By David de Winter – Sports Editor
It seems only yesterday that the World Cup finished in Brazil. That month-long feast of football was indeed a wonderful way to spend one’s summer getting acquainted with one’s sofa, but no sooner had Mario Götze’s volley hit the back of Sergio Romero’s net than the footballing public were getting bombarded with transfer gossip, pre-season friendlies and Louis Van Gaal. Now I like football as much as the next chap but I can’t help but feel there is slight overkill going on here. Football is being shoved down my throat left, right and centre whether I like it or not. All around me there are adverts for BT Sport and Sky Sports imploring me to purchase their ‘unmissable’ coverage. Well I’ve done pretty well these past 25 years missing their ‘unmissable’ broadcasting so I think I’ll be fine thanks. Even the BBC are no strangers to hyperbole, proudly announcing boredom’s Phil Neville as my mum’s favourite Scotsman Alan Hansen’s replacement as their Match of the Day pundit. Even so, despite the Beeb’s admirable efforts to put me off my weekly dose of Saturday night football highlights, there is still some excitement within me about the season ahead. I’m not sure if I am emotionally ready for a new season of Premier League football but it seems as if I’ve got no choice. Here’s to the season ahead.
Last Season: 4th
Players in: Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona), Calum Chambers (Southampton), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle United), David Ospina (Nice)
Players out: Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), Carl Jenkinson (West Ham United), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City)
A strong start to 2013/14 which had the fans dreaming of the League title was ruined by a classic Arsenal mid-season lull, before a standard late surge made sure of a Champions League spot. Did their best to lose the FA Cup final but managed to get over the line against a robust but limited Hull City. The loss of Bacary Sagna shouldn’t be too keenly felt with Mathieu Debuchy’s arrival from Newcastle United a like-for-like replacement, and Calum Chambers as one for the future. It will be interesting to see whether Arsene Wenger uses new signing Alexis Sanchez as a focal point for attack instead of the laborious and talent-deprived Olivier Giroud or as a wide-man (I suggest the former). Should be stronger this season with a rejuvenated Theo Walcott and a newfound belief that they can win trophies.
Prediction: Top four.
Last Season: 15th
Players In: Keiran Richardson, Philippe Senderos (both Fulham) Aly Cissokho (Lyon), Joe Cole (West Ham)
Players Out: Marc Albrighton (Leicester City), Nathan Delfouneso (Blackpool)
A close-season full of turmoil for the Villa with the announcement that owner Randy Lerner has put the club up for sale. There hasn’t been much interest since and the transfer market has been similarly quiet, Paul Lambert strengthening the all-important position of left-back by acquiring relegated Fulham’s Kieran Richardson and Liverpool cast-off, Aly Cissokho. A lot will depend on the improving Fabian Delph as the heartbeat of the team. He showed maturity and class towards the end of last season in securing Villa’s Premier League status and more of the same is required. Equally, the front three of the Angel Gabriel (Agbonlahor), Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann will need to fire on all cylinders. If slightly overrated defender Ron Vlaar departs then alarm bells must start ringing. The arrival of Roy Keane as Lambert’s assistant is an interesting choice. If Villa get off to a shaky start, could the Irishman be waiting in the wings to take over?
Prediction: Survival. Just.
Last Season: Promoted (Runners-up in the Championship)
Players In: Michael Kightly (Stoke City), Marvin Sordell (Bolton Wanderers), Lukas Jutkiewicz (Middlesborough), Matt Gilks (Blackpool), Steven Reid (West Bromwich Albion), Matt Taylor (West Ham United)
Players Out: Chris Baird (West Bromwich Albion)
An impressive Championship campaign resulted in a deserved promotion for The Clarets and another crack at the big time for the first time since 2010. Manager Sean Dyche (rivalling Sam Allardyce, Steve Bruce, Harry Redknapp and Mauricio Pelligrini for the ugliest manager award) has struggled to recruit the requisite quality for Premier League survival and I worry slightly whether they can attract the necessary talent to Turf Moor. Their goalkeepers Tom Heaton and Matt Gilks aren’t renowned top-flight quality stoppers and the lack of top-level experience in defence is worrying. Going forward Burnley are slightly more promising with Danny Ings and Sam Vokes scoring goals for fun last season but the jury is out on whether they can replicate that form at Premier League level à la Rickie Lambert and Grant Holt. Need to make some signings before the transfer window ends because the arrivals of Michael Kightly, Marvin Sordell and Lukas Jutkewitz don’t have me racing down to the bookies to tip them to avoid the drop.
Last Season: 3rd
Players In: Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Felipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Didier Drogba (Galatasaray)
Players Out: Ashley Cole (Roma), Patrick Van Aanholt (Sunderland), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), David Luiz (PSG), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Frank Lampard (New York FC/Man City – loan)
2013/14 was a disappointing season by all accounts for Chelsea. The return of ‘The Special One,’ was intended to herald a new era of silverware but that all went a bit pear-shaped as Jose Mourinho showed that he was merely ‘The Ordinary One’ and moreover, a petulant tosser. However business has been good in the transfer market as Frank Lampard was replaced by a younger model in Cesc Fabregas, Ashley Cole was replaced by a younger model in Felipe Luis and David Luiz was just, well, sold (probably much to the relief of the Stamford Bridge faithful) for a world-record £40m (possibly the worst piece of transfer business since Liverpool bought Andy Carroll). Didier Drogba’s heir apparent, Romelu Lukaku, was sold, only to be replaced, yep you guessed it, Didier Drogba. He has been joined by Diego Costa in an all-new strike-force which will in all probability spend most of the season diving about and writhing on the floor. There is a fair amount of pressure on Diego Costa’s primate shoulders as he has a hefty price-tag to justify after only one stellar season at Atletico Madrid. I for one am yet to be convinced. A big season for Chelsea. Roman Abramovich doesn’t tend to take failure with good-humour.
Prediction: Top 2
Last Season: 11th
Players In: Brede Hangeland (Fulham), Frazier Campbell (Cardiff City), Martin Kelly (Liverpool)
Players Out: Jose Campana (Sampdoria), Dean Moxey (Bolton), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Cardiff City)
A remarkable turnaround last season by possibly my least favourite manager in football, Tony Pulis, ensured Crystal Palace’s status in the Premier League relatively comfortably. His recent departure however will be keenly felt as Pulis was the main reason Palace managed to turn around their fortunes so successfully. They haven’t added to the squad extravagantly; Frazier Campbell is not exactly a mouth-watering prospect up-front but Brede Hangeland is a sensible purchase, albeit from a Fulham team which conceded over 80 goals last season. Palace do have a strong spine. The evergreen Julien Speroni is reliable, as are James Ward and Adrian Mariappa at the back, and they will look to improve on a defence which conceded fewer goals than Liverpool last season. Joe Ledley was a shrewd acquisition from Celtic in January and he could have a real impact in his first full season at the club. In attack they still look a bit lightweight – defenders are not going have sleepless nights at the prospect of facing Dwight Gayle, Glenn Murray, Marouane Chamakh and Campbell. Whoever replaces Pulis has a tough act to follow.
Prediction: Relegation candidates
Players In: Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros), Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea)
Players Out: Magaye Gueye (Milwall)
Everton arguably punched above their weight in finishing fifth last season, almost pipping Arsenal to a Champions League place. They start 2014/15 with basically exactly the same squad as last season after signing Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku on permanent deals. Will the squad be robust enough to cope with a European campaign as well as a domestic season? It is a big year for Ross Barkley. He sparkled in fits and spurts last term without ever producing consistent performances. He has all the raw materials at his disposal – it is all about harnessing that talent into an intelligent and more effective footballer without taming his natural effervescent youthful exuberance. Equally this could be the year that John Stones really comes to the fore and could earn a regular place in the England set-up, possibly at the expense of his club-mate Phil Jagielka. The Toffees possibly overachieved last season and have put all their eggs in Romelu Lukaku’s basket. Will it pay off?
Prediction: Not as good as last year. 6th-8th.
Players In: Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City), Tom Ince (Blackpool), Jake Livermore (Tottenham Hotspur), Andrew Robertson (Dundee United), Harry Maguire (Sheffield United)
Players Out: Matt Fryatt (Nottingham Forest), Robert Koren (Melbourne City)
Hull surpassed all expectations last season by retaining their Premier League status and almost caused one of the great upsets in taking Arsenal to extra time in the FA Cup final. Nevertheless they are in danger of suffering from second-season syndrome. They have sold striker Shane Long for an admittedly inflated fee of £12 million but you get the impression that Yannick Sagbo and Nikica Jelavic won’t be striking fear into opposition defences any time soon. Tom Ince and Robert Snodgrass are both adventurous acquisitions and will create chances which Jelavic will no doubt miss. Hull need to replace Long sharpish otherwise they will find goals very hard to come by and although their defence was solid last season, it can’t be relied upon consistently. With a Europa League campaign too, their resources will be stretched and it could be a step too far.
Prediction: Relegation candidates
Players In: Leonardo Ulloa (Brighton), Mark Albrighton (Aston Villa), Matthew Upson (Brighton), Ben Hamer (Charlton Athletic)
Players Out: Zak Whitbread (Derby County), Neil Danns (Bolton), Lloyd Dyer (Watford)
An imperious season in the Championship saw Leicester City return to the big time for the first time in over a decade at an absolute canter. Manager Nigel Pearson has largely stuck with the squad who won promotion but there is a distinct lack of Premier League class and experience in the squad. Up front, Jamie Vardy and David Nugent are pacy and know where the goal is. Playmaker Danny Drinkwater will be hoping the supply them with chances aplenty. The signings of Upson and Ulloa are strange given that they both played in the Championship last season. Upson brings international experience to the defence but can he last the pace of the Premier League? Ulloa is unproven at this level and to splurge £8 million is a massive gamble. In goal, Kasper Schmeichel has matured exceptionally and this could be the season he steps out of his father’s shadow.
Players In: Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Rickie Lambert (Southampton), Divock Origi (Lille), Emre Can (Bayer Leverkusen), Lazar Markovic (Benfica), Javier Manquillo (Loan)
Players Out: Luis Suarez (Barcelona), Pepe Reina (Bayern Munich), Martin Kelly (Crystal Palace)
2013/14 was an amazing season for the Reds but I fear it could be an anomaly. As Spurs showed last year, if you let your best player leave, no amount of inferior signings can replace him and Liverpool have committed that cardinal sin. None of Rodgers’s acquisitions have proven quality at the highest level. Lambert, Lovren and Lallana are yet to play in the Champions League whilst Can and Markovic are hardly household names within the footballing fraternity. Gerrard is one year older and will never again have a season like he did last year. Furthermore, Suarez’s departure is doubly painful because he dovetailed so effectively with Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling. Without the magical Uruguayan’s constant movement, can Liverpool conjure the same dynamism that almost propelled them to the title last season? It is a big year for Daniel Sturridge. He has to prove that he can shoulder the responsibility of leading the line on his own, and put a disappointing World Cup behind him. Without their talisman Suarez though, Liverpool won’t be nearly as potent.
Players In: Eliaquim Mangala (Porto), Willy Caballero (Malaga), Fernando (Porto), Bruno Zuculini (Racing Club), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Frank Lampard (loan)
Players Out: Javi Garcia (Zenit St Petersburg), Jack Rodwell (Sunderland), Gareth Barry (Everton), Joleon Lescott (West Bromwich Albion), Costel Pantilimon (Sunderland)
The Blues showed their class and staying power in winning their second league championship in three years. Whilst Liverpool blinked, City kept their eyes very much open and on the ball, illustrating their increasing maturity in getting over the line. The major transfer activity has seen central defender Mangala join from Porto, presumably as a long-term partner for captain Vincent Kompany. Bacary Sagna is a shrewd signing from Arsenal, as is Frank Lampard on a long-term loan. It remains to be seen whether the haggard Manuel Pellegrini treats new goalkeeper Willy Caballero as back-up to Joe Hart, or competition. A quiet summer by City’s recent standards but with such a strong spine to the team, more of the same can be expected. If Yaya Toure can attain anywhere near the stratospheric standards he set himself last season then City will be in good shape. I think this could be the season they really excel in Europe. Also, look out for Stevan Jovetic who will be raring to go after an injury-plagued debut season.
Prediction: Top two
Players In: Ander Herrera (Atletico Bilbao), Luke Shaw (Southampton)
Players Out: Alex Buttner (Dynamo Moscow), Bebe (Benfica), Patrice Evra (Juventus), Nemanja Vidic (Inter Milan), Rio Ferdinand (QPR), Federico Macheda (Cardigg City)
All hail King Louis, the saviour of Manchester United! Well, not quite, but the stern Dutchman has been tasked with bringing the good times back to Old Trafford after last season’s nightmare under David Moyes. Ander Herrera is an accomplished midfielder but £29 million is a lot for a player who is uncapped at international level. Equally Luke Shaw is the country’s most promising full-back for a generation but £27 million is a significant outlay for a player who has only played one full season in the top flight. Van Gaal has not had a lot of time to impose his philosophy on the squad and I can see a few new faces arriving (and old faces leaving) before the transfer window shuts. An experienced central defender would seem to be the most pressing requirement. The relationship between Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata could be key to their chances this season and without European football, United can focus all their attentions on the league. Alongside Rooney and Mata, The Red Devils have the likes of Robin Van Persie, Adnan Januzaj, Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck at the disposal. Promising.
Prediction: Top four
Players In: Remy Cabella (Montpellier), Karl Darlow, Jamaal Lascelles (both Nottingham Forest), Emmanuel Riviere (Monaco), Siem De Jong (Ajax), Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord), Ayoze Perez (Tenerife), Jack Colback (Sunderland)
Players Out: Mathieu Debuchy (Arsenal), Shola Ameobi (Gaziantep BB), Dan Gosling (Bournemouth)
A disappointing end to last season clouded an otherwise impressive campaign for the Magpies. Despite their manager’s rather questionable behaviour, on-loan striker Loic Remy fired them to a 10th place finish. However, the Frenchman has gone so it falls to new signings Siem De Jong and Emmanuel Riviere to bang in the goals alongside a (hopefully) rejuvenated Papiss Cissé. Mathieu Debuchy’s departure has been off-set by the purchase of Dutch international Daryl Janmaat which is something of a coup. Elsewhere, Remy Cabella will be hoping to fill the Yoann Cabaye-shaped hole in the centre of midfield. If Pardew gets off to a sticky start then he could find himself in the unwanted sack-race, but equally if Newcastle race out of the blocks then a European spot is not out of the equation.
Prediction: Mid-table obscurity
Queens Park Rangers
Players In: Steven Caulker, Jordan Mutch (both Cardiff City), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Mauricio Isla (Juventus, loan)
Players Out: Esteban Granero (Real Sociedad), Yossi Benayoun (Maccabi Haifa), Gary O’Neil (Norwich City), Aaron Hughes (Brighton)
What should be from henceforth known as ‘The Miracle of Wembley’ got Rangers back into the Premier League at the first time of asking. Their transfer policy has been much more reserved and measured than their previous scattergun approach under Mark Hughes. The signing of the experienced Rio Ferdinand was a masterstroke as he can pass on his expertise to the still youthful Nedeem Onouha and Steven Caulker. They lack a bit of class in the attacking third of the field. Charlie Austin was wonderful at Championship level but can he replicate that form in the Premier League. Even though Adel Taarabt has returned to the club, it remains doubtful that he will play a major role this season. More signings in the Jordan Mutch mould are the order of the day. Joey Barton and Karl Henry are combative but limited and Rangers need someone to unlock those defences.
Prediction: Relegation Candidates
Players In: Shane Long (Hull City), Dusan Tadic (FC Twente), Fraser Forster (Celtic), Graziano Pelle (Feyenoord), Florian Gardos (Steaua Bucharest), Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea)
Players Out: Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert (all Liverpool), Calum Chambers (Arsenal), Billy Sharp (Leeds), Danny Fox (Nottingham Forest), Dani Osvaldo (Inter Milan)
It’s not been a quiet summer on the South Coast. Firstly a boardroom re-shuffle resulted in chairman Nicola Cortese’s departure, followed in the close season by hot-shot Argentinian manager Mauricio Pochettino to Spurs to be replaced by Dutchman Ronald Koeman. Not content with that much upheaval they sold their five best players to Premier League rivals, albeit for hefty sums. Are their replacements of a similar standard? Even if they are it is going to take a while for the new signings to gel together. Shane Long at £12 million is a rather extravagant purchase, as is Fraser Forster for a team who, in Artur Boruc, had one of the league’s most consistent performers. Bertrand is an adequate replacement for Luke Shaw but the jury is out on whether new striker Graziano Pelle can replicate the performances of his more illustrious Brazilian namesake. Importantly they need midfielders Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork to stay. Southampton are a bit of an unknown quantity this season but it is doubtful whether they will match the success of last season. With Koeman in charge I think they will survive but it might not be much more than that.
Players In: Bojan Krkic (Barcelona), Steve Sidwell (Fulham), Mame Biram Diouf (Manchester United), Phil Bardsley (Sunderland)
Players Out: Michael Kightly (Burnley)
More of the same is the order of the day for Stoke City who will be looking to build on their impressive 9th place finish in Mark Hughes’ first season. Sensible purchases in Bardsley and Sidwell have been combined with a very un-Stoke-like player in Bojan Krkic from Barcelona. It is perhaps a sign that Hughes wants to get away from the long-ball style encouraged by previous incumbent Tony Pulis, which is good because I no longer cross my fingers in hope that Stoke get relegated. If Krkic can combine with The Potters’ other ball-playing attackers, Marco Arnautavic, Stephen Ireland and Peter Odemwingie then the fans at the Brittania are in for a treat. At the back Stoke are solid as always with Ryan Shawcross a commanding presence in central defence and Asmir Begovic a classy performer between the sticks.
Players In: Jack Rodwell (Manchester City), Will Buckley (Brighton), Patrick Van Aanholt (Chelsea), Billy Jones (West Bromwich Albion), Jordi Gomez (Wigan Athletic), Costel Pantilimon (Manchester City)
Players Out: Jack Colback (Newcastle United), Phil Bardsley (Stoke City), Craig Gardner (West Bromwich Albion), Kieren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)
Last season’s great escape should inspire confidence in a Sunderland team who look a lot more cohesive under Gustavo Poyet than the fiery and unpredictable Paolo Di Canio. Jack Rodwell is an interesting signing – Sunderland should benefit from the former Everton trainee’s desire to finally fulfil his undoubted talent. Jordi Gomez is another who can change the course of a game and can work as the perfect foil for the aggressive Lee Cattermole. It is at the back where Sunderland have the most worries. Wes Brown and John O’Shea, whilst good players, don’t have the greatest fitness records and are both on the wrong side of 30. The back-up doesn’t inspire confidence and neither does the goalkeeper Vitor Mannone. It will be key to get one of the strikers scoring regularly. Not until Conor Wickham started banging them in did Sunderland string some wins together and they can’t afford another slow start. If they can resurrect the deal for Fabio Borini then the fans at the Stadium of Light will breathe a lot easier.
Prediction: Lower mid-table
Players In: Gylfi Sigurdsson (Tottenham Hotspur), Jefferson Montero (Monarcas Morelia), Marvin Emnes (Middlesbrough), Lukasz Fabianski (Arsenal), Bafetimbi Gomis (Lyon)
Players Out: Ben Davies, Michel Vorm (both Tottenham Hotspur), Chico Flores (Lekwiya SC), Alejandro Pozuelo (Rayo Vallecano), Leroy Lita (Barnsley)
Their final league position of 12th in 2013/14 sounds a lot more comfortable than it really was as the Swans did a lot of flirting with relegation. Garry Monk will have the chance to show what he can do with a full pre-season under his belt. He has brought back Gylfi Sigurdsson, and combined with Jonjo Shelvey, Leon Britton and Jonathan de Guzman Swansea look strong in the centre of the park. Monk has also added firepower in the shape of Bafetimbi Gomis who will be a useful foil to (or replacement for) Wilfried Bony. The loss of Michel Vorm will no doubt be keenly felt and although ex-Arsenal stopper Fabianski has been signed as his replacement, he is not in the same league as the Dutchman. Swansea need to learn from the mistakes of last year and become more robust – they conceded crucial late goals far too often. If Bony leaves then they could be in real trouble.
Prediction: Relegation candidates
Players In: Ben Davies, Michel Vorm (Swansea City), Eric Dier (Sporting Lisbon), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle)
Players Out: Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City), Jake Livermore (Hull City), Heurelho Gomes (Watford)
It’s been an unusually quiet summer in North London. After the rather shoddy treatment of Tim Sherwood, arguably their most important signing has been the manager, Mauricio Pochettino from Southampton. His playing philosophy fits in well with Tottenham’s traditional attacking style. Their purchases have not pulled up any trees so far but Spurs have enough quality players, it’s just a question of accommodating them into a system that gets the most out of their talents. Poor Erik Lamela will be keen to improve on his pretty dreadful debut season by hitting the ground running this time around. Christian Eriksen is central to any designs Spurs have of breaking into the top four. If he can get enough of the ball in dangerous positions then he can feed Emmanuel Adebayor who, if he’s in the right mood, can bang in the goals for fun. It’s also high time that Daniel Levy placed some faith in his managers – he is fast becoming like his predecessor, one Lord Sugar, and saying ‘you’re fired’ far too often for the White Hart Lane faithful’s liking.
West Bromwich Albion
Players In: Brown Ideye (Dynamo Kiev), Cristian Gamboa (Rosenborg), Sebastian Pocognoli (Hannover), Craig Gardner (Sunderland), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), Chris Baird (Burnley)
Players Out: Steven Reid (Burnley), Billy Jones (Sunderland), Liam Ridgewell (Portland Timbers)
West Brom did their best to get relegated last season. The decision to sack Steve Clarke halfway through the season after a more than adequate start to his managerial career at the Hawthorns and replace him with a man with no Premier League experience in Pepe Mel was absolutely baffling, and they almost paid the ultimate price. Alan Irvine has been installed as the man in the hot seat and one would hope that he gets more support from his chairman Jeremy Peace. On the pitch, £10 million on striker Brown Ideye, who failed to get into the Nigerian World Cup squad, has raised a few eyebrows. Joleon Lescott on the other hand is a far shrewder acquisition and will bring stability to a historically unstable defence. This could be Saido Berahino’s breakthrough season if he gets enough game time. The forward is raw but has pace to burn and oodles of talent. If either he or Ideye hit the ground running then Albion will head to mid-table safety. Start badly though and the Baggies could find themselves in their usual position at the wrong end of the league table.
Prediction: Relegation candidates
West Ham United
Players In: Enner Valencia (Pachuca), Cheikhou Kayate (Anderlecht), Aaron Cresswell (Ipswich), Mauro Zarate (Velez Sarsfield), Diafra Sakho (FC Metz)
Players Out: Joe Cole (Aston Villa), Matt Taylor (Burnley)
2013/14 was not a happy one for West Ham United. There were constant murmurings of discontent among the fans and the relationship between the owners and Sam Allardayce could never be described as more than cordial. Indeed the manager is one of the favourites for the dreaded sack race. He will be hoping that new signing Enner Valencia will take to the Premier League like a duck to water, especially given that Andy Carroll is crocked for the foreseeable future. The Irons’ defence was pretty watertight last season and Aaron Cresswell has been brought in as an attacking full back. His delivery into the box will set up many a goalscoring opportunity that Valencia, Mauro Zarate and Diafra Sakho will be hoping to gobble up. Mark Noble and Kevin Nolan will be the mainstays of the midfield – the ex-Bolton and Newcastle man goals from midfield will be particularly important. However what West Ham really need is cohesion and everyone at the club pulling in the same direction towards a common goal. Until they have that they will constantly be under the threat of relegation.
Prediction: Lower mid-table