Aviva Premiership Preview: Bristol Rugby

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Andy Robinson

Captain: Jack Lam

Stadium: Ashton Gate (Capacity: 27,000)

Last Season: Promoted

Prediction: 10th

The long wait was finally over for Bristol, they secured promotion back to the Premiership at the seventh time of asking and they have made some serious progress.

There are a number of star names in the Bristol camp, a man with Gavin Henson’s CV is always going to be a talented player pair that with the new duo of Jordan Crane and Tusi Pisi and the squad has quality.

lam

Bristol captain, Jack Lam.

Bristol have a creative backline led by Samoan fly-half Pisi and the creative midfield should give space to the pace and flair of the quicker players out wide such as former Leicester and Wasps winger Varndell.

The pack is match for most Premiership sides without having any big names and lacking internationals. They should not encounter much in the way of trouble.

THREE TO WATCH

Gavin Henson

Position: Fly-Half/ Centre  Nationality: Welsh  Age: 34  Height: 1.83m  Weight: 100kg

The playmaker has it all as an inside centre, he kicks, passes and tackles well, his pace is not quite what it used to be as he enters his mid-thirties but his playmaking ability make him a valuable player.

Henson also brings international experience and a big game knowledge to a team lacking much of that, he is among a splattering of internationals brought in by Andy Robinson to help Bristol acclimatise to the high level Premiership and Challenge Cup games they will face.

Jack Lam

Position: Flanker  Nationality: Samoan  Age: 28  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 103kg

A ferocious tackler who’s size makes the tackle area a really difficult area to establish any dominance against the Bristol skipper. This coupled with effective breakdown work sees the Bristol captain dominate the immediate tackle situation.

Lam is also no stranger to attack and is more than happy to pop up on the inside shoulder of a fly-half to terrorise opposition tens.

Tom Varndell

Positon: Wing  Nationality: English  Age: 30  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 101kg

Varndell is an absolutely unbelievable finisher, up there with the likes of Cueto and Hanley he can score from anywhere due to his pace. He adds some ‘X Factor’ to the Bristol backline.

VARNDELL.jpg

Varndell in action for Bristol.

The 30 year old will be Robinson’s main attacking outlet this season, and it is a joy to ahve the talented winger back in the Premiership.

TRANSFERS

IN (13)

Luke Arscott (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Ryan Bevington (Ospreys, WAL)

Jordan Crane (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Nick Fenton-Wells (Bedford Blues, ENG)

Jon Fisher (Northampton Saints, ENG)

Will Hurrell (Doncaster Knights, ENG)

Giorgi Nemasadze (Tarbes, FRA)

Thretton Palamo (Saracens, ENG)

Tusi Pisi (Sunwolves, JAP)

Martin Roberts (Ospreys, WAL)

Soane Tonga’huia (Oyonnax, FRA)

Jordan Williams (Scarlets, WAL)

Rhodri Williams (Scarlets, WAL)

OUT (10)

Tommaso Benvenuti (Benneton Treviso, ITA)

Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Craif Hampson (Wasps, ENG)

Darren Hudson (Released, REL)

Marco Mama (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

Matthew Morgan (Cardiff Blues, WAL)

Josh Ovens (Released, REL)

Dwayne Peel (Retired, RET)

James Stephenson (Released, REL)

George Watkins (Jersey Reds, ENG)

Tusi Pisi is a good signing providing them with talent at fly-half. Arscott also has a lot of top level experience making him a clever capture along with number eight Crane. Everyone knows what Tonga’huia is capable of.

PISI.jpg

Pisi lining up a kick for the Sunwolves.

Genge is a hot prospect and will be missed especially as he is now gaining recognition from Eddie Jones. Mama is a good player and could have been hugely influential for Bristol. What a way for Dwayne Peel to end his career and a glittering one at that.

My Bristol Rugby 23

15 Luke Arscott 14 Tom Varndell 13 Will Hurrell 12 Gavin Henson 11 David Lemi 10 Tusi Pisi 9 Will Cliff

1 Soane Tonga’huia 2 Ross McMillan 3 Gaston Cortes 4 Mark Sorensen 5 Ian Evans 6 Jon Fisher 7 Jack Lam (Captain) 8 Jordan Crane

16 Chris Brooker 17 Ryan Bevington 18 Anthony Perenise 19 Joe Joyce 20 Olly Robinson 21 Martin Roberts 22 Thretton Palamo 23 Charlie Amesbury

Bristol will not be challenging for the top half but relegation doesn’t look likely.

Advertisements

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.

GUARDIOLA.jpg

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.

DENAYER.jpg

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.

MKHITARYAN.jpg

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.

IBRAHIMOVIC.jpg

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.

KARANKA.jpg

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.

DOWNING.jpg

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

Norwich City Preview

Manager: Alex Neil
Stadium: Carrow Road
Captain: Russell Martin
Top Scorer: Cameron Jerome (21)

Norwich the newly promoted team that have the most recent Premier League experience, they have a wealth of talent in their squad which may make them a difficult team to beat over the course of the season.

Norwich had a rather strong start to the season in August and September only losing 2 games and recording a win over Watford and a draw with Bournemouth who were both outstanding over the season and at the end were automatically promoted back into the first tier of English football. Norwich racked up a healthy number of points and looked primed to yo-yo back into the Premier League. However it was not to be as their autumn run was a horror show for the club as they could only win 1 game throughout October and November. This saw them slip to 11th in the Championship table having been at the top at the start of October.

Cameron Jerome netted 21 goals last season in all competitions.

Cameron Jerome netted 21 goals last season in all competitions.

The team improved in December recording giant wins over Huddersfield (5-0) and Millwall (6-1). Neil Adams however would depart from the club in early January and Alex Neil joined, Norwich would only lose 3 further games that season. A run of 5 wins over the course of February and March would see some of their best football as they netted 16 goals and only conceded 3, the complete team, their undoubted performance of the season coming at Watford where they smashed their promoted counterparts 3-0 away from home. An outstanding performance. This purple patch also included the 4-0 obliteration of Millwall at Carrow Road, Norwich endured a very strong spell.

Through March and April their assault on the top of the table grew stronger with a run of 8 unbeaten games which saw them rise from 5th to 2nd which was a statement of intent from the Norfolk club. They played some absolute crackers over the latter part of last season including their final day 4-2 win over Fulham lifting themselves into pole position for the play-offs which saw Norwich fighting past both Ipswich and Middlesborough to complete the bounce back into England’s top flight. Norwich’s final push for promotion was wonderful to watch as a neutral and if they can produce performances like that in the Premier League will be hard to stop the club surviving the dreaded drop.

Nathan Redmond a great player, full of enthusiasm a constant threat both in built attacks as well as on the counter due to his pace. The England under-21 winger has been a mainstay in the Norwich squad for much of the last 2 seasons adding that bit of flair to a team that at times have been lacking. He is 1 of those players that can light a fire inside the Canaries and has steered them to promotion from his spot. The undeniable brilliance of the youngster has been noted by England boss Roy Hodgson, it must only be a matter of time before the pace laden winger earns a call-up to the senior national side.

Nathan Redmond celebrates one of his goals.

Nathan Redmond celebrates one of his goals.

The newly promoted club have only recruited 4 players over the off season. The acquisition of Hull striker Brady is a huge coup, he is a proven midfielder2 at the highest level after his seasons at Hull including loan spells whilst he was at Manchester United where he failed to make an appearance. The 23 year old Republic of Ireland international has been a wonderful player over the past years. They have also brought in the West Bromwich Albion duo of Dorrans and Mulumbu, Dorrans is a super creating player up the middle. Mulumbu adds another top class player to the ranks, both offer not just their quality on the field but also Premier League experience off it for Norwich City.

Robbie Brady celebrates a goal for former club Hull.

Robbie Brady celebrates a goal for former club Hull.

Norwich have offloaded much of the deadwood with very few high profile names leaving bar possibly Becchio the former Leeds man but he hasn’t been at his best for some time.

IN: Robbie Brady (Hull City, £7 million)
Graham Dorrans (West Bromwich Albion, £3 million)
Youssouf Mulumbu (West Bromwich Albion, Free)
Jake Kean (Blackburn Rovers, Free)

OUT: Cameron McGeehan (Luton Town, Undisclosed)
Lucciano Becchio (Belgrano, Free)
Mark Bunn (Aston Villa, Free)
Ignasi Miquel (Free Agents, Free)
Sam Kelly (Free Agents, Free)
Carlos Cuéllar (Free Agents, Free)
Kyle Callen-Fadden (Free Agents, Free)

Norwich will be a difficult team over the course of the season will that be enough to stay up? Only time can answer this question, I think that the quality of the Premier League may be too much for Norwich.

My Norwich City XI (4-2-2-2): 1 B.Johnson; 2 S.Whittaker 5 R.Martin (C) 6 M.Turner 23 M.Olsson; 14 W.Hoolahan 4 B.Johnson; NA R.Brady 22 N.Redmond; 20 R.van Wolfswinkel 10 C.Jerome

Bench: NA J.Kean 30 S.Bassong 24 R.Bennett 8 J.Howson 41 G.Dorrans 9 K.Lafferty 11 G.Hooper

Last Season: Championship Play-Off Winner
Prediction: 18th (Relegated)