By David de Winter – Sports Editor
As England’s cricketers gloriously maul their Australian counterparts and head towards regaining the Ashes urn, the nation’s footballers are busying themselves for a new season. I know what you’re thinking: ‘What? So soon? But we’re only just into August!’ In fact the season is starting so early that even this wonderfully well-researched journalist was caught out. Whether you think the season should start two weeks later (I do) or not, don’t worry – all the optimism of the summer will soon be replaced by the misery of Autumn. Can the new star striker cut the mustard? What about the veteran hoping for one last Indian summer (or English winter)? Is this the season the talented youngster establishes himself in the first team? Here to answer very few of those questions and inform you of even less is TLEs (in)comprehensive guide to the 2015/16 season.
Last season: 3rd
Notable ins: Petr Cech (Chelsea)
Notable outs: Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray), Abou Diaby (Marseille), Wojciech Szczesny (Roma – loan), Carl Jenkinson (West Ham United – loan)
Last season was a pretty good effort by Arsenal. They ran out of steam in the league as they always do (co-incidentally when Alexis Sanchez did) but retained the FA Cup with a dominant victory over Aston Villa in the final. The addition of Petr Cech was great business by Arsene Wenger and he will definitely tighten an often leaky defence. I’m still not convinced by Olivier Giroud as the main striker. Unless they splash out on a world-class front-man before the transfer window closes, the wait for another Premier League title will go on for at least another season. Also, must do better in Europe.
Prediction: Top four
Last season: 17th
In: Scott Sinclair & Micah Richards (both Manchester City), Jordan Amavi (Nice), Idrissa Gueye (Lille), Andre Ayew (Lorient)
Out: Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Darren Bent & Andreas Weimann (both Derby County), Shay Given (Stoke City)
Tactics Tim Sherwood rode in last season to rescue Villa from relegation and lead them to an FA Cup final. It will be interesting to see how he fares in his first full season in charge, especially after selling their two best players in Benteke and Delph. Their replacements don’t exactly fill me with excitement although I think Scott Sinclair is a shrewd buy (he went straight into my fantasy team). As last season, scoring goals will be a struggle. If I were Sherwood I would pay whatever it takes to bring Charlie Austin to Villa Park.
Prediction: Towards the bottom but Sherwood seems to have enough about him to keep the Villans up.
Last Season: Promoted
In: Max Gradel (St Etienne), Sylvain Distin (Everton), Artur Boruc (Southampton), Adam Federici (Reading), Tyrone Mings (Ipswich Town), Christian Atsu (Chelsea – loan)
Out: Ian Harte (released), Brett Pitmann (Ipswich Town)
The minnow of the Premier League but the conventional wisdom is that they could stay up. Bournemouth played some fantastic football in clinching the Championship title and in Eddie Howe they have one of the brightest young managers around who, for his age, is surprisingly experienced. Matt Ritchie will pull the strings from midfield and purchasing proven top flight players like Boruc and Distin is an astute move. Goals may be an issue but I am looking forward to watching them light up the league. Home form will be key.
Prediction: Towards the bottom – may not be quite streetwise enough to stay up.
Last season: Champions
Ins: Falcao (AS Monaco – loan), Asmir Begovic (Stoke City)
Out: Petr Cech (Arsenal), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Patrick Bamford (Crystal Palace – loan), Marco Van Ginkel (Stoke City – loan), Felipe Luis (Atletico Madrid)
They say teams are a reflection of their manager. If that is the case then Chelsea are classless, objectionable and ruthlessly efficient. Whilst happy to win few fans on the pitch and even fewer off it, they have a happy knack (for them at least) of winning ugly. For Jose Mourinho, winning is all that matters and the dislikeable Portugeezer certainly knows how to. Much will depend on the Diego Costa’s dodgy hamstrings and keepeing Eden Hazard injury-free. Keep them on the pitch as much as possible and it will take something special to take the title out of West London. Need to approach the Champions League with a more positive attitude (especially the knockout stages)
Last season: 10th
In: Patrick Bamford (Chelsea – loan), Yoann Cabayé (PSG), Bakary Sako (Wolves), Connor Wickham (Sunderland).
Out: Nobody of note
Alan Pardew, the silver fox, was Palace’s knight in shining armour last season as he rode into town on his horse, slayed the dragon that was the prospect of relegation, and promptly lead Eagles to a top-half finish. He has somehow convinced Cabaye to swap the Parc des Princes for Selhurst Park (hypnosis probably – or blackmail maybe…) so can smooth Alan take Palace to the next level? The signing of Connor Wickham raised a few eyebrows (he often looks turgid and overweight to me) and goalkeeper Julian Speroni is not getting any younger. However, they have array of attacking talent and they should have more than enough to avoid the drop.
Prediction: Mid-table obscurity, pushing towards the top 10
Last season: 11th
In: Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona), Tom Cleverley (Manchester United)
Out: Sylvain Distin (Bournemouth), Luke Garbutt (Fulham – loan)
2014/15 was a bit of an annus horribilis for Everton. Having look liked revolutionaries in 2013/14, suddenly their mesmeric passing game lacked any dynamism or forward momentum. Combine that with a leakier than normal defence and a fairly insipid attack and you have a recipe for a disappointing mid-table finish. Not much business has been conducted in the transfer window and it looks like Roberto Martinez will have to make-do with basically the same squad as last season. Keeping hold of John Stones and getting Romelu Lukaku firing are top priorities. Ross Barkley needs to step up this season too.
Prediction: Top 10.
Last season: 14th
In: Robert Huth (Stoke City), Shinji Okazaki (Mainz)
Out: Paul Gallagher (Preston North End)
Life is rarely dull at the King Power Stadium. No sooner had Nigel Pearson kept the Foxes in the league, than he was sacked (for reasons we need not discuss in this family-friendly publication), to be replaced by none other than Claudio Ranieri. To be honest I thought Ranieri was sunning himself on an Italian island in a pair of tight speedos, tinkering constantly with something (probably his chess set). But no! He is alive and, unfortunately for Leicester fans, their new manager. Defence was a real issue last season which Huth might solve, as was scoring goals – which none of David Nugent, Leonard Ulloa and Jamie Vardy did with any regularity. A proven goalscorer would be nice, but if I’m honest, the sooner they get rid of Ranieri, the greater the chance of avoiding the drop.
Last season: 6th
In: Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton), Christian Benteke (Aston Villa), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim), Danny Ings (Burnley), James Milner (Man City)
Out: Raheem Sterling (Man City), Glen Johnson (Stoke City), Andre Wisdom (Norwich City), Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy), Sebastian Coates (Sunderland)
2014/15 was not quite the season Brendan Rodgers had in mind. Having promised not to do a ‘Spurs’ and spend all the proceeds from the sale of Luis Suarez on overpriced mediocre squad players, Liverpool promptly did a ‘Spurs’ and spent all their money on overpriced mediocre squad players. The start to the season will be key; Liverpool often start slowly and are therefore constantly playing catch-up. Rodgers also knows he needs a fast start otherwise he will be under intense pressure. Having raided Southampton so successfully (ahem) last season, the Reds have bought Clyne for an absolute snip at £12.5m. Benteke and Firmino were a little more pricey but they can more than adequately replace Raheem Sterling. This will be the first season without club legend Steven Gerrard since 1998-99. Jordan Henderson has a lot on his plate to prove he can become the great man’s successor.
Prediction: Not quite the top four – 5th
Last season: 2nd
In: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Fabian Delph (Man City)
Out: James Milner (Liverpool), Scott Sinclair & Micah Richards (both Aston Villa), Edin Dzeko (Roma)
It was a strange old season at the Etihad stadium. The alarming collapse in form after Christmas put paid to a title challenge and they rather limped through the rest of the season after being knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona (again). They may have bought the brightest talent in the English game in Sterling but it is at the back where City should be strengthening. They let far too many goals in last season and with Martin Demichelis one year older, Kompany and Mangala (a seemingly reckless buy at £32 million) woefully short of form and both left-backs defensive liabilities, opposition strikers know there is a soft core to City (as Burnley showed last season at the Etihad). They still have classy operators in Sergio Agüero, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Pablo Zabaleta, and if Agüero can stay fit for a whole season, City may have a fighting chance. However if they don’t come away with some silverware, the writing could be on the wall for Manuel Pellegrini.
Prediction: Top four
Last season: 4th
In: Sergio Romero (Sampdoria), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton), Memphis Depay (Ajax), Matteo Darmian (Torino)
Out: Tom Cleverley (Everton), Robin Van Persie (Fenerbache), Angel Di Maria (PSG), Rafael (Lyon), Nani (Fenerbache)
LVG achieved objective number one by getting Man Utd back in the Champions League; now his team need to kick on and get back to challenging for titles. On paper Memphis Depay looks a good signing as does Schweinsteiger from Bayern. Schneiderlin is slightly overpriced at £25m but such is United’s financial clout that they can afford to pay over the odds. Assuming Javier Hernandez leaves, another striker is probably needed to cover, Depay, Wayne Rooney and James Wilson. Another burning question is the future of David De Gea. If he leaves, Sergio Romero will be his replacement and whilst he is a good goalkeeper, he will need time adjust to the Premier League. In front of him is not exactly the most secure of defences, with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling more than prone to the odd brain-fade. A (better) replacement for Rafael would be welcome too.
Prediction: Top four
Last season: 15th
In: Chancel Mbemba & Aleksandar Mitrovic (both Anderlecht), Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV)
Out: Jonas Gutierrez (Released), Sammy Ameobi (Cardiff City – loan), Ryan Taylor (Hull City)
It surely couldn’t be as bad as last season, could it? Newcastle fans will be hoping not and with a new man at the helm (Steve McClaren) and a supposedly fresh start, there is cautious optimism on Tyneside. The fact that they have actually spent some money on players is another positive, somehow convincing Wijnaldum to forgo Champions League football with PSV for a season of mid-table obscurity in the North East. The lack of a top-class striker will hinder their chances of a top-10 finish, as will the lack of a top class centre-back. Moussa Sissokho is still there though; all the hype about him seems to have died down. The Toon faithful will simply be hoping for an incident-free season of consolidation.
Prediction: Lower mid-table
Last season: Promoted via Playoffs
In: Andre Wisdom (Liverpool – loan), Graham Dorrans & Youssuf Mulumbu (both West Brom), Robbie Brady (Hull City).
Out: Mark Bunn (Aston Villa)
Norwich went on a magnificent run after the appointment of new manager Alex Neil halfway through last season to reach the Playoffs and eventually win promotion. Do they have enough firepower to stay up though? Neil has recruited wisely with experienced Premier League players such as Dorrans, Mulumbu and Brady. Alongside Nathan Redmond and Johnny Howson the Canaries have a strong midfield. However, I worry about the goalscoring situation. The likes of Cameron Jerome, Gary Hooper and the hapless Ricky Van Wolfswinkel are unlikely to strike fear into the hearts of many Premier League defences.
Prediction: Will struggle to avoid the drop
Last season: 7th
In: Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Juanmi (Malaga), Steven Caulker (QPR – loan), Cuco Martina (FC Twente), Cedric Soares (Sporting Lisbon), Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham – loan)
Out: Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United), Jos Hooiveld (AIK), Artur Boruc (Bournemouth), Dani Osvaldo (Porto)
After last year’s exodus, many were tipping Southampton for the drop. How wrong they were. Having seen Clyne and Schneiderlin leave, the future is looking particularly rosy, particularly thanks to the arrival of the classy Jordy Clasie in midfield. Even though they were excellent defensively last season, can the Saints repeat that this term? Missing out on signing Toby Alderweireld permanently was a big disappointment. Additionally, the injury to goalkeeper Fraser Forster may be a significant blow. He was outstanding last season and his replacement Stekelenburg will have to forge a relationship with the back four on the hoof. A front four of Tadic, Mané, Long and Pellè will be menacing though.
Prediction: Top 10
Last season: 9th
In: Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Philipp Wohlscheid (Bayer Leverkusen), Joselu (Hannover), Shay Given (Aston Villa), Marco Van Ginkel (Chelsea – loan), Moha El Ouriachi & Ibrahim Affelay (both Barcelona)
Out: Steven Nzoni (Sevilla), Asmir Begovic (Chelsea), Robert Huth (Leicester)
A cracking season for Mark Hughes’ men, topped off by that wonderful thrashing of Liverpool on the final day of the season. Much of that positivity has spread through the summer as on paper their transfer dealings seem very shrewd. Glen Johnson will bring thrust and drive (if little defence) from right-back and Van Ginkel and Affelay both have the potential to be match winners. An improvement on 9th position may be beyond them though thanks to the news that captain Ryan Shawcross has been sidelined for two months due to a back injury. Also, with Begovic leaving, can Butland fill the giant Bosnian’s shoes?
Prediction: Mid-table, pushing top 10
Last Season: 16th
In: Yann M’Vila (Rubin Kazan – loan), Younes Kaboul (Spurs), Jermain Lens (Dinamo Kiev), Adam Matthews (Celtic), Sebastian Coates (Liverpool),
Out: Connor Wickham (Crystal Palace)
Will there ever be a season of dull mid-table mediocrity at the Stadium of Light? They are rapidly turning into specialist escape artists à la Wigan Athletic, but will their luck run out? I can’t see anything other than another relegation scrap unfortunately. The central defensive partnership of John O’Shea and Wes Brown still looks like an accident waiting to happen and the addition of Younes Kaboul will not help matters. If Jermain Defoe doesn’t find his scoring boots, goals could also be hard to come by as new striker Jermain Lens is unproven at this level. However, France international Yann M’Vila is a bit of coup. A classy operator beside Lee Cattermole could reap rewards.
Prediction: In the relegation scrap
Last season: 8th
In: Andre Ayew (Marseille), Franck Tabanou (St Etienne), Eder (Braga)
Out: Nobody of note
Garry Monk worked wonders to finish in the top half of the table last season, especially after having sold top scorer Wilfried Bony to Man City halfway through the campaign. Swansea have a very settled squad and the news that captain Ashley Williams is staying put is very welcome. They have added Ayew and Eder to give the team more attacking options, but for me there are still question marks up front. There seems to be little quality back-up for Bafetimbi Gomis. However, with Gylfi Sigurdsson pulling the strings, Swansea will have more than enough to finish in a comfortable position without any unnecessary dramas.
Last season: 5th
In: Kieran Trippier (Burnley), Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid), Kevin Wimmer (Cologne)
Out: Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande), Benjamin Stambouli (PSG), Lewis Holtby (Hamburg), Younes Kaboul (Sunderland), Etienne Capoue (Waford)
Whilst it wasn’t the top four, a fifth place finish from Spurs was a good effort last season. Harry Kane was the star of the show and it is imperative that the Lilywhites keep hold of him. Elsewhere, the signing of Alderweireld is a masterstroke. He was part of the Southampton defence that was so rock solid last season and Spurs will be hoping that he can carry that form into this campaign. Another attacking midfielder wouldn’t go amiss as wouldn’t another striker to ease the burden on Kane. Promising youngster Alex Pritchard was outstanding last season in the Championship for Brentford. If he gets a chance he could be the next product from the Spurs academy to cement a spot in the first team.
Prediction: 5th or 6th
Last season: Promoted from Championship
In: Etienne Capoue (Tottenham Hotspur), Valron Behrami (Hamburg), Jose Holebas (Roma), Matej Vydra (Udinese), Steven Berghuis (AZ Alkmaar)
Out: Lewis McGugan (Sheffield Wednesday)
Despite the enormous upheaval of having four managers in one season, Watford still managed to achieve automatic promotion with something to spare. The man who got them there (Slavisa Jokanovic), has since left to be replaced by ex-Atletico Madrid boss Quique Sanchez Flores. The Hornets have signed a plethora of new players – the ones that stand out are: Behrami, who will add some steel to the midfield, Vydra (permanently) – who will help Troy Deeney bang in the goals, and Capoue – who will be the enforcer alongside Behrami. However, the raft of new signings will take time to gel and for me there is a lack of real quality throughout the squad. The strikers are unproven at this level and unless Deeney has a Charlie Austinesque season, I can’t see Watford’s stay in the top flight exceeding a solitary season.
West Bromwich Albion
Last season: 13th
In: James Chester (Hull City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Rickie Lambert (Liverpool)
Out: Graham Dorrans & Youssouf Mulumbu (Norwich City), Chris Baird (Derby County)
Tony Pulis did his classic save-the-day act at the Hawthorns last season, steadying West Brom’s ship and steering in on the course towards Premier League safety. Captain Pulis has largely kept faith with the squad he inherited whilst adding Chester (overpriced) and Lambert (a wise purchase). The former Liverpool and Southampton man will be a good mentor for Saido Berahino and provide experience leading the line. The Baggies won’t pull up any tress but with Pulis at the helm, there will be no danger of relegation either. However, they need to get Ben Foster back fit soon, although the rumours of a move for Cardiff’s David Marshall should calm any fears in the goalkeeping department.
West Ham United
Last season: 12th
In: Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus), Dimitri Payet (Marseille), Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal – loan), Pedro Obiang (Sampdoria)
Out: Stewart Downing (Middlesborough)
Halfway through last season, Sam Allardayce could do no wrong. He had the Hammers in a European spot in the table and his team was having the likes of Manchester City for breakfast. Fast-forward six months and it is a completely different story. After a woeful end to the season, Allardayce left and into the managerial hot seat has arrived former Hammers player Slaven Bilic. The former Croatia coach has already presided over an awful Europa League qualifying campaign that ended in defeat in Romania. After last season’s poor finish, Bilic knows he needs a good start to appease the notoriously fickle West Ham faithful. Dimitri Payet is a good signing from Marseille and he brings craft and guile to the midfield. However the news that Enner Valencia has been sidelined for a number of weeks is a blow. With Andy Carroll’s fitness as consistent as an Australian batting line-up, the burden will fall on Diafra Sakho to fire in the goals early in the season. Whilst Hammers fans would like a fairytale ending to their time at the Boleyn Ground before moving to the Olympic Stadium, I fear that anything more than pure survival would be a bonus.
Prediction: Lower mid-table