Barclays Premier League Previews (M)

Barclays Premier League Preview: Manchester City

Manager: Pep Guardiola

Stadium: Etihad Stadium (Capacity: 55,097)

Captain: Vincent Kompany

Top Scorer: Sergio Agüero (24)

Biggest Signing: Ilkay Gundogan (£21 million)

Last Season: 4th

Prediction: Champions League

Manchester City have one of the most exciting sets of players in the league, they have players that can do things most players can only dream of.

The big spending club under performed last season unable to covert the many chances created by the likes of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne two players who were key to Manuel Pellegrini’s reign.

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Guardiola is well respected all over Europe.

Guardiola comes in having had successful spells at Bayern Munich and Barcelona and the Spanish coach has already made a good impression bringing in some high profile signings on low fees which has made him popular among the fans.

Compared to their neighbours the fees they are paying for their newest stars are pennies.

Pep Guardiola is also hugely good at bringing through youth something that sets him apart from Jose Mourinho and he is blessed at Manchester City with player such as Kelechi Iheanacho and Jason Denayer developing at a ridiculous rate.

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Denayer is a promising prospect for Manchester City.

Guardiola has strengthened the depth in certain areas and only recruited the very best. He has recruited from Spain and Germany in an effort to make Manchester City a formidable outfit.

IN

Ilkay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund, £21 million)

Nolito (Celta Vigo, £13.8 million)

Alexander Zinchenko (FC Ufa, Undisclosed)

Aaron Mooy (Unattached, Free)

OUT

Richard Wright (Released)

Martin Demichelis (Released)

Manchester City are from done with business, Leroy Sane remains a priority target having told Schalke he wants to leave. Deals are also expected to be done for two of South America’s hottest property in Manolas Moreno and Gabriel Jesus. City are also still interested in John Stones of Everton or failing that Roma defender Kostas Manolas.

My Manchester City XI (4-2-3-1): 1 J.Hart; 5 P.Zabaleta, 28 J.Denayer, 20 E.Mangala, 11 A.Kolarov; 25 Fernandinho, 16 I.Gundogan; 15 J.Navas, 21 D.Silva, 17 K.De Bruyne; 16 S.Agüero (Captain)

Barclays Premier League Preview: Manchester United

Manager: Jose Mourinho

Stadium: Old Trafford (Capacity: 75.653)

Captain: Wayne Rooney

Top Scorer: Anthony Martial (11)

Biggest Signing: Eric Bailly (£30 million)

Last Season: 5th

Prediction: Champions League

Manchester United, a failed transition from Sir Alex Ferguson has seen them depart from two managers in three years. David Moyes failed and as for Louis van Gaal the saviour of Manchester United, there will be no Champions League at Old Trafford this year.

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Mkhitaryan celebrates scoring for Dortmund.

In comes a proven Premier League manager, Mourinho, arguably the best short term manager in the world, he will paper over the cracks left by Louis van Gaal.

Mourinho knows how to win this league and he has signed players accordingly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrives with a reputation as does Mkhitaryan. Players with international and European pedigree.

They have the quality, players like Wayne Rooney, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Chris Smalling coupled with the exuberant youth of Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingered and Marcus Rashford. The squad is packed with stars.

Old Trafford will be tough trip for many this year and the Champions League must be the bare minimum for this new look Red Devils.

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Ibrahimovic is undoubtedly a star.

Three new faces with more to come no doubt Mourinho was handed more money than he knew what to with and he has not wasted time in spending it.

IN

Eric Bailly (Villareal, £30 million)

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Borussia Dortmund, Undisclosed)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Unattached, Free)

OUT

Joe Rothwell (Oxford United, Undisclosed)

Nick Powell (Released)

Victor Valdes (Middlesborough, Released)

One of the most highly anticipated transfers is soon to be down with Paul Pogba all set to arrive in Manchester. Kostas Manolas also remains a target but a deal looks unlikely.

My Manchester United XI (4-1-3-2): 1 D.De Gea; 5 M.Rojo, 3 E.Bailly, 12 C.Smalling, 23 L.Shaw; 28 M.Schneiderlin; 8 J.Mata, 10 W.Rooney (Captain), 14 J.Lingard; 11 A.Martial, 19 M.Rashford

Barclays Premier League Preview: Middlesbrough FC

Manager: Aitor Karanka

Stadium: Riverside Stadium (Capacity: 33,746)

Captain: Grant Leadbitter

Top Scorer: David Nugent (8)

Biggest Signing: Viktor Fischer (£3.8 million)

Last Season: Promoted

Prediction: Safety

Middlesbrough are a team that can go places, they have an ambitious manager in Aitor Karanka.

The off season has already seen a lot of activity at the Riverside developing a squad that is capable of playing in the Premier League and also giving the club an identity and personality to set it apart from Sunderland and Newcastle their neighbours.

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Karanka has made Middlesbrough a tough team to beat.

Middlesbrough’s long exile from the Premier League may turn out to be a blessing in disguise as they have bolstered the squad with talented players and found that they can be team that are very hard to beat.

One thing that strikes when you look through how Middlesbrough have scored their goals there is an endless list of scorers, unlike Spurs where you have Kane or Leicester where there is Kane, they have four or five players who are netting five, six, seven goals a season with Nugent of course leading the way.

Being able to bring in Valdes for free and also sign up a few other talented players for such small fees has made the already talented squad stronger and with this strength in depth comes competition for places.

IN

Viktor Fischer (Ajax, £3.8 million)

Antonio Barragan (Valencia CF, £3 million)

Marten De Roon (Atalanta, Undisclosed)

Victor Valdes (Unattached, Free)

Gaston Ramirez (Unattached, Free)

Bernardo Espinosa (Spoting Gijon, Free)

Alvaro Negredo (Valencia CF, Loan)

OUT

Paul Weldon (Darlington, Free)

Already some high quality names coming in. Add into the mix Harry Maguire who is set to be under a £4 million offer, Aston Villa keeper Guzan which is believed to be a done deal and an offer for Tottenham’s Nail Bentaleb expected soon they are not short of quality.

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Boro stalwart, Downing.

My Middlesbrough XI (4-4-2): 23 V.Valdes; NA A.Barragan, 4 D.Ayala, NA B.Espinosa, 2 G.Friend; 8 A.Clayton, 7 G.Leadbitter (Captain), 21 G.Ramirez, 19 S.Downing; 35 D.Nugent, NA V.Fischer

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Three Lions Without Heart

England have been dumped out of Euro 2016 at just the last 16 stage having been defeated 2-1 by Iceland in Nice.

England did not deserve and more so they have shown nothing to suggest they are a good side over the course of what has been at best a mediocre tournament for most teams.

England showed no desire, no bravery, no will to win. It was not good enough and has never been good enough. The players showed no willing to change the game to become heroes, they have come up against four teams all of whom showed more desire and bravery than England did.

Roy Hodgson’s reluctance to play Jamie Vardy who has changed things every time he came on including the equaliser against Wales led to this. His dropping of Adam Lallana hurt England, his loyalty to Joe Hart lost the game, his faith in Raheem Sterling sealed England’s fate.

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Joe Hart has had his critics over the tournament.

His resignation sums up England really, resigned, underachieving, overpaid. A team picked from a country approximately the same size as Leicester.

Roy Hodgson leaves his post and that should improve England to an extent, it may bring excitement and pace to this England side. England need to look at the blueprint of what Eddie Jones has done to the national rugby team.

Bring back England’s traditional strengths and bring through the young players, players like Lingard, Rashford, all of those players that Gareth Southgate had faith in.

England have to start again drop the players that failed their country Hart, Rooney, Sterling, the new era is here and must be ushered in.

 

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

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

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Leicester City have finally won the Premier League title.

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

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

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

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Agüero cost City an eye watering £38 million.

4th Manchester City

Played 36 Points 64 Goal Difference 30

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

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

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

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

Prediction: 4th

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

5th Manchester United

Played 35 Points 60 Goal Difference 12

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

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

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

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Mark Noble has been key for West Ham this season.

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

Prediction: 6th

6th West Ham United

Played 35 Points 59 Goal Difference 17

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

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

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

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

Prediction: 5th

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

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Newcastle are having a tough year.

17th Newcastle United

Played 36 Points 33 Goal Difference -25

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

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

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

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

Prediction: 17th

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Sunderland could be facing the drop.

18th Sunderland

Played 35 Points 32 Goal Difference -18

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

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

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

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

Prediction: 18th

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Norwich have not had much to cheer about this year.

19th Norwich City

Played 35 Points 31 Goal Difference -26

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

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

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

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

Prediction: 19th

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What a year it’s been for Jamie Vardy.

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

Claudio’s Core

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

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

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

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Leicester City manager, Claudio Ranieri.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamie Vardy Leicester City

Vardy celebrates scoring a goal for Leicester City.

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

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

Predicted Top 6

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

West Ham United Preview

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

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

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

Sam Allardyce leaves the club after just 1 season.

Sam Allardyce leaves the club after just 1 season.

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

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

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

Enner Valencia celebrates scoring a goal for Ecuador.

Enner Valencia celebrates scoring a goal for Ecuador.

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

Ogbonna poses after completing his signing for West Ham.

Ogbonna poses after completing his signing for West Ham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Season: 12th
Prediction: 9th

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

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