Aviva Premiership Preview: Northampton Saints

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Jim Mallinder

Captain: Tom Wood

Stadium: Franlins Gardens (Capacity: 15,500)

Last Season: 5th

Prediction: 8th

Northampton were disappointing last season, everyone expected them to be in the play-offs having finished first before the play-offs the season before.

Northampton have some star quality in the pack with England captain Dylan Hartley at hooker, Courtney Lawes at lock and England new boy Teimana Harrison also part of the club.

HARRISON.jpg

Teimana Harrison is a key player.

Northampton Saints have developed a rather substantial pack full of heavyweight, international stars. Hard carrying, hard tackling machines in what is an explosively powerful eight. They give what the backs front foot, clean ball.

The backs are also big men, George North, Luther Burrell, George Pisi, big, physical players who like to run hard and tackle aggressively. Physical backs give Northampton thrust to go forwards and punish the opposition. They can however be one dimensional.

THREE TO WATCH

Ben Foden

Position: Fullback  Nationality: English  Age: 31  Height: 1.83m  Weight: 93kg

Ben Foden was the best fullback in the country at one point. He is fast and the Northampton man has quick feet defenders can be beaten one-on-one by the quick, agile fullback.

Foden’s kicking game is also very useful as an exit strategy, he can be used as an extra playmaker in attack.

Teimana Harrison

Position: Flanker  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 106kg

The hard running Saints flanker has gained caps against Wales and Australia he looks as though he will be a force in the future for England.

His work in the loose is hugely effective, he is one of the most defensively sound players in the league and his influence in attack makes him a valuable member of the Northampton squad.

Louis Picamoles

Position: Number Eight  Nationality: French  Age: 30  Height: 1.92m  Weight: 116kg

Picamoles is now widely regarded as one of the best number eights in the world along with the likes of Kieran Read and Taulupe Faletau. His power when he carries is quite extraordinary.

PICAMOLES.jpg

France international, Picamoles.

Picamoles is devastating off the back of a scrum and brutal coming round the corner. The French powerhouse can effectively take the game to the opposition using his brute force.

TRANSFERS

IN (5)

Charlie Clare (Bedford Blues, ENG)

Juan Pablo Estelles (Club Atletico del Rosario, ARG)

Nic Groom (Western Stormers, SAF)

Campese Ma’afu (Provence, FRA)

Louis Picamoles (Toulouse, FRA)

OUT (6)

Alex Corbisiero (Sabbatical, SAB)

Jon Fisher (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Kahn Fotouali’i (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (London Irish, ENG)

Patrick Howard (Dragons, WAL)

Matt Williams (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

Picamoles is a marquee signing and will be hugely beneficial to the squad, he is the type of player Northampton breed. Groom is also a tidy addition to the squad, he passes well and his pace is exceptional.

CORBISIERO

The England prop will take a sabbatical.

Fotouali’i is a loss and he moves to Premiership rivals, Bath. Corbisiero is taking a year out that should not be too much of a trouble he is not the player he was three years ago.

My Northampton Saints 23

15 Ben Foden 14 George North 13 George Pisi 12 Luther Burrell 11 Jamie Elliott 10 Stephen Myler 9 Lee Dickson (Captain)

1 Alex Waller 2 Dylan Hartley 3 Paul Hill 4 Courtney Lawes 5 Michael Paterson 6 Jamie Gibson 7 Teimana Harrison 8 Louis Picamoles

16 Mike Haywood 17 Ethan Waller 18 Kieran Brookes 19 Christian Day 20 Calum Clark 21 Nic Groom 22 Harry Mallinder 23 Ken Pisi

Northampton Saints will be powerful and use forwards to build a platform, the worry is their signings indicate no change of strategy very little other than the power plays, teams like Exeter and Wasps with their quick backs could trouble them.

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Southampton Preview

Manager: Ronald Koeman
Stadium: St Mary’s Stadium
Captain: José Fonte
Top Scorer: Graziano Pellé (16)

Southampton were expected to be in a relegation scrap last season following a mass exodus of players to the north west but Southampton refused to lie down and performed admirably to find themselves in European contention.

Southampton were a tough side to beat last season and started the season very strongly with home form serving the side well. They recorded an impressive 4-0 win over Newcastle and a 3-1 win away against West Ham in a run that saw them in 2nd place at the end of September having only lost 1 game to Liverpool on the opening day of the season. October saw Southampton’s biggest win of the season as they annihilated Sunderland 8-0, it showed just how dangerous Southampton could be and players such as Schneiderlin and Pellé demonstrating just what they could do given the ball and freedom to play.

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Southampton at Selhurst Park on December 26, 2014 in London, England.

A run of 4 defeats through November and December saw Southampton slip out of the top 4 the tough defeats to Manchester United and and Manchester City at St Mary’s were disheartening for fans and it looked as though the dream of European football could be about to turn. Southampton did turn things back in their favour though with notable victories over Arsenal and Manchester United as well as a well fought 1-1 draw with champions Chelsea. Southampton’s March and April form was patchy but Southampton kept just enough wins going their way as they secured European football partly thanks to a 6-1 obliteration of Aston Villa on the penultimate weekend finishing the season in 7th place.

After last season the club have blocks to build with, a squad full of talent and a strong academy set up with the under 21’s defeating Blackburn to win the under 21’s Premiership Cup after an amazing strike from forward Sam Gallagher. This season is a chance for Southampton to prove they can consistently be a top 6/7 team and regularly secure European football if they can achieve that then that in itself will be considered a victory and a satisfactory outcome to what looks to be a difficult season ahead.

Tadic had a wonderful season on the south coast his attacking ability coupled with pace made him a danger on a number of levels. The attacking midfielder gave defenders headaches with his ability on the ball and he provided an awful lot of chances throughout the course of the season if he continue in that sort of form Southampton will fancy their chances against even the best teams.

Tadic on the ball for Southampton against Millwall.

Tadic on the ball for Southampton against Millwall.

Southampton have brought in a few new faces, most notably perhaps is Cédric Soares from Sporting, the 23 year old is a very talented right back able to attack and defend. The Portuguese international will look to bolster options for Koeman at the back which had a settled look about it towards the table end of last season. Another big signing for the club is Juanmi the 22 year old from Spain has been a huge player for former club Malaga last season making 38 appearances and scoring 8 goals in the process for the La Liga side.

New signing Cédric Soares posing at St Mary's.

New signing Cédric Soares posing at St Mary’s.

A few well known faces have left for the north west once again poaching the south coast stars. England right back Nathaniel Clyne leaves for Anfield after Johnson left Liverpool following a couple of disappointing seasons for the former England number 1. Clyne will be a huge loss after a wonderful display of talent throughout the season he and Bertrand very strong for the club making a huge difference. Another huge loss is that of French midfielder Scehneiderlin who will join former teammate Luke Shaw at Old Trafford, Schneiderlin who has been a key part of that Saints midfield for the last few years leaves a huge hole in the heart of Southampton. He is a big loss to a team that is finding it increasingly hard to keep hold of their top stars as the team continue to improve. Boruc is also another big miss but with a lot of competition for the goalkeepers starting berth at St Mary’s with players like Forster, Davis and Gazzaniga all competing along with securing Stekelenburg on loan.

IN: Cédric Soares (Sporting CP, £4.7 million)
Juanmi (Malaga, Undisclosed)
Cuco Martina (FC Twente, Undisclosed)
Jordy Clasie (Feyernoord, Undisclosed)

OUT: Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool, £12.5 million)
Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United, Undisclosed)
Artur Boruc (Bournemouth, Free)
Cody Cropper (MK Dons, Free)
Jos Hooiveld (AIK, Free)
Dani Osvaldo (FC Porto, Free)
Jake Sinclair (Free Agents, Free)
Omar Rowe (Free Agents, Free)

Southampton have made some good additions to the squad but it looks as though the departures may have a much bigger impact on the squad. Europe could be a stretch too far but I still expect them to finish in the top half (just).

My Southampton XI (4-3-2-1): 44 F.Forster; 2 C.Soares 6 J.Fonte (C) 26 S.Caulker 21 R.Bertrand; 16 J.Ward-Prowse 12 V.Wanyama 11 D.Tadic; 10 S.Mané 9 J.Rodriguez; 19 G.Pellé

Bench: 1 K.Davis 33 M.Targett 15 C.Martina 8 S.Davis 4 J.Clasie 7 S.Long 20 Juanmi

Last Season: 7th
Prediction: 10th

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

Manchester United Preview

Manager: Louis van Gaal
Stadium: Old Trafford
Captain: Wayne Rooney
Top Scorer: Wayne Rooney (14)

Manchester United have kept van Gaal in charge after a satisfactory season bringing the Red Devils that 4th place and a return to Europe which is what they wanted at the end of last season.

Manchester United seemed to have recruited well spending a lot of money on players like former Real Madrid Di Maria being the record signing for the Barclays Premier League he arrived with Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo all of whom played a part albeit some bigger than others over the course of the season. Di Maria went from being the saviour of souls at Old Trafford to the pantomime villain. From 22nd November van Gaal’s team didn’t fall lower than 4th a very consistent performance from the most successful English team of all time.

After Manchester United’s assault on the leaders of the league in March including impressive victories over their 2 biggest rivals Manchester City and Liverpool came unstuck in April as they suffered 3 straight defeats to Chelsea, Everton and West Bromwich Albion which saw Manchester United concede 5 goals and fail to score. These 3 games saw Manchester United fall to 4th behind London club Arsenal a deficit they would fail to recover. Rooney’s leadership over the course of the season has been sensational not just in his leadership but he has also scored a number of sensational goals. The England striker did seem to go off the boil in front of goal towards the end of the season but he still led his club to 4th and the fans have their faith restored in the world class squad.

Di Maria celebrates scoring a goal with captain Wayne Rooney.

Di Maria celebrates scoring a goal with captain Wayne Rooney.

Despite the money spent of Luke Shaw and Angel Di Maria they couldn’t be consistently brilliant, pre-Christmas Di Maria was the hero after Christmas the devil. Shaw the young English fullback was not given nearly enough game time to build on last season where he had a wonderful season for Southampton who suddenly burst into life last season despite the raids on the young riches available on the south coast. The question was would van Gaal spend the money more wisely come this summer and be able to build on the 4th placed finish they achieved last time out.

Manchester United needed a player to step up last season, there was a lot of fanfare for David de Gea who did a wonderful job despite the poor excuse of a defence that he plays behind. Only God knows why van Gaal insists on buying midfielders rather than a solid centre half. My player of the season for Manchester United though has to be Fellaini, the midfielder became a monstrous presence for United in the midfield, directing play aerially or otherwise. A long ball style was adapted by Manchester United mid-season and that really helped the Belgian achieve what he set out to when he was signed by former boss David Moyes. Fellaini is now rightly regarded as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, his excellent displays of power and aerial ability did seem to fall a little limp as fatigue set in but we are sure to see these displays come to the fore once again most probably over the winter months.

Marouane Fellaini on the ball for Manchester United.

Marouane Fellaini on the ball for Manchester United.

Recruitment of expensive players a theme of van Gaal’s tenure at the helm so far bringing in players like Di Maria and Shaw for inflated prices and the Dutch manager has brought in a fair few players again. Bastain Schweinsteiger, Germany World Cup Winner and former Bayern Munich captain is amont the new names on the United roster. The midfielder brings both experience and a wealth of class, his passing game and organisation are outstanding, his success could breed a new generation of success and achievement at the club. Another midfielder is French maestro Schneiderlin who has been outstanding at Southampton over the past few seasons, key to the success at St Mary’s. The French midfielder made 230 appearances for the Saints and became a club hero, he will hope to repeat that feat in the north west. Dutch youngster Memphis Depay also arrived over the summer, the talented forward is likely to be deployed alongside former England whizzkid Rooney in what is shaping up to be a very deadly attacking force that could rival Manchester City and Chelsea. Matteo Darmian finally a player United actually need came in the defender will provide a solid choice to play in defence to help out the mediocre centre backs at Old Trafford. All their signings at profile as they also add Argentina international Romero to the ranks and after his World Cup in Brazil you can understand why, the shot stopper had been brought in because they feared the departure of De Gea but he’s staying so now van Gaal has 3 international keepers to choose from.

Schweinsteiger lifting the World Cup for Germany.

Schweinsteiger lifting the World Cup for Germany.

The saga of De Gea staying or going took a long time to sort itself out which depended on the future of defender Ramos at Real Madrid. Di Maria is on his way out it would seem as every day he edges towards a move to the French capital to link up with stars like Ibrahimovic and Silva. This is yet to be confirmed but I doubt the Argentine player will be staying in England. Colombian striker Falcao has gone on another loan this time to Chelsea another high profile flop for Manchester United. Van Persie heads abroad after failing to make an impact this season and with the signing of Depay the writing was on the wall for the Dutch international. He heads to Fenerbahçe along with Nani who never really won over the crowd in Manchester. Tom Cleverley has also left heading for Everton in another move for a United flop.

IN: Memphis Depay (PSV Eindhoven, £24.6 million)
Bastain Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich, Undisclosed)
Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton, Undisclosed)
Matteo Darmian (Torino, Undisclosed)
Sergio Romero (Unattached, Free)

OUT: Robin van Persie (Fenerbahçe, Undisclosed)
Nani (Fenerbahçe, £4.25 million)
Tom Cleverley (Everton, Free)
Angelo Henríquez (Dinamo Zagreb, Undisclosed)
Reece James (Wigan Athletic, Undisclosed)
Saidy Janko (Celtic, Free)
Ben Amos (Free Agents, Free)
Callum Evans (Free Agents, Free)
Tom Thorpe (Free Agents, Free)
Ryan McConnell (Free Agents, Free)

So Manchester United have recruited well and add to a fairly strong squad already. If van Gaal can get United on the right path building on last season is possible however with the way Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea are looking I strongly suspect Manchester United fans will be left disappointed.

My Manchester United XI (4-2-3-1): 1 D.de Gea; NA M.Darmian 12 C.Smalling 5 M.Rojo 3 L.Shaw; 31 M.Fellaini NA B.Schweinsteiger; NA M.Depay 8 J.Mata 11 A.Januzaj; 10 W.Rooney (C)

Bench: NA S.Romero 2 Rafael 42 T.Blackett 17 D.Blind 18 A.Young NA M.Schneiderlin 14 J.Hernández

Last Season: 4th
Prediction: 4th