Watford Preview

Manager: Quique Flores
Stadium: Vicarage Road
Captain: Troy Deeney
Top Scorer: Troy Deeney (21)

Watford have achieved promotion and congratulations to the north London club however staying up could be a real challenge and they’ll be hoping the likes of Deeney and Forestieri can continue to keep Watford picking up the points.

Watford in ecstasy having won promotion to England's top flight.

Watford in ecstasy having won promotion to England’s top flight.

Watford had an excellent start to the season only losing 2 games up until the 4th November these included an impressive 3-0 demolition of Bolton and 4-1 thumping of Leeds United. October and September saw Watford tear the rule books up and find themselves in the promotion race before Christmas that was until November having started the month in pole position they then lost 4 games in a row and with that slipped 6 places to 7th in the league their lowest position in the league bar week 2 when they were in 12th. Following that run they produced a wonderful display away agains former Premiership boys Fulham and ran riot winning 5-0 at Craven Cottage. This result was huge coup for the Londoners and gave them some real thrust heading into the new year and was a relief for the fans after the horror show of November. They closed out the year with an impressive 4-2 win in Cardiff.

January was a big month for Watford and saw some incredible results they smashed Charlton 5-0 at Vicarage Road then 7 days later would hammer Blackpool 7-2. That was huge for the club 2 massive wins over formidable opposition. This saw Watford once again launch an assault on the upper reaches of the table and automatic promotion to England’s top flight. Following the thrashing of Blackpool the club would only lose 3 more games that season 2 of them to their fellow promoted clubs Bournemouth and Norwich. Ipswich claiming the final win over Watford. A 6 game unbeaten streak through the end of February and the majority of March was enough to give Watford the points they needed to burst up the table and send shockwaves through the Championship. This preceded their final loss of the season as they then finished the season with a 7 game unbeaten streak to finish 2nd in the table just behind the brilliant Bournemouth.

Watford had a style of play that many found enticing to watch and with players like captain Troy Deeney and Italian striker Forestieri up front the way they were scoring was quite incredible summed up by the club managing to bang in 5+ goals in three games. They scored 91 over the course of the season with only Bournemouth scoring more. Hopefully having a more settled coach will make Watford even more deadly this season having had 4 coaches last season before the 8th October. They will be a joy to watch if they can string together some wins and don’t over complicate things.

Their skipper and striker Deeney is certainly the key man at Vicarage Road and will hope continue his form that made him such an asset last season. His finishing ability is quite something and that led to him scoring a quite astonishing 21 goals for the club last season in all competitions. Deeney’s eye for goal makes him quite an asset however if the striker continues this upward curve it is hard to see Watford keeping hold of him should the heavyweights come knocking in January. One thing is for sure Watford will hope he can once again be the difference for them as he was so many times last season.

Troy Deeney celebrates a goal against Brighton on last years opening day.

Troy Deeney celebrates a goal against Brighton on last years opening day.

Recruitment has been a large part of the club’s summer bringing in 11 new faces to try an help the club remain in the Premier League. They’ve also cut loose 5 players to try and shift some of the supposed ‘deadwood’ that were deemed surplus to requirements. The signing that really catches my eye is that of Vydra, an extremely potent finisher and quite a coup for he new boys. He is a much coveted striker and Flores will be keen to show off his shiny new man. They have also brought in former Spurs man Capoue a very experienced midfielder that they can build around a man that will bring priceless knowledge to a squad short of Premier League know-how. Juanfran is also an exciting prospect for Watford to bring in a playmaker from La Liga club Real Betis. He could be a huge player for the club over the coming months. Behrami the Switzerland and former West Ham player also brings that Premier League knowledge to the table and could be influential in Watford’s bid to stay up.

Hydra could be key to Watford's season.

Hydra could be key to Watford’s season.

No really influential figures leave Vicarage Road this summer just a few players that were barely holding on to a spot in the squad, Watford should not miss these departures.

IN: Matej Vydra (Udinese, Undisclosed)
Valon Behrami (Hamburger SV, Undisclosed)
Étienne Capoue (Tottenham Hotspur, Undisclosed)
Juanfran (Real Betis, £1.5 million)
Steven Berghuis (AZ, £4.6 million)
Allan Nyom (Udinese, Undisclosed)
Miguel Britos (Napoli, Free)
Giedrius Arlauskis (Steaua Bucuresti, Free)
Sebastian Prödl (Werder Bremen, Free)
José Holebas (Roma, Undisclosed)
José Manuel Jurado (Spartak Moscow, Undislclosed)

OUT: Jonathan Bond (Reading, Undisclosed)
Lewis McGugan (Sheffield Wednesday, Undisclosed)
Marco Motta (Free Agents, Free)
Luke O’Nien (Free Agents, Free)
Vujadin Savic (Free Agents, Free)

Watford will hope for consistency this season and with a few wins they might stay up it’s going to be tight at the bottom.

My Watford XI (4-4-1-1): 1 H.Gomes; 2 A.Nyom 15 C.Cathcart 25 J.Holebas 5 S.Prödl; 19 M.Layún 8 V.Behrami 29 É.Capoue 21 I.Anya; 10 M.Vyrdra; 9 T.Deeney

Bench: 13 R.Gilmartin 3 M.Britos 14 J.Paredes 23 B.Watson 7 J.Jurado 24 O.Ighalo 11 F.Forestieri

Last Season: Championship Runners-Up
Prediction: 19th (Relegated)

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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

Latin Dancing

Latin America, the home of the salsa, a dance full of passion and flair much like that of Barcelona’s invincible strike force. A trio that boasts in my opinion the greatest player of all time Lionel Messi, skilful and trickmaster Neymar and goal scoring glutton Suarez. A frontline lethal in front of goal and a force that has taken Barcelona to the Spanish treble, with triumph over their Madrid rivals in La Liga, dispatching of Bilbao in the Copa del Rey and a Champions League win to write themselves into the history books, Barcelona are thriving.

Messi the trickery of a magician, aim of a sniper and daring of a stuntman, he just epitomises talent. The Argentinian has been sensational all season and made huge contributions to this Barcelona team as they grow into becoming greats of the beautiful game from goalkeeper to the deadly 3 forwards. The greatest player of our generation has the ability to silence tens of thousands of people within seconds he can take the Nou Camp from a state of utter despair into ecstasy and a dreamland filled with the shouts of joyous fans that have come to watch their heroes. You watch Lionel Messi take the field and the reaction that precedes the demagogue as he leaves defenders trailing in his wake as he dances past defenders.

Lionel Messi celebrates scoring a goal for Barcelona.

Lionel Messi celebrates scoring a goal for Barcelona.

Neymar what to say about the Brazilian trickster, only a few years ago the Brazilian forward was plying his trade in his home country before moving to arguably the greatest club in the world. He went from a Brazilian league that is short of international class to training among Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and Alves a team that contain many stars that have won the World Cup, the Euros and everything else there is to win. He now has that swagger that is definitive with the Barcelona squad, that reputation that comes with being a player at the super club. Undoubtedly brilliant, deceptively influential without Neymar you doubt Messi or Suarez would be as effective in scything open Europe’s best defences as German champions Bayern Munich found out all too well in the semi-final.

Neymar celebrates a goal for his native Brazil.

Neymar celebrates a goal for his native Brazil.

Luis Suarez, the striker that couldn’t stop scoring for Liverpool has come to Barcelona and when you thought that Barcelona couldn’t get any better the Uruguayan hitman added another attacking outlet to the Spanish giants, and it’s not just goals that the former Liverpool forward brings it’s service to his other Latin American counterparts in this wonderful dance that is why Barcelona are the best in not just Europe but the world. Suarez had this art at Anfield and was providing the opportunities for England forward Sturridge to score. At the Nou Camp this art has developed and his masterpiece is greatly appreciated by the thousands that watch the Uruguayan win their blessed team trophies with relative ease.

Luis Suarez celebrates a pivotal goal against rivals Real Madrid.

Luis Suarez celebrates a pivotal goal against rivals Real Madrid.

A club awash with history and former stars, they have had an unbelievable year first capturing Suarez then winning all they had to win and in doing so raising up this trio as the greatest strike force football has to offer. There’s something quite romantic about the Latin American style of football, the trickery, the beauty, the individual brilliance, one thing is for sure Barcelona’s place as the best team in Europe is assured…until August that is.