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2013-14 Premier League Season Preview – Part 2

English Premier League

2013-14 Premier League Season Preview – Part 2

Part 2 sees the final 10 teams competing in the Premier League this season, as well as the full prediction table.

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Manchester United

If you’re a United fan and under the age of 27, you’re about to see something new at The Theatre of Dreams. Sir Alex Ferguson is gone. After joining the club in 1986, Ferguson announced his retirement at the end of last season, leaving United fans all over the world devastated. Personally, as a fan of another Premier League team, it’s a positive thing, actually allowing other sides a bite of the cherry!

The next question was, who’s going to attempt to fill his boots? Step up David Moyes. 11 years at Everton proving everyone wrong every season, he’s earned the right to step up to the Old Trafford seat. For me, as much as I think he’s earned the right, he isn’t the manager that United need. They need to continue to win things, and yes, Moyes has done well with little budget at Everton, but he’s never won anything. You can make all the excuses in the world, but the facts are, he hasn’t won a trophy in 11 years. He’s doesn’t scream ‘winner’ like Ferguson did, and I can only see United going down the table instead of being on top of the table.

For me, if Moyes can guide United to a cup win, it’ll be a successful first year without Ferguson, and it’ll be a stepping stone for Moyes to go on in further years. That’s how big a season it could be. It still baffles me how much United won. From actually looking at their squad, they don’t have a standout squad that strikes you as being very good. With Ferguson still working behind the scenes at United, expect the same top quality signings for small fees, unlike Bebe. What an awful footballer.

It’s been a difficult summer for United. The signing of Varela is their only signings, a young defender who wont make first team appearances this season. They’ve been reportedly hot on the tails of almost every central midfielder in Europe. Fabregas, Thiago, Schweinsteiger & Gundogan are just some of them.

With City, the ‘Noisy Neighbours’ getting louder in recent years, its making for an exciting rivalry that’s enticing people all over the world. The loss (again) of Paul Scholes could be massive for the club on a negative note, but with Giggs now a player coach and Phil Neville coming in as a coach, there is a real feel good buzz around the squad. The problem United currently have, is with Wayne Rooney.

Adamant that he wants to leave, after openly saying asking to leave in 2011 was the “biggest mistake of his life and it’ll never happen again”, it could be very hard to keep him. With Chelsea looking for a striker, they’re willing to go to almost any level to recruit the Shrek look-a-like, but do they sell to a rival? They proved that it’s a bad idea with RVP’s debut season in the North-West of England. But, do they keep an unhappy player? He must be on a very large salary, so keeping someone who won’t play and if he does won’t give his best is surely not the character Moyes would want around the squad, worsening moral. I’d think not.

Key Player : Robin Van Persie

One to Watch : David De Gea

Prediction : 3rd

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Newcastle United

An awful season for Newcastle last season, in comparison to their fifth place finish two years ago. The irony of this being that, Pardew signed an 8-year deal, making it almost impossible for him to leave for at least five years.

They majorly under-performed last season, because they actually have a very talented squad. So talented that they were assembled with two years, leaving very little chemistry between the players. Their only signing of the summer has been Loic Remy on loan from QPR, making it 11 French players in the Newcastle squad. Along with an additional two French speaking players, surely these players would have a good chemistry? Seemingly not.

Wanted man Moussa Sissoko had a cracking debut against Chelsea, winning them the game, and then almost vanished on the pitch, having very little impact. Probably their most technically gifted player, is central midfielder Yohan Cabaye. He runs the game for the Geordie’s. Killer balls for the strikers and a dangerous set piece, he causes a threat to all teams, constantly putting teams on the back foot. Not the biggest squad in the league, but with the hard-working players like Jonas Gutierrez and Steven Taylor, who genuinely care about the club and where the club goes.

Hopefully they can improve on last season, having allowed the squad to settle and without the distraction of Europa League football on a Thursday night, disrupting their performances in the Premier League. The depth in the squad couldn’t cope with having to play twice a week, and still doesn’t offer a lot of strength in depth. If Krul picks up an injury, like he did last season, leaving Rob Elliot as their back-up, who let the side down.

Another key player for Newcastle is another player I really like, Hatem Ben Arfa. Another Frenchman, with some of the silkiest footwork in the league. His strength, pace and breath-taking bursts forward make him one of the most exciting players in the league. Newcastle relied to heavily on their strikers to get goals.

Considering Demba Ba only spent half a season at the club last year before his move to Chelsea, to get 13 goals and be their top goalscorer is pretty shocking. With the Papiss Cisse ‘Wonga’ row going on, it’s yet to be seen whether or not he’ll play for Newcastle again and that’s where Remy slots in. Remy on a season-long loan is a temporary fix to fill the HUGE gap left by Ba’s departure. He was their man main, no way around it, so it’ll be difficult for Remy to fill, but there’s no doubt in my mind he has the skill set and capability to do so.

Key Player : Yohan Cabaye

One to Watch : Loic Remy

Prediction : 15th

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Norwich City

What a summer it’s been so far for Norwich. A side constantly badgered by Adrian Durham on talksport due to playing Grant Holt is surely over as they sold him to Wigan and completely revamped their side.

With a new found source of money, Norwich have been able to lure some players to Carrow Road with seeming ease, whereas other clubs, trying to get the same players, have pulled up very short. They started off at the back end of last season announcing that Dutch forward Ricky Van Wolfswinkel would be joining the canaries at the end of the season for a fee believed to be around £8.5million. He was quickly followed by making Javier Garrido’s loan move permanent, before July came and the big signings came flooding in.

Nathan Redmond, the young, tricky English winger has been impressing everyone with his Championship performances at Birmingham. He’s been on the verge of a Premier League move for a few seasons now, but the experience he’s picked up in the Championship will stand him in good stead, instead of making the move three years ago.

Next up was Swedish left sided player Martin Olsson from Blackburn. A versatile player who’s comfortable anywhere across the back four and left midfield. He’s a player I really like, because I find his style unique and I enjoy the things he does on the ball. Surprised he didn’t take the chance to move back to the Premier League last summer, he had an average Championship season, but Norwich have seen enough in him to bring him back.

Carlo Nash came in as a back-up goalkeeper, but the next two signings are the real marquee ones. Leroy Fer and Gary Hooper. A lot of teams had been on the tails of both of these players, especially after Hooper’s involvement in Celtic’s Champions League campaign last season and Fer impressing in the Under 21 Euro’s over the summer, Norwich have done extremely well to get these two under the radar.

This shows a clear intent by those in charge at Norwich. Out with Holt and in with all these players shows a clear want to play a more attractive style of football, one that can see them continue to climb up the table under Chris Hughton, and adding to the players they’ve already got with the likes of Robert Snodgrass, I player I really like meriting a place in my fantasy football team!

I think everyone was impressed with Norwich last season, especially after I tipped them to go down under new management, but they proved me, and many other people wrong. They showed Lambert why it was probably a bad move to leave them. Realistically, they can really strive to get into the top half this coming season.

A potential cup run with a now more in depth squad could be on, and it would raise morale all over the city. I think they’ll just miss out on the top half, but obviously, Norwich love to prove me wrong, and I’d like them to do it again.

Key Player : Leroy Fer

One to Watch : Ricky Van Wolfswinkel

Prediction : 9th

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Southampton

I was very impressed with Southampton last season. Throughout the surprise sacking of Nigel Adkins and arrival of non-English speaking Mauricio Pochettino, they performed superbly, playing attractive football and getting results.

With Rickie Lambert at the forefront of all things good about Southampton, is he the role model for any young striker in the football league. Two signings this summer come in the shape of Dejan Lovren and Victor Wanyama. Many sides wanted Wanyama, so like Norwich’s signings, they’ve done well to pull that one out of the bag. Lovren is a very strong, experienced defender, who will really help in keeping a few more clean sheets, in the defence that isn’t really helped by not having a top keeper between the sticks.

They have an exciting squad, and with Adam Lallana being there for his whole career, they have a model professional. They don’t have the biggest depth in their squad, but their midfield is strong. Alongside Wanyama and Lallana already mentioned, they have one of the most under rated players in the league. Morgan Schneiderlin. A very compatible central midfielder, who reads the game superbly, running it for them. His pin point passing accuracy, along with world class vision makes him a perfect deep lying playmaker. Get’s very little plaudits for his work in stringing defence into attack down at St Mary’s, and very slow to blow his own trumpet, I’m happy to do it for him! I’ve seen a few other people on twitter sharing similar views, and rightly so. Just watch him this season, you’ll be amazed at how much he does with very little recognition.

Back to Rickie Lambert, and after a fantastic debut season in the Premier League, Lambert is the main man at Southampton, and if he can have another good season, Southampton could propel themselves into the top half of the table, and , like Norwich, would want a serious cup run to boost morale and give them serious Europa League credentials, which they already have in their squad.

Down to the well run side of the club up with Nicolai Cortese, Southampton’s top half finish is seem as ambitious, but reachable, and when Southampton set a target, they reach it. Gaston Ramirez has now had a season to settle in England, so he’ll probably be better this time around. Pochettino, as a young, foreign manager has done extremely well to connect the players considering he can’t speak English! He has all the skills to be successful in the Premier League, and with him in charge, realistic European ambitions within a few years can certainly be met.

Key Player : Rickie Lambert

One to Watch : Morgan Schneiderlin

Prediction : 8th

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Stoke City

After seven years of Pulis’ reign, leading Stoke up and up the football pyramid, Chairman Peter Coates though it was time for a change at the Britannia, sacking Pulis at the end of last season.

The new look Stoke will now be headed by the Premier League ‘pass the parcel’ boy, Mark Hughes. Sparky’s been around the block a bit, making this his fifth Premier League job in nine years, having very little success at all of them, apart from Blackburn, with a less than 50% win ratio at every team he’s managed. So is he the man to bring success to Stoke? Probably not. It might not have been attractive to many, but under Pulis, Stoke had a way of playing that worked.

The worry is, that Hughes comes in and tries to change the style straight away, to quickly. That won’t work. The players there were brought to play Pulis’ way, so trying to convert them to Barcelona-like footballers, is not going to work. Their two signings show a slow progression to changing the way they play, with Dutch left back Erik Pieters and Barcelona defender Marc Muniesa have come in to begin the change, but as defenders, there’s very little they can do.

When you look at the squad itself, and with Hughes trying to change their ways, they could really struggle this season. Managing to persuade Asmir Begovic to stay and to prize Jack Butland from the likes of Chelsea, will leave some big competition for the number 1 shirt at the Britannia.

Hughes has a strong back five to choose from, so leaking goals shouldn’t be a problem. It’s scoring them where I think Stoke will struggle. Crouch, Walters and Jones are all capable of scoring, but scoring 15 goals + is almost impossible for any of them. They are all big, physical strikers who struggle technically, but in the air are top class players.

It’ll be good to see whether Hughes still uses the ball in the air to get some kind of end product from his strikers. In midfield they have a lot of depth, but no real stand out player. And that’s the story of Stoke’s squad, no stand out player. I think the fans have a big part to play this season. They have to get behind Hughes, whatever he plays, otherwise I can seriously see Stoke struggling.

Even without the fans, I think Stoke will go down this season. A change isn’t what they needed if they wanted results, and with other sides who finished towards the bottom improving over the summer, they could see themselves fall behind them, which could be fatal for them.

Key Player : Ryan Shawcross

One to Watch : Marc Muniesa

Prediction : 18th

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Sunderland

The Black Cats start their first season with eccentric Italian boss Paolo Di Canio, and their appears to be hugely mixed feelings on how well they’ll do.

Many people have said they favour Sunderland to go down this season, with Di Canio having no Premier League experience, only that of League One. That is true, but despite the scepticism surrounding his arrival, he got on with his job, and drove Sunderland to safety, most notably, the Newcastle match at St James Park with the infamous knee slide. A game that, surely, won over the Sunderland faithful, like any win over Newcastle would do.

For more pluses, Sunderland have only added to their squad. They lost Mignolet to Liverpool early on in the summer, so had plenty of time to replace him, which they haven’t really done, but Vito Mannone looks like he’ll be their number 1 after his £2million move from Arsenal.

 

They spent the £9million of Mignolet money on other areas of the pitch. Goals were a problem for Sunderland last campaign, and the £6 million Jozy Altidore is the answer to their problems. Many people will remember him from his poor spell at Hull a few years back, but the potential he showed scoring first team goals at 16, has finally started to come through. A few good seasons at Feyenoord, scoring 38 in 67, which is much better than the rest of his career, being played 87, scored 18, an embarrassing goal scoring record for one of the brightest talents a few years back.

He joins a whole host of good players flooding into the North East, which has me wondering, why are people placing Sunderland so low in their predictions? It’ll take a few weeks to gel, but if they do gel, they will have a very good side.

They may have tightened up at the back with French defenders Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge both joining on frees, from Lazio and Maritimo respectively. Karlsson, the forward has come in with a view to another option for the Black Cats. Impressed in Sweden, despite scoring very little goals, but at 19, Di Canio will hope to mould him into a top player in years to come.

Cabral and El-Hadji Ba are the two cheaper midfielders to come in, both with similar talents and offer a new dimension  to Sunderland’s side. The box to box, strong midfielder is growing ever more popular with Yaya Toure heading that charge. The likes of Diame are poor mans Toure, and that could be the tag thrown upon Cabral. Holding predominantly, but loves to get forward whenever possible. His goal against Spurs in Hong Kong highlighted that perfectly.

Along with Altidore, the big name signing is ex-Juventus winger Emanuele Giaccherini for £6.5million. A small, tricky Italian, who will suit Di Canio’s style of football down to the ground. Used now as the man behind the striker, another role which has grown over recent years. Sold in order to raise funds, it shows he was still wanted at Juve, a high praise for anyone. With 14 Italian caps to his name, he brings a spark to Sunderland which they’ve never really had.

If their pre-season is anything to go by, Sunderland could be in for a good season. Impressively beating Spurs 3-1 in Hong Kong before narrowly losing to Man City, whilst showing real signs of togetherness. My league judgement is just above the relegation zones, more based on the fact no one else thinks they’ll stay up. I think they’ll be comfortable, but negativity surrounding Di Canio and his side are hard to hide from.

Key Player : Emanuele Giaccherini

One to Watch : Sebastian Larsson

Prediction : 17th

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Swansea City

A first major trophy for Swansea in Laudrup’s debut season at the Liberty Stadium will see the Swans competing in the Europa League this season.

Now, it all depends of what sides Laudrup puts out in these games, but a strong side fielded on a Thursday, as we’ve seen, seriously hampers a side on a Sunday afternoon. Swansea could be an exception to this rule, but I can see them staying in mid table, rather than surging up the table, challenging the likes of Liverpool for the top 6 or 7, somewhere they are capable of getting.

Having the most spoken about in Premier League history in Michu must be a burden. His goals may take a back foot this season, with the signing of Ivorian forward Wilfried Bony. A strong, fast striker who will get himself on the end of anything the Swansea wingers throw at him, and comes as Swansea’s record transfer, at £12million. How many Michu’s can you buy for that?!

A very Spanish style of football looks set to continue in South Wales, with three more Spaniard’s coming through the gates. Jordi Amat, a £3.5million defender from Espanyol is just 21 years old, and will challenge for a starting centre back role this season. Probably brought as a replacement for Williams, who hasn’t actually left yet, but seemed certain to leave a month ago. The two Spanish midfielders, Canas and Pozuelo will spice up their midfield.

Along with Jonathan De Guzman coming back on another season long loan, and Jonjo Shelvey signing from Liverpool, Swansea’s midfield is becoming one of the strongest outside of the top four.

No major losses for Swansea, can give them a real chance at the top 6 if they don’t let the Europa League become a distraction. An exceptional pre-season, resulting in 28 goals and just the one conceded, shows a real progression for the Swans, with their second season under the ex-Danish midfielder Laudrup. Their style of football has people all over Europe admiring them, and dates back to the days of Roberto Martinez. They baffle sides all over the league, and have picked up plenty of points in the last few years against the sides who compete in the Champions League.

They’re a side I really like, based on their style of play which just makes them exciting to watch. They have a difficult start to the season with United and Spurs in the first two weeks, but if they can get any points from those games, they’ll set themselves big targets for the coming season.  A return of the South Wales derby gives another special incentive for Swansea fans.

Key Player : Ashley Williams

One to Watch : Wilfried Bony

Prediction : 10th

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Tottenham Hotspur

Despite finishing fifth last season, I think it was an unsuccessful season for Tottenham. A fourth place finish the year before, showed a drop in league position, and their Europa League performances were very poor.

They relied solely on the Welsh  wizard that is Gareth Bale, compared too having a well rounded squad in years before. This ‘one man team’ tag could be gone midway through this season for two reasons. One, he could be gone. Real Madrid are hot on his tail with world record figures, but Levy seems very rigid in terms of allowing a move. Secondly, Tottenham have signed three very good players in this summer window, strengthening in all areas of the pitch.

Paulinho, a holding midfielder signed for £17million from Brazilian side Corinthians. Along with Dembele, Spurs have one of the strongest central midfield partnerships in the league right now. Nacer Chadli, the next in the Belgian invasion of England. £7million from FC Twente for another tricky winger, with raw pace and natural ability. Long spells in Holland for the 24 year old have given him the experience he needed, and the Belgian caps are just a bonus. If he settles in quickly, he will really challenge Aaron Lennon on the wing. Finally, the big money, club record signing Roberto Soldado. £26million worth of striker, the area Spurs are really weak on after Adebayor’s recent declination. A proven goal scorer, who everyone knows about. His poaching ability is up their with the best in Europe, but his move has been overshadowed with reports saying ‘they can only afford him because their selling Bale’. I don’t think so.

Spurs have recouped a lot over recent years, and haven’t spent big, and with Bale demanding an improvement, Levy feels its time now to really improve the squad, to give them the best chance of Champions League football, something that would make Bale want to stay. Very clever from possibly the hardest negotiator in modern football.

On the out side, the departures of Clint Dempsey and Steven Caulker really slipped under the rug. No one saw their moves coming, and both becoming established players, I was shocked, but, they won’t hamper their chances this season. Realistic ambitions are the top four. Its what Tottenham need to  make the next step up, instead of constantly being in and around the Europa League.

One season of Champions League football gave them a taste of the big time, but a second bite of the cherry was thrown away by Chelsea, and they’ve failed to make it since. A cup run would be nice for Spurs fans, who haven’t won a trophy now in a few years. Personally, I still cant see them jumping above Arsenal, purely because Wenger always seems to get something out of his players, that just isn’t there.

Key Player : Gareth Bale

One to Watch : Jan Vertonghen

Prediction : 5th

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West Brom

A very good season for Steve Clarke and his baggies last season, shocking many on their league position through performances alone.The stand out being the final day 4-4 against Manchester United, showing they can compete with the best.

On a depressing note, Romelu Lukaku has returned to Chelsea, their main goal threat, but their summer signings have made up for this loss. Nicolas Anelka is almost the direst replacement for him. Had a tragic time in China, so his return to the Premier League (again) sees him at the Hawthorns with the intention of scoring goals, goals and more goals.

Goran Popov, the ‘spitter’ has returned on another season long loan and the final signing was Uruguayan centre back Diego Lugano, on a free from PSG.

Experience seems to be the key for West Brom this season, but it could be vital if they want to stay away from the drop again. West Brom are one of the teams who don’t have the most technically gifted players, but they have a squad that battles hard, every minute of every game and doesn’t give the opposition a moment of peace.

Steve Clarke, after years of being an assistant, made the step up to manager at the Hawthorns last season after Roy Hodgson’s departure, and surprised almost everyone in how well he did. He learnt from the best though, with years under Jose Mourinho.

Another player who stood out last season was another striker, in the form of Shane Long. Small, pacey striker who finishes almost everything put in front of him. Uses his pace well to get in behind the back four, and with a real composure about him, he’s able to calmly slot home.

Peter Odemwingie looks set to leave the club this summer, 6 months after that disaster at QPR on deadline day. Another striker is probably needed, and it’s what the fans want. Anelka and Long will provide goals, but will they get enough to cover the loss of Lukaku? Probably not. Matej Vydra’s name is being thrown around the mill as a potential signing after announcing himself in England with an impressive season on loan at Watford. He would solve their problems, very similar to Long in his approach, but I think the two would work well together.

It’s all well and good having the strikers, but they need the players to supply them. Scott Sinclair has had a horrid time at Manchester City, and looks set to leave this summer, with the Baggies in pole position to sign the former Chelsea man. He would’ve worked with Clarke at Chelsea, like Anelka, and knows what he’s about.

Confident in his management style, West Brom have unearthed a bit of a gem in Clarke, who could go on to manage at the height, with him already bookies favourite to be the next Chelsea boss if Mourinho is sacked within one year. Big praise. Personally, I can’t see them having as good a season this year, but not too much of a drop that’ll see them fighting of relegation.

Key Player : Diego Lugano

One to Watch : James Morrison

Prediction : 13th

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West Ham

West Ham survived their first season back at the top, thanks to some good management by Big Sam. The worry is for this season, like every team, with the second season syndrome.

Personally, I cant see it being a problem for West Ham, and like Swansea, I think they’ll go on, from strength to strength. Their style of play was slaughtered in the media, but it worked. They didn’t cave in and try to change their ways, they stuck to their guns, brought in Andy Carroll and exploited teams playing that way. He’s now signed up on a permanent deal, and is the goalscorer West Ham need to push up the table. Along with Carroll.

West Ham look set to sign Stewart Downing. Can they recreate the brilliant form at Liverpool that saw them score one goal? Let’s hope not! The other two signings, Razvan Rat and Adrian have both signed on frees. Razvan Rat, the very experienced Romanian can provide a new dimension for West Ham at full back. A strong player, solid, who can attempt to sure the Hammers up at the back. Adrian is a strong goalkeeper, who will provide veteran Finn Jussi Jaaskelainen with some challenge. At 38, there will be question marks as to whether or not Jaaskelainen can play every game like last season, but he played extremely well last season, I see no reason why he can’t. If he can’t, Adrian is a more than adequate replacement.

These players adding to what is already, a fairly strong, mainly British squad. Kevin Nolan was a key player for them last season, and will look to have a similar impact this time around. Jack Collison is still improving as a player, and has a perfect role model in Joe Cole, after his return to Upton Park in January.

Realistically, West Ham can look towards the top half in terms of finishing this season. 10th last season was very good, and a similar finish this season would be a success for the claret and blue side. A cup run would also be ideal, before West Ham risk becoming one of the nobody teams who no one really cares about.

Mohamed Diame was one of Wigan’s best players two years ago, and it’s no surprise that they went down, the same season he left. Yet to really hit it off and West Ham, this season could be the one for him. As I mentioned before, teams now are loving the holding midfielder who can bomb forward and have an impact. Diame is just that, and the power he brings to a side is evident. From corners and free kicks, with his height, along with others, he can cause a threat in the air. Anyway in which you have any small chance of scoring is a positive, and this is certainly what Diame brings.

One of my favourite players ever is also plying his trade now in East London and that’s former Blue, Joe Cole. “He’s here, he’s there, he’s every f*****g where, Joe Cole, Joe Cole” what a song, fit for a legend. I love watching him play, and it kills me to see him do well at West Ham, but I’m glad, after years of Liverpool ruining him, he’s found his feet again and can play the way everyone knows he’s capable of.

Key Player : Andy Carroll

One to Watch : Joe Cole

Prediction : 11th

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