently being disputed by a tribunal. Adel Taarabt, beautifully brilliant when at his best, joins on loan from QPR and a deal for Darren Bent is expected to be completed shortly; Berbatov and Bent up top with Taarabt just behind will be a frightening experience for Premier League defences.
With the likes of Chris Baird, Simon Davies and Mladen Petic all departing, the signings Fulham have made have no only replaced those leaving, but better them. The squad also contains exciting young players, such as Kerim Frei, Alexander Kacaiklic and Macello Trotta in addition to the class of Bryan Ruiz and Brede Hangeland. However, the defence is a little short of numbers and that will require further additions before the end of August. Even so, expect Fulham to improve on last season’s 12th place finish. 10th
It’s a rare occurrence for a dark horse to actually achieve promotion, but that’s exactly what Hull did last season. After finishing 8th under Nick Barmby in 2011/12, Steve Bruce took charge, signing the likes of Sone Aluko, Stephen Quinn and Abdoulaye Faye, leading some to think there was an outside chance the Tigers would be right up there come May. However, not many would have predicted they’d win promotion automatically. An excellent season saw them stutter over the line and just about secure second place with a draw against Cardiff on the final day of the season, but it was thoroughly deserved nonetheless.
This Hull side are far better prepared for the top flight than Phil Brown’s side that, although initially finding themselves in the top half, only just survived in 2008/09 before being relegated the season after. An experienced man at the helm with a squad that, on paper, looks far better than the one that took part in Hull’s first spell in the Premier League. Half-time team talks on the pitch won’t be happening.
The Tigers have also had an excellent summer, cleaning up their squad and brining in some excellent additions. Corry Evans, Jack Hobbs, and Jay Simpson are the stand out names amongst a host of players leaving the club, but their departures have been offset by the new arrivals. Competition for first choice ‘keeper has been intensified with signings of Allan McGregor and Steve Harper, whilst defenders Curtis Davies and Maynor Figueroa will hope to make whoever’s between the sticks’ job an easy one. Attacking options have been bolstered with the loan signing of Danny Graham and Ivory Coast international Yannick Sagbo, in addition to George Boyd and Ahmed Elmohaady, who make their loan deals permanent.
Along with the experience of Liam Rosenior, Paul Mcshane and Robert Koren, young players such as James Chester, Cameron Stewart and Joe Dudgeon, all once of Manchester United, will be hoping to prove themselves at the highest level. However, only a very optimistic view on Hull’s squad would give it enough to survive in the ever increasing climate of quality in the Premier League. They will certainly battle and have the potential to do so, but it’s going to be hard to maintain their Premier League status beyond a one season stay. 18th`
Gone are the days when Liverpool were almost guaranteed a place in the Championship League; they’ve been a long way off the top four for the past four seasons. But the ultimate ambition for Brendan Rodgers as Reds boss will be to take them back to club football’s most prestigious stage. Champions League football was never going to return to Anfield immediately and last season was always going to be the start of a transition period. There were some positive signs, such as the emergence of young talent like Raheem Sterling, but only beating a fellow top ten side on two occasions just goes to show how far Liverpool are away from challenging for a top four position.
However, they do have a number of players at their disposal that would get into the starting XI of most Champions League sides. The most obvious player of this standard is Luis Suarez; the striker racked up 23 goals in 33 league games putting in a number of impressive displays. But controversy follows the Uruguayan wherever he goes, with almost all of it self-inflicted. Biting the arm of Branislav Ivanovic, which led to a ten game ban and will mean he’ll miss the start of the season, has been followed by a summer full of transfer speculation with Suarez throwing his toys out of the pram in order to force a move away from Anfield.
With Liverpool reluctant to sell, and adamant that no promise existed saying he could leave if the Reds failed to get Champions League football, the saga will drag on and on with Liverpool either losing their key man or keeping him but having to contend with an unhappy player who could be an unsettling influence at the club. In the meantime, especially with Suarez suspended, Rodgers must focus on getting his side ready for the new season.
Four excellent signings have helped to improve Liverpool’s squad for the coming campaign. Kolo Toure, who arrives on a free from Manchester City, will replace the retiring Jamie Carragher whilst another long standing player in Pepe Reina departs for Napoli and is replaced by former Sunderland ‘keeper Simon Mignolet. Young Spanish forward Luis Alberto Romero joins from Sevilla, whilst fellow Spaniard Iago Aspas has been snapped up from Celta Vigo.
With Jonjo Shelvey the only other major departure, and the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge at the club, Liverpool’s squad looks strong going into the new campaign. But losing Suarez, or playing an unhappy Suarez, will seriously hurt the club. If he does go, Liverpool’s chances of qualifying for Europe look to be gone. Even if he stays, they look slim. 7th
The fact a second place finish in the Premier League and losing an FA Cup final isn’t considered a successful season is a sign of how far City have come since spending the 1998/99 season in League One. However, it’s only fair that after winning the Premier League title in 2011/12 that City’s fans expect silverware year after year. The super-rich owners clearly do to, sacking Roberto Mancini after the FA Cup final defeat. Manuel Pellegrini has been handed the task of regaining the Premier League title, as well as improving the club’s form in the Champions League with City failing to get past the group stage in their two previous appearances.
Mancini isn’t the only man who will go down as a club legend to leave this summer, with Carlos Tevez joining Juventus. The striker, who scored 58 league goals in 117 games, was one of the first huge signings the club made after being taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group and showed their intentions to challenge with their Manchester rivals. Despite the controversy in the aftermath of the incident against Bayern Munich that allegedly saw him refuse to come on, he’ll be remembered fondly by City fans. Kolo Toure, an infrequently used squad player, and Maicon, a flop after joining from Inter Milan last summer, are also amongst those who have left the club
But with the clubs bottomless pit of a transfer kitty, Pellegrini has moved quickly to replace the departing Argentinian. The prolific Alvaro Negredo joins for a fee that could potentially rise to £20,600,000 from Sevilla alongside the exciting Stevan Jovetic, with City spending £22,000,000 to secure his services. The pair will compete with Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero for a starting place, giving City arguably the strongest strike force in the Premier League. Also joining the club are excellent winger Jesus Navas, snapped up for a fee that could rise to £22,900,000 from Sevilla, and attacking midfielder Fernandinho, the most expensive of the summer signings after City were forced to part with £30,000,000 to pry him away from Shakhtar Donetsk. Four world class signings to bolster an already world class squad.
An injury to Matijia Nastasic, one of the signings of last summer, has exposed the one flaw in Manchester City’s resources; a lack of options at centre back. Sign one and City’s squad is complete. The likes of Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabaleta and David Silva, led by Pellegrini’s ability as an excellent manager, have every chance of regaining the Premier League title. 1st
26 years, 38 trophies, does anything more need to be said about football’s greatest ever manager? Sir Alex Ferguson called it a day at the end of last season, ending his managerial career in style by regaining the Premier League title from Manchester rivals City. Upon announcing his decision to retire, attention immediately turned to who was the right man to succeed Sir Alex. On the Scotsman’s recommendation, another Scotsman takes the hot seat. David Moyes has his work cut out to live up to the expectations of Manchester fans and emulate the success of the man before him.
Things haven’t got off to the best of starts for Moyes. A torrid pre-season campaign has, unbelievably, led to some United fans questioning as to whether Moyes is the right man for the job; Welcome to Manchester United, Dave. A 2-0 win over Wigan in the Community Shield would have helped to settle Moyes’ nerves and provide the foundations for a successful season ahead.
He’s also had to deal with one of the club’s star players wanting out. Wayne Rooney has made it clear he wants to leave the club, but Moyes and United are adamant he’s not for sale. After managing him at Everton, Moyes will know he can get the best out of the England striker, and will hope a compromise can be found that pleases all parties and keeps a happier Rooney at the club.
Not only has keeping players at the club proved difficult, but bringing them in to, with United frustrated in their attempts to sign Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona. With Paul Scholes retiring, it’s no secret Moyes wants to bolster his central midfield options, with a move for Luka Modric also rumoured. But, for all the rumour, only two players have come in this summer. Wilfried Zaha, signed by Sir Alex in January before being loaned back to former club Crystal Palace, already has an England cap to his name and will be looking to make an impression at England’s biggest club, whilst young Uruguayan defender Guilermo Varela joins from Penarol. Expect some more transfer activity in the coming weeks, especially with Moyes confirming the club are moving closer to a signing.
As always, United’s squad is filled with class, with the likes of Michael Carrick, Robin Van Persie and Ryan Giggs looking to help retain the Premier League trophy that spent more time than it hasn’t under United’s ownership. However, it’s difficult to say what sort of shape their squad is in until Moyes makes his move in the transfer market, and with the other clubs in the title race improving impressively and Moyes still getting his feet under the table, United’s defence of their title won’t be easy. Hopefully United fans are patient with Moyes if he doesn’t succeed immediately. 3rd
The word ‘crisis’ is overused to describe the state of a football club, but Newcastle are certainly in a bit of a state. Alan Pardew’s job was under some threat at the start of the summer, but Chairman Mike Ashley opted to bring Joe Kinnear back to the club as director of football to assist the gaffer instead of ending his eight year deal early. Kinnear’s appointment has embarrassed Newcastle fans, which hasn’t been helped by the seemingly clueless Irishman forgetting player names in a radio appearance. He hasn’t worked in football since leaving Newcastle in 2009, but Kinnear’s presence is still likely to undermine Pardew’s position. Chaos.
Fans of The Toon would have been hoping for a positive summer after the disappointment of last season. After being in contention for a Champions League spot in 2011/12, eventually finishing 5th, Newcastle spent almost the entirety of the campaign in the bottom half of the table, constantly looking over their shoulder and flirting with the bottom three. Having to contend with the Europa League is an excuse, as is losing Demba Ba to Chelsea in January, but they don’t justify the poor showing. The French revolution of signings midway through the season briefly improved results, but not enough to totally steer the club away from danger, eventually ending the season in 16th, just five points above the drop.
Pressure is now on Pardew, who took the brunt of the blame for the poor performances last season, to turn the club’s fortunes around. However, the club’s business in the transfer window has done little to improve the atmosphere around the club, with Kinnear, whose job it is to find and sign transfer targets, not having much luck. Whilst plenty of players have left the club, such as James Perch, Steve Harper and Danny Simpson, just two players have joined, and one of those is French youngster Olivier Kemen. Newcastle are rumoured to have missed out on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Darren Bent and Bafetimbi Gomis. The one completed deal for a first team player is the loan signing of Loic Remy, who scored 6 goals in 14 games for relegated QPR last season. An excellent addition, but they will be incredibly frustrated and angered to have added any more names to the squad.
On paper at least, the squad looks relatively reasonable in its current shape. The likes of Tim Krul, Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa are all impressive players that would get into most Premier League teams, and they have a strong XI. However, the star names are balanced out by the high number of underperforming players, such as Mike Williamson, Jonas Gutierrez and Gabriel Obertan, that populate the squad. The lack of European football may help with fitness and playing a consistent XI, but there’s no getting away from the fact additions are needed. With the chaos amongst the backroom staff likely to affect Pardew and therefore performances on the pitch and other clubs strengthening, it would appear Newcastle are in for another tough season. 16th
What a turn around it has been for The Canaries over the past four seasons. After dropping to League One and infamously losing 7-1 at home to Colchester United on the opening day of the 2009/10 season, Norwich bounced back to win the division, before securing a second consecutive promotion as runners-up in the 2010/11 Championship season to return to the Premier League. Two mid-table finishes in the top flight have followed; Norwich can begin to claim to be a piece of the Premier League furniture.
However, last season wasn’t without its difficulties. Chris Hughton’s first season in charge saw the club flirt with the relegation zone for much of the campaign without ever being serious candidates for the drop, whilst a defeat at home to non-league Luton Town in the FA Cup 4th round had some calling for the gaffer’s head. It was never going to be easy for Hughton to replace Paul Lambert, who departed for Villa after leading The Canaries up through the divisions, but, despite the lows, the former Newcastle United and Birmingham City manager led his side to 11th, one place higher than Lambert’s Norwich in the 2011/12 season; progress of sorts. Memorable victories over Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal meant the season’s highs outweighed the lows.
The next step for the quickly developing club will be to finish in the top half of the division, and Hughton has been busy in the transfer market in the hope to achieve that. Simeon Jackson, Marc Tierney and Elliott Ward, all players who helped to push Norwich up the leagues, are amongst a grand total of 13 permanent departures from the club this summer. The highest profile player leaving the club is without a doubt former skipper Grant Holt, who scored 68 league goals in 154 games for the club, who joins Championship side Wigan Athletic. Despite Holt’s hero status at Carrow Road, the calibre of player coming into the club means it’s unlikely he’ll be missed.
Ricky Van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper, who can boast impressive goal scoring records for Sporting Lisbon and Celtic respectively, have been brought in to bolster an attack that could only muster 41 goals last season; only Stoke scored less. Exciting talents Nathan Redmond and Leroy Fer join from Birmingham and FC Twente respectively, giving Norwich potent threat on both flanks, whilst a defence that shipped more goals away from home than any other club outside the bottom three has been strengthened with the additions of Martin Olsson and Javier Garrido on a permanent deal. Carlo Nash, whose CV reads ‘professional 3rd choice goalkeeper’, completes the list of summer signings.
With the likes of John Ruddy, Robert Snodgrass and Alexander Tettey impressing last season, the signings add quality to an already very respectable squad. The goals that Van Wolfswinkel and Hooper will bring are exactly what Norwich have been missing, whilst their options on the wing will make some more experienced Premier League sides jealous. There should be no need to look over their shoulders, and no reason why they can’t push for a top half finish in the coming campaign. 11th
Southampton’s rise is not too dissimilar to Norwich’s. Relegation from the Championship, administration and a ten point deduction left the club in tatters four seasons ago, but Markus Liebherr’s takeover not only saved the club, but rebuilt it. £3,000,000 was spent in their first season in League One, including £1,000,000 on now England striker Rickie Lambert, that helped the Saints finish just outside the play-offs despite starting the season on -10. In the first few weeks of their second season in League One, Liebherr died, with Nicola Cortese taking full control and manager Alan Pardew was replaced by Nigel Adkins; Saints ended the season in second and returned to the Championship. A second successive second place finish followed, with the Saints winning promotion to the Premier League, with comfortable survival in their first season back in the top flight completing a remarkable turnaround for the south-coast club.
The slight blip in Southampton’s rise saw Adkins sacked, probably unjustly, half way through last season, much to the anger of Saints fans who worship their former boss. But replacement Mauricio Pochettino has been a breath of fresh air, playing exciting attacking football that saw the Saints achieve wins over Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City at St Mary’s. Those performances have raised hopes of a top-half finish in the coming season.
Those hopes have been raised further by two excellent additions to an already high quality squad. Defender Dejan Lovren joins from Lyon for a fee potentially rising to £8,000,000, whilst the Saints have paid £12,500,000 for Celtic’s Victor Wanyama. Both players have experience at the highest level and Southampton beat a host of clubs to their signatures; a sign of both the spending power and perceived potential the Saints can put across to win over new signings.
The Saints have also managed to hold onto their excellent crop of youngsters, with Vegard Forren, who failed to make an appearance following his move from Molde in January, returning to his former club as the only major departure. The likes of Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Calum Chambers, a young defender who recently signed a new contract, have the potential to reach the top, with the first two expected to play a crucial role this season.
With quality all over the pitch, from Nathaniel Clyne to Jay Rodriguez and from Morgan Schniderlin to Gaston Ramirez, it’s hard to pick a fault in the Southampton squad. They could possibly do with an extra striker or two, but Tadanari Lee and Billy Sharp have returned from loan spell, whilst Emmanuel Mayuka may be given more of a chance this season. With Pochettino in charge of this exciting group of players, a top-half finish is well within their reach. 9th
After ten seasons over two spells of strained necks, Tony Pulis’ negative, physical and direct style of football became too much for Potters’ fans. The normally vocal Britannia Stadium was filled with grumblings throughout last season as Stoke’s Premier League place came under serious threat for the first time since their promotion to the top flight in 2007/08. A late season serge pulled the Potters up to 13th, an improvement on the previous season, but there was to be no getting away from the disappointing campaign.
However, it’s important to remember just what Pulis achieved during his time at Stoke. Taking an unfashionable club from the depths of the Championship to an established Premier League side, who were more than a match for the top clubs in the division, is an incredible feat. Add to that an FA Cup final appearance and a season in the Europa League and it really is a shame Pulis’ excellence at the Potters will overshadowed by the type of football he favoured. He’ll always be a legend to Stoke fans though, and his departure is a bittersweet moment. Heart-breaking to see him go, but poor performances, his stubbornness and a lack of tactical flexibility meant it was time for a change.
The man given the unenviable task of following in Pulis’ footsteps is fellow Welshman Mark Hughes. Hughes enjoyed reasonably successful spells in charge of Blackburn, Manchester City and Fulham, but you’re only as good as your last job and his failing at QPR means that many are dubious towards the appointment. Although releasing the likes of tough tackling Dean Whitehead and infamous throw-in taker Rory Delap is a symbolic move away from Pulis’ regime, It’s unlikely that there will be any revolutionary change to Stoke’s style of football either; he’ll need to pick up points early to avoid the fans getting on his back in what is set to be a tough campaign.
One sign that suggests revolutionary change won’t occur is Stoke’s lack of transfer activity. There’s no getting away from it, Stoke have one of the weakest squads in the division. Only the centre of defence and the options in goal look strong. So what have Stoke done so far this summer? Welcomed a ‘keeper and signed two defenders. Jack Butland will be available after agreeing a deal in January before being loaned back to Birmingham for the remainder of the season, whilst young Barcelona centre back Marc Muniesa comes in. Both players are excellent signings, but they’re signings for the future as Asmir Begovic between the sticks and Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross at the back are unlikely to be dislodged. However, the other defensive addition, left back Erik Pieters, will have a significant role to play in the starting XI with options at left-back weak.
The main concern for Stoke is a lack of goals. No club in the top flight last season scored less, and no player currently at the club jumps out as having the potential to help change that. Jonathan Walters top scored last season with just eight, and new striking options are desperately needed. An attempt to sign Nelson Oliveria on loan fell through, whilst the £17,000,000 price tag Hannover have slapped on former Manchester United strike Mame Biram Diouf will make a deal for the forward difficult, but the club hope a compromise can be reached. However, Hughes has said he his ‘confident’ of getting the players he needs on board before the transfer window closes, so expect a plethora of players to arrive in the common weeks.
Hughes’ task with the current squad is to get underperforming players such as Jermaine Pennant, Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch playing to the best of their abilities again. But even if he can, the squad simply isn’t good enough to compete in the top flight. A number of good quality signings are needed if Stoke are going to avoid the drop this season. 19th
After failing to reach the 40 point mark in their first two seasons in their current spell in the Premier League, staying up by three points in 2007/08 and then just two in 2008/09, the following three campaigns saw the Black Cats settle in mid-table. But last season saw a return to flirting with the bottom three, and for a period last season they looked destined for the drop. In horrendous form under Martin O’Neil and just a point above the relegation zone, the board saw it fit to remove him with just seven games of the season to go.
A gamble was taken in appointing the eccentric Paolo Di Canio; the former West Ham man hadn’t managed in the top flight before but had impressed at Swindon Town in the Football League and it was hoped his enthusiasm would give the players a much needed kick up the backside, rejuvenating them for the run in. It, just about, did exactly that. Two wins, including a 3-0 victory in the Tyne-Wear derby, and two draws from the final seven games saw Sunderland keep their place in the Premier League by three points, finishing 17th.
Di Canio now faces his first full season in charge, and has set about building a squad of his own after speaking publicly about his frustration with both the quality and professionalism of the team handed to him after becoming manager in March. Out go Titus Bramble, Matthew Kilgallon, two of five players released, and £5,000,000 flop Danny Graham, who joins Hull on loan. Ahmed Elmohamady also departs, joining Hull permanently, in addition to three players Sunderland won’t be entirely happy to lose. Alfred N’Diaye, who impressed after joining in January, heads out on loan to Eskisehirspor (no, me neither), James McClean, who had an indifferent season but is still capable of flashes of brilliance, has been sold to Wigan for £1,000,000, and, in possibly the biggest loss, excellent ‘keeper Simon Mignolet joins Liverpool in a £9,000,000 deal.
With the plethora of departures, Di Canio has brought in nine new additions. Goalkeeper Vito Mannone comes in from Arsenal to replace the talismanic Mignolet, whilst the defence has been bolstered by French duo Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge, signed from Lazio and Martimo respectively. Another Frenchman, midfielder El-Hadji Ba, joins from Le Harve. Holding midfielder Cabral joins from Basel, whilst young Swedish winger David Moberg Karlsson joins alongside Italian international Emanuele Giaccherini. Giaccherini has the potential to be one of the signings of the summer, as does striker Jozy Altidore, who joins from AZ Alkmaar after two prolific seasons. Duncan Watmore, a youngster who impressed in non-league football for Altrincham completes the summer signings with over £16,000,000 spent.
With extremely passionate fans, in addition to the amount of money Di Canio has spent, there will be huge pressure on the gaffer to improve on the club’s disappointing campaign last time out. The midfield and forward options look strong, with the likes of Craig Gardner, Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher at the club, but the defence could do with some strengthening, especially in the full-back positions. If Di Canio can make some more defensive additions, Sunderland can battle for the top half, if not, they still shouldn’t have any need to look over their shoulders. They only other concern will be as to whether Di Canio can cut it at Premier League level over a full season; he certainly has the confidence to do so. 15th
It’s a story that’s been told thousands of times, but a story worth telling again. Suffering finanaical in a state of crisis, Swansea needed to win against Hull City on the final day of the 2002/03 season to preserve their Football League status. Trailing 2-1 at one stage, it looked as if the Swans were heading for the Conference, but a hat-trick from local boy James Thomas helped to save the club against the odds. Ten years later Swansea are financially secure, finished 9th in the top flight and won the League Cup, qualifying for Europe in the process. They also have a modern stadium, the Liberty, to place their beautiful brand of passing football in. If Swansea’s story had occurred on a video game, you’d accuse the player of cheating; Swansea’s raise has been nothing short of sensational.
It seems unthinkable now, but some pundits labelled The Swans as relegation candidates at the start of last season. Brendan Rodgers’ move to Liverpool would leave them weak and incapable of emulating their 11th place finish in 2011/12. But Michael Laudrup’s appointment as gaffer proved to be a master stroke with the former Barcelona and Real Madrid superstar not only continuing the club’s passing philosophy but using his contacts in Spain to secure the services of a number of players who had previously gone under the radar. The likes of Michu, Chico and Jonathan de Guzman helped to give Swansea its highest placed finish since 1981/82 and its first major trophy.
Despite speculation that Laudrup would be leaving in the summer, the Dane remains in charge and has spent the off season building a squad ready for what promises to be a gruelling season with the Welsh club looking to battle on both domestic and European fronts. Kemy Agustien, Mark Gower and Alan Tate, a trio of players that were part of the Championship promotion side, have all gone onto pastures new
The departures have made way for a trio of Spaniards with defender Jordi Amat joining from Espanyol, and midfielders Jose Canas and Alejandro Pozuelo coming in from Real Betis, taking the total of Spanish players at the club to seven, whilst de Guzman extends his loan from Villarreal for another season. Wing-back Jernade Meade also comes in after the youngster was released by Arsenal.
Whilst they are all excellent additions, the stand out signings this summer for the Swans could have the potential to be two of the signings of the season across the entire division. Jonjo Shelvey, frustrated by a lack of consistent playing time at Liverpool, joins a team that suits his playing style perfectly, whilst striker Wilfried Bony, scorer of 31 goals in 30 games in the Dutch Eredivise, joins from Vitesse and looks set to form a prolific partnership with Michu. Shelvey has had a lot of unfair criticism fired his way recently, and will be looking to prove his doubters wrong, whilst Bony, although boasting a goal scoring record similar to flops Matias Kezman and Alfonso Alves, as every chance of following in the footsteps of Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Luis Suarez in being a success after arriving from the Netherlands.
Unlike Newcastle, who struggled to cope with the rigors of European football alongside their duties in the Premier League, Swansea’s squad has the strength in depth to cope with everything this season will throw at them. I expect them to reach the knock-out stage of the Europa League, have a say in the latter stages of at least one of the domestic cups and finish in the top half of the Premier League once again. 8th
What more do they have to do to get into the Champions League? After finishing just one place outside of qualification for Europe’s highest level of club football, including a fourth place finish in 2011/12 only for Chelsea’s Champions League win to take their place away from them, a Premier League record points tally for the club of 72 points still wasn’t enough to overtake North London rivals Arsenal, who finished just a point above them for the second season in a row. Despite having sizeable gaps over the Gunners throughout the season, two defeats and three draws from their finals ten games proved costly for Spurs, as Arsenal hit form just at the right time to overtake them into fourth.
However, with that huge points total in mind, there are plenty of positives to be taken from Andre Villas-Boas first season at charge at White Hart Lane. The club continues to grow stronger year upon year, making Spurs the biggest threat to the established Premier League top four. Villas-Boas’ work in this summer’s transfer window has only increased Tottenham’s potential to break into the top four.
Whilst losing Clint Dempsey to Seattle Sounders and Steven Caulker to Cardiff City will be disappointing, the new additions more than make up for the departures. Brazilian international Paulinho, who impressed during the Confederations Cup, signs from Corinthians for £17,000,000. The midfielder, who will bolster a department Spurs are already strong in, is a world class player who will be worth every penny of his rather large transfer fee. Etienne Capoue arrives for £9,000,000 from Toulouse, strengthening the midfield further, whilst Belgium winger Nacer Chadli comes in from FC Twente for a fee of £7,000,000. A further £26,000,000 has been spent on Roberto Soldado, with the excellent striker arriving from Valencia with a prolific record for both club and country. He’ll look to add to the goal threat of the club, with only Swansea scoring less at home last season of the clubs who finished in the top half of the table.
However, the main transfer story at the club this summer has yet to occur, and may not even do so. Gareth Bale, last season’s player of the year, has been the subject of numerous bids from Real Madrid throughout the off-season. It’s crucial that Spurs hold onto their key man if they’re to have a successful season, and with Tottenham not wanting or needing to sell despite Madrid’s offers of over £80,000,000, it looks increasingly likely that they’ll hold onto the Welsh international. Despite Spurs’ resilience, it promises to be another transfer saga that isn’t resolved until the close of the window with Madrid not backing down and Bale rumoured to want a move.
If Bale stays put, he isn’t the type of player to sulk, and his performances shouldn’t be affected. If Bale leaves, Spurs will want it to happen with at least a few days left in the transfer window in order to use the money to improve their squad and cement their position as serious challengers for Champions League football. But there’s already excellent quality within the squad without taking Bale’s presence into account, with the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Mouse Dembele and Lewis Holtby all world class players. After the departures of Caulker and William Gallas, who has been released, a central defender or two is needed to complete the squad, but it looks strong in every other area. Keep a hold of Bale and Spurs are favourites for 4th place, lose Bale and they still have every chance of securing Champions League football. 4th
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
After a season and a half of overachieving under Roy Hodgson, his departure to take on the England job was meant to be met by West Brom sliding down the table after 11th and 10th placed finishes since returning to the Premier League under Roberto Di Matteo in 2010. Steve Clarke’s appointment was seen as a huge gamble, with the former Chelsea, West Ham United and Liverpool assistant only ever taking charge of one game in his career as caretaker of Newcastle in 1999. But the gamble paid off, with West Brom enjoying their best finish (8th) in the Premier League era.
Clarke’s side won many plaudits for their impressive displays last season, including two emphatic victories over Liverpool, a 2-1 win over Chelsea that led to former Albion manager Di Matteo being sacked by the blues, and an incredible fight back on the final day against Manchester United to draw 5-5 and spoil Sir Alex’s party. Even Peter Odemwingie’s car park antics couldn’t derail an excellent campaign for the midlands club.
The incredible fight back against United was inspired by Romelu Lukaku, whose hat-trick was the perfect end to a fantastic season for the top scorer on loan from Chelsea. He now returns to his parent club, and finding someone to step up and cover for the loss of both his goals and all round play will be Clarke’s most difficult task. The signing of a man at the other end of his career, Nicolas Anelka, will hopefully be something of a like-for-like replacement. The strong forward has every chance of scoring a similar number of goals to Lukaku’s 17.
Also amongst those leaving the club are club legend Zoltan Gera, striker Marc-Antoine Fortune and winger Jerome Thomas. With Odemwingie expected to leave too, the Albion are a little light going forward, and a rumoured loan deal for wide man Scott Sinclair will help to deal with that issue, but some strikers are needed. At other end of the pitch, Goran Popov joins permanently alongside experienced Uruguayan centre back Diego Lugano, who promises to be one of the signings of the summer.
Through Ben Foster, Gareth McAuley and Youssouf Mulumbu, West Brom have an excellent spine that was crucial to their success last season. Some meat, in terms of strikers, needs to be added to that spine, but West Brom have a decent chance of emulating their efforts of last season. They’ll be comfortable in mid-table at least. 12th
WEST HAM UNITED
It’s hard to believe, but Sam Allardyce’s appointment as Hammers manager two seasons ago wasn’t universally welcomed. That seems even more startling after West Ham fans had to endure a season with Avram Grant at the helm, a season in which they finished bottom of the Premier League. Allardyce was even criticised whilst leading The Hammers back into the top flight at the first time of asking for not playing in the ‘West ‘ammmmmmm way’, whatever that is. But Big Sam, along with owners David Sullivan and David Gold, has helped to transform the club after former Icelandic owner Bjorolfur Guomundsson’s bankruptcy in 2009 was followed by a season of flirting with relegation before being relegated the season after.
With Allardyce well backed by the owners, the likes of Matt Jarvis, Jussi Jaaskelainen and loanee Andy Carroll all joined the club and helped to push the Hammers up to a very respectable 10th place finish in their first season back in the Premier League. A 3-1 win over London rivals Chelsea was the highlight of the season, and won over any remaining doubters the gaffer had. With Allardyce in a secure position at the club, he’ll be looking emulate the achievements of last season.
The summer so far has seen departures kept to a minimum, with Carlton Cole, Gary O’Neil and Robert Hall the only major players to leave the club; a trio who had little impact on the club’s excellent campaign just gone. In their place come ‘keeper Adrian, a free signing from Real Betis, full back-cum-winger Razan Rat, an excellent addition from Shakhtar Donetsk, and youngster Danny Whitehead, who was recommend to the club by Dietmar Hamann after his time at Stockport County.
The key addition to West Ham’s squad isn’t really an addition. Carroll joins permanently for a club record fee of £15,000,000. Although suffering with injuries last season, the robust striker made a huge impact when fit, and could prove to be a potent threat if he can maintain his fitness this time around. Whilst some will have you think otherwise, there’s not getting away from the fact Carroll is a talented player, but the move to Liverpool has stifled his development; a full season of fitness and regular playing time at West Ham might just see him play to his full potential once again.
With the squad containing some of Big Sam’s handymen, such as Kevin Nolan, Matthew Taylor and Joey O’Brien, in addition to the traditional academy graduates from the self-proclaimed ‘Academy of Football’, with Mark Noble and the returning Joe Cole playing alongside youngsters like Danny Potts, there is an excellent blend of talent, grit and players who know how important it is for the club to achieve. Although a little light in attack, Allardyce has promised to address that area before the season starts, meaning West Ham’s squad will only have strengthened upon the side that finished in a comfortable mid-tale position last season. With others improving too, expect a similar campaign. 13th