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Thursday, 14 August 2014

Premier League Season Preview 2014-2015

Looks great in Arsenal ribbons

The World Cup has spanned the gap between seasons very nicely. Three months without the Premier League has passed quickly thanks to the excellent entertainment from Brazil. But now it’s back to business and the start of another season of English football. This is the traditional Premier League season preview where I have a bit of fun assessing the prospects for all our opponents as well as Arsenal.

Aston Villa
The Villans have had a pretty quiet time this Summer. Benteke being injured has meant that they haven’t had to worry about people sniffing around their squad. Their signings, on the other hand, have been less than inspiring. At a time when the owner is trying to sell the club it’s not really a surprise that no money is really available. Bringing in the likes of Kieran Richardson and Joe Cole is odd, while Philippe Senderos is no doubt gutted that his move to Villa has been accompanied by Drogba’s return to Chelsea. I think it might be another long season at Villa Park and it will only be a matter of time before Roy Keane does something. Bottom half.

Back in the Premier League after a stellar season last year I’m pleased they haven’t gone mad with the cash. Sean Dyche will hopefully be given the chance to build his club, regardless of whether the results in the Premier League are positive. They’ve managed to bring in a good few players with Premier League experience, but the legs may well have gone. In a team that is likely to struggle anyway it will remain to be seen how that works out for them. It’s hard to see anything other than relegation, with 17th being like a European Cup win.

Whoever is in charge of negotiating player sales at Chelsea needs a pay rise. They’ve secured their FFP obligations, to their credit, and are now spending a few quid. Of course they have our Cesc Fabregas and that scares me, but I’m not convinced by Diego Costa – his record before last season was not especially impressive. Drogba brings with him his reputation and a bit of a sign over Arsenal, but hopefully he and Mourinho can get some belated punishment from our boys this season. I still think they are lacking all the time John Terry continues to be first-choice, and Mourinho is as reprehensible a figure as there is anywhere in football. Sadly our media love “Jose” so we’ll have to keep putting up with his nonsense for the foreseeable future. Obviously they’re going to be up there challenging, but there are no excuses for Mourinho if they don’t win this year – he’s spent his money and brought in his own players. The pressure is on. Top three, possibly Champions.

Crystal Palace
I predicted bottom place for the Eagles this time last year and said Holloway was the problem. They were going to finish bottom until the point that they sacked the idiot and brought in Pulis. As appointments as Manager go that was pretty inspired. Pulis brought the best out of people like Chamakh and showed what is possible if only you can organise your defence properly. In Julian Speroni they had a fine goalkeeper playing at his absolute peak all season, and they should be held in great affection simply for stopping the scousers winning the Title. I’m not sure about the signings they’ve made so far as they are not really Premier League quality performers, but there will doubtless be more to come before September. You’d be crazy to bet against Pulis keeping them up again this season, so I won’t – lower reaches, but safety for Palace.
LATE EDIT: And right before publishing Pulis is causing a re-write with the reports that he might be about to walk out on Palace! It’s the sort of confusion that nobody needs in any club. Take away Pulis and I would fear for Palace after all.

Did they rob a bank? After years of signing nobody, and selling almost everybody, Everton have splashed nearly £30m on Romelu Lukaku. They’ve held on to everyone important too, including Gareth Barry who has signed a permanent deal at Goodison. If they can continue their form for most of last season (they fell apart a bit after thrashing Arsenal to go in to nose bleed territory) then a UEFA Cup spot is well within their reach. Having spent that money I’d want a decent tilt at a cup run if I was a Toffees fan and they’re my tip for the League Cup, assuming Martinez takes it seriously. Top seven in Premier League.

Hull City
Hull have spent £20m in transfer fees, and recouped none. I’m not sure where that has come from as being runners-up in the FA Cup doesn’t bring in much prize money (nor does being winners in fairness). The players they have signed do not convince me that Hull have bought well. They over achieved for a long time last season, and the FA Cup run masked a dismal last few months. The only thing that could keep them up this year is the other Premier League dross. I think they’ll really struggle this season and be in a relegation battle (and I’d love to see Arsenal go and get Curtis Davies as our third centre-back).

Leicester City
They ran away with the Championship last season to mark their return to the top table for the first time in ten years. Only one new player has cost them a fee, but Ulloa has never played at this level. Their other signings are largely young unknowns, but they’ve added the experience of Matthew Upson in defence and Marc Albrighton will have plenty to prove after being frozen out at Villa. As with many others a 17th place finish should be seen as success.

There have been few finer sights in football than the scousers blowing it last season. The media had already presented them with the Title because, apparently, everyone wanted to see Steven Gerrard get a winners medal. That’s obviously why everyone found his prat fall against Chelsea so funny. Many are actually still laughing now. The sale of Suarez has dominated the transfer market but, after what he did at the World Cup, Liverpool knew they had to get rid, though it probably cost them £20m in terms of his value. Maybe they shouldn’t have always backed him so vehemently in the past. Liverpool have now spent a lot of money, but I don’t know if they’ve got value for it. Lovren and Lallana from Southampton have cost £45m between them, and I am far from convinced by Lallana. He was seriously found out at the World Cup and I fear he might be another Kingsley Black who will struggle badly now he’s at the sharp end. Rickie Lambert has got a dream move to his boyhood club, but in playing terms I don’t see it working out. However, in Divock Origi Liverpool have signed one of the most exciting players from Brazil 2014, a man who out shone Lukaku in the impressive Belgian squad – that being the case I don’t see the point in loaning him out to Lille. It will be tough for Liverpool to emulate last season without Suarez. I see them outside the top four.

Manchester City
The Champions won’t be concerned by their Wembley hammering on Sunday. They lost to Arsenal in a similar way in pre-season last year and it didn’t harm them too much. They continue to show scant regard for the FFP rules and it remains to be seen whether UEFA really have any teeth. I’ve seen it said that City might open the door to others in the Premier League by throwing everything at the European Cup. With their squad they should be able to have a proper go at both so that’s nonsense to me. Mangala should provide a decent partner to Kompany at the back so that ought to make them less easy to get at. I don’t now see where Sagna gets a regular game, but that’s his own fault. You’d have to say that finishing above City ought to just about make you Champions come May.

Manchester United
All hail Louis Van Gaal. Sky Sports has been unbearable since the World Cup. They’re desperation to see their beloved Manchester United get back to the top is utterly sickening. Listening to them you’d swear Van Gaal was Shankly, Ferguson, Clough and Wenger rolled in to one. Believe it or not he hasn’t always had success everywhere he’s been. He also has a particularly poor relationship with the media in a lot of places, so it will be interesting to see how long the brown nosing will go on for. Clearly he’s a better bet than Moyes, and he immediately showed who was boss by sending away the new £30m full-back to get fit. He has the task of bedding in a new defence and that will not be easy. A mediocre start to the season and the new boss will be under pressure, while keeping Ryan Giggs on the staff may also turn out to be a mistake – he was behind the dressing room revolt against David Moyes last year. I’d expect Man Utd to come back towards the top four, but nothing more than that. The FA Cup may provide Van Gaal with the silverware he requires. As for the idea that his 3-5-2 formation represents some kind of football revolution, well that probably tells you all you need to know about the English game.

Newcastle United
Following the nonsense of this time last year when Joe Kinnear failed to sign anyone at all they’ve gone signings mad at St James’ Park, though splashing £7m on two promising players from Forest and then loaning them straight back seems an odd one to me. If I was a barcode I’d be more excited than I have for a while as the only genuine first-choice player they seem to have lost is Debuchy. Having said that they were awful from Christmas onwards and their biggest problem is Alan Pardew. He is a cretin of the highest order and only the ridiculously long contract he is on has kept him at Newcastle. They might need a good start like last year if they’re to avoid a battle at the bottom this season.

Queens Park Rangers
Redknapp and Hoddle? Relegation.

You have to feel very sorry for Saints fans. It was such a wonderful campaign last season and now that squad has been decimated. I can’t believe Ronald Koeman knew what was about to happen when he was persuaded to take the job. In fairness to him he has bought a couple of good players in over the last couple of weeks, but losing a lot of the goals from last seasons team could cost them badly. You’d have to think that this season is going to be one hell of a struggle for Southampton and the only thing keeping them up might be the poor standard of others.

Stoke City
I remember when Bojan was the youngster that the whole World was going to take note of in the Barcelona team. And now he’s at Stoke City. This tells me two things: 1. The value of Mark Hughes as manager is that he played for top clubs and is recognised across Europe as a result; 2. Players have no idea about the clubs they’re signing for or the area those clubs are in. Stoke surprised me last season as I thought they might fall apart without Pulis. I’m not having it that they played a lot of good football as Mark Hughes’ teams are not famed for their subtlety – they certainly reverted to the old ways against Arsenal when kicking us off their cabbage patch. I can’t see anything other than another comfortable season in mid-table, with the odd upset along the way again.

A great escape last season. When we hammered them in March they were down.  There was no way back and they looked like a team with no future. Then Conor Wickham realised his potential and Poyet bringing him in from the wilderness proved a master stroke. At the same time it should be pointed out that Vito Mannone had a stellar season (a deserved fans player of the year at Sunderland last year) and proved that he can be a genuine Premier League goalkeeper when given a decent run, and a bit of confidence. Jack Rodwell can be a big player still if he can actually be fit enough to play, but I think they might struggle again. Bottom half, unless they make a good start.

Swansea City
Garry Monk surprised me last season. I thought when Laudrup was sacked, and Monk took on the job, that it might be game over for them. They actually got back in the groove and played some good stuff. I’m not sure if Fabianski is an improvement on Vorm in goal, but I certainly wish our man well. Bringing Sigurdsson back from Spurs might be good business, but Marvin Emnes is no replacement for Michu by any stretch of the imagination. They need a fit and firing Wilfried Bony or it could be a very long season in Wales. Relegation battle looks likely.

Tottenham Hotspur
This year. Definitely.

West Bromwich Albion
Their board of directors seems hell bent on destruction. I don’t understand the appointment of Alan Irvine, and he certainly wasn’t the first choice as new boss. They’ve signed a lot of players, and I wouldn’t have minded Arsenal bringing in Joleon Lescott on a free, but as for the rest I’ve not heard of many of them. At the same time they’ve not lost too many from last year, though that’s not saying much in the circumstances. They seem to be almost starting from scratch this season, and a bad start might well put them in a position they can’t get out of. Sadly I can see the Baggies in the bottom three, certainly battling it out with the likes of QPR, Burnley and Leicester to avoid it.

West Ham
I was sorely disappointed that Arsenal allowed Carl Jenkinson to go to West Ham. I hope he really does the business for them and comes back to us next season as a proven Premier League player. Their other signings are typical Allardyce with some lower division workers and some obscure foreign players. I was surprised to see Mauro Zarate willing to give the Premier League another go after a very mixed spell at Birmingham City. The fans want better football at Upton Park, safe as they will be in mid-table (possibly top half this time). I would also like to think Allardyce might be put under some pressure from above to play a proper side in the cups this season.

We only really care about ourselves, so what are Arsenal’s prospects? It’s fair to say I’m more excited than I have been for a long time. The signing of Alexis Sanchez is really thrilling and I can’t wait to see how he goes. Debuchy looks a decent replacement for Sagna but time will tell if he is better than Bacary. Calum Chambers represents an expensive gamble from whom the early signs are promising, but so they were with many others in the recent past, none of whom cost us £16m. David Ospina should give real competition to Szczesny, though how a thigh strain suffered over a month ago can still have him three weeks away from training only the Arsenal medical team can know.
For all the excitement I feel we are still short of up to three key players. We need a replacement for Thomas Vermaelen. We need a quality defensive midfield player (I’ve now written that three years in a row in this preview piece) and we need a 25+ goals per season centre-forward. Easier said than done? Yes. But we’ve had all Summer to fill those three positions which we knew were our weakness long ago. Incidentally, the lack of centre-half cover, and the Manager talking about bringing in someone versatile, makes the release of Jenkinson even more of a joke.
We certainly seem to have a stronger squad than last season. A good start can set us up for a great season, but we haven’t yet qualified for the Champions League, and I hope the delay in the return of the German players doesn’t come back to haunt us. Make another couple of big signings  and we have a team absolutely capable of winning the Premier League. We just have to pray that Wenger breaks the habit of a lifetime – the money (our money) is there, now please go and spend it for God’s sake!

So here we go then. Nine months of the best feeling, the worst feeling and the most frustrating feeling in the World are upon us. There are a number of exciting World Cup players coming to the Premier League this season. If I was a supporter of a lower league club I’d be loving my Sky Sports subscription for the year. Let’s all just hope that, come May, we are the ones celebrating again.

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