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

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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

Liverpool Preview

Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Stadium: Anfield
Captain: Jordan Henderson
Top Scorer: Steven Gerrard (13)

Liverpool will be disappointed with their campaign last season after a slow start they were given life after Christmas by none other than their captain and hero Gerrard. A crazy finish saw the Anfield club finish 6th a finish that surprised many including Rodgers who will have been surprised considering his team was lacking in goals.

Liverpool had a dream a dream to send Steven Gerrard off with that 1 trophy missing from his personal trophy cabinet laden with honours including captaining England and a Champions League. Alas it was not to be for the Reds. The run of 3 straight defeats in November to Newcastle, Chelsea and Crystal Palace highlighted the difficult opening few months for the club. This saw them only net 2 goals and concede 6. The lowest point came in the grudge match at Old Trafford as their nemesis won 3-0.

Steven Gerrard walking out for his final game at Anfield.

Steven Gerrard walking out for his final game at Anfield.

This was followed by an outstanding run from 21st December until 16th March as Liverpool failed to lose a game and managed some tough away wins against Swansea and Southampton both of whom were strong at their respective homes last season. But this run was ended by Manchester United who did the double with a 2-1 win at Anfield in March stalling the progress made by Liverpool in the preceding months of wins and draws. A stuttering end to the season saw many Liverpool fans experience a case of deja vu as Crystal Palace took a 3-1 win before Stoke bullied Liverpool into submission by beating Gerrard in his last Premier League game 6-1 at the Brittania Stadium.

The elephant in the Liverpool dressing room will be can anybody step up and replace Gerrard. The candidate that many have cited is of course Jordan Henderson, but it’s not the same it never will be as the last giant of Liverpool leaves and heads for Hollywood and the MLS. Henderson will obviously have a large part to play in the coming months and seasons should he stay at Anfield unlike Raheem Sterling. There is also big things expected of Sturridge who has an injury plagued season last season which saw him struggle and deprived Liverpool of the goals as Balotelli and Lambert failed to hit the target. If Liverpool are to succeed they will need to improve in front of goal and find that player that can change the game from the middle of the park.

Last season there were few players to choose from that really performed bar Gerrard and Sterling. Lazar Markovic turned up more often than not for the club with some good attacking displays and a varied passing game he was one of the shining lights in Liverpool’s darkest times. Adam Lallana had a fairly good second half of the season with some good displays at times as he finally replicated some of the form he had shown at St Mary’s on the south coast. Phillipe Coutinho also had a sterling run of form as the season and closed and many fans hope he can continue in that vein when the new season kicks off.

Phillipe Coutinho celebrates scoring a goal with Gerrard.

Phillipe Coutinho celebrates scoring a goal with Gerrard.

Liverpool have been busy in the transfer market bringing in 7 players all high profile names whilst offloading 6 players that have played a part in Liverpool’s recent history. Liverpool have decided that they need goals and have brought in 2 new strikers and an attacking midfielder in Ings, Benteke and Firmino all of whom will provide goals. Former Villa hitman Benteke scored managed 15 goals last season, Ings netted 11 goals for Burnley whilst Brazilian Firmino scored 10 goals. Rodgers will be desperate that the new boys can score their goals and win games. He’s also visited his favourite hunting ground Southampton and snapped up Nathaniel Clyne, right back being a problem position for Liverpool Glen Johnson never really made that shirt his own. The England right back could be a really good signing should he perform to his best ability. James Milner and Ádám Bogdán are 2 experienced players to bring in Milner could bring that professionalism and high standard in training that Gerrard offered, that air of confidence and experience that Gerrard exuded. Ádám Bogdán comes in as back-up and adds some experience to the squad.

Nathaniel Clyne in action for England.

Nathaniel Clyne in action for England.

The league’s worst kept secret was that England midfielder Gerrard was thinking of leaving, he left the club to join MLS side LA Galaxy. Another secret was Raheem Sterling wanted to leave and win trophies, his transfer saga went on too long before he finally made the move to Manchester City. Glen Johnson also leaves the club after a difficult couple of seasons at Anfield as his performance level dipped leaving him being dropped by Roy Hodgson for his replacement at Liverpool Clyne.

IN: Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton, £10 million)
Joe Gomez (Charlton Athletic, £3.5 million)
Roberto Firmino (1899 Hoffenheim, £21.3 million)
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa, £32.5 million)
Ádám Bogdán (Bolton Wanderers, Free)
James Milner (Manchester City, Free)
Danny Ings (Burnley, Tribunal)

OUT: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City, £44 million)
Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo, £5 million)
Sebastián Coates (Sunderland, £4 million)
Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy, Released)
Glen Johnson (Stoke City, Released)
Brad Jones (Free Agents, Free)
Javier Manquilo (Atlético Madrid, Loan Cancelled)

Liverpool will be different without Gerrard and will be a completely different prospect with the team. They have also lost their most complete, creative, attacking player Sterling to Premier League rivals. Their squad and recruitment make them a tough team to face this season and they will be confident of being able to fight but they will struggle to compete at the top of the table.

Steven Gerrard celebrates scoring against Leicester.

Steven Gerrard celebrates scoring against Leicester.

My Liverpool XI (4-3-3): 22 S.Mignolet; 2 N.Clyne 37 M.Skrtel 17 M.Sakho 38 J.Flanagan; 20 A.Lallana 14 J.Henderson (C) 10 P.Coutinho; 11 R.Firmino NA C.Benteke 15 D.Sturridge

Bench: 34 Á.Bogdán 6 D.Lovren 18 A.Moreno 4 K.Touré 23 E.Can 50 L.Markovic 28 D.Ings

Last Season: 6th

Prediction: 7th