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Season Preview: The Barclays Premier League

Aleks Klosok is out of summer hibernation for another season, beginning with a verdict on all the runners and riders in what is set to be another gripping season in the Barclays Premier League
Aleks Klosok on Monday 8th August 2011
Photograph: Evie Deavall

Pre-season done and dusted, summer transfers slowly fitting into place and the mind games already kicking in. The Barclays Premier League is well and truly ready to go again for another season of twists and turns at the top and bottom of the table, controversies both on and off the pitch and the managerial axe waiting in the wings to claim its first victim. With improvements in the top clubs could we be set for a vintage title race? Which team will be the surprise package? And which players will come to the fore? So plenty of questions in the offing but come 13th May 2012 all will be revealed.


Arsenal

Manager: Arsène Wenger

League Position in 2010/2011: 4th

The purse strings as tight as ever, another Cesc Fabregas summer transfer saga and a below par pre-season – it all seems a little too familiar to Gunners fans. Keeping Dutch striker Robin Van Persie fit is a must if Wenger’s men are to challenge for any silverware however reinforcements in midfield and especially in defence are urgently needed. Werder Bremen’s Germany international defender Per Mertesacker may provide a cheap alternative to the likes of Blackburn’s Christopher Samba and Bolton Wanderer’s Gary Cahill.

Prediction: Champions League Qualification but will face stiff competition

Aston Villa

Manager: Alex McLeish

League Position in 2010/2011: 9th

Ex-Birmingham City manager McLeish will have to do a lot to convince Villa fans he’s the right man for the job thus a good start to the season is vital. The loss of wingers Ashley Young and Stewart Downing will be a blow but the signing of Wigan Athletic’s Charles N’Zogbia represents an impressive coup. Striker Darren Bent will look to continue his excellent form from last season and the Villains moved quickly to replace goalkeeper Brad Friedel with the signing of highly rated Shay Given.

Prediction: Solid mid-table finish

Blackburn Rovers

Manager: Steve Kean

League Position in 2010/2011: 15th

Owners who have little clue of how to run a football club, few reinforcements over the summer and losing one of their most promising prospects, defender come midfielder Phil Jones to Manchester United, expect the team to struggle. Keeping hold of Club Captain Christopher Samba is crucial however the lure of Champions League football will surely be too strong. Rovers squad is looking very light and a lack of creativity in midfield and firepower upfront is a concern.

Prediction: A season of real strife and struggle for the Lancashire club

Bolton Wanderers


Manager: Owen Coyle

League Position in 2010/2011: 14th

The Trotters manager will be looking to build on last season which saw the club reach the FA Cup Semi-Final. The loss of Swedish striker Johan Elmander will be a real blow as he was really finding his feet at the club. Captain Kevin Davies will once again have to tow the front line therefore a striker remains Owen Coyle’s priority. The introduction of experienced midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker and the pace of former Burnley and Manchester United winger Chris Eagle will reinforce the midfield.

Prediction: Steadily sitting there in mid-table

Chelsea


Manager: Andre Villas-Boas

League Position in 2010/2011: 2nd

Calm, concise and collected, former FC Porto manager Villas-Boas has quietly gone about his work at Stamford Bridge. If their performance in pre-season in the Asian Cup is anything to go by then the young Portuguese coach will look to play with attacking flair – exactly what chairman Roman Abramovich ordered. It’ll be a crucial season for striker Fernando Torres who severely failed to impress following his record-breaking move from Liverpool in January. He is soon to be joined by Belgian teenage sensation Romelo Lukaku from Anderlecht.

Prediction: Title contenders…perhaps even winners?

Everton

Manager: David Moyes

League Position in 2010/2011: 7th

It certainly hasn’t been a busy summer at Goodison Park. More than £40,000,000 in debt has sapped David Moyes of any money to bring in reinforcements. Instead, the priority has been to keep hold of his star players – Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Marouane Fellaini and Jack Rodwell – which so far he has successfully managed to do. The loan and free transfer market, in which Moyes has been successful in in previous seasons, could be the best alternative for the Toffees manager.

Prediction: Punching above their weight with a top ten finish

Fulham

Manager: Martin Jol

League Position in 2010/2011
: 8th

Martin Jol makes a welcome return to the Barclays Premier League and he’ll be hoping to continue to his success in English football following his spell with Tottenham Hotspur. Europa League commitments may well cause fatigue and thus impact upon the Cottagers league position. Expect Jol’s team to be compact and well organised as ever and the main priority this season will be to improve that wretched away form which has been the clubs Achilles heel for many seasons now.

Prediction: More consistency at the Cottage with another top ten finish

Liverpool

Manager: Kenny Dalglish

League Position in 2010/2011: 6th

Rebuilding, rebuilding, rebuilding has very much been the motto this summer at Anfield. Icon Dalglish has firmly stamped his marker on the team investing in British talent, albeit with hefty price-tags attached to them. Stewart Downing will provide much needed width whilst summer signing Charlie Adam will act as the perfect foil for striker Andy Carroll. The former Newcastle United man and highly rated Uruguayan Luis Suárez will hope to form a potent partnership upfront.

Prediction: A real push for Champions League football but a title challenge is perhaps beyond reach

Manchester City


Manager: Roberto Mancini

League Position in 2010/2011
: 3rd

City have been busy in the Transfer Market especially with the multi-million pound capture of Argentine striker Sergio Agüero. Nonetheless, stability is the key for Mancini and he’ll have a tough time trying to keep his squad content…what with the temperamental Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tévez around! Despite the attacking talent, the team remains fixed within the defensive Italian mindset which, whilst may proving effective in the Champions League, will perhaps not work so smoothly in the Barclays Premier League.

Prediction: The Noisy Neighbours to be kept quiet by United

Manchester United

Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson

League Position in 2010/2011: 1st

Rarely out of third gear last season, United will certainly be looking to move up a gear this season. Their humbling by a mesmerising Barcelona team in last season’s Champions League Final will have taught them a lot of lessons. They look sharper and quicker with the addition of winger Ashley Young and have precisely the right blend of youth and experience. The only potential weak link could be new goalkeeper David de Gea whilst replacing Paul Scholes’ boots is an immediate priority.

Prediction: Hello twentieth Premier League Title

Newcastle United

Manager: Alan Pardew

League Position in 2010/2011: 12th  

There’s never a dull moment at St James’ Park and this summer has been no different. The shock departure of Kevin Nolan coupled with the lack of reinvestment of the £35,000,000 Andy Carroll transfer has generated disgruntlement amongst the ranks. The clubs transfer policy that of brining in inexpensive young players has seen an influx of French based players. Despite the introduction of ex-West Ham United striker Demba Ba the club are desperately short upfront and goals could be hard to come by.

Prediction: Disappointing bottom half of the table

Norwich City


Manager: Paul Lambert

League Position in 2010/2011: 2nd Npower Championship

After back to back promotions, The Canaries are back in the big time and will be looking to be the surprise package this season. They have a very bright and talented manager in the shape of Paul Lambert alongside a supportive board and an excellent fan base. Home form as well as discipline will be crucial to their hopes of survival. They have spirit in abundance however they can’t pin all their hopes on star striker Grant Holt.

Prediction: Against the odds the Canaries may well just survive

Queens Park Rangers


Manager: Neil Warnock

League Position in 2010/2011: 1st Npower Championship

Despite having wealthy owners, Neil Warnock has so far not been backed in the Transfer Window. He’s used the free transfer market to bring in injury prone midfielder Kieron Dyer as well as former Cardiff City striker Jay Bothroyd who is unproven at this level. DJ Campbell will add further depth upfront however the rest of the squad does look lightweight. Midfielder Adel Taarabt will once again be burdened with the job of creating chances from midfield.

Prediction: A short stay in English football’s top flight division

Stoke City

Manager: Tony Pulis

League Position in 2010/2011: 13th

The Potters will be hoping to build on last season which saw the club reach their maiden FA Cup Final appearance and thus guaranteeing Europa League football for this season. The team will be formidable opponents as ever with set-pieces continuing to remain their strong point, although it has to be said that their playing style is slowly evolving. Strikers Jonathan Walters and Kenwyne Jones will hope to build on their promising relationship upfront and wingers Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington will look to continue improving.

Prediction: Top ten finish

Sunderland

Manager: Steve Bruce

League Position in 2010/2011:
10th

Steve Bruce has certainly been a busy man, using the money generated from the sale of striker Darren Bent to Aston Villa in January; to bring in no fewer than nine fresh faces to the Stadium of Light. Bruce fended off interest from several big clubs to land the highly rated striker Connor Wickham from Ipswich Town whilst the signings of David Vaughan from Blackpool and Craig Gardener from Birmingham City will add both creativity and steel in midfield. John O’Shea’s experience will be invaluable in defence.

Prediction: Safely in mid-table

Swansea City


Manager: Brendan Rodgers

League Position in 2010/2011: 3rd Npower Championship (Play-Off Winners)

The Swans become the first Welsh team to reach the Promised Land of the Barclays Premier League and, despite not adding significantly to his squad; Rodgers will look to continue playing with the type of attacking intent which earned his team many plaudits in the Npower Championship. Record signing Danny Graham will hope he can make the transition into the top flight whilst all eyes will be trained on exciting winger Scott Sinclair.

Prediction: Could spring a few surprises but may not be enough to survive

Tottenham Hotspur

Manager: Harry Redknapp

League Position in 2010/2011: 5th

It’s been a frustrating summer for Harry Redknapp with very little movement in the Transfer Window. Keeping hold of star players Luka Modrić and Gareth Bale is vital if Spurs are to once again push for European football. A move for Blackburn defender Christopher Samba looks likely whilst current Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra could well be set for a reunion with his former manager. A striker remains the top priority with Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente and Internacional’s Leandro Damião mentioned as possible arrivals.

Prediction: Europa League football once again

West Bromwich Albion


Manager: Roy Hodgson

League Position in 2010/2011: 11th

As organised as ever, Roy Hodgson’s side will be difficult to break down especially at The Hawthorns. Keeping more clean sheets must be the main priority however goalkeeper Ben Foster’s arrival from Birmingham City on loan with a view to a permanent signing is an excellent coup for the West Midlands club. Midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu will look to carry on his impressive form from last season whilst Nigerian striker Peter Odemwingie will once again be the man charged with the task of firing in the goals.

Prediction: Comfortably surviving

Wigan Athletic


Manager: Roberto Martinez

League Position in 2010/2011: 16th

Season after season, the Latics continue to defy all the odds but could their fate change this season? Having already lost influential winger Charles N’Zogbia to Aston Villa, Roberto Martinez must ensure that he keeps hold of Colombian striker Hugo Rodallega and midfield teenage sensation James McCarthy who’s been impressive in pre-season. Nonetheless, the highly likeable Spaniard will continue to stick closely to his footballing philosophy of playing attacking football which could be the clubs saviour as well as potentially being its downfall.

Prediction: Going, going…gone? Survival but only just

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Manager: Mick McCarthy

League Position in 2010/2011: 17th

Having conducted his Transfer business early on in the summer, Mick McCarthy has been able to give his side plenty of time to gel. The acquisition of defender Roger Johnson for a club record £7,000,000 from Birmingham City will bring much needed stability whilst another arrival Jamie O’Hara will once again pull the creative strings in midfield. Beating the top four teams is all well and good but Wolves must ensure they pick up points from those nearest rivals around them.

Prediction: Barclays Premier League status assured for another season

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