With under a week left before the start of yet another Premier League season, I take a short look at all 20 teams competing in the 22nd edition of the Premier League. It may not cover everything in a lot of detail, but it’s a short preview, all teams are covered, with, hopefully, most of the key footballing points.
It’s going to be another huge season for Arsenal. Always having to battle themselves, the trophy-less seasons are piling up on each other and with their usual poor start to the season, it’s only a matter of time before they drop out of the top four, potentially this year if North London rivals Tottenham can keep hold of Bale.
Arsenal could have a new stance sooner rather than later in terms of finance. The debt caused by the building of the Emirates has finally been paid off by Usmanov and Kroenke, 7 years after it began. With two very rich owners, Arsenal surely have some money to spend?
Bids for Luis Suarez have been reported in recent weeks, but I still have my doubts whether the money Arsenal are offering is actually available. Arsenal’s squad, although not on a patch with the other top five clubs, isn’t bad at all, having let go of some of the riff-raff in Arshavin, Santos and Mannone.
They haven’t made any ‘stand-out’ signings so far, with only Yaya Sanogo joining the Gunners. In terms of the actual squad, Wojciech Szczesny is a key player for Arsenal. Without him, Fabianski would be Arsenal’s number one, and he’s probably not even good enough for the Championship. Their defence was much more solid last season compared to other years, but they had to make the most amount of last ditch tackles in the league which maybe shows a lack of stopping chances at source, which the bigger sides will punish.
The midfield is where Arsenal really flourish. Mikel Arteta is one of the better holding midfielders in the league, with the ability to pull the strings, picking passes left, right and centre. Arsenal were somewhat hampered by Song’s midfield versatility but they managed to work around it. Rosicky’s improved in recent seasons and if Wilshere can have an injury free season, he may be able to find some form. Cazorla is their main point of attack. He plays between the lines and has a deadly eye for a pass. He’s always a threat in front of goal and gives Arsenal something that they’ve never really had.
Very similar to the likes of David Silva and Juan Mata, just not with as much impact on the game. Walcott has pestered Wenger into allowing him to play CF, but he’s still more suited to the right of the three. Podolski is the main option on the left hand side, scoring some vital goals last campaign and Arsenal will need him to do that again if they don’t sign a marquee striker. Giroud is really their only real striker. Didn’t have a bad first season, but wasn’t setting the league a light following his move from Montpellier. He’s had a very strong pre-season against weak sides, but if he can take some form into the Premier League season, he could be the answer to Arsenal’s problems if, yet again, ‘tightarse’ Wenger keeps his wallet well and truly hidden.
In order to have a go at the the top two, Arsenal need to buy a striker and a centre-back. A rock at the back, and someone to just be very clinical in front of goal would make Arsenal and all rounded side and would really help Arsenal’s playmakers efforts really pay off. We’ll have to wait and see if the Arsenal fans use their usual ‘#WengerOut’ six weeks into the season.
Key Player : Santi Cazorla
Player To Watch : Olivier Giroud
League Prediciton : 4th[divider]
Everyone involved at Villa will have mixed feelings about last seasons campaign. They flirted with relegation for far too long for the fans liking, but Lambert’s introduction of youth to the Premier League and their form to lift them right away from the relegation zones will give the fans confidence heading into the new season. Villa’s fans hearts must have been in their mouths when Benteke handed in a transfer request last month, only for him to sign a new four-year deal a few weeks later.
Benteke carried Villa for the whole season, scoring 19 league goals throughout the campaign. Despite losing to Bradford in the semi’s, it was more good experience for Villa’s young squad to get that far in a domestic competition. The experience the players gained last time out should really help them this season. Villa are seemingly continuing along the young players route, selling experience in Dunne, Holman, Lichaj and Makoun all on frees.
The money they have spent so far this window has been well spent in my opinion. They’ve spent £8million on six players, with five of the six being players who will challenge for a first team place. First signing was Bulgarian midfielder Alexsandar Tonev from Polish side Lech Poznan for a fee of £2.5million. That’s some weight on his shoulders with the price tag, rumoured to be a player highly recommended by former Villain Stilyan Petrov. At just 23, the wideman has made 11 Bulgaria appearances, with three goals, and is one of the oldest members of Villa’s squad!
Six days later, they brought in their next two signings. Jores Okore from Danish side FC Nordsjaelland for £4million and Leandro Bacuna from Dutch side Groningen. Okore is a rock solid centre half. There’s no other way to describe him. Reportedly turned down Chelsea to move to Villa, so just that alone shows his pedigree. Bacuna is a player I’m not too familiar with, but he’s another wideman, an area which everyone could see they weren’t as strong as they could’ve been. That’s the good thing about Villa’s signings, they all fill a gap that was clearly needed.
Antonio Luna came from Spanish side Sevilla as a left-back. Even at full-back, Luna will add a bit of Spanish flare that every team would love to have. Danish forward Nicklas Helenius made the move to the Midlands from Aalborg in the Danish Superliga. A very strong forward in his own right, and will really push Benteke for a starting position. Lambert could play two upfront to compensate for both, but with his ruthless attitude towards Bent last time out, this is unlikely.
If anything, Helenius will offer another source of goals away from Benteke, who may be gone this time next year if he has another season trying to prove he’s worth the £25million price tag touted in the press. Villa’s final signing was goalkeeper Jed Steer from Norwich on a free. With Lambert seemingly pushing veteran Shay Given out of the revolving door at Villa, they needed a back-up to Brad Guzan, which is where Steer slots in. Realistically, Villa just need to continue to rebuild this season. They have a new young squad, with a young, ambitious manager , and it’s going to take time to get back to where they were under O’Neill. Of course, they’ll expect to finish higher than last campaign, and not have the same tension they had fighting off relegation, on the pitch and in the stands.
Key Player : Christian Benteke
One To Watch : Jores Okore
League Prediction : 12th[divider]
In a period of brilliance for Welsh football, they will have a South Wales derby in the Premier League for the first time ever. Cardiff were very strong last season in the Championship, being by far the standout side, winning the title with some ease. They have money to spend due to their extremely controversial Malaysian owners, and have spent very wisely so far this summer.
From my previous blog (http://allballs96.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/welcome-to-the-premier-league/ ) Cardiff have decided to go down the money and signings road, signing some lesser than players, for big money, in a sort of desperation to be ready for the change in class. So far, they’ve brought in four players, for £17million. Andreas Cornelius, a young Dane from Copenhagen is a very tidy striker. A player I’m very familiar with through my Lyngby Boldklub FM save, but in real life he is a finisher. Doesn’t always have the best of games, but if you put the ball at his feet with the goal in front of him, nine times out of ten, he will put the ball in the back of the net. He’s a player who Cardiff needed, someone to feed of the supply from Bellamy and Noone, because upfront, they have a lot of players, but not a top Premier League striker.
At just 20, he could have a very bright future in the Welsh capital. Secondly, was John Brayford. A right-back from Derby who adds greater squad depth in the defensive area. Next was goalkeeper Simon Moore, only 23 years old and has impressed massively at Brentford in recent years. Will probably act as back-up, as Marshall and ex-Peterborough keeper Lewis were the Number 1 and 2. He may push them, but don’t expect too much. Finally, was Steven Caulker from Tottenham.
I’m very miffed as to why Spurs let him go because he is an exceptional talent, who will be an England international. He was very much on the fringes at Tottenham, at 21, so he was only a year or two away from a starting spot. £8million is a large fee, but if he can sure up the bluebirds (redbirds?) defence, then it’ll be money well spent. The rest of their squad is fairly average, but it’s a squad that will be hard working, like Norwich two years ago. I’d fancy them to finish higher out of the three promoted sides, potentially staying up. I like Malky Mackay, and I think he’s a very strong manager, who will take no prisoners. He’ll adapt well to life in the Premier League and the side who have been so close to the Premier League for the last five years, will relish the chance to actually be in the league.
Key Player : Craig Bellamy
Player To Watch : Steven Caulker
Prediction : 16th[divider]
As a Chelsea fan, this season is one of the most exciting for years. Won the Europa League last season, but I still needed something to help me recover from the loss of Drogba. Well, that was all in the back of my mind when Lampard became Chelsea’s record goalscorer, and The Special One, now the Happy One, has returned to the Bridge.
With one of the strongest squads in the league, and probably the best manager in the league with SAF’s retirement, this has to be the season that Chelsea break the Manchester clubs and claim the title, which is more than within their reach. Another summer with no big names leaving, and a few players in.
Andre Schurrle will compete in the three behind the striker, adding more squad depth, while talented Dutch midfielder Marco van Ginkel can play anywhere across the midfield with ease, and has a real eye for a pass. Van Ginkel reminds me very much of a young Wesley Sneijder, it’s just coincidence they’re both Dutch.
Mark Schwarzer has come in as cover for Petr Cech and he’s probably the player I’m most excited about joining! Chelsea have longed for a good second choice goalkeeper, and the Premier League experience he brings is second to none, having been a top Premier League keeper for at least 15 years. The squad already has good strength all over the park. Cech, already mentioned, is still one of the best keepers in the world, whilst the back four contains class with Cole, Luiz, Terry and Azpilicueta.
The midfield is where Chelsea control the games and really show their class. Long standing midfielder Frank Lampard became Chelsea’s all-time top goalscorer last season, and along with the likes of Ramires, Essien (fresh back from Madrid), Mata, Hazard and Oscar, Chelsea can dominate almost every side in Europe with that midfield.
Lukaku looks like he’ll step into the number one striker for next season, but if Chelsea want to be challenging on all fronts, they need to buy a marquee striker. Rooney is being heavily linked as I write this, and he’s a player I’d love to see pull on the Chelsea blue. Realistically, Chelsea have a very strong squad, in depth. They have the squad to challenge on all fronts, and with Mourinho at the helm, anything is possible this season for the Blues.
Key Player : Juan Mata
Player to Watch : Cesar Azpilicueta
Prediction : 1st[divider]
The second of the Premier League new boys are back, seven years after their last crack at it. I think Palace are really going to struggle this season though, with the lack of quality they have in their squad. They’ve lost their only real talent in Wilfried Zaha to Manchester United, and have top goal scorer from last year Glenn Murray out for the start of the season, so they lack a significant amount of talent in their side.
Record signing Dwight Gayle has risen up the leagues, from non league to the Premier League in two years. At £4.5million, I think they’ve overpaid for him, and he’s not really going to help them out this coming season. Some of the players they’ve brought in are Championship quality players, players who, I don’t think, will be able to cut it in the Premier League.
Jerome Thomas is one of the better of their signings, and I have no idea why, but he’s a player I’ve always liked to watch. His style of play out on either wing is very quick and tricky, and he always causes full-backs problems. Another one of their signings, Jose Campana from Sevilla is a playmaker to add to their ranks. He said himself he models his game of that of Xavi, and although not being near that level, he’s the next best thing. At just 20 t00, he has a bright future ahead of him, having represented Spain at every youth age group all the way up.
Alongisde Australian Mile Jedinak, a hard battling holding midfielder, these two are very much chalk and cheese, and they’re games could compliment eachothers, making the central midfield area the strongest in their side. Gayle’s progression suggests that whatever level he’s at, he will score goals. If he can get anywhere around the 15 mark this coming season, he could give his side a really chance of staying in the league.
But, I can’t see it. I think they’re the weakest of the three promoted sides, and I think staying up will be just too much of a struggle for them, unless barmy Bristolian can get the cheque book out and make some marquee signings. They have a few very hard working footballers, with plenty of team spirit revitalised by Ian Holloway coming in midway through last season.
From the ‘Welcome to the Premier League’ article, they don’t have the big bucks to throw at new signings, they have to get a good team spirit, get players in who are hard working, have a high work rate, and really want the team to do well. In the attacking midfield, they have Welsh youngster Jonathan Williams. He’s a very talented footballer, and anyone with a decent eye on Palace has strong words to say about him, saying, and I agree, that he is a more all-rounded player than Wilfried Zaha. That’s big praise comparing him to someone who now plays for the greatest football club in existence. Watch out for him. They’ve retained Kevin Phillips, and at 40 years old, he keeps the feel good feeling around Selhurst Park as the Eagles return to the Premier League. Not the greatest side, and probably won’t set the league alight, but you never know what Holloway can do. Everyone said the same about Blackpool, but I think it’s safe to say we’re all more excited about the cheerleaders than the team itself.
Key Player : Julian Speroni
One to Watch: The Crystal Palace Showgirls
Under new management for the first time in 12 years following David Moyes’ move to Manchester United, Everton are entering a new period in the clubs history. They’re now controlled by Spaniard Roberto Martinez after he left Wigan, and has in turn, brought half the team with him. Arouna Kone, Antolin Alcaraz, and Joel Robles all followed Martinez north to Merseyside.
This is all in a bid to bring Martinez’s attractive football to Goodison Park, and along with Barcelona youngster Gerard Deulofeu joining on loan, we can expect this style. Everton have kept very under the radar this summer in terms of players leaving. They have some top players in their side, who have helped Everton to top 6 finishes in the past.
Baines, Fellaini, Pienaar, all top players who could play anywhere in the Premier League. The speculation in them has disappeared, allowing Martinez to settle in, with some top players and build a team that can get top 6 again, and push for the top 4. Everton have a squad that, in my opinion, is as strong as Arsenal’s, and they regularly make the Champions League qualification spots.
With Phil Jagielka as the clubs captain, they have a strong leader, with plenty of individual leaders around him. The loss of Phil Neville may hurt them, as he was a natural leader on and off the pitch, but they have enough class to get over him. Osman has been a consistent player for Everton over the years, and always comes up with goals when they need them. He’s one of the most valuable players now, and as a fan favourite, he oozes blue blood. Seamus Coleman is a player that I really like. He’s a strong full back, converted from a right midfielder, so he’s comfortable getting forward, and would definitely fit if Martinez was to apply his 3-4-3 formation that he used so effectively at Wigan, as a wing back.
Kevin Mirallas had a very good first season at Everton, and will only go from strength to strength. Powerful down the left hand side, comfortable on either foot and can score goals, giving them another dimension in attack. He’s just one of the huge influxes of Belgian’s taking over the Premier League in recent years. Unfortunately, I can only see Everton going one way without Moyes, and that’s down the table. Moyes had everyone at Everton as a team, from the fans to the owners, they were all as one.
Yes, Martinez is a good manager with a good squad, but can he get the same out of them as Moyes did? I think it’s as hard a job to go into, as Moyes filling Ferguson’s boots. In recent years, they’ve managed to constantly finish above Merseyside neighbours Liverpool, but it may be a season too far for them to do it again.
Key Player: Marouane Fellaini
One to Watch: Gerard Deulofeu
Fulham are a side close to my heart, as my Nan and grand-dad have been season ticket holders for the good part of 55 years. Despite being a Chelsea fan, I can never dislike Fulham. Martin Jol is a very, very good manager. He’s managed some top European teams, and now in charge of Fulham, he has a very good squad to play with.
With Schwarzer leaving, Jol was forced into getting a goalkeeper, and they splashed out on Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg from Italian giants Roma for £4,000,000. Fulham always seem to get their best signings though, for free. This year, Fernando Amorebieta and Derek Boateng are the next free transfers to walk into Craven Cottage, alongside French midfielder Ange-Freddy Plumain.
Not the most technically gifted squad, but they are very hard working as a team, and have Dimitar Berbatov as the ‘main man’. He oozes composure and class. Everything he does on the pitch is with elegance, and when eyebrows were raised at his move to Craven Cottage, he silenced the critics by slotting in perfectly and getting the goals that Fulham needed.
He’s a character, and so is their latest signing, Adel Taarabt on a season-long loan from QPR. Yet to see how these two will play with eachother, they’re two HUGE egos and if they click, it could be one of the best Premier League partnerships next season, but if they don’t, it could see Fulham fall the wrong way down the table and could easily cause an unhappy changing room. It’s a massive call and could be a master stroke; it’s one of those risks. On the financial side of the club, Mohammed El Fayed sold the club this summer to Jacksonville Jaguars Indian owner, Shahid Khan.
I still expect him to pull something out of the bag, like a club record transfer, just to help push Fulham up the table, but as things stand, it’ll probably be another season of mediocrity, finish in the lower half of the table. Fulham are one of those sides who don’t particularly excite anyone. Always last on Match of the Day, and just go by, week by week without little media coverage. It’s a shame, because it’s a good family club and is actually fairly well run, despite that awful Michael Jackson statue. Take it down Khan, take it down.
Key Player : Dimitar Berbatov
One to Watch: Derek Boateng
A surprise promotion for Hull on the crazy last day of the Championship season may have seen them promoted before they were ready. A very Championship-standard squad, with, I’d say one good player before they spent money. Robbie Brady, former Manchester United player, controls their midfield and runs the game for them.
Pitching in with the odd goal, he’s the ideal player for them and has been tipped with moves to the Premier League in the last two years anyway. For me, I don’t think they stand a chance this season and will go down at the first attempt. They just don’t have the squad to challenge. Their only potentially saving graces are the two strikers they’ve just signed, Yannick Sagbo from French side Evian Thonon and Danny Graham on a loan from Sunderland.
With Steve Bruce in charge, they don’t have the best Premier League manager ever, being sacked almost everywhere he goes! A few ex-Premier League players in their squad, they have some experience, but they’re all past their peak. The likes of Koren, Rosenior, Mcshane and Faye. In terms of other signings, they’ve confirmed the permanent signing of George Boyd, and will look to him for some playmaking in the midfield.
Allan McGregor, the former Scottish goalkeeper who will probably be their number one. Steve Harper has also come in, more for experience than anything else. He’ll give a massive boost around the club, and give some quality advice to the youngsters at the club. More premier league experience in the signing of Honduras international Maynor Figueroa. Bruce has managed him before at Wigan, so knows him and his game well. I stick by what I said; they are really going to struggle this season.
Tactically, Bruce is going to have to come up with something extraordinary to get the most out of this group of players to even give them a sniff of staying in the Premier League. In fairness, I think just one season in the Premier League can help them financially for the next few years. The money gained from TV rights and ground sell-outs is almost six times larger than that gained in one season in the Championship. I think the fans also have to be realistic. They have to look at their squad and realise that it’s going to be very hard to not go straight back down. Last time Hull were in the Premier League, they made the KC Stadium something of a fortress, taking points of some of the big teams, but it was their away form that was the worst in the league. This does give them hope, because if Bruce can improve on their away form, they might be able to pull themselves over the ‘40-point’ line.
Key Player: Danny Graham
One to Watch: Robbie Brady
Liverpool have been lurking outside the Europa League places now for a few seasons after constant Champions League’s. This season could be the season that they start to jump back up the table, and leap above Merseyside rivals Everton. Rodgers had a difficult first season, with controversial Uruguayan Luis Suarez holding the team up on his own.
It’ll be a weird season for Liverpool though, with it being the first season without legend Jamie Carragher at centre-back after his retirement. Steven Gerrard still continues to captain the side, and does it very well, alongside being England captain; he is the biggest fans favourite in the league.
As I’m writing this, Suarez is still a Liverpool player, but with offers being thrown in from everywhere, rumours of transfer requests and court action, Suarez could be out of the Anfield club before the season starts. That would be a huge loss for Liverpool, and they would find it extremely difficult to replace a player like him because he’s just so unique for a striker today.
They have a strong squad, in all areas, and with Rodgers’ inspired signings this summer, they’ve only added to that. The signing that stands out for is that of Iago Aspas. I watched a lot of Spanish football last season, for no reason what so ever, and outside of the top two, Aspas was one of the players I picked out as being a very talented footballer. Had a troubled youth on the pitch, but he’s really showed his class in recent years and deserved his move to a big club.
In Joe Allen, they have a player who can pick a pass, and really links the defence and attack brilliantly, a really underrated player in my opinion. The signing of Philippe Coutinho in January was a steal. Cheap price tag because of the troubles currently at Inter, he came in and was the stand out Premier League player in the latter six months. His vision, eye for a pass, weight of pass and ability to be a goal scoring threat outside of Suarez makes him the ideal signing for Liverpool. He’s a player I really like.
Simon Mignolet is a very good keeper who has a big future ahead of him at the top of the game. They’ve lost Pepe Reina on loan to former manager Rafa Benitez, now at Napoli. Although they’ve replaced him with Mignolet, Reina’s experience in and around the club could be a big loss for the club. Many Liverpool fans saying that Champions League is gettable this season, and I agree with them. Like Everton, they have a strong squad, and it could be very tight between them, Arsenal and Spurs for that fourth and final Champions League spot. May sound stupid based on past performances, but they can do it. Rodgers is a good manager. He proved that at Swansea, and without the distraction of Europa League football this season, they can actually focus on the league and give it a real good shot.
Key Player: Luis Suarez
Player to Watch: Philippe Coutinho
It’s all change at Manchester City too, like many of the top European clubs. Mancini had done fantastically at the Etihad, winning City their first Premier League title, but, the lack of harmony around the squad was too much for the Italian to crawl back, so the Arab owners felt it was time for a change, and that was what happened.
Manuel Pelligrini left the train wreck that is Malaga, to move west to the blue half of Manchester. Pelligrini’s biggest achievement was his Champions League runs with Villareal, but without a title in Spain in almost ten years there, including a spell at Real Madrid, it is a very dubious appointment. Every club would love to have their strike force as their biggest asset, and that’s exactly what City have. Losing Tevez to Juventus could’ve been seen as a huge loss, but its been overshadowed by the signings of Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic, two fantastic players. Add them to Aguero, Dzeko and young talent Guidetti, Manchester City have a wealth of strikers in front of them.
They’ve also paid big money to top up the squad, and allow them to go for the title again. £30million on Fernandinho, and £17million on Jesus Navas has made their squad more all-rounded and given them so much strength in depth. For me, their best signing of the summer is Navas. Came of the bench a lot for Spain in the Confederations Cup, he impressed everytime I saw him pick up the ball.
Combination of pace, balance, strength and that Spanish flair, he’s a player who could really light up the Premier League this season. Anxious to get back to the top of the table after United took it back from then, but with all the changes all over the league, I don’t think they will win the league. Pelligrini needs time to get to grips with the league. Although they’ve made some good signings, they missed out on the signing they really wanted, Spanish playmaker Isco, who chose Real Madrid ahead of being reunited with his Malaga coach.
One thing Pelligrini needs to do, is not openly ciriticise almost the whole team to the media. Terrible management. Hart is one of the best goalkeepers in the world right now, accompanied by captain Vincent Kompany, who has gone from strength to strength since slotting into City’s defence. Renowned now as one of the best players in world football right now, and rightly so, and its so evident they miss him when hes been out with injuries. Zabaleta is a player I’ve never really rated, but constantly getting into the Premier League Team of the Year shows I’m wrong. Into the midfield and like many of the top European sides, they have a strong midfield.
Yaya Toure’s strides forward must be absolutely terrifying for defenders and are almost unstoppable in the League. David Silva is their playmaker, pulling the strings in between the lines and is another goal threat. With his tricky feet and low centre of gravity, he proves very hard to play against and very little sides can stop him. Overall, they have the squad to challenge on all fronts, and need to prove themselves in Europe. Two seasons of mediocrity in Europe have left some City fans disappointed and showing a lack of progression, however well they do in the league.
Key Player : Vincent Kompany
One to Watch : Jesus Navas
Prediction : 2nd