After what was far from a vintage year in English football, both domestically and in the Champions League, this season promises to be a return to form. With managerial changes galore, exciting new signings (or a lack of at some clubs…) and the first Premier League Welsh derby just a few of highlights, it’s sure to be an intriguing year. The beauty of the start of the season is that every team still has the chance to dream: whether it be about winning the title, booking a place in European competition, winning a cup or simply avoiding relegation.
Attempting to ignore any unrealistic bias we may harbour (THIS IS ARSENAL’S YEAR!), we’ve decided to go down the very traditional route of pre-season/start-of-season predictions. Some are obvious and mundane, while others are perhaps a bit more controversial. We’d love to know where you think we’re right/wrong, or who your tips for the season are (teams and players), so get in touch and let your opinions be heard.
The Top 4
We find it hard to see last year’s top 4 changing. Some will argue that Spurs have improved their squad whereas Arsenal haven’t, which is a valid point, but Arsenal’s end of season form is always impressive and should help them into 4th once again. The title could go to any one of Manchester Utd, Manchester City or Chelsea. We’ve gone for United simply because they were so far ahead last year. Their squad is settled and used to winning, and if Van Persie has another injury-free season then the departure of Ferguson and lack of new signings shouldn’t matter. We also see Shinji Kagawa being given more game time this season, and the prospect of him sitting in the hole behind RVP is mouth-watering to say the least. City have signed some quality players and will definitely mount a greater challenge, and Chelsea with Mourinho back could go either way.
1) Man. Utd:
Key Player: Robin Van Persie
Best Newcomer(s): Wilfried Zaha
2) Man. City:
Key Player: Sergio Agüero
Best Newcomer(s): Jesús Navas/Fernandinho
Key Player: Juan Mata
Best Newcomer(s): André Schürrle
Key Player: Santi Cazorla
Best Newcomer(s): Hahahaha
Europa League places
If Spurs don’t break the top 4 then 5th place is theirs by right anyway. Their squad looks good, with some great signings in Soldado, Paulinho and Capoue, and if Bale stays and replicates last season’s form they will easily be challenging for Champions League football. Soldado especially could be the key piece in the puzzle that they’ve been missing. Norwich for 6th place is an ambitious call, but Chris Hughton has done wonders for the club since taking over. This summer he has brought in quality players for very good prices. Van Wolfswinkel is an exciting attacker, capable of playing up front or just behind the striker. Gary Hooper scored goals for fun at Celtic and will relish the chance to play in the Premier League. Leroy Fer is a powerful, technically gifted midfielder. We expect that, once he gets a chance in the first team, he’ll have an impressive season. Snodgrass, Pilkington and Bassong will look to continue the form that helped Norwich to finish just outside the top half.
And finally Liverpool. We don’t expect wonders here; more of the same really. Assuming he stays, which looks more likely as the days go on, Suárez’s contribution will be key. Without him they’ll struggle to score as many goals, although Coutinho should flourish. The club have also addressed a recent problem position: Goalkeeper. During his first few years at Anfield Pepe Reina was superb, but the lack of any real competition, and Liverpool’s general slump into mediocrity, meant that Reina’s performances became more and more average. He no longer looked assured. Although they probably could have gone about it better, Liverpool decided to loan Reina out and bring in Mignolet who, on his day, is a brilliant keeper.
Key Player: Gareth Bale (if he stays)
Best Newcomer(s): Roberto Soldado
Key Player: Robert Snodgrass
Best Newcomer(s): Ricky van Wolfswinkel/Leroy Fer/Gary Hooper
Key Player: Luis Suárez (if he stays)
Best Newcomer(s): Simon Mignolet
The stability that Everton enjoyed under David Moyes allowed them to improve year on year. Although they’ve managed to keep hold of Baines and Fellaini for now, adapting to a different style under new boss Roberto Martínez may hamper the start of their season. Whatever happens, they’ll be difficult to beat. If Deulofeu gets enough game time, expect to see a future star. Swansea had an extremely successful season, playing attractive football and winning the League Cup. Yet their form deteriorated quite quickly after the cup win and they let themselves down. Michu was the bargain of the season and they’ll once again look to him for goals and invention. Wilfried Bony represents one of the more intriguing signings of the summer. His goal tally in the Eredivisie can’t be ignored, but it will all depend on the amount of time it takes him to adapt to the speed of the game here. Physically he won’t have a problem; he’s an absolute tank.
We’re convinced last season was a blip for Villa. They have a young, hungry team, have kept the impressive Benteke and have made some super signings. Okore was being watched by a host of top clubs and Bacuna has steadily impressed in the Netherlands. Players such as Delph, Westwood and Lowton are also exciting. Villa’s energy and fitness will be a key strength.
Key Player: Leighton Baines
Best Newcomer(s): Gerard Deulofeu
Key Player: Michu
Best Newcomer(s): Wilfried Bony
10) Aston Villa:
Key Player: Christian Benteke
Best Newcomer(s): Jores Okore/Leandro Bacuna
The final order of these 6 teams is debatable, but we believe that they’re all destined for a bottom half finish. Fulham’s squad looks weak, but they have the canny ability of being worth more than the sum of their parts. Southampton will be very happy with another season of safety, and Lambert’s goals should push them into the higher bottom half places. Newcastle were erratic last season to say the least, possibly due to European football and injuries, but we don’t expect them to be much better this year. Selling Demba Ba really seemed to hurt them (and Cissé). Loïc Rémy was impressive for QPR and should be a hit.
West Brom had a great year, but have lost Lukaku. Anelka isn’t an adequate replacement in our opinion, and they punched above their weight. Di Canio’s Sunderland could be just fine or they could be absolutely terrible – but the signing of Giaccherini is a real coup. Many might tip Cardiff for an instant return to the Championship but the truth is that they’ve spent very well. Gary Medel is a very physical, hard-tackling defensive midfielder who’ll add some real bite to the team. We think Steven Caulker is an absolute steal from Spurs, and Cornelius had a super debut season in Denmark, netting 18 times. He may be young and relatively unproven, but any goals he can score for Cardiff will be vital.
Key Player: Dimitar Berbatov
Best Newcomer(s): Fernando Amorebieta/Adel Taarabt
Key Player: Rickie Lambert
Best Newcomer(s): Victor Wanyama
Key Player: Yohan Cabaye
Best Newcomer(s): Loïc Rémy
14) West Brom:
Key Player: Shane Long
Best Newcomer(s): Matěj Vydra/Diego Lugano
Key Player: Steven Fletcher
Best Newcomer(s): Emmanuele Giaccherini
16) Cardiff City:
Key Player: Peter Whittingham
Best Newcomer(s): Steven Caulker/Andreas Cornelius/Gary Medel
Crystal Palace and Hull will struggle this year. Neither have sufficiently strengthened their squads to survive and, while it’s not impossible that they’ll to stay up, we don’t see it happening. We’d put Palace last simply because Hull have a slightly stronger squad, and finished higher in the Championship. Battling to avoid 18th place, in our opinion, are Stoke and West Ham. Under Pulis Stoke enjoyed basking in mid-table mediocrity (to everyone’s annoyance), but with Hughes now in charge we’re not so sure they’ll remain as consistent. Begović is the only top player in the team and with Erik Pieters representing the most ‘exciting’ new signing, fans mustn’t be filled with optimism. Putting West Ham so low in the table may seem strange considering their strong 10th place finish last season but, in truth, there were only 10 points separating them from 18th. Also, the Hammers are no stranger to the Championship, having suffered relegation twice in the last ten years. We may be wrong and they may once again stay safe, but the squad isn’t filled with talent – summed up by the signing of Stewart Downing. Big performances are needed again from Carroll and Nolan.
17) Stoke City:
Key Player: Asmir Begović
Best Newcomer(s): Erik Pieters
18) West Ham:
Key Player: Andy Carroll
Best Newcomer(s): Răzvan Raț
19) Hull City:
Key Player: Ahmed Elmohamady
Best Newcomer(s): Yannick Sagbo/Tom Huddlestone
20) Crystal Palace:
Key Player: Glenn Murray
Best Newcomer(s): Marouane Chamakh