Barclays Premier League Previews (A-B)

Barclays Premier League Preview: AFC Bournemouth

Manager: Eddie Howe

Stadium: Vitality Stadium (Capacity: 11.469)

Captain: Simon Francis

Top Scorer: Joshua King (6)

Biggest Signing: Jordon Ibe (£15.3 million)

Last Season: 16th

Prediction: Relegated

Bournemouth did a good job last season avoiding the drop under the stewardship of a capable Eddie Howe.

spt_ai_bournemouth_fulham_11.jpg / Football - AFC Bournemouth v Fulham

Eddie Howe, Bournemouth manager.

They have lost two key players in the figure of skipper Tommy Elphick and Scottish international Matt Ritchie who move to the relegated Aston Villa and Newcastle United respectively.

The return of both Callum Wilson and Tyrone Mings from injury does help bolster options in attack and defence.

Home games will be key if the south coast club are to survive another season in England’s top flight. Teams did have the odd slip up last season and there are sure to be a few more this season.

Teams now know what Bournemouth are capable of and should be wary of a squad with some exciting, young talent that has been brought in.

INIBE

Jordon Ibe (Liverpool, £15.3 million)

Lewis Cook (Leeds United, £5.95 million)

Lys Mousset (Le Havre, £5.5 3 million)

Nathan Aké (Chelsea, Loan)

OUT

RITCHIE

Matt Ritchie

Matt Ritchie (Newcastle United, £10.2 million)

Tommy Elphick (Aston Villa, £3.32 million)

Lee Tomlin (Bristol City, £2.98 million)

Jayden Stockley (Aberdeen, Free)

Josh Wakefield (Released)

Stéphane Zubar (Released)

Sylvain Distin (Released)

Josh Carmichael (Relased)

Bournemouth look to have most of their transfer dealings done, a goalkeeper is on the radar but no solid rumours have emerged over the summer.

My Bournemouth XI (4-4-2): 1 A.Boruc; 15 A.Smith, 2 S.Francis (Captain), 3 S.Cook 11 C.Daniels; NA J.Ibe, NA L.Cook 8 H.Arter 10 M.Gradel; 17 J.King 13 C.Wilson

Barclays Premier League Preview: Arsenal

Manager: Arsene Wenger

Stadium: Emirates Stadium (Capacity: 60,260)

Captain: Laurent Koscielny

Top Scorer: Olivier Giroud (16)

Biggest Signing: Granit Xhaka (£38.25 million)

Last Season: 2nd

Prediction: Europa League

Arsenal may have had their golden chance last season for Wenger to break his duck as all title contenders faded away however Arsenal choked.

The tag of serial chokers is one that the Gunners are keen to shake off as they gear up to once again try to launch an assault on the league and try and end the drought.

Wenger has his critics and he knows that only a trophy, and a major one at that can paper over the appearing cracks for the Frenchman.

XHAKA

Xhaka joins after a good season in the Bundesliga.

A few solid signings have been made and it looks as though more could be made over the coming days. Gonzalo Higuain, Julian Draxler, Alexandre Lacazette and Rob Holding.

Higuain looks set to be the most likely of the deals should Arsenal pay the required fee for the striker who became a target after the north London club missed out on Spain and Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata.

INASANO

Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach, £35 million)

Takuma Asano (Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Undisclosed)

OUT

ARTETA

Arteta’s successful career is at an end.

Isaac Hayden (Newcastle United, Undisclosed)

Tomas Rosicky (Released)

Mathieu Flamini (Released)

Mikel Arteta (Retired)

With it looking like there could be a deal done for Giroud to leave and Higuain to join transfer business is not over for Arsenal but most of their summer dealings are now complete.

My Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): 33 P.Cech; 18 N.Monreal, 6 L.Koscielny (Captain), 21 C.Chambers, 24 H.Bellerin; 29 G.Xhaka, 34 F.Coquelin; 11 M.Ozil 16 A.Ramsey 7 A.Sanchez; 23 D.Welbeck

Barclays Premier League Preview: Burnley

Manager: Sean Dyche

Stadium: Turf Moor (Capacity: 21,401)

Captain: Tom Heaton

Top Scorer: Andre Gray (23)

Biggest Signing: Not Applicable

Last Season: Champions (Championship)

Prediction: 16th

Burnley have bounced back to the Premier League and as seasons past have shown us they have Premier League know how.

Turf Moor is a terrific ground and they will play an attractive brand of football, they have some pedigree in their ranks as well names such as Sam Vokes and Tom Heaton look to be the stars this season.

VOKES

Sam Vokes had a good Euro’s.

Last season they had a long, tough ride in the Championship but emerged victorious it will take a lot of hard work to make themselves consistent top flight performers but they should be confident coming into the season.

No real names entering the club alludes to us that business is not finalised by the club as they look to sign some names to consolidate a place in England’s top flight.

A few departures do not look like harming the newly promoted side.

IN

OUT

Joey Barton (Rangers, Free)BARTON

Matt Gilks (Rangers, Free)

Matt Taylor (Released)

Lloyd Dyer (Released)

Michael Duff (Released)

Duff could be a loss and losing as many caps as a player of the calibre of Barton could be a hindrance but it is much the same squad that won the Championship last year.

My Burnley XI (4-4-1-1): 1 T.Heaton; 2 M.Lowton, 5 M.Keane 6 B.Mee 23 T.Darikwa; 11 M.Kightly 37 S.Arfeld 8 D.Marney 21 G.Boyd; 9 S.Vokes; 7 A,Gray

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History Made

Wales are through to the semi-finals of the Euro’s, they beat Belgium 3-1.

Not such a one man team anymore, goals from Ashley Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes sealed the win. A win orchestrated by Chris Coleman.

Gareth Bale is the star he puts his team on this level, this unattainable level without the Real Madrid star.

BALE.jpg

Wales’ star man, Gareth Bale.

Bale’s sheer brilliance, this raw talent honing his skills amongst the best players in the world, he in his right up there with the best in the world.

It is not just Bale that has been good though, Aaron Ramsey has endured a mixed season for London club, Arsenal but in the red of Wales has been immense.

Robson-Kanu looks like a quality striker, surely a club won’t be too hard to find after a performance like that.

The whole back four including captain Ashley Williams has been tremendous, the team have only conceded four goals, two of which came against England in the only game in which Wales looked slow.

England have been humiliated whilst Wales have risen to a level that may well take them to a European title.

It’s all set up to be a cracker brilliance v belligerence, Bale v Ronaldo, Wales v Portugal.

The Premier League: What’s Left to Sort Out?

So following Spurs draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the incredible Foxes were crowned champions of England for the first time in their 132 year history.

goooal

Leicester City have finally won the Premier League title.

Ranieri is no longer the nearly man, and he has done it on what can be described as a tight budget with two games to spare an astonishing achievement for a club that signed their star striker for just £1 million, compared to Manchester City’s Agüero who cost them a cool £38 million as the second most expensive transfer in Premier League history.

Champions crowned now all eyes are on two important races, the race for the top four and the race to avoid the drop.

In the race for the top four it seems there are you could argue four teams but Arsenal should be safe. Manchester City, Manchester United and West Ham now have to fight it out to see who can make it into the Champions League.

aguero

Agüero cost City an eye watering £38 million.

4th Manchester City

Played 36 Points 64 Goal Difference 30

The club built on Mansour’s millions, shaped around a plethora of international stars. Pellegrini heads for the exit at the end of a disappointing season where a team that should be topping the league every season is fighting to retain  Champions League status without having to win the trophy itself.

They have scored more goals than any other Premier League side with 68 but a leaky defence has conceded 38 goals, a problem that is hard to fix and with Manchester United and West Ham only four and five points away respectively with a game in hand the pressure is on.

Should they fail to keep hold of fourth the Champions League tie tomorrow becomes all the more significant.

Remaining Fixtures: Arsenal (H), Swansea (A)

Prediction: 4th

martial.jpg

Martial has been one of van Gaal’s few successes in the transfer market.

5th Manchester United

Played 35 Points 60 Goal Difference 12

Money spent on players that don’t perform. A disastrous season for the Red Devils, not enough goals, not good enough performances. Louis van Gaal has failed to restore the one great club to the top of the league.

An FA Cup final awaits against the struggling Crystal Palace what little consolation that will prove to be should Manchester United miss out on a Champions League place.With Martial looking to be the only signing that has actually made any progress the future does look bleak for United fans.

It looks as though another summer of signings is on the horizon and possibly the arrival of old rival Mourinho although it may take more than the ‘Special One’ to help this club’s fortunes.

marky boy

Mark Noble has been key for West Ham this season.

Remaining Fixtures: Norwich (A), West Ham (A), Bournemouth (H)

Prediction: 6th

6th West Ham United

Played 35 Points 59 Goal Difference 17

Unlike the other two the Londoners will be happy with their current position, they have been wonderful but due to Leicester’s title run their big performances have gone unnoticed under the radar.

Mark Noble has been at the heart of this team’s fight and desire along with left back Aaron Cresswell. West Ham are looking like this could be their year to finally be in the Champions League by taking that coveted 4th spot.

The Hammers have a crucial showdown with Manchester United on 10th May which could well decide the race. And with the other two sides having the Champions League and FA Cup to focus on West Ham could have the edge.

Remaning Fixtures: Swansea (H), Manchester United (H), Stoke (A)

Prediction: 5th

Now for the relegation fight and the race to avoid the drop.

newcaaaaastle

Newcastle are having a tough year.

17th Newcastle United

Played 36 Points 33 Goal Difference -25

The historic club have had a horrific season by all accounts, a number of false dawns under McLaren were crushed after suffering some scarring defeats. And it took Benitez a few games to get the ball rolling but now the club are unbeaten in their last four matches.

Two massive games left and with points likely to be tight the game against Aston Villa is vital. It is also notable that Spurs no longer have anything to play for the Champions League is secured.

Going down would signal a backwards step especially considering some of the players in the squad but they are the form side.

Remaining Fixtures: Aston Villa (A) Tottenham Hostpur (H)

Prediction: 17th

afcsund

Sunderland could be facing the drop.

18th Sunderland

Played 35 Points 32 Goal Difference -18

Defoe is the reason Sunderland are still fighting for survival, and how crucial might his equaliser against Stoke prove to be?

The relegation fight sees all eyes now on the northeast, Newcastle or Sunderland some have already written off Norwich. Sunderland do have a tough run in but a game in hand over their bitter rivals.

With one great English club destined for the Championship it would be a shame to see another go.

Remaining Fixtures: Chelsea (H), Everton (H), Watford (A)

Prediction: 18th

ncf

Norwich have not had much to cheer about this year.

19th Norwich City

Played 35 Points 31 Goal Difference -26

It looked at one point that the Canaries might have pulled away and survived but an upturn in the fortunes of Sunderland and Newcastle quashed that dream.

Watford and Bournemouth both kicked on this season from the Championship, Norwich sadly have struggled to find consistent form. They also have a game over currently safe Newcastle but again have a tricky run-in.

Norwich look down already but a good run could see them pull off a couple of vital wins. Only time will tell.

Remaining Fixtures: Manchester United (H), Watford (H), Everton (A)

Prediction: 19th

uh oh.jpg

What a year it’s been for Jamie Vardy.

So Leicester are champions but plenty to keep you interested for the rest of the season.

Claudio’s Core

Leicester City continue to defy the odds and top the Premier League ahead of all the giants despite having considerably less money than the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Chelsea.

Their success is something that does not seem to make any sense to football fans, they have all jumped on the Leicester to win the league bandwagon but because this sort of winning streak and defying the odds the way Leicester have is staggering.

Especially in this day and age when the league table is more a rich list than anything else see the clubs languishing in the lower reaches are much poorer than the clubs leading the way this season.

cr

Leicester City manager, Claudio Ranieri.

Whilst in international football the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ has been bridged, in domestic football (not just in England but across Europe) the gap is becoming wider.

It is hard to say why Leicester are doing so well. But one factor has to be the fact Ranieri has established this spine of players that can keep the team going through the hard times.

This spine consists of five key positions, a goalkeeper, a centre half, a holding midfielder, a wide midfielder and of course a striker.

Look at the great Premier League teams of the past Arsenal had Henry, Vieira, Adams, Seaman and Pires. Manchester United had van Nistelrooy, Scholes, Ferdinand, van der Sar and Giggs.

This is surely the formula to winning, this is the reason Ranieiri’s Leicester are leading the charge and Arsenal have struggled for domestic titles over the years.

Leicester City are built around the stars they have in Robert Huth, N’Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez, Kasper Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy are the spine that make this team the successful side it is.

Jamie Vardy Leicester City

Vardy celebrates scoring a goal for Leicester City.

Unfortunately it looks as though at least one of those sought after players will be leaving the King Power Stadium come the summer transfer window. The loss of these players could be their undoing but whilst it lasts it is to be admired and adored.

It is not often we see teams like Ranieri’s make an impression at the very highest reaches if English football.

Predicted Top 6

1 Leicester City
2 Tottenham Hotspur
3 Manchester City
4 Arsenal
5 Southampton
6 West Ham United

West Ham United Preview

Manager: Slaven Bilic
Stadium: Boleyn Ground
Captain: Kevin Nolan
Top Scorer: Diafra Sakho (11)

West Ham had a good season last year under Allardyce and played some good football, with a good season under their belt they’ll hope to kick on this year under a new manager before they move homes to the Olympic Park.

West Ham had a stunning first part of the season and had only lost 3 games by 8th November also had claimed some impressive scalps along the way. Losses to Manchester United, Tottenham and Southampton were nothing to be ashamed of either this run was huge for the London club. They were in the top 4 courtesy of this good form and a high profile 2-1 win over Manchester City on 25th October had rubber-stamped their credentials. They had also beaten Liverpool 3-1 in September they were showing that they were not a club to be taken lightly this astonishing form continued after November as they would only lose 3 more games before the turn of the year they cam in the form of narrow losses to Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton they finished 2014 in 6th place still impressive for the London club that had surpassed many clubs with both a bigger budget and better squad.

Sam Allardyce leaves the club after just 1 season.

Sam Allardyce leaves the club after just 1 season.

The second half would not be so successful for West Ham between the 31st January until the 25th April the club would only win 1 game as they beat Sunderland 1-0. This amazing fall from grace saw them in 10th place no mean feat for the club as they failed to find the astonishing form which had won them many fans before New Year’s Day. They were still playing attractive, free flowing football but the results were proving hard to come by. They finished the season with 3 straight losses and finished in 12th place. A respectable position but you can’t help but feel had they kept up the pace and not gone off the boil then Europe was a very real possibility. This season could be an important 1 for the club.

West Ham have been a club that had rarely looked like it will win games but now they are looking the business. They have played some good games and built a squad around some key players such as the enigmatic captain Kevin Nolan who has been hugely prominent in English football over the last decade it is strange that he has few England caps to his name. Mark Noble is another really big part of the West Ham puzzle and his form at 1 point put him in contention for England. Noble is a truly important player his partnership with Nolan is a real contrast of light and shade which made them so effective for large parts of last season.

Although Sakho was scoring a lot of the goals Enner Valencia had a good season for the Hammers he himself netting 5 times. His ability to do things he has no right to do make him a standout player he has this outrageous audacity to attempt things that players should not attempt. Valencia has the ability to turn games on their head I have a feeling the striker will be a huge part of this season. He has a team around him that know how to provide the Ecuadorian with quality ball with which he can dazzle opponents and fans alike.

Enner Valencia celebrates scoring a goal for Ecuador.

Enner Valencia celebrates scoring a goal for Ecuador.

Transfer business a strength for former boss Allardyce, Bilic has made a total of 6 signings whilst 8 players head for pastures new. He has brought in some rathe interesting players as well as bringing in Arsenal defender Jenkinson on loan. Ogbonna from Champions League finalists Juventus is a huge coup. He is a no nonsense centre back, his aerial ability is good and makes him a real handful at the set piece. Ogbonna could be key part of West Ham’s season. Dimitri Payet is a good signing he offers an attacking outlet to compliment the forwards such as Sakho and Valencia he will be a real threat if defenders allow him the space to exploit them with his pace and vicious power.

Ogbonna poses after completing his signing for West Ham.

Ogbonna poses after completing his signing for West Ham.

Veteran Carlton Cole goes he was just not providing enough to the squad although the former England striker could be a valuable asset to a Championship side. Downing the biggest transfer for West Ham this summer as he heads back to the north east to join Middlesborough an interesting transfer for both clubs he will be missed in London.

IN: Dimitri Payet (Olympique Marseille, Undisclosed)
Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus, €11 million)
Stephen Hendrie (Hamilton, Undisclosed)
Martin Samuelsen (Manchester City, Free)
Pedro Obiang (Sampdoria, Undisclosed)
Darren Randolph (Birmingham City, Free)

OUT: Carlton Cole (Free Agents, Free)
Stewart Downing (Middlesborough, £5.5 million)
Jussi Jääskeläinen (Wigan Athletic, Free)
Sean MacGuire (Dundalk, Free)
Nenê (Vasco de Gama, Free)
Guy Demel (Free Agents, Free)
Paul McCallum (Leyton Orient, Free)
Dan Potts (Luton Town, Free)

Some interesting signings and a rediscovery of that early season form could see them produce a stellar season it remains to be seen how much of that was down to manager Allardyce but we will see soon enough.

My West Ham United XI (4-2-3-1): 13 Adrián; 12 C.Jenkinson 21 A,Ogbonna 2 W.Reid 3 A.Cresswell; 4 K.Nolan (C), 16 M.Noble; 18 M.Amalfitano 27 D.Payet 11 E.Valencia; 15 D.Sakho

Bench: 1 D.Randolph 5 J.Tomkins 33 S.Hendrie 7 M.Jarvis 28 M.Lanzini 9 A.Carroll 20 M.Maïga

Last Season: 12th
Prediction: 9th

Tottenham Hotspur Preview

Manager: Mauricio Pocchetino
Stadium: White Hart Lane
Captain: Hugo Lloris
Top Scorer: Harry Kane (31)

Tottenham a team that have really challenged the top 4 in recent seasons and now a regular team in European competitions last year however was a difficult one for the north London club.

Although Tottenham threaten the top 4 clubs in league positioning wins are rare they suffered heavy defeats to Manchester City as they were humiliated 4-1 and Chelsea who blew them away 3-0. Liverpool also put them to the sword as that match ended 4-1. These big losses before Christmas did not look good for Spurs. They were having patchy runs of form here and there but nothing to suggest they were good enough. None of their stars were really stepping up bar Kane and Eriksen at regular and long intervals. Tottenham found themsleves in 10th in mid December before they went on a run of 3 wins over the festive period including a win over Swansea away from home which many teams found tough with Swansea really improving every season. Spurs rose 3 places to 7th before they faced Manchester United a game that looked rather bleak if you looked at Spurs track record against England’s most successful club, they could only manage a 0-0 draw.

Tottenham players celebrate victory over Crystal Palace.

Tottenham players celebrate victory over Crystal Palace.

The 1st day of 2015 was the day that brought Tottenham’s best result and a match that made a hero out of England striker Harry Kane. Chelsea were beaten 5-3 in a phenomenal match, it was unheard of to put 5 past Courtois. Kane was sensational and suddenly a fanfare arose from the British press and the cries to get the striker playing for England rose into a crescendo. This second half of the season would prove to be much more fruitful than their slow start. A 2-1 win over Arsenal at White Hart Lane on 7th February was sensational and the Spurs stars were beginning to perform and bring some life and electricity to White Hart Lane. A trip to Manchester United was tough viewing as they were downed 3-0 at Old Trafford. This left the club reeling. Their run-in was fairly kind and a 4-3 win over Leicester showed how dangerous the club can be on the attack. They were building something special. This assault on the upper reaches of the table that started on New Years Day. They ended the season with a 1-0 victory against Everton a result that showed they are able to play some attractive football and will be looking to build on that sort of form in the coming seasons.

Tottenham very much assured as one of England’s could be clubs, they are missing 1 or 2 pieces of that puzzle a strand of that DNA that makes the Chelseas and Manchester Citys stand out. They found parts they didn’t know they had last season such as a world class striker and keeper in Kane and Lloris both of whim have been the interest of Manchester United although it seems their interest in Lloris has cooled now they have 5 goalkeepers in their 1st team. There are a few positions they lack in and at times their defence was exposed last season even in their 5-3 victory over eventual champions Chelsea is not a healthy record. Their goal difference was only a +5 at the end of the season compare that to 7th placed Southampton who finished with +21 but 2 places lower in the league table. Tottenham’s average season will need to be built on if they wish to play Champions League football anytime soon.

Tottenham’s key player was undoubtedly Harry Kane. The young finisher was outstanding following Christmas. He scored 31 goals in all competitions this season that is an alarming amount of goals. That is just 1 less goal that Agüero managed last season. Kane’s form earned him and England call-up. He scored on his debut and sent the country into delirium. The English striker saved Tottenham on many occasions and after becoming a cult icon after single handedly dismantling Chelsea he also scored the winner in the derby win over Arsenal. His finishing ability see him stand out as one of the league’s best forwards. He is going to be key to both his club and country’s fortunes for years to come.

Harry Kane got rewarded for club form by an England call-up.

Harry Kane got rewarded for club form by an England call-up.

Tottenham have been rather busy offloading players over the summer but have brought in a few fresh faces so they can continue to push for a top 4 place. They have brought in 3 new players the most notable being the acquisition of centre back Toby Alderweireld from the Spanish capital. He is a wonderful defender and could be a huge difference for a defence that at times leaked goals possibly the reason they have also brought in Wimmer. Kieran Trippier is another very canny signing a player that can be of service as back-up or in irritation system with Kyle Walker and Danny Rose. Tripper is quick and provides a counter attacker that can pose problems for slow midfielders if he is given room on the outside.

Alternierend in action for Ajax.

Alternierend in action for Ajax.

A total of 7 first team departures. Brad Friedel finally retires from football at the age of 44, a wonderful servant to the game and the Premier League the former USA goalkeeper will be missed. Kaboul also leaves having had a good career in north London a player that was a real asset to the Spurs team and understood what the club meant to the fans. Lewis Holtby leaves the club, the promising midfielder showed some real potential last season but Tottenham have so much depth in midfield Holtby was always going to struggle. Paulinho has also had enough of north London, he has a great couple of seasons. Some high profile departures could harm Tottenham although their recruitment seems very smart.

IN: Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid, £11.5 million)
Kieran Trippier (Burnley, £3.5 million)
Kevin Wimmer (FC Köln, £4.3 million)

OUT: Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande, £9.9 million)
Brad Friedel (Retired)
Lewis Holtby (Hamburg, £4.6 million)
Younés Kaboul (Sunderland, £3 million)
Étienne Capoue (Watford, £6.3 million)
Benjamin Stambouli (Paris Saint-Germain, £6 million)
Vlad Chiriches (Napoli, £4.5 million)

Tottenham should have an interesting season and should their stars be in a good vein of form I see no reason they can retain 5th.

My Tottenham Hotspur XI (4-2-3-1): 1 H.Lloris; 2 K.Walker 4 T.Alderweireld 15 E.Dier 3 D.Rose; 19 M.Dembélé 8 R.Mason; 22 N.Chadli 23 C.Eriksen 17 A.Townsend; 10 H.Kane

Bench: 13 M.Vorm 16 K.Trippier 5 J.Vertonghen 27 K.Wimmer 6 N.Bentaleb 11 É.Lamela 9 R.Soldado

Last Season: 5th
Prediction: 6th

Swansea City Preview

Manager: Garry Monk
Stadium: Liberty Stadium
Captain: Ashley Williams
Top Scorer: Bafétimbi Gomis (10)

Swansea are looking sharp and after another over performing season for the Welsh club they look as though they will only keep on getting better and hopefully they can continue to produce the performances that have even worried the big boys in the league.

Swansea’s opening day win at Old Trafford was a huge moment for Monk and his team it sent shockwaves through the Premier League, United a club in crisis, Swansea hard to beat. Goals were something Swansea didn’t struggle with netting 46 times. They enjoyed August with 3 wins which was followed up by a catastrophic September as they failed to win a game losing to Chelsea 4-2 a particular low point. November brought them another impressive scalp this time Arsenal as the creative club won 2-1 at home which over the season became a very tough place to visit with Swansea only losing 5 times at the Liberty Stadium over the course of last season, rather impressive whichever way you look at it.

Skipper Ashley Williams on the ball for Swansea.

Skipper Ashley Williams on the ball for Swansea.

They entered the year in 9th place following a harrowing 4-1 thrashing by Liverpool at Anfield which was a dampener for them to end the year on. This was the first match of 4 games that Swansea failed to win which ended with their worst result of the season Chelsea beating them 5-0 at the Liberty Stadium a result that hurt the club. They went on a run until the end of the season then as they only lost a further 6 games and claimed some impressive wins such as complting the double over Manchester United by winning 2-1. They also claimed their last win of the season over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium winning 1-0 undoubtedly their best result over a so-called top 4 team over the season the clean sheet a particular bonus considering their defence was caught lacking somewhat over the season.

They made people sit up and take notice last season though with their rather attacking style of football that of they can improve upon this season could make them one of the most intriguing teams to watch. They play with passion, guile and a sense of calculated risk. Their attacking play was shown off with their big wins over the likes of West Bromwich Albion (3-0) and Hull (3-1) games that should have been more of a contest. If their captain Ashley Williams can rally the rearguard and add a defending aspect to their locker they could threaten the league order this season.

Swansea’s key player left last season as Manchester City captured Bony’s signature with him gone there were so many players to choose from. Gylfi Sigurdsson has become a key player for Swansea his attacking runs and intelligence over the park make him a key man for the Welsh outfit. He offers a creative outlet to create space for the finishers like Gomis and Michu. He imposes himself on the game with his creative spark that leaves defenders wondering how he effortlessly creates space for his teammates. He will be key for Swansea if they are to go 1 step further than last year and qualify for Europe.

Sigurdsson celebrates a goal against Manchester United on last seasons opening day.

Sigurdsson celebrates a goal against Manchester United on last seasons opening day.

Swansea have seen 1 senior player leaves and they have brought in some excting additions with Monk not afraid to spend over the summer adding a few attackers and giving Fabianski some competition by bringing in some keepers to keep the Polish stopper on his toes. André Ayew is an interesting signing for the team a player that can play up front or just in behind your 9. He offers something different to the Swansea strikers that played last season. He is likely to be deployed in that hole and his pace make him a player to watch. Eder an expensive addition and another forward, his shooting range make him deadly and exciting to watch. His midfielders will relish having the Portuguese man to pass to as he is not one to miss good chances, a player that will definitely add some goals to Swansea over the season. The other high profile new man in Tabanou a defender from St Etienne, fans will be hoping he can at least go some way to stemming the flow of goals that led to Swansea conceding 49 last season it would have been more if not for their brilliant keeper Fabianski.

André Ayew holds a shirt following his high profile move to Swansea.

André Ayew holds a shirt following his high profile move to Swansea.

Leaving the club is 1 player, Jazz Richards not a huge loss for the club and a player that they don’t need to keep smart business all round from Monk.

IN: Éder (SC Braga, £5 million)
Frank Tabanou (St Etienne, £3.5 million)
Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Heerenveen, £600,000)
Gerhard Tremmel (Resigns, Free)
André Ayew (Marseille, Free)

OUT: Jazz Richards (Fulham, £500,000)

Overall it looks as though if Swansea can iron out the creases it is a matter of when not if Swansea qualify for Europe.

My Swansea City XI (4-3-3): 1 L.Fabianski; 22 Á.Rangel 6 A.Williams (C), 2 J.Amat 3 N.Taylor, 4 K.Sung-Yeung 8 J.Shelvey 23 G.Sigurdsson; 20 J.Montero 18 B.Gomis 10 A.Ayew

Bench: 13 K.Nordfeldt 26 K.Naughton 19 D.Tiendalli 24 J.Cork 15 W.Routledge 9 Michu 17 Éder

Last Season: 8th
Prediction: 5th

Sunderland Preview

Manager: Dick Advocaat
Stadium: Stadium of Light
Captain: Lee Cattermole
Top Scorer: Connor Wickham/ Jordi Gomez (6)

Sunderland a season that saw them head for relegation before a sterling fightback under Advocaat saw them find a way to stay in England’s top flight. Sunderland live to fight another day.

Sunderland had a fairly average start to the season although they failed to secure a win until 4th October, they only lost 1 match and that was a 1-0 defeat away at QPR. They had managed wonderful draws against both Manchester United and Tottenham setting them up rather nicely. The 3-1 win over Stoke was unfortunately not a sign of things to come for Poyet and the Black Cats as 14 days later they would suffer a 8-0 humbling at the hands of Southampton. This would be a should destroying result for any side they returned home the week after only to once again fail to score as Arsenal won 2-0. Sunderland did manage 2 more wins before Christmas defeating Crystal Palace 3-1 in early November, and a crucial win over Tyneside rivals Newcastle just before Christmas. They finished the year in 14th place and relatively safe but with only 3 wins under their belts.

Ecstasy for Sunderland as they beat Newcastle.

Ecstasy for Sunderland as they beat Newcastle.

After Christmas Poyet could only manage 1 more win before he was sacked mid-March and that was only a routine victory over strugglers Burnley. Prior to this rare win they had lost 3 games in a row and were looking in bad shape. Following the win over Burnley Poyet only survived a further 6 games. The final nail in the former Brighton bosses coffin was Aston Villa defeating Sunderland 4-0 at the Stadium of Light leading to Poyet’s departure 2 days later. Sunderland were now languishing in 17th place just above the drop zone. Dick Advocaat took over and would only lose 3 times with Sunderland before the season was over. In just his 2nd game in charge Sunderland once again defeated Newcastle to do the double over their local rivals which has become something of a regular occurrence.

Sunderland would see May as the month they recovered as they won their 1st two games exacting revenge over Southampton with a 2-1 win and also beating Everton before 2 draws against Arsenal and Leicester before a loss to Chelsea on the final day. It was not perfect but Sunderland had done what they set out to do and Advocaat had taken Sunderland to 16th place and they were safe for at least one more season. Sunderland are going to need one hell of a change in fortune and gameplan if they want to get higher than they did last season.

Connor Wickham was by far their best player last year and it is hard to see where the goals will come from now he has joined Crystal Palace for an extortionate £9 million. Jack Rodwell is a promising midfielder his time at Manchester City stunted his career after limited success at Everton but it seems the 24 year old is trying to now rebuild his career in the north east and he is a very good player, his passing game is an asset to any time he sees space and has the talent to exploit it. His work rate is impeccable and with players like M’Vila and Cattermole around him they form a very hard working midfield. Jack Rodwell is sure to be in Advocaat’s plans leading into this season. This could be a huge season for the 3 cap England midfielder.

Jack Rodwell is all smiles after scoring his first goal for Sunderland against Manchester United.

Jack Rodwell is all smiles after scoring his first goal for Sunderland against Manchester United.

Sunderland have gone on a recruitment drive as well as securing M’Vila on loan from Rubin Kazan they have closed the deal on 4 new players whilst losing 3. Former Tottenham man Younés Kaboul is a big signing he not only brings Premier League experience but a defensive game that was something that was greatly lacking in Sunderland’s armoury last season. They have also brought in Coates from Premier League rivals Liverpool another worthy addition to the side. Sunderland’s recruitment doesn’t see any big names but the new faces are more necessity than luxury.

Kaboul in action for former club Spurs.

Kaboul in action for former club Spurs.

Departures are fairly insignificant bar Wickham who leaves after 2 big seasons. It seems the striker got bored of the Sunderland circus and heads off to London. His goals will be missed. As will his searing pace and creativity a rare bright spark in the black clouds that gathered over the Stadium of Light last season.

IN: Younés Kaboul (Tottenham Hotspur, £3 million)
Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kyiv (£8 million)
Sebastián Coates (Liverpool, £2 million)
Adam Matthews (Celtic, £2 million)

OUT: Connor Wickham (Crystal Palace, £9 million)
El Hadji-Ba (Charlton Athletic, £500,000)
Anthony Réveillére (Free Agents, Free)

Sunderland have recruited well and Dick Advocaat is a very clever manager he will have a trick or 2 up his sleeve but in my eyes survival is highly unlikely.

My Sunderland XI (4-1-3-2-1): 1 C.Pantilimon; 15 Y.Kaboul, 5 W.Brown 22 S.Coates 3 P.van Aanholt; 14 J.Gomez; 8 J.Rodwell 4 L.Cattermole (C), 21 Y.M’Vila; 17 J.Lens, 19 D.Graham; 18 J.Defoe

Bench: 25 V.Mannone 12 A.Matthews 16 J.O’Shea 7 S.Larsson 4 L.Bridcutt 23 E.Giaccherini 26 S.Fletcher

Last Season: 16th

Prediction: 20th (Relegated)

Stoke City Preview

Manager: Mark Hughes
Stadium: Britannia Stadium
Captain: Ryan Shawcross
Top Scorer: Mame Biram Diouf (12)

Stoke City seem to have surprised many in recent years by not being involved in the basement battle which has seen many good sides go down. Stoke always seem to be able to achieve that safe mid-table finish.

Stoke’s squad is built around having technically gifted midfielders they are solid and reliable but lack the attacking spark of say Everton or Spurs teams with a similar budget but a different play style. The gameplan has not changed much since the departure of former manager Pulis who was the man that built this side into the team that don the red and white today. They started last season with an indifferent run of form really setting the tone for the season. Their away form looked good until the 4th October when a trip to Sunderland derailed that as Stoke were beaten 3-1 with Adam scoring the only goal for Stoke. Their most promising early season display was a great win over Manchester City as Stoke won 1-0 courtesy of Diouf, it was made all the more impressive with the game having been at the Etihad Stadium.

Mame Biram Diouf celebrates a goal against QPR.

Mame Biram Diouf celebrates a goal against QPR.

Stoke’s life in mid-season was made more difficult by a tough run of 3 games against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. After 2 losses to both Liverpool and Manchester United, Stoke were on a run of 3 straight losses, an emphatic 3-2 win over Arsenal at the Brittania Stadium saw Stoke pick themselves up and give their team a fighting chance of European football, the end goal for Stoke in any given season. This win however was avenged on 11th January as Arsenal won 3-0 in the return leg. Undoubtedly Stoke’s best football was played at the end of the season smashed Tottenham 3-0 before a draw with Burnley followed by the 6-1 destruction of Liverpool ruining Gerarrd’s leaving party.

Cup runs seem to be a thing of the past for Stoke, the FA Cup threw up what seemed a routine game against Wrexham which Stoke were losing until the final 10 minutes as Stoke fired home 3 goals in the final 10 minutes the 2nd coming 2 minutes from time and the 3rd in the 4th minute of stoppage time both thanks to former Manchester City player Stephen Ireland. They eventually crashed out to Blackburn Rovers who slaughtered Stoke 4-1 in the 5th round.

The best player for Stoke last season has to be Charlie Adam, the midfielder was in inspired form especially following Christmas. Ryan Shawcross may be the captain but the midfielder has a role to play in leadership of the club. Adam is tireless and fits the Stoke mould of a powerful, solid midfielder with little creativity, he is the heartbeat of the Stoke midfield offering himself as the man to go through linking the solid defenders with the towering strikers. His passing game is something to be admired whether you are a Stoke fan or a neutral Charlie Adam is a player to watch.

Charlie Adam after his outrageous long range effort against Chelsea.

Charlie Adam after his outrageous long range effort against Chelsea.

Business in the market has seen Stoke snap up 6 new faces and part company with 8 first team players. The signing of Irish keeper Given is big news having lost Begovic to title holders Chelsea resources were looking rather thin on the ground with Butland the only first team keeper but Stoke have boosted the ranks by signing the Irish veteran and the Danish 23 year old Jakob Haugaard. They have also signed England right back Glen Johnson, it was inevitable he would the leave the club what with Nathaniel Clyne moving to Anfield. Johnson will add experience to this squad and bring a wealth of Premier League knowledge. Stoke have also brought in Afellay from La Liga giants Barcelona. The midfielder has 50 Netherlands caps to his name and could be a hugely exciting player to watch should he play a big role in Stoke’s forthcoming campaign.

Shay Given making a save for former club Aston Villa.

Shay Given making a save for former club Aston Villa.

The loss of keeper Begovic is huge for the club, he was a massive asset and he will be missed by fans at the Brittania Stadium but with the pulling power Chelsea have the move was never in doubt especially after the departure of Cech. Steven N’Zonzi is also on his way out the midfielder has been a big part if the club for so many years and was impressive last season for The Potters he will be missed by the club as he leaves for Spain. They have also lost another club stalwart in Robert Huth the 30 year old spent 6 seasons at Stoke and established himself as 1 of the 1st names on the team sheet, he will be missed.

IN: Jakob Haugaard (FC Midtjylland, Undisclosed)
Phillip Wollscheid (Bayer Leverkusen, Undisclosed)
Shay Given (Aston Villa, Free)
Glen Johnson (Liverpool, Free)
Joselu (Hannover 96, £5.75 million)
Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona, Free)

OUT: Asmir Begovic (Chelsea, £8 million)
Steven N’Zonzi (Sevilla, £7 million)
Charlie Ward (Free Agents, Free)
Tom Sorensen (Free Agents, Free)
Andy Wilkinson (Free Agents, Free)
Wilson Palacios (Free Agents, Free)
Robert Huth (Leicester City, Undisclosed)
Jamie Ness (Scunthorpe United, Free)

Stoke have recruited well and could well mount a challenge for Europe this season they must try and make the Brittania Stadium a fortress and if they can find a plan B alternative to the ‘long ball’ game they have made their own.

My Stoke City XI (4-3-1-2): 24 S.Given; 8 G.Johnson, 17 R.Shawcross, 26 P.Wollscheid, 12 M.Wilson; 16 C.Adam, 6 G.Whelan 7 S.Ireland; 14 I.Afellay; 18 MB. Diouf 25 P.Crouch

Bench: 1 J.Butland, 2 P.Bardsley 3 E.Pieters 15 M.Van Ginkel 21 S.Sidwell 10 M.Arnautovic 11 Joselu

Last Season: 9th
Prediction: 13th

Southampton Preview

Manager: Ronald Koeman
Stadium: St Mary’s Stadium
Captain: José Fonte
Top Scorer: Graziano Pellé (16)

Southampton were expected to be in a relegation scrap last season following a mass exodus of players to the north west but Southampton refused to lie down and performed admirably to find themselves in European contention.

Southampton were a tough side to beat last season and started the season very strongly with home form serving the side well. They recorded an impressive 4-0 win over Newcastle and a 3-1 win away against West Ham in a run that saw them in 2nd place at the end of September having only lost 1 game to Liverpool on the opening day of the season. October saw Southampton’s biggest win of the season as they annihilated Sunderland 8-0, it showed just how dangerous Southampton could be and players such as Schneiderlin and Pellé demonstrating just what they could do given the ball and freedom to play.

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Southampton at Selhurst Park on December 26, 2014 in London, England.

A run of 4 defeats through November and December saw Southampton slip out of the top 4 the tough defeats to Manchester United and and Manchester City at St Mary’s were disheartening for fans and it looked as though the dream of European football could be about to turn. Southampton did turn things back in their favour though with notable victories over Arsenal and Manchester United as well as a well fought 1-1 draw with champions Chelsea. Southampton’s March and April form was patchy but Southampton kept just enough wins going their way as they secured European football partly thanks to a 6-1 obliteration of Aston Villa on the penultimate weekend finishing the season in 7th place.

After last season the club have blocks to build with, a squad full of talent and a strong academy set up with the under 21’s defeating Blackburn to win the under 21’s Premiership Cup after an amazing strike from forward Sam Gallagher. This season is a chance for Southampton to prove they can consistently be a top 6/7 team and regularly secure European football if they can achieve that then that in itself will be considered a victory and a satisfactory outcome to what looks to be a difficult season ahead.

Tadic had a wonderful season on the south coast his attacking ability coupled with pace made him a danger on a number of levels. The attacking midfielder gave defenders headaches with his ability on the ball and he provided an awful lot of chances throughout the course of the season if he continue in that sort of form Southampton will fancy their chances against even the best teams.

Tadic on the ball for Southampton against Millwall.

Tadic on the ball for Southampton against Millwall.

Southampton have brought in a few new faces, most notably perhaps is Cédric Soares from Sporting, the 23 year old is a very talented right back able to attack and defend. The Portuguese international will look to bolster options for Koeman at the back which had a settled look about it towards the table end of last season. Another big signing for the club is Juanmi the 22 year old from Spain has been a huge player for former club Malaga last season making 38 appearances and scoring 8 goals in the process for the La Liga side.

New signing Cédric Soares posing at St Mary's.

New signing Cédric Soares posing at St Mary’s.

A few well known faces have left for the north west once again poaching the south coast stars. England right back Nathaniel Clyne leaves for Anfield after Johnson left Liverpool following a couple of disappointing seasons for the former England number 1. Clyne will be a huge loss after a wonderful display of talent throughout the season he and Bertrand very strong for the club making a huge difference. Another huge loss is that of French midfielder Scehneiderlin who will join former teammate Luke Shaw at Old Trafford, Schneiderlin who has been a key part of that Saints midfield for the last few years leaves a huge hole in the heart of Southampton. He is a big loss to a team that is finding it increasingly hard to keep hold of their top stars as the team continue to improve. Boruc is also another big miss but with a lot of competition for the goalkeepers starting berth at St Mary’s with players like Forster, Davis and Gazzaniga all competing along with securing Stekelenburg on loan.

IN: Cédric Soares (Sporting CP, £4.7 million)
Juanmi (Malaga, Undisclosed)
Cuco Martina (FC Twente, Undisclosed)
Jordy Clasie (Feyernoord, Undisclosed)

OUT: Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool, £12.5 million)
Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United, Undisclosed)
Artur Boruc (Bournemouth, Free)
Cody Cropper (MK Dons, Free)
Jos Hooiveld (AIK, Free)
Dani Osvaldo (FC Porto, Free)
Jake Sinclair (Free Agents, Free)
Omar Rowe (Free Agents, Free)

Southampton have made some good additions to the squad but it looks as though the departures may have a much bigger impact on the squad. Europe could be a stretch too far but I still expect them to finish in the top half (just).

My Southampton XI (4-3-2-1): 44 F.Forster; 2 C.Soares 6 J.Fonte (C) 26 S.Caulker 21 R.Bertrand; 16 J.Ward-Prowse 12 V.Wanyama 11 D.Tadic; 10 S.Mané 9 J.Rodriguez; 19 G.Pellé

Bench: 1 K.Davis 33 M.Targett 15 C.Martina 8 S.Davis 4 J.Clasie 7 S.Long 20 Juanmi

Last Season: 7th
Prediction: 10th