Getting the ball rolling?...

2012-08-18 00:00

ARSENAL

3rd last season

Arsene Wenger has finally spent some money and assembled what appears to be a challenging squad. The loss of Robin van Persie has been countered by the arrivals of German legend Luka Podolski and Olivier Giroud. This coupled with the fact that Wenger is expecting a host of injured players back this term, including the lively Jack Wilshere, should leave Gunners fans optimistic. Wenger is a pedigreed coach and knows what it takes to win. A top four finish will always be the priority, but Wenger will expect more from his new-look side.

ASTON

VILLA

16th last season

A woeful campaign under Alex McLeish last season has seen the arrival of Paul Lambert at Villa Park. There hasn’t been too much money spent by Lambert, but the purchases of defenders Ron Vlaar and Matthew Lowton are promising. McLeish got on the wrong side of fans for often employing negative and overly defensive tactics. The Villa faithful will expect to see a season of more attacking intent and Lambert will be looking for a top half finish and to restore an element respectability to the club.

CHELSEA

6TH LAST SEASON

Champions League glory has not only meant that Roberto di Matteo has kept his job, but it means that Chelsea controversially sneak into this year’s competition ahead of Spurs. The Blues squad is littered with superstars, and Di Matteo (or should we say Roman Abramovich?) has spent serious money on Eden Hazard and Oscar for a combined fee of £57 million (R744,70 million) to bolster his attack after losing Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou. The sky is the limit for the Blues and they will be backing themselves to win every competition they enter. Whether or not they have the muscle to compete with City and United remains to be seen.

EVERTON

7th last season

After a slow start, David Moyes saw his side recover exceptionally well to finish strong last season. The Scotsman’s services are valued at Goodison Park and Toffees fans would have been thrilled when speculation that their coach would take the vacant job at Spurs was quelled. Moyes has lost midfielders Jack Rodwell (Manchester City) and Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), but the return of Bafana Bafana’s Steven Pienaar to Merseyside is somewhat of a homecoming for the former Spurs benchwarmer. Moyes would probably take seventh again. There was a time when Everton were pushing to be a top four club, but with the kind of money floating around the top of the league at the moment, there seems no way in for Moyes.

FULHAM

9th last season

Martin Jol steered Fulham into the top 10 after his first season with the club and he has won over his critics. But it will be difficult for the Dutchman to improve on last season’s ninth. Captain Danny Murphy has left the club along with Andy Johnson and Dickson Etuhu. Fulham look a little short up front and the arrival of Hugo Rodallega from Wigan on a free will be massive to Fulham’s chances. Jol has instilled a compact yet positive brand of football to the club. Craven Cottage has often been a difficult place to go for travelling teams and fans of the club will be happy with a repeat of last season’s performance.

LIVERPOOL

8th last season

King Kenny is no longer, and it’s no wonder after another disappointing campaign. The former title contenders became a mid-table club and Steven Gerrard has already expressed the need to get back into England’s top four. You can never count Liverpool out, but new boss Brendan Rodgers will be expected to turn things around — and quickly. Joe Allan arrives from Swansea with Fabio Borini from Roma, while Rodgers has lost a host of players. The future of striker Andy Carroll is still up in the air. English football doesn’t quite feel the same when Liverpool aren’t firing, so neutrals will hope that this is a breakthrough season for them.

MAN-CHESTER CITY

1st last season

There hasn’t been too much transfer activity from City this year — the signing of Jack Rodwell from Everton being the biggest incoming name. But how much does that really matter? Roberto Mancini’s men were deserving winners of the Premier League last season and there isn’t a spot in the starting line-up or on the bench that isn’t occupied by a class act. It’s hard to see anybody ousting them, but Mancini is all too aware of Sir Alex Ferguson’s capabilities. Now that City fans have had a taste of success, they will want more. And not just domestic success. There is no doubt that the pressure will be on City to keep winning, but with players like that, pressure doesn’t stand a chance.

MAN-CHESTER UNITED

2nd last season

Robin van Persie joins United in the biggest move of the off season. It’s not like Ferguson to buy big players from rival clubs. Desperation, or the realisation that he will have to throw some serious money around to compete with his richer and now noisier neighbours? Whichever way you look at it, United are well stocked to mount a serious title challenge as Fergie looks to keep City’s time on their perch brief. United may be a little short in central midfield, but there is enough ability elsewhere to ensure a successful season.

NEW-

CASTLE

UNITED

5th last season

A poor finish saw Newcastle’s Champions League ambitions go up in smoke. But fifth place was still a feather in the cap for boss Alan Pardew. He will have European football to consider this season and he hasn’t really ventured into the transfer market in the off season. Vurnon Anita, a defensive midfielder, joins from Ajax as the club’s biggest purchase of the English summer. The Senagalese partnership of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse will remain key to any further success that Pardew and his troops enjoy, but a repeat of last year’s heroics might be a stretch too far.

NORWICH CITY

12th last season

It was a fantastic campaign for Norwich in 2011/12, staying up comfortably after being promoted the following year. But beware of “second season syndrome”. The Canaries will find it tougher this season and manager Chris Houghton will be relying heavily on striker Grant Holt, who scored almost a third of Norwich’s goals last season. Even with their 12th place finish, avoiding relegation will be the priority for Norwich this time around. With their thin squad, this could prove to be difficult.

QPR

17th last season

QPR avoided relegation by a single point last season. In Mark Hughes they have a manager who has been around the block a bit with stints at Blackburn Rovers and even more unsuccessfully at champions Man City. This will be a big season for Hughes as he seeks to prove that he has what it takes to manage at the highest level. Park Ji Sung and Fabio da Silva join from Man United and Hughes has also called upon his former Blackburn servants Junior Hoillet and Ryan Nelsen. Rangers will feel that they have enough about them to finish even further away from relegation.

READING

Promoted

Brian McDermott takes charge of a Reading side that are among the early favourites to end the season relegated. But as last season proved, the new sides in Premier League season play with a lot of heart and can be difficult to beat. With their new Russian owners, Reading have a bit of capital at their disposal and they have bought players carefully this window. Striker Pavel Pogrebnyak and defender Nicky Shorey join on frees while smart money has been spent on Adrian Mariappa and Chris Gunter. Staying up will be considered a major success.

SOUTHAMPTON

Promoted

A fairytale return for what was once a well supported top-flight English club. Back-to-back promotions have seen manager Nigel Adkins now thrown into the deepest of ends as he bids to secure Premier League status this season. About £7 million was spent on Burnley attacker Jay Rodriguez. It won’t be easy for Southampton. Fixtures against Man City, Man United and Arsenal await within the first month of competition. As in the case of Reading, staying up would be considered a major success.

STOKE CITY

14TH last season

Tony Pulis is the now familiar face at the helm of the Potters. Michael Owen has been strongly linked with a move to the club, but reports have it that funds have dried up at the Britannia. A lot will be expected of Peter Crouch as the striker looks to pay back his £10 million price tag. Stoke have enjoyed four years in the top flight now, and with an FA Cup final to their names they have done just about enough to avoid relegation year after year. Bettering last season’s 14th seems like a tough ask for Pulis and the thin squad he has at his disposal.

SUNDERLAND

13th last season

After a woeful start under Steve Bruce, Martin O’ Neill was brought on board and the recovery operation saw the Black Cats finish in a respectable position last term. Stephane Sessegnon was colossal in Sunderland’s recovery and he will be a dangerous player for them again this season. Striker Louis Saha has also arrived at the Stadium of Light — a player with an impressive track record in the league. With O’ Neill often a name that comes up when discussing a replacement for Ferguson at Man United, Sunderland fans should feel like they are in good hands at that they can challenge for an improved position.

SWANSEA

11th last season

The best of the promoted sides last season, Swansea were flattered by being compared to the mighty Barcelona with their crisp and accurate passing. But they have lost the manager that made it all happen, with Brendan Rodgers moving to Liverpool. For that reason alone, the Welsh club will be happy with staying as far away from relegation as possible this season. Michael Laudrup, former Danish international, takes over from Rodgers, and with little activity in the transfer window, he will have an opportunity to build on the good work done by Rodgers.

T OTTENHAM

4th last season

How quickly things can change. In Harry Redknapp, Spurs fans felt they had a manager who could challenge for league honours. It wasn’t to be, and even a fourth-placed finish wouldn’t be enough to secure Champions League football. With Redknapp’s sudden departure, Spurs now find themselves in the hands of Andre Villas-Boas. They will still be looking to break into the top four, but there is a cloud of concern over AVB’s capabilities. But they still have the players, with only Luka Modric’s future looking uncertain. With the right guidance, there is no reason why Spurs can’t kick on from last season.

WEST BROM

10th last season

Roy Hodgson did so well with West Brom last season that he is now England manager. He is replaced by Steve Clarke who is considered a fantastic coach by England’s football critics. West Brom will be looking to consolidate on their status as a strong Premiership outfit. They have signed goalkeeper Ben Foster permanently from Birmingham and have kept the core of their gritty players from last season. It won’t be easy to finish in the top half, but West Brom are surely too strong to entertain any worries over relegation.

WEST HAM

Promoted

The Premier League isn’t complete without the history, tradition and support base that a club like West Ham brings to the table. After a humbling year in the Championship, the Hammers are back. Big Sam Allardyce was tasked with earning immediate promotion back to the top flight, which he duly did. Now his only brief is to keep them there. It promises to be a long season for the Hammers, but one would think that they have learnt from their mistakes and that they are the most likely of this year’s promoted sides to stay up.

WIGAN

15th last season

Every year it looks like they’re going to go down, but every year they find a way to stay up. Wigan fans will be delighted that their Spanish manager, Roberto Martinez, is staying on for another year. It appeared as though the relegation escape artist had done enough to get the Liverpool job, but that was not to be. Martinez gives his players a lot of creative freedom and expects the world from them. When it works, it looks great, but when it doesn’t Wigan appear all over the place. Consolidation will be the priority this season.

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