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Season Preview

Stoke City: 2017/18 Premier League Season Preview

Martyn Cooke



Stoke City

Stoke City enter their tenth consecutive season in the Premier League as a team in transition.

Ever since their promotion to the top flight of English football in 2008 The Potters have been widely perceived as the plucky underdogs – a provincial team from a small working class city that was punching wildly above its weight.

The club initially flourished in a siege-like, ‘them against us’ mentality under the guidance of Tony Pulis who implemented a direct, rigid style of play that bloodied the noses of the so-called ‘big’ clubs, most notably Arsenal. Whilst the football purists would turn their noses up at Stoke’s approach the club’s supporters lauded their appearance in the top flight and created

Whilst the football purists would turn their noses up at Stoke’s approach the club’s supporters lauded their appearance in the top flight and created a herculean atmosphere at the (now named) Bet365 Stadium, creating noise and volume that many thought had become lost in the commercialised world of modern football.

But now, nine years on, Stoke’s standing in the game has changed and there is a sense in The Potteries that the club is struggling to grapple with the role reversal. The club is no longer the plucky underdog, they are an established top-ten team that is a financially imposing business built upon the extravagant riches of the Premier League. Stoke supporters no longer see survival or mid-table mediocrity as equalling success – they want to see their club push on and potentially offer a challenge for European football.

That looked like a distinct possibility following the arrival of Mark Hughes. The Welshman arrived in 2013 and shifted the club into a different gear, guiding Stoke to three top-ten finishes in his opening trio of campaigns on the back of employing a new possession-based style of play built around a new generation of technically proficient players such as Marko Arnautovic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan Krkic.

In January 2016, after narrowly missing out on a place in the League Cup final after being knocked out on penalties by Liverpool, there was a sudden belief that Stoke could potentially offer a genuine challenge for European football in the near future.

Unfortunately, that belief has slowly dissipated. For Stoke the 2016/17 season was a demonstration of twelve months of regression that resulted in a bottom-half finish – the club ended the campaign closer to the relegation zone than a Europa League spot and suffered early exits from both domestic cup competitions.

Fragile at the back, impotent in front of goal and seemingly lacking any real plan, it was little surprise to see Mark Hughes come under increasing pressure from the stands. Whilst Peter Coates has backed his manager in the press there is little doubt that Hughes needs to deliver in the forthcoming campaign.

There is a new weight of expectancy in The Potteries and Stoke need to come to terms with the fact that, almost a decade after securing promotion, supporters want to see ambition in the transfer market and a much-improved season this time around.

How has their summer gone?

Mark Hughes has openly spoken about his desire to cut down the size of Stoke City’s current first team squad, reducing the average age of the team and providing young talent with playing opportunities. It is a bold move, although it remains something of a gamble. The sale of Jonathan Walters, Glenn

The sale of Jonathan Walters, Glenn Whelan and Phil Bardsley may present an opportunity for Hughes to freshen up his squad but it also sees three of the club’s most solid, reliable professionals depart. It is a necessary risk if the club wishes to progress but leaves The Potters open to a lack of experience, especially if they start the new campaign in poor form.

The departure of Marko Arnautovic also came as a severe body-blow. The Austrian winger has been one the club’s most influential players since his arrival in 2013 and his transfer to West Ham United, forced through by the 28-year-old less than a year since signing a new long-term contract, leaves a significant gap in Stoke’s attack. Arnautovic was directly involved in almost 25% of the club’s goals last season and his creativity, in a team not renowned for being prolific in front of goal, will be sorely missed.

Stoke have slowly started to rebuild over the summer, although they have yet to make any significant investments. Former West Bromwich Albion captain Darren Fletcher (free transfer) will be a slight upgrade on Glenn Whelan whilst unpredictable Ghanaian winger Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (free transfer) is a direct replacement for Arnautovic.

18-year-old defender Josh Tymon (tribunal) has also joined from relegated Hull City and will compete with Eric Pieters for a spot a left-back whilst Chelsea centre-half Kurt Zouma (season-long loan) will add quality to the heart of the Stoke defence.

Despite their business so far this summer there is still a sense that Stoke need to splash some cash in order to be ready for the start of the season. Bruno Martins Indi, who spent last season on loan at the Bet365 Stadium, is reportedly close to agreeing a permanent move, according to the Stoke Sentinel, whilst Manchester City midfielder Fabian Delph and Crystal Palace winger Andros Townsend have also been linked.

However, it could be the return of Bojan Krkic who was shipped out on loan for the second half of last season and the emergence of exciting Egyptian youngster Ramadan Sobhi that could turn out, as the cliché goes, to be like new signings.

Manager: Mark Hughes

Mark Hughes has received public backing from Stoke chairman Peter Coates over the last six months but he remains under pressure to turn the club’s fortune around after a season of regression. The Welshman certainly has an abundance of managerial experience and he has actually built an exciting team on paper at the Bet365 Stadium since his arrival in 2013, but some of his team selections and tactical decisions in the previous campaign left supporters scratching their heads.

Hughes deployed a variety of different formations throughout the previous year including 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 and it would not be presumptuous to suggest that this constant chopping and changing of formation had a negative impact in the team’s performances. He needs to revert to basics – sticking to one system and selecting the best players at his disposal whilst making Stoke hard to beat – if not, he could find himself looking for a new job by the turn of the year.

How could the Potters line-up this season?


Premier League Verdict

Despite the issues that undermined the club’s performances last season, Stoke City still retain a strong squad that has the potential to finish in the top-ten. Whilst the departure of Marko Arnautovic is a blow and the sale of experiences stalwarts such as Jonathan Walters and Glenn Whelan is a gamble, The Potters still have the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan Krkic and Ramadan Sobhi among their number.

The signings of Darren Fletcher, Kurt Zouma and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting appear solid enough although you would imagine that Hughes still needs to splash some cash and make a couple of big-name signings before the transfer window closes in August. If so, then it could be an exciting season ahead.

With the current squad it is likely that The Potters will finish somewhere in mid-table, safe from relegation but still some way off from challenging for European football. Whether that will be seen as success to Stoke’s expectant, ambitious fan base is a different question.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield Town: 2017/18 Premier League Season Preview

Philip Marsh



Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield Town’s reward for their incredible against-the-odds promotion last season is their first taste of Premier League football.

The Terriers have had a 45-year break from top-flight football since their relegation from the old Division 1 back in 1972.

Now back in the big time, Huddersfield will once again try to defy the odds, this time by securing their Premier League status for another year.

Last season the Terriers, under the watchful eye of David Wagner, continued to impress with their attacking style of football. As the season progressed, more and more people started taking Huddersfield seriously and for some time automatic promotion was a possibility.

However it wasn’t to be, and Huddersfield had to do it the hard way. After seeing off local rivals Sheffield Wednesday over two legs it all came down to the final against Reading.

Wembley has not seen many games with so few chances, in what was an anti-climactic final. The Huddersfield fans didn’t care one bit though, as Christopher Schindler’s winning penalty secured promotion.

How has their summer gone?

Huddersfield have not fallen for the same mistakes previously promoted clubs have. Wagner and the club knew if they wanted to survive this season they needed to invest.

The Terriers have added eight players to their squad, including Aaron Mooy and Elias Kachunga who played a big part last season whilst at the club on loan.

Scott Malone, Tom Ince, Zanka, Danny Williams, Laurent Depoitre and record-signing Steve Mounie have all been recruited to join the Terriers’ ranks.

Most importantly, Huddersfield have not sold a single first-team player in the summer. This combination of old and new players will give them the best possible chance of survival this season.

Their preseason, however, has perhaps not been as successful as they would have hoped. The Terriers beat lower league opposition in the form of Accrington Stanley, Bury and local rivals Barnsley in their only three wins.

The other two positive results came against Bundesliga and Serie A sides, Stuttgart and Torino respectively. The Terriers picked up draws against both these top-flight European teams.

Huddersfield’s preseason defeats came against Udinese and German second-tier side Sandhausen. The latter defeat will be the most disappointing for Wagner, who fielded a near full-strength side against their opposition.

That all being said, preseason form is not a definite sign of how a team’s season will go. If the Terriers can beat Crystal Palace in the season opener, the fans will soon forget who Sandhausen are.

Manager: David Wagner

This season will be Wagner’s first season as a top-flight manager. The energetic and enthusiastic German was one of the Championship’s most exciting individuals last season and will relish this opportunity.

Before Huddersfield, Wagner was Jurgen Klopp’s number two at Borussia Dortmund, which was evident from Huddersfield’s style last season.

Last season Huddersfield and Liverpool played very similar football. Both looked to play their most creative and forward-thinking eleven even if it cost them goals.

The ‘Out-score your opponents’ approach was shown by both clubs. Neither were the most defensively sound side but going forward they caused defences a nightmare.

Last season the Terriers won each of their first five home games by a one goal margin whilst Liverpool won their season opener 4-3 away to Arsenal.

This season Huddersfield will not be able to play quite as open football. Newly promoted teams who try to play open, expansive football will be picked apart by the quality players in the top flight.

It will be a real test for Wagner to keep Huddersfield up, but his popularity amongst supporters is unquestionable. Even if the Terriers find themselves in trouble they will likely stick by their manager.

How could the Terriers line up this season?

Who are Huddersfield’s best fantasy football options?

Fantasy football fans will build the majority of their squad from teams who will compete for European places. Every player will reach that stage where they have a few million left and two or three spots still to fill.

At this point players from less favourable clubs start being picked, so which Huddersfield players are worth taking a risk on?

Steve Mounie and Aaron Mooy are two Terriers players who will pick up fantasy football points this season.

At 5.5m Mooy could be a bargain. He will be influential for Huddersfield this season. If the Terriers do have a successful start to the season, the Australian international will be at the centre of the action.

Mounie, at 6.0m, would definitely be a risky selection but one which could prove extremely valuable. The striker is a proven talent in Ligue 1 in France but he is a complete wildcard in the Premier League.

If you can find a cheap striker who scores bags of goals your fantasy football team has a massive advantage and Mounie could prove to be that player.

If Mounie doesn’t live up to his potential, Elias Kachunga could be a suitable replacement.

Premier League Verdict

A lot of Huddersfield’s success will come down to the impact of their new recruits.

If the Premier League first-timers come good, Huddersfield may well avoid the drop, but the odds are stacked against them.

The team promoted through the play-offs is almost always tipped to go straight back down and Huddersfield are no exception.

Currently, the Terriers do not have much strength in depth in central midfield. If Mooy or Williams pick up an injury, Huddersfield could find themselves a little thin on the ground.

Wagner may try to tempt one or two players with Premier League experience to the John Smith’s Stadium before the window closes to boost Huddersfield’s chances.

Whether they get more players in or not, Huddersfield have a fighting chance of survival. Their summer signings show real intent and even if things look bleak, Wagner will not let his players give up.

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Season Preview

Watford: 2017/18 Premier League Season Preview



Ahead of a third successive year in the Premier League, Watford remain in an almost permanent transitional phase. Under the ownership of the infamous Pozzo family, the Hertfordshire club has failed to stick with a manager for more than one season and this year sees another new face in the dugout.

In their return to the top flight, the Hornets became a favourite of neutral supporters, as a strike partnership of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney proved a tricky prospect for even the sternest of defences. However, since the former’s departure to China in January, the side has struggled.

Under Walter Mazzarri they managed just a 17th place finish last campaign – four places worse off than the previous year and just six points above the drop. Most worryingly, Watford had the 3rd worst goal difference, scoring only 40 in a season which was finished in poor form – losing 9 of their last 12 fixtures.

How has their summer gone?

Silva’s work in the transfer market has brought in three English midfielders: Nathaniel Chalobah (22), Will Hughes (22) and Tom Cleverley (27) and has this week broken the club’s transfer record to bring in striker Andre Gray (26) from Burnley. Another forward to arrive will be less familiar to most English fans: 20-year-old Brazillian Richarlison who arrives from Fluminense.

The additional firepower was a clear requirement after last season’s struggles. It was further highlighted by pre-season fixtures that brought three draws and a defeat from six matches. Watford failed to score in two of those games, and only found the net once on three other occasions.

Gray is an interesting addition and could form a lethal partnership with Deeney. Neither player managed more than 10 goals last season, but Gray had a better goal per minutes ratio than his new strike partner and scored 25% of his side’s goals last term. Arguably, the biggest effect of his move is the loss to Burnley and the increased probability of their own relegation. This may prove crucial to Watford’s survival.

In regards to the new midfield additions, Chalobah and Hughes both have great potential but have played almost exclusively in the Championship. Despite good performances for England Under-21s, doubts remain over their ability to make the step up in the top-flight. It looks likely that they will both play significant roles and will have to deal with the pressure that brings.

Manager: Marco Silva

Since then, Mazzarri has predictably been replaced. His successor, Marco Silva, has been given the task of reversing their fortunes after his short stint at Hull City – in which the Tigers were relegated; a poor result not entirely of his doing. Six of his side’s nine league wins came during his 18 matches in charge, and until the defeat to Sunderland, he held an impressive personal record of being unbeaten in 41 home games.

That defeat effectively sealed Hull’s fate, but the results which followed – a 4-0 defeat at Crystal Palace and the embarrassing 7-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur – raise questions over Silva’s ability to overcome disappointment. At Watford, being unable to reverse poor form will quickly cost him his job. The ex-Olympiacos man appears to be a solid appointment.

How could the Hornets line-up this season?

This formation uses the 4-2-3-1 which Silva used predominantly at Hull and throughout pre-season. The club record signing of Gray suggests that another striker will have to be squeezed in, possibly forcing a move to 3-5-2.

Either formation does, however, bring its own selection headaches. In recent warm-up matches, Tom Cleverly has taken the no.10 role in the 4-2-3-1. Yet this forces Pereyra (arguably the side’s most talented player) out wide. To fit in both club captain Deeney and new singing Gray, Silva will either have to deploy wing-backs (dropping either full-backs or wingers) or play 4-4-2 (losing Pereyra and Cleverly’s preferred position).

Given the manager’s clear formation preference, it will be interesting to see if Gray is deployed as an attacking midfielder/winger. In that system, the full-backs would surely be short of defensive cover. Having multiple options can be a positive. However, if Silva has to start experimenting or too many players find themselves dropped or played out of position, things will start to go south.

Who are Watford’s best fantasy football options?

One of last season’s biggest fantasy football surprises was Watford’s Etienne Capoue, who racked up seven goals and two assists, making him one of the bargain buys. He remains a decent purchase at 5.5m (on the official Premier League game) but it is unclear how frequently he will feature under Silva.

In terms of forwards, Watford’s offer little value compared to the Plethora of expensive (Romelu Lukaku/Harry Kane) and cheap (Tammy Abraham/Kelechi Iheanacho) players available. However, in Roberto Pereyra (6m), the Hornets have a player who could thrive under the new manager and system, after missing most of the last season through injury.

Premier League Verdict

Due to the significant changes in management and personnel, Watford are certain to have an interesting season. Optimistic supporters will argue the case that they have had a brilliant transfer window, by spending big on Gray and recruiting promising midfielders. However, it is difficult to say whether the club has actually improved on the personnel they already had.

Settling on a formation that gets the best of new additions without upsetting the squad will be crucial. If Silva does this quickly then the club should be comfortable. Yet, that is much easier said than done. The squad is still packed with average players and replacing them with other, inexperienced or average players, means that the club may still be heading backwards.

It looks likely that the club will struggle to make any significant improvement on last season’s finish. The performance of newly promoted sides and impact of Gray’s departure from Burnley may well be the biggest factors in determining their success/failure.

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Season Preview

West Ham: 2017/18 Premier League Season Preview



West Ham

West Ham are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2016/17 season and have set themselves up to do so with a number of interesting signings. The Hammers have acted to avoid the signings of last summer, when the club gambled on unproven talents and have instead looked to proven stars.

The club face a tough challenge at the start of this season, beginning the season with a trip to Old Trafford, though they will want to rack up points before facing Everton, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal all in the space of two weeks in late November to early December.

How has their summer gone?

West Ham have been active in the transfer market with a number of high profile arrivals. Two of those have come from Manchester City in free transfer Pablo Zabaleta and loanee Joe Hart, with other proven Premier League stars arriving as Marko Arnautovic joined from Stoke and experienced goalscorer Javier Hernandez signed from Bayer Leverkusen. Highly rated 18-year-old winger Sead Haksabanovic also signed up.

The club have also cut loose a lot of their deadwood, with the likes of Alvaro Arbeloa and Enner Valencia finding new clubs. A number of fringe players have also moved on, as the club cashed in on Ashley Fletcher and Darren Randolph. The only first team player to leave was Havard Nordtveit, who returned to Hoffenheim after failing to adapt to life in London.

On the field, it has been a concerning summer in terms of results with their only win coming over Championship side Fulham. Defeats to the likes of Werder Bremen and Manchester City also failed to convince, but Slaven Bilic has been trying to integrate his new signings into the squad.

Manager: Slaven Bilic

The pressure is on manager Slaven Bilic this season after a disappointing campaign in 2016/17. Despite that, the board have backed him this summer by spending big on several recognisable names and Bilic will be expected to live up to expectations as a result, regardless of his popularity with fans.

Bilic has support from the stands but will need to show more signs of bringing young players through with very little depth to his first team squad. If he can do that, he could become a huge success. If not, his position may be under threat.

How could the Hammers line-up this season?

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Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez will all walk straight into Slaven Bilic’s starting line-up. Jose Fonte may face a struggle, but is expected to start the season as first choice, despite failing to impress last season.

Robert Snodgrass is likely to miss out to Arnautovic, with Andre Ayew the probable choice on the left flank. Mark Noble, Pedro Obiang and Manuel Lanzini are all set to retain their spots in midfield.

Who are West Ham’s best fantasy football options?

The obvious choice is striker and key summer signing Javier Hernandez. A reliable goalscorer everywhere he has been in his career and with a proven track record in the Premier League from his time at Manchester United, he seems a safe bet for any fantasy football squad.

His goal return is an exciting proposition and given that he will be first choice for Bilic this season, if he can stay injury free then he could prove to be a prolific point scorer.

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Premier League Verdict

After some impressive signings this summer, West Ham should certainly improve on last season. Their recruitment has been substantially better than this time last year and is likely to ensure that they can guarantee a top half finish.

Their lack of squad depth may cost them a real shot at European football, but their starting eleven is certainly enough to be up their and fighting. This season may be the start of a process which sees them become contenders in the near future.

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