Barclays Premier League Previews (H-L)

Barclays Premier League Preview: Hull City

Manager: Not Applicable

Stadium: KC Stadium (Capacity: 25.450)

Captain: Michael Dawson

Top Scorer: Abel Hernandez (20)

Biggest Signing: Jonathan Edwards (Free)

Last Season: Promoted (Championship)

Prediction: Relegated

Hull City have recently been rocked by the departure of Steve Bruce but will still fancy themselves to threaten some of the more well established teams in the division.

They have Premier League pedigree and with business still to be done they could yet strengthen an already talented squad.

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Edwards in action for Peterborough.

Abel Hernandez was lethal last season ending the season with 20 goals in the Championship and a further two in other competitions. In the midfield they also have experienced operators in Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore.

There is plenty of time for Hull to lure Welsh striker Hal Robson-Kanu to the KC Stadium before the end of August.

Due to bouncing straight back up the players that were relegated are much the same and will know just how tough and unforgiving the Premier League can be.

IN

Jonathan Edwards (Peterborough United, Free)

OUT

Sone Aluko (Fulham, Free)

Ryan Taylor (Released)

Hull are still looking for a goalkeeper keeping tabs on both Crystal Palace’s McCarthy and Cardiff’s Marshall. They are also leading the race for Robson-Kanu. They could also see another departure as fellow promoted club Middlesborough are interested in Harry Maguire.

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Hal Robson-Kanu

My Hull City XI (4-5-1): 1 A.McGregor; 12 H.Maguire, 6 C.Davies, 21 M.Dawson (Captain), 26 A.Robertson; 27 A.Elmohamady, 14 J.Livermore, 8 T.Huddlestone, 10 R.Snodgrass, 11 S.Clucas; 9 A.Hernandez

Barclays Premier League Preview: Leicester City

Manager: Claudio Ranieri

Stadium: King Power Stadium (Capacity: 32,312)

Captain: Wes Morgan

Top Scorer: Jamie Vardy (24)

Biggest Signing: Ahmed Musa (£15 million)

Last Season: Champions

Prediction: Europa League

Leicester City…what a season! What a team! What a manager!

What they did was incredible but now the hard work begins for Ranieri and his squad, the loss of Kanté is a blow but Leicester have a chance this season to become a big club.

It is highly unlikely they will win the league again, they could though realistically achieve a place in the top seven therefore securing some form of European football. it is critical they push on and stick to the gameplan that served them so well last season.

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Jamie Vardy is a key player for Leicester.

Leicester are a spirited side and Ranieri will have no problem bringing the team together to try and make Leicester a consistently strong side, this relies on two things, firstly keeping things simple and secondly not thinking about last season too much.

As well as key departures they have made some really big signings, Ahmed Musa is lethal and him partnered with England striker Jamie Vardy and the Foxes should not be short of goals.

IN

Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow, £15 million)

Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96, £2.6 million)

Nampalys Mendy (OGC Nice, Undisclosed)

Luis Hernandez (Sporting Gijon, Free)

OUT

N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea, £30 million)

Jonny Maddison (Yeovil Town, Undisclosed)

Joseph Dodoo (Rangers, Undisclosed)

Jacob Blyth (Motherwell, Free)

Paul Konchesky (Gillingham, Released)

Mark Schwarzer (Released)

With Riyad Mahrez still a target for both Chelsea and Arsenal there could yet be dealings to be done in the east Midlands. Leonardo Ulloa is also reported to be seeking a move but Leicester’s squad does seem to be looking close to finalised.

MUSA

New signing Ahmed Musa.

My Leicester City XI (4-4-2): 1 K.Schmiechel; 17 D.Simpson, 5 W.Morgan (Captain), 6 R.Huth, 28 C.Fuchs; 26 R.Mahrez, 4 D.Drinkwater, NA N.Mendy, 11 M.Albrighton; NA A.Musa, 9 J.Vardy

Barclays Premier League Preview: Liverpool

Manager: Jurgen Klopp

Stadium: Anfield (Capacity: 44,742)

Captain: Jordan Henderson

Top Scorer: Roberto Firmino (10)

Biggest Signing: Sadio Mané (£34 million)

Last Season: 8th

Prediction: Europa League

Liverpool one of the most successful English clubs of all time blessed with great players and even greater managers.

Klopp is now the man in charge following the sacking of Brendan Rodgers and with a whole pre-season behind him and his own transfers in the mix can Klopp fix the club?

The squad is littered with internationals and young talent that can ignite the Premier League, this club clearly has ambitions to get back to where they once were as kings of Europe.

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Klopp is having an effect.

Anfield is a wonderful venue and Liverpool need to match that venue with the quality of football and the German is building a squad to do that.

They have recruited well stealing another Southampton player in Mané and also bringing in some cheaper recruits.

IN

Sadio Mané (Southampton, £34 million)

Georginio Wijnaldum (Newcastle United, £25 million)

Loris Karius (FSV Mainz 05, £4.7 million)

Ragnar Klavan (FC Augsburg, Undisclosed)

Joel Matip (Schalke 04, Free)

Alex Manninger (FC Augsburg, Free)

OUT

Jordon Ibe (AFC Bournemouth, £15 million)

Sergi Canos (Norwich City, £2.5 million)

Jerome Sinclair (Watford, Undisclosed)

Martin Skrtel (Fenerbahche, Undisclosed)

Jordan Rossiter (Rangers, Free)

Kolo Toure (Celtic, Released)

Jose Enrique (Released)

A big spending summer sees two goalkeepers and two attacking midfielders arrive to bolster both attack and defence but they lose bright spark Ibe. Max Meyer is still a target for Klopp. Uncertainty still looms over the future of Mario Balotelli, Joe Allen, Brad Smith and Christian Benteke.

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Mané looks like a key signing.

My Liverpool XI (4-2-3-1): 22 S.Mignolet; 2 N.Clyne, 17 R.Klavan, 32 J.Matip, 18 A.Moreno; 24 J.Allen, 7 J.Milner (Captain); 20 A.Lallana, 19 S.Mané, 10 P.Coutinho; 15 D.Sturridge

 

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Will Roy’s Boys Roar in France?

The Euro Championships are always a great occasion for all football fans over the continent.

England travel to France in June with a raft of new players likely to be in the mix since the previous Euro’s back in 2012 which prompted some soul searching following an indifferent campaign.

With the likes of Jamie Vardy banging in the goals this season for Leicester including of course surpassing the record of the great Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Jamie Vardy Leicester City

Vardy celebrates scoring a goal for Leicester City.

The emergence of Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson has also looked promising as he is becoming a well rounded captain. His passing game and control make him invaluable to Klopp’s new Liverpool and if he can finally make himself an England regular we could start to see England reap the benefits of Henderson.

The young Jesse Lingard has been a really exciting player to come through the ranks up at Old Trafford and his stunning rise saw him earn a call-up to Hodgson’s most recent squad.

Add in to the mix a host of young stars in the under-21’s Loftus-Cheek, Redmond, Chambers, Ibe, Ward-Prowse and Targett all looking to break into the top squad having made themselves regulars at their respective clubs.

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Jordon Ibe celebrates scoring pre-season.

England have been drawn in a group that is certainly winnable with ties against Wales, Slovakia and Russia to look forward to in France.

Games against Slovakia and Wales shouldn’t be too much of a problem despite the undeniable talent of former Spurs key player, Gareth Bale. Russia’s talented squad could prove a slight problem for England though.

The road to Paris so far though has been as smooth as you like with England bagging a 100% win record in their qualifying group, admittedly the likes of San Marino, Lithuania and Estonia are nowhere near the likes of a nation obsessed with football such as England.

Greg Dyke has issued a warning to Roy Hodgson saying that England have to get out of their Euro group and I for one would agree, if England fail to emerge from what is a relatively simple group questions will have to be asked about the coaching staff and players.

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Roy Hodgson has been issued a warning by the FA.

My England XI (assuming all are fit):

(4-2-3-1)

Joe Hart (Capt., Man City); Kyle Walker (Spurs), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), John Stones (Everton), Luke Shaw (Man Utd); Eric Dier (Spurs), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool); Raheem Sterling (Man City), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Jordon Ibe (Liverpool); Harry Kane (Spurs)

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

West Bromwich Albion Preview

Manager: Tony Pulis
Stadium: The Hawthorns
Captain: Darren Fletcher
Top Scorer: Saido Berahino (20)

West Bromwich Albion have for a long time now not achieved much but the club now have a chance to go for Europe with a good manager and some excellent individuals this team have the quality ti make the top 8 it remains to be seen if they can execute that.

West Bromwich Albion had a horrible start to the season stuttering and unable to really make any sort of mark bar a 4-0 win over newcomers Burnley at home. They looked like a team void of direction, void of ideas with only striker Berahino showing any real signs of life as he scorched the turf with his pace and whipped balls past numerous flailing keepers as if creating a piece of art. With no real spark or creative intuition behind him the chances were few and far between. The club have a really solid defensive unit when the defenders are playing at their best. Lescott and Dawson are past their best yet still accomplished defenders but games like the 3-2 loss to QPR and the 3-1 loss to Manchester City proved that this team was not firing and that meant that the Baggies could only notch 4 wins before the new year which led to the inevitable sacking of Alan Irvine on the 29th December after a 2-0 loss to Stoke the day before which left them in 16th place. Pulls was appointed his successor as early as 1st January.

Tony Pulis was happy to be appointed manager after Irvine failed to get results.

Tony Pulis was happy to be appointed manager after Irvine failed to get results.

The second half of the season was much improved as they would only lose 6 games before the end of the season some of these were tough games as well. Such as Manchester City and Tottenham. Saido Berhaino’s rate slowed but the team added to his haul with success and the team looked alive again. They recored huge wins over Chelsea 3-0 in what was 1 of the most incredible displays I have seen Berahino the chief architect as well as Fabregas having been sent off. They also beat Manchester United 1-0 in a game which always looked like it was going the underdogs way. This run of games and goals saw them climb as high as 13th which is where the club would finish. Respectable considering they were being touted to go down pre-Christmas.

West Bromwich Albion are currently under construction and will be for the nest 3 or 4 months as Pulis builds his squad and tries to identify his midfield anchor whether it be the Scotch captain Fletcher or someone different like vice-captain Brunt or new recruit McLean. This seemed a key part of his plan at Stoke which saw them flying high under Pulis. His long ball game was also a large part of his tenure at the Brittannia Stadium. Berahino will also be key as long as he can keep hold of the prolific frontman.

The key player for the Baggies last season has to be Berahino, he was majestic for West Brom, always could be relied upon to change a game or turn the tide a game changer. He will always be a threat for the Birmingham based club. His raw pace make him a handful enough add to that his venomous right boot and you have a striker that even the best clubs would be jealous of and clubs have been chasing his signature but as yet the hefty price tag has seen potential suitors look elsewhere for affordable alternatives. I have no doubt if he can continue his form the clubs will come knocking again every team could do with a prolific finisher.

Saido Berahino celebrates 1 of his 20 goals last season.

Saido Berahino celebrates 1 of his 20 goals last season.

Transfer business has been very low profile at the Hawthorns despite some interesting captures. Lambert arrives fresh from his ill fated time at Liverpool, his goal scoring nous could come in handy even if it just is from the bench. Lambert also suits Pulis’ long ball style that served his past club Stoke so well. James Chester is a huge signing for Pulis, he could sure up a weakness at the back and if he can will certainly be worth the rather hefty price tag Hull commanded for their defender. Chester is a good buy though and will be an asset for West Bromwich Albion. Rondón is also a huge signing, they paid a premium for the forward the south American forward could be a hugely important signature and could well add some thrust to the strike force already in place at the Hawthorns as they look for a top half finish.

Rickie Lambert celebrates scoring for England.

Rickie Lambert celebrates scoring for England.

Some long time players leave the club. Graham Dorrans departs for the new boys Norwich, he was an exciting player and a servant to the club he may well be missed by the club. Mulumbu is also off to pastures new, he had been a rock at times for the Premier League side and many will be sad to see him leave. Baird another player who has been at the club for a relatively long time leaves as Pulis has a clear out trying to build his vision.

IN: Rickie Lambert (Liverpool, £3 million)
James Chester (Hull City, £8 milllion)
James McLean (Wigan Athletic, £1.5 million)
José Salomón Rondón (Zenit, £12 million)

OUT: Graham Dorrans (Norwich City, £3 million)
Youssuf Mulumbu (Norwich City, Free)
Chris Baird (Derby County, Free)
Wes Atkinson (Notts County, Free)
Bradley Garmston (Gillingham, Free)
Donervon Daniels (Wigan Athletic, Undisclosed)
Georgios Samaras (Free Agents, Free)

West Brom look in good health and may well surprise a few this season however the whole field is getting stronger, there still a way off the top half.

My West Bromwich Albion XI (4-3-2-1): 1 B.Foster; 25 C.Dawson 6 J.Lescott 4 J.Chester 3 J.Olsson; 19 C,McManaman 24 D.Fletcher (C) 11 C.Brunt; 29 S.Sességnon 33 S.Rondón; 18 S.Berahino

Bench: 13 B.Myhill 20 L.O’Neill 23 G,McAuley 31 S.Gnabry 14 J.McLean 10 V.Anichebe 17 R.Lambert

Last Season: 13th
Prediction: 15th

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

Newcastle United Preview

Manager: Steve McLaren
Stadium: St James’ Park
Captain: Fabricio Coloccini
Top Scorer: Papiss Cisse (11)

Newcastle’s season was a number of things, all bad none good. The club made some very interesting signings in the likes of Cabella and Riviére both of whom failed to impress. Newcastle finished in 15th disappointing for such a large club.

Newcastle’s demise could be pointed out to the latter part of the season when John Carver was in charge but you can’t forget that Newcastle started the season with a run of 7 games without a win these included a humiliating 4-0 loss to Southampton where the Saints ran riot. They seemed to have a lot of luck facing the north east. This run however was followed by Pardew inspiring his side to a run of 5 wins including defeats of Liverpool and Tottenham that saw Newcastle climb and Pardew’s stock rise, this signalled that Newcastle meant business and the impressive displays from players like Jack Colback and Daryl Janmaat as well as the scoring from Perez made Newcastle a tough side to beat.

Ayoze Perez on the ball for Newcastle against Manchester City.

Ayoze Perez on the ball for Newcastle against Manchester City.

On 6th December Newcastle became the first team to beat Chelsea that season in an emphatic 2-1 win at St James’ Park, this was a heroic display from Newcastle and showed other teams that Chelsea were not as invincible as they had seemed early in the season. This was followed though by 3 straight defeats including a loss to local rivals Sunderland and that was that as Pardew left the north east of his own accord to join up with London club, Crystal Palace. This signalled a change in Newcastle’s league standing as into the breach stepped John Carver and Steve Stone who would oversee the remainder of the season as caretaker managers and would see a horrific run of games leading to Newcastle being embroiled in a relegation battle that went down to the final game against West Ham at St James’ Park.

John Carver oversaw Newcastle’s biggest defeat of the season when they faced Manchester United and crashed to a 5-0 defeat. This was followed up by a solitary win before the run of games that would see Newcastle slip from mid-table obscurity into the relegation dogfight. They suffered 10 games only picking up 1 point a 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion. They lost Sunderland who once again did the double over the Tyneside club and they suffered a defeat at the hands of already relegated club QPR on the penultimate weekend of the season. Their Premier League status was threatened but after Jonas Gutierrez inspired his team to 2 goals scoring 1 himself over West Ham and Newcastle could sleep easy that had retained their Premier League status, John Carver would not recover and was sacked as Mike Ashley brought in Steve McLaren.

The key player undoubtedly was former Sunderland midfielder Jack Colback, Colback joined the club with high hopes of outdoing his former club and local rivals Sunderland only to find himself being 1 of only a few bright sparks donning the famous white and black shirt. The midfielder was industrious and made 35 appearances over the course of the season. He was the rock at the heart of Newcastle and his dictating of pace from the centre of the park was class. He reads the game well and has given Newcastle cause for hope as we hurtle towards next season. Newcastle fans will be hoping their local lad can give Newcastle more of what he was capable of producing last season.

Jack Colback celebrates scoring against Everton.

Jack Colback celebrates scoring against Everton.

Newcastle have made 3 important signings as well as seeing Darlow and Lascelles come after their year long loan at Nottingham Forest. The pick of the bunch is midfielder Wijnaldum who has been nothing short of outstanding throughout the Magpies pre-season. He has scored goals and created them, he is sure to be a worthy addition at St James’ Park. Mitrovic also arrived and his scoring prowess is quite something, the forward managed 28 goals in 51 appearances for Anderlecht last season and at 20 years old is still improving as a player and is not short of confidence he and Ayoze Perez could be formidable for Newcastle for seasons to come. Chancel Mbemba has also finally arrived after questions about his age were answered and he could be a very important addition as Newcastle’s defensive woes last season were something that McLaren is keen to address.

Geoginio Wijnaldum celebrates scoring a goal for Holland at the World Cup.

Geoginio Wijnaldum celebrates scoring a goal for Holland at the World Cup.

Newcastle see a number of departures, they sickeningly got rid of Argentina international Gutierrez who’s treatment from the club has been disgusting. They also lose Ryan Taylor and their first choice left back Santon who was key to Newcastle’s defence. The core of Newcastle has been ripped out and a gaping hole will be left by the departure of long time servants Taylor and Gutierrez who were at the club during the season in the Championship and helped them regain Premiership status it is a dark time on Tyneside.

IN: Chancel Mbemba (Anderlecht, £8.5 million)
Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV Eindhoven, £14.5 million)
Aleksandar Mitrovic (Anderlecht, £13 million)

OUT: Ryan Taylor (Hull City, Free)
Davide Santon (Inter Milan, £3.25 million)
Jonas Gutierrez (Free Agents, Free)
Remie Streete (Port Vale, Free)
Adam Campbell (Notts County, Free)

Newcastle will be hoping for a better season and if they can produce some good football a top half finish. McLaren will be hoping to find a regular finisher in his side as well that have struggled for an out and out goalscorer since the departure of Demba Ba.

My Newcastle United XI (4-1-2-1-2): 1 T.Krul; 22 D.Janmaat 2 F.Coloccini (C) 15 J.Lascelles 18 C,Mbemba; 4 J.Colback; 7 M.Sissoko 16 R.Aarons; 5 G.Wijnaldum; 45 A.Mitrovic 17 A.Perez

Bench: 26 K.Darlow 19 M.Haïdara 3 P.Dummett 24 C.Tioté 20 R.Cabella 10 S.de Jong 9 P.Cisse

Last Season: 15th
Prediction: 11th