EPL Season Preview
The Premier League is set to kick off again - here's our definitive run down on what you can expect from every top flight team this season.
After going nearly a decade without silverware, back-to-back FA Cup winners Arsenal will be looking towards bigger and better things this year. The acquisition of Alexis Sanchez last year pushed them to just four points shy of 2nd place and this year, while quiet in the transfer market, they have addressed what's been their biggest issue for some time by bringing in goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea. Chelsea captain John Terry went as far as to claim Cech "would be worth 15 points" to Arsenal this season. Why Chelsea would allow one of their biggest rivals this advantage remains to be seen but The Gunners won’t be complaining.
Key Players: Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey, Petr Cech
One to watch: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Almost an entirely new look Villa this year after surviving the drop last season by the skin of their teeth. They will sorely miss Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Fabian Delph (Man City) and Ron Vlaar who have been the mainstays of their spine for a few years. They have topped up on some City outcasts in Scott Sinclair and Micah Richards while securing the controversial Emmanuel Adebayor on loan from Tottenham Hotspur. They will be hoping Ligue 1 stars Jordan Amavi, Jordan Ayew and Jordan Veretout can hit the ground running in the Premier League but big question marks early.
Key Players: Scott Sinclair, Jordan Veretout, Emmanuel Adebayor
One to watch: Jordan Ayew
In the top flight for the first time in their history and are sure to be crowd favourites as they will be playing the under dog card from day dot. They have made some good signings by acquiring experienced players in Sylvain Distin and Artur Boruc to shore up the defence and, interestingly, spending £8 Million on left back Tyrone Mings who has loads of potential. Cristian Atsu, on loan from Chelsea, will be looking to make a name for himself in the League this year and earn a spot in Chelsea’s rotation in the future. There will be some memorable highs this year for Bournemouth – although it is likely that the lows will out outweigh them.
Key Players: Tyrone Mings, Sylvain Distin, Josh King
One to watch: Cristian Atsu
Dominated from the get-go last year and will be looking to do the same again this year. ‘The Special One’ Jose Mourinho is clearly pleased with his squad after a quiet transfer window, only adding Asmir Begovic (Stoke), Nathan Aké (Atletico Paranaense) and Radamel Falcao (AS Monaco). All eyes will be on Falcao to see if he can recapture his form from Porto and Atletico Madrid and not repeat what was a horrid year at Man United last year. With Diego Costa set to miss the first few games, we might find out soon. The team to beat.
Key Players: Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa
One to watch: Falcao
Alan Pardew may be one of the biggest tools in world sport, but he worked wonders last year to save a seemingly hopeless Crystal Palace from relegation. They have spent big on his former 'Mag' Yohan Cabaye (£12.8 million) which is a great get for Palace and will slot in nicely next to their Aussie skipper Mile Jedinak. They will also be hoping their new £9 million man Connor 'Muscles and Tatts' Wickham takes a break from the Geordie Shore lifestyle and Marbella day clubs and starts to play some consistent football. Not a relegation risk but not strong enough to push for Europe either.
Key Players: Yohan Cabaye, Mile Jedinak, Jason Puncheon
One to watch: Wilfried Zaha
Had a horror start to last year but ended the season well to finish 11th. A quiet yet productive transfer window bringing in the much-maligned Tom Cleverley and ex-Barcelona wing/forward Gerard Deulofeu who undoubtedly improve the side. Roberto Martinez is a talented manager who will be looking for his side to start well and push for a place in Europe. The big question before the transfer deadline is will John Stones stay?
Key Players: Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, Leighton Baines
One to watch: John Stones
A huge late kick last year saw them escape relegation and finish a very respective 14th in their first season back in the Prem. They have lost Esteban Cambiasso (who looks to be signing with Greek giant Olympiacos) who was pivotal last season, but have done well to add Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Christian Fuchs (Schalke 04) and some premier league experience in Robert Huth (Stoke). Former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri brings a lot of experience to The Foxes and they will be hoping for a quick start this year to avoid last year's scramble.
Key Players: Shinji Okazaki, Leonardo Ulloa, Jamie Vardy,
One to watch: Ben Chilwell
It’s fair to say that no manager is under more pressure from the first day than Brendan Rogers. Now a different looking side from the one that infamously ‘let it slip’ two seasons ago. A Gerrard-less Liverpool will take some getting used to, although new captain Jordan Henderson has turned into a complete midfielder. With the departure of Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge expected to be out until October – there will be huge pressure (especially after the failed Balotelli experiment) on new signings Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino to be the prolific scorers Rogers needs in his system. Securing James Milner on a free transfer and Nathaniel Clyne from Southampton is also great business. Rogers halo appears removed and if he doesn’t get results going his way early he might be out of the job come Christmas – that being said, Liverpool should be right on the heels of a Champions League berth come the end of the season.
Key Players: Philppe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge
One to watch: Joe Gomez
Will the £49 million spent on Raheem Sterling be seen as a gross case of over-spending or the move that brought the title back to Eastlands? Only time will tell. At times last year City appeared one-dimensional in attack and Sterling most certainly offers the unpredictable and dazzling. They possess the best striker in the EPL in Sergio Aguero (when he is healthy) and have ample talent behind him to launch a serious Championship assault. Like Brendan Rogers, Manuel Pellegrini is on borrowed time if he does not get off to a good start with his talented squad – especially with talented managers Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti currently without a job.
Key Players: Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure
One to watch: Raheem Sterling
They have brought in some serious players (for some serious cash) in Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay – who could be anything. Louis Van Gaal will be hoping to push through a transfer for Barcelona’s Pedro as soon as possible and Falcao (Chelsea) and Robin Van Persie (Fenerbahçe) leaving will allow Wayne Rooney to play closer to goal where he is most deadly. Between Rooney, Depay, Mata and Pedro – goals wont be an issue. The biggest problem for The Red Devils is in central defence where there doesn’t seem to be a pairing capable of withstanding some of their rivals frontlines reliably. The ongoing transfer saga of keeper David De Gea is also a worry; they simply cannot afford to let him go.
Key Players: David De Gea, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney
One to watch: Memphis Depay
Outspoken owner Mike Ashley wants a top 8 finish and that ambition is to be applauded, especially for a side that conceded 63 goals last season and just managed to escape relegation on 'Survival Sunday'. I don’t think Newcastle supporters will be getting carried away with what Ashley says – they will be content just to end their five straight derby losses to Sunderland. They have spent big on exciting signings – particularly Dutchman Georginio Wijanldum, but will need to reinforce their defence if they are to climb up the table. New manager Steve McClaren, recently sacked from Championship side Derby, will be out to prove England wrong after his infamous tenure as manager of the national team where they failed to qualify for Euro 2008.
Key Players: Moussa Sissoko, Geoginio Wijanldum, Daryl Janmaat
One to watch: Rolando Aarons
Bouncing straight back to the Premiership, Norwich have largely the same squad that was relegated the season before last. They have made some solid yet unspectacular signings in Robbie Brady from Hull and Andre Wisdom on loan from Liverpool while they will be hoping youngster Nathan Redmond can continue on from last season's late heroics that saw them promoted back into the top flight. Ultimately they're lacking the quality to hope for anything more than attempting survival.
Key Players: Robbie Brady, Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, Sebastien Bassong
One to watch: Nathan Redmond
Same again last season for The Saints – developed young players into stars and then had them snapped up by the top teams at season's end. Losing Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United) and Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool) hurts but their squad and youth program is now deep enough to cope. They have added a lot of depth in their squad over the transfer window as they prepare for European competition – most notably Dutchman Jordy Clasie from Feyenoord in midfield. Everything looks positive for the Premier League's consistent over-achievers and should finish well within the top 10.
Key Players: Dusan Tadic, Jose Fonte, Victor Wanyama
One to watch: James Ward-Prowse
For so long, Stoke have been considered the unfashionable side who play through physicality and long balls rather than actual skill. The tongue-in-cheek knock on Messi has always been ‘but can he do it on a wet Wednesday night in Stoke?’ – Arsene Wenger once went as far to say that Stoke ‘didn’t let Arsenal play football’. Under Mark Hughes that stigma has been killed off and last year they finished 9th, winning as many games at home as Liverpool and Tottenham. A busy transfer window has seen them add some big names in Glen Johnson (Liverpool) and ex-barca man Ibrahim Afellay while they will be buoyed by the return of another ex-Barca man Bojan Krkić from a serious injury. Marco Van Ginkel, touted a few years ago as the next big thing from Holland, will be looking to make a name for himself on loan from Chelsea.
Key Players: Charlie Adam, Mame Biram Diouf, Ryan Shawcross
One to watch: Marco Van Ginkel
Sunderland fans are certainly advocates for Dick. They were overjoyed when their saviour from last season, Dick Advocaat, came out of retirement to accept one more year in charge of the Black Cats. Advocaat wasted no time in adding some genuine quality to the squad in the form of Dutch international Jermain Lens, former Spurs captain Younes Kaboul and making former loanee Sebastian Coates a permanent signing from Liverpool. A loan deal for French international Yann M’Vila has also been made official and, combined with the underrated Lee Cattermole, will add plenty of steel and skill in midfield. They are also in talks for another loan deal for exciting forward/mid Adnan Januzaj from Manchester United. Goals will remain the issue for The Black Cats – they will be hoping Jermaine Defoe can recapture the form he showed at Spurs and Adam Johnson can stay out of jail to fire them away from another relegation scrap.
Key Players: Lee Cattermole, Adam Johnson, Jermain Lens
One to watch: Yann M’Vila
Swansea have gone about their business quietly in the offseason – beating off competition for the signature of Ghanaian forward Andre Ayew on a Bosman is great business – potentially the signing of the season. The club's relationship with striker Bafetimbi Gomis is shaky, which is a worry considering former hero Michu has been completely outcast, but the fans simple love manager Gary Monk and he will be offered a lot of patience. They won’t have any trouble remaining out of a relegation scrap but they lack a bit of quality to give European positions a big nudge.
Key Players: Gylfi Sigurdsson, Andre Ayew, Ashley Williams
One to watch: Andre Ayew
Tottenham didn’t consistently threaten Champions League positions last year nor did they give much ground away to anyone below them. Despite an indifferent season, the undoubted highlight was the emergence of Harry Kane who banged in 21 goals in the League alone. Much of their success this year will be dependant on Kane avoiding the second year syndrome that often trouble young players. If the pressure ofthe young Spur's successes wasn’t enough – you can expect the media to build him up as the new saviour of English football in the lead up to Euro 2016. Kane aside, there is plenty of talent at White Heart Lane and all in the right age bracket to make a push towards the top.
Key Players: Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Hugo Lloris
One to watch: Harry Kane
Up from the Championship, Watford have a new manager in Quique Flores and 10 new signings to the first team. As most know from FIFA or Football Manager – ‘Too many signings in a short space of time can disrupt team chemistry’. Flores’ biggest challenge will be to get his eclectic of nationalities to gel as quickly as possible and play a consistent brand of football before it's too late to come back. It could be a master stroke – or it could be an epic disaster. If it all goes pear shaped for Flores – Harry Kewell is managing the under 21’s and we might well get to see him take over as an interim manager.
Key players: Etienne Capoue, Jose Manuel Jurado, Valon Behrami
One to watch: Dennon Lewis
West Bromwich Albion
West Brom were saved last year by Tony Pulis and they are another side who has gone about their business quietly during the off season. Adding Rickie Lambert to be paired with exciting young forward Saido Berahino is a good bit of business and James Chester will shore up the defence nicely. The worry for The Baggies is the future of Berahino – who has made his Champions League intentions clear. With teams like Man City desperate for Englishmen to meet their squad requirements, bids before deadline day seem imminent and that would leave West Brom in real trouble up front.
Key Players: Saido Berahino, Darren Fletcher, Joleon Lescott
One to watch: Saido Berahino
West Ham United
West Ham have the blessing and the curse of playing European Football this season. As is often the case for mid-table clubs, this can prove a distraction from the regular season as it's tough to stretch weaker squads to play multiple games a week. They have spent big over the transfer window with former Marseille man Dimitri Payet already earning rave reviews for his pre-season performances. Extending the loan of Carl Jenkinson from Arsenal was another smart move. Striker Enner Valencia is facing at least 12 weeks out so The Hammers will be praying that their bulsa wood-striker, Andy Carroll, can finally get a string of games together. A move for Man United striker Javier Hernandez appears imminent and that would be a huge boost to their squad.
Key Players: Dimitri Payet, Alex Song, Enner Valencia
One to watch: Diego Poyet