Thursday, 14 August 2014

2014/15 Grand Spectacular Season Preview

"Fever got me guilty. Just go ahead and kill me."

The trophy drought is finally at an end, Aaron Ramsey's dramatic late winner at Wembley to cap a remarkable season made sure of that. This summer did however mark a decade since Arsenal last won the Premier League, a trophy Arsene Wenger managed to win three times in his first seven full seasons in England, a trophy they are now over-due.

Alexis Sanchez has come in from Barcelona, a fantastic player who will no doubt shine in the Premier League but Arsenal's failure to address their obvious weaknesses will prevent them from winning the title again this year. All they have done is add more flair.

We need only look at the hidings they took at Liverpool and Chelsea, the 3-0 thumping at Goodison Park, all occasions where Wenger got it horribly wrong and churned out the line he's been using to explain every big Arsenal defeat since about 2008 "lack of mental strength".

While a lack of mental strength is true to some extent, Wenger's lack of tactical nous is what cost them. His failure to deploy a defensive midfielder cost them 11 goals against two title rivals and his refusal to adapt his gameplan against Everton saw Roberto Martinez make a fool of him. Wenger's a fan of flair players and attacking football. Nothing wrong with that. But if he continues to neglect the nitty gritty tactical and defensive aspects of the game, Arsenal's title drought will continue indefinitely.

The Community Shield victory over Man City may yet prove a watershed moment for them. Here they came up against a top side and danced all over them. It may prove a different story however when there are more meaningful prizes at stake.

Verdict: I can't see them competing for the title in the long-run but they definitely have the edge over all the Champions League hopefuls right now. Wenger still won't beat Mourinho though. 3rd

Aston Villa

They don't get as much media attention as some of the others, but Aston Villa are a club in pretty dire straits right now. Randy Lerner has spent the summer trying to sell the club but to no avail. History tells us that when all is not right behind the scenes, the show never lives up to potential on-stage. Villa are in trouble.

Villa's arrivals this summer have been limited mostly to players who were going for free. Kieran Richardson, Phillipe Senderos and Joe Cole have all arrived at the club, adding some much needed experience to what is a very young side.

Roy Keane has also arrived as Paul Lambert's assistant manager, surely with a view to taking the job permanently once Lambert is inevitable sacked in November. Villa are a big club, with a rich history and a passionate, loyal fanbase but I fear for them this year, I really do.

Verdict: I'll be very surprised if they are  not in the relegation dogfight come the final games of the season. The only saving grace for them is that there are worse sides in the division. 17th


They very well might become this season's plucky underdogs that capture the hearts of many fans but that won't save them. An very middling squad that was fired to promotion by Danny Ings and Sam Vokes, the later of whom will miss the first half o.f the season, will likely struggle to mount much of a survival challenge this season.

One thing they do have is a very likeable, headstrong boss in Sean Dyche who will relish the chance to implement his style of play in the Premier League. Even if Burnley crash and burn this season, I hope he makes it to the end with his job.

Verdict: I do love an underdog but I see absolutely nothing about Burnley that makes me think they can survive. 20th.


The best manager in the league, the best defence in the league, all Chelsea lacked last season was a potent striker and a playmaker capable of unpicking the tightest defences. They went straight out and spent £60m on Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas. Chelsea are now, quite deservedly, bookies favourites for the Premier League title.

They've also added Felipe Luis from Atletico and Didier Drogba has returned to the club where he is loved by all. Plus a full season of Nemanja Matic, one of the outstanding players of the second half of last season, makes Chelsea's first XI the most complete in the Premier League. It's so good, I haven't even had to mention player of the year candidate Eden Hazard, Oscar or captain John Terry who looked a new man last season, revitalised under his new/old boss.

Failure to put away the smaller teams is what killed them last year. Diego Costa, a bully of a striker, will surely thrive against the likes of Leicester and West Brom this year, ensuring slip-ups are kept to a minimum. In Mourinho they have arguably the best tactician to ever coach a football side. Doubles against Liverpool and City last year were his doing. His battles with his old friend and mentor Louis van Gaal will be fascinating. Probably both boring 0-0s, but tactically fascinating.

Verdict: Mourinho has no excuses this time around. He can't blame Benitez anymore. This is his team now and their failings will be his own. Luckily for him, I don't think there will be any. Domestically at least. 1st

Crystal Palace

Palace will just be hoping for more of the same from boss Tony Pulis. They looked destined for a straight slide back down to the Championship last season before Pulis took over in November and basically turned them into the new Stoke; difficult to break, the team no one wants to face on a cold Tuesday night, the ultimate banana-skin, as Chelsea and Liverpool both discovered in the closing games.

I'd be surprised if they can keep up the amazing form they showed over the final months of last season, producing the kind of results that would have put them in European contention had they not had such a dreadful start to the season. However they are a solid enough side to avoid losing enough games to put them in trouble.

Verdict: Solid side under Pulis. Just as Stoke were Mid-table mediocrity beckons. Never any further though, but any fan will snap your hand off for this. 13th


The honeymoon period is over and Roberto Martinez now has to ensure his side can continue the excellent progress they made last season, their best ever in the Premier League.

Splashing out £28m on Lukaku is a signal of intent. As is his willingness to join Everton permanently, a sign of the esteem the club and the manager are now held in. I can't imagine a striker of that calibre wanting to join them under David Moyes, they are most definitely a club on the rise.

The challenge this year will be juggling European football with domestic commitments, a challenge they haven't had in quite a while. Martinez has a good first-team but a rather thin squad. If he hasn't bolstered it by the end of the window (may not be able to given the significant outlay on Lukaku), Everton could struggle towards the end of the year, particularly if they have extended cup runs.

Verdict: They won't be significantly worse than last season, it's just United and Spurs will both be better. For their sake, I hope they haven't hit a glass ceiling. Very classy club. 7th.


Coming off the back of a very impressive first season back in the top-flight, Hull have not been afraid the splash the cash, the owner's ongoing dispute with the fans clearly not stopping him from opening the chequebook. Jake Livermore and Rob Snodgrass being the two most expensive arrivals, Tom Ince has arrived on a free.

Whilst they did reach the FA Cup final last year, their league form suffered drastically as a result. They ended the season in 16th place. This year brings the added distraction of European competition, something a lot of club's of Hull's stature have suffered to manage in recent years. If they make it through to the Europa League group stages, Hull could be in for a very difficult first half of the season consisting of a series of Sunday afternoon struggles after drawing 0-0 in Bratislava the previous Thursday.

They've lost Shane Long to Southampton this week for a rather hefty £12m. If this money is reinvested in the right way, Bruce could have himself a very nice squad come the end of the window.

Verdict: All depends on Europe. If they go out early, which I'm banking on them doing, they'll be mid-table. If they have a good run in Europe, their league form will struggle. 11th


Leicester broke the 100 point barrier in the Championship last season. Only two other sides have ever done that, Reading in 2006 and Newcastle in 2010. Both survived comfortably, Reading even finished 8th with a team with virtually no Premier League experience and that's who Leicester will be looking to for inspiration this season.

What they will need is goals and I don't think that David Nugent, top scorer last season, is the man to fire them to Premier League safety. Nugent is another Rob Earnshaw. A good goalscorer in the Championship who has just never been able to cut it in the Premier League. He's 29 now so is running out of time to prove himself as a capable top-flight striker, this year is surely career-defining for him. He won't get another change at the big time.

As for the rest of the side, they are a young bunch with a winning mentally instilled in them due to their success last season. This naivety and consequential fearlessness may well work in their favour this year as they embark on what is a maiden Premier League voyage for most of them.

Verdict: Every year there is one surprise package from the Championship and it could well be Leicester this season. Reading in 06/07 and Stoke 07/08 being the best examples. However I can't justify putting them above proven Premier League teams with no proof to back it up. 19th


They would have been deserving champions last season but it wasn't to be and I feel their best shot at ending a mammoth championship drought may have come and gone.

Suarez, 31 league goals last year, has left in disgrace. Rodgers has wasted no time in spending the warchest this departure gave him, choosing to strengthen the defence and give the squad increased depth rather than opting to spend £50m + on a like-for-like replacement such as Falcao (he may still do). I think this was a wise choice from Rodgers. Their leaky defence cost them the title last season and the lack of depth in the squad would have been horrifically exposed in Europe this season.

As it stands, I think they are in good shape to compete on both fronts. I don't think they'll be as good as they were at the end of last season but Liverpool are back among the challengers now. It's a big season for the likes of Sterling, Sturridge and Coutinho who must step up to fill the massive void left by Suarez.

Verdict: Liverpool took advantage of a year in which the Premier League had no stand out champion to come within a whisker of stealing the crown themselves. They won't be able to go one better this year. They'll most likely be competing with Arsenal and United for the final two Champions League spots. United have no European football to distract them. Arsenal have the experience of having managed it for years. 5th 

Manchester City

Last time they won the league they took it easy all summer and signed only Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair. Bizzare. They surrendered the title meekly the following year. This summer they've added a monster of a centre half in Mangala and another central midfielder in Fernando to compete for a place with Fernandinho, a transfer surely borne purely out of irony.

Stevan Jovetic should be like a new signing this year, if of course he can stay fit. His debut season in England was drastically hampered by injury. Alvaro Negredo was very impressive too over the first couple of months until his form dropped off. Sergio Aguero hasn't been fit since December and Edin Dzeko is criminally underrated. It's a good thing for these guys that Pellegrini likes to play with two forwards which means most of them should see sufficient game time. What a menacing front-line they have.

At the back is where City were vulnerable, particularly on their travels where opponents got at them and refused to be bossed around. Thier high defensive line was exposed at times, particularly when Demichelis was involved. Mangala should provide an excellent partner for Kompany and some much needed steel at the back. I think they'll be different to last season, more consistent and more controlled. It seemed last season they were either hammering teams 6-0 or losing games.

The owners want a Champions League so Pellegrini may shift his focus to that objective this season. May be a tall order considering the limitations that have been put on them following their breach of FFP.

Verdict: Ultimately I think they'll fall short in both Europe and in the Premier League and Pellegrini could find himself sacked. 2nd

Manchester United

The much-anticipated summer splurge on a revamped squad hasn't happened and Louis van Gaal has to make do with two players who were signed before he even took the reigns. United have actually signed fewer players than any other club heading into the new season, strange considering they were probably the squad in need of the biggest overhaul. What the new boss has done is instilled a new formation and attitude at the club and provided a massive morale boost after the knockout blow that was last season.

Last year the team lacked cohesion both defensively and in attack. The games in January against Fulham and Stoke where they cluelessly piled in countless crosses to no one in particular were testament to that. This year they will have a game-plan, particularly in games against the stronger teams. Don't expect them to go 0-6 against the North-West again.

The 3-5-2 formation that looks set to define Manchester United this season will require more and possibly better players to work. The club really should have signed at least one more centre half by now. At the back the squad is looking very thin but up top they have plentiful options, spearheaded by new captain Wayne Rooney.

Verdict: They haven't strengthened enough to be genuine title challengers. But there is a decent squad there and van Gaal will get the best out of players as sure as Moyes got the worst out of them. A finish outside the top four is simply not an option and they know this. 4th


This club just doesn't seem like a happy place. Joe Kinnear, the most useless human being ever, is gone but fan unrest remains with Alan Pardew and Mike Ashley the target of a torrential downpour of abuse towards the end of last season.

To be fair to the fans, they had every right to be disgruntled. Their best player, Yohan Cabaye, was sold in January and not replaced. Performances deteriorated towards relegation form in the spring, and culminated in them losing six games on the spin at the end of the season, somehow they still ended up 10th.

They've made their first permanent signings since before Kinnear arrived, with an impressive nine new signings arriving, only two of them are French and one is Jack Colback, poached from fierce rivals Sunderland.

Verdict: I think the best thing for them to do would be to get rid of Pardew. If they do that they could push for the 'best of the rest' position of 8th. I think Ashley will keep faith in him, unless things go horribly wrong. Fans will almost be hoping they do. 10th

Queens Park Rangers

Watching the play-off final last May it was hard not to feel sorry for Derby. Having dominated the game and looked by far and away the side destined for the promised land of the Premier League, Bobby Zamora capitalised on a defensive error and struck a last-minute winner to send QPR back to the Premier League at the first attempt.

Their last Premier League experience was defined by over-paying average players gross sums of money to perform mediocrely. The likes of Jose Bosingwa springs to mind and refuses to leave. This time however I think the ship will be a bit more steady. Harry will likely keep the bones of his promoted side together. It already has quite a Premier League feel to it with the likes of Joey Barton, Loic Remy and Jermaine Jenas in their ranks. The addition of Rio Ferdinand will add some extra personality to the dressing room. If he can contribute 25 league games this year he'll be doing well.

I think they'll be fine. They look way more Premier League-savy than the other promoted sides and a couple of others too.

Verdict: I think they'll survive this time around. Hopefully, for their sake, they have learned from the mistakes of two years ago. 14th


Eh, it will be a 'new look' Southampton to say the least this year. Lallana, Shaw, Lambert, Chambers and Lovren are all gone. I can't see Schneiderlin staying. Jay Rodriguez may stay but ultimately Southampton will be unrecognisable from the entertainers who won the hearts of many last year.

Ronald Koeman, the only Premier League manager with a Twitter account, has taken over from Pochettino. He's quite an experienced manager having coached all over Europe since 2000 and will be aiming to bring the same stability to Southampton that be brought to Dutch crisis club Feyenoord upon his arrival there in 2011. Koeman has also managed PSV and Ajax, winning titles at both as well as relative minnows Vitesse whom he took into Europe. He's also won trophies in Spain and Portugal. More than qualified for this job.

On the pitch, they've added the latest man to score a million goals in the Dutch league but considerably fewer anywhere else, Graziano Pelle, to the ranks. Time will tell if he's an Afonso Alves or a van Nistelrooy. The departures this season will give the likes of James Ward-Prowse the chance to play a starring role in the team. He and whatever talent that amazing factory of an academy produces this year.

They must surely have plenty of cash to spend so expect the squad to be strengthened significantly before the end of the window. I don't think we've seen the last of Southampton in the top half of the Premier League.

Verdict: They won't match the heights of last season but won't be troubled by relegation either. Upper mid table. 9th


They have reinvented themselves within the space of a year. Gone are the long ball brutes and here is a team with a decent bit of attacking flair, ex-Barcelona striker and Football Manager 2007 legend Bojan and eh... Charlie Adam I suppose.

Stoke belong to Mark Hughes now, not Tony Pulis and the team reflect his image now in the same way they reflected their previous manager's. Hughes teams are tough to beat but solid going forward, particularly on the counter attack. They've added Premier League experience in Steve Sidwell and Phil Bardsley to the squad which is now looking rather strong.

Seriously though, if Bojan had played Football Manager 2007, he'd be so disappointed that he doesn't have at least three Ballon d'Ors by now.

Verdict: The top seven will be the same as last year, there's a bit of a gulf there. 8th place means best of the rest and that's exactly what Stoke will be aiming for. They have the squad to get it. 8th


There were two sides to Sunderland last year. We saw the good side of them in two stretches, one around the Christmas period and one in the final month where they picked up 75% of their points in less than one third of their games. For the rest of the season we saw an extremely average side who's defining trait was their ill discipline, seeing more red cards than anyone in the division.

Their season was effectively summed up by Adam Johnson. He was unplayable during the purple patches but totally anonymous at other times. It's this inconsistency which gave Sunderland fans a massive scare last season.

Connor Wickham looks promising but needs to avoid becoming the next Andy Carroll. Spending all of their cash on Fabio Borini won't improve the squad much as he was there already on loan last season. The first eleven isn't very strong and there's virtually no strength in depth. They need a few good signings before the close of the window

Verdict: Could be a tough year for them I reckon. 16th


In three Premier League seasons they've yet to finish lower than 12, they also have a League Cup and European experience to show for it. However I think the bubble may be about to burst.

Garry Monk seems like a decent guy but no way was he ready to be given this job full time. He has basically been appointed on the back of a 3-0 win over Cardiff in his first match at the helm. While that was no doubt very enjoyable for fans and players alike, I think he's a step down from the previous bosses they've had and Swansea may be in for a year of struggle.

Michu is gone so they will rely on the dependable Wilfred Bony for goals. Not really a problem unless he gets injured. They have Ki back in the team now who impressed last season at Sunderland and Gylfi Sigurdssonn who impressed during a loan spell at the Swans in 2012. These additions, and the overall quality of the squad, will be enough to keep them in the Premier League for another year but I don't see them moving forward this year.

Verdict: The train is slowing down. A worst Premier League finish to-date awaits the Swans. 15th


They are going to be one of the most interesting sides this season. Pochettino has got to work some magic. Funds are limited because they blew all their Gareth Bale money last season so the talented young Argentine coach has to turn this squad of flops and underachievers into a top four side again without spending on the player's he'd actually want.

There might be a few arrivals come September 1st but nothing like the outlay they had last season. Poch now has to get the best out of the likes of Roberto Soldado, Paulinho and Erik Lamela on whom the short-term hopes of this football club currently rest. If his Southampton side are anything to go by, Poch will have his Spurs team playing a high octane pressing game and knocking it around nicely once they have the ball. In other words, totally different from last season and not really suited to the players they have right now. Like I said it will be very interesting.

Verdict: Might be another struggle for them as players and manager get used to one another. Hopefully Levy doesn't swing the axe if things don't get off to a great start. 6th

West Brom

They certainly aren't the yo-yo club they were ten years ago, West Brom have now enjoyed four straight seasons in the Premier League, racking up very credible 8th, 10th and 11th place finishes along the way. Then came last season and a near miss with relegation. This time around they may not be so lucky.

They have a manager in Alan Irvine with no Premier League experience, a thin, ageing squad devoid of any standout flair player of goalscorer. Their only notable addition so far is Joleon Lescott who's spent the last five years counting his cash on the Etihad bench. He can't be the player he was before at Everton. Going forward there's not much to shout about. Berahino looks a decent prospect.

Verdict: Their last five games are Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Newcastle and United. If they aren't safe in mid-table by then, The Baggies will be departing the Premier League scene. I'd be amazed if Irvine lasts the year. 18th

West Ham

They survived last season and have made some interesting signings but fans still aren't happy, bemoaning the fact that whilst managed by Sam Allardyce, they will be limited to a long ball game and ugly direct football.

The fans want attractive, attacking football. Kevin Nolan, top scorer last season, finds himself somewhat out of favour with them purely because he's an Allardyce man. The Hammers fans are fiercely passionate. I don't think even breaking into the top 7 would make them warm to Big Sam if he continues to inflict his style of play on them. These things rarely have a happy ending. Expect him not to last the season.

Andy Carroll has cost them £7.5m per goal since his move, he's proved even worse value than the £6m per strike he cost Liverpool.

Verdict: Just like at Newcastle, unrest in the stands could have a negative effect on the pitch. They've made some key signings though so there is the makings of a good squad there. It remains to be seen if they have the right manager to get the best out of it. 12th

Full table

1. Chelsea    
2. Man City
3. Arsenal
4. Man United
5. Liverpool
6. Spurs
7. Everton
8. Stoke
9. Southampton
10. Newcastle
11. Hull
12. West Ham
13. Crystal Palace
14. QPR
15. Swansea
16. Sunderland
17. Aston Villa
18. West Brom
19. Leicester
20. Burnley

Player of the Season

Yaya Toure - I suppose he has to win it sometime. Yaya has been dominating Premier League midfield's for a couple of years and has two Premier League medals but has never won the player of the year award. With Bale and Suarez both now playing in Spain, Yaya's time for individual recognition may have come at last.

Young Player of the Season

Raheem Sterling - It will be a breakout year for the 19 year old father of ten. He came on a lot as a player during the second half of last season, developing his game into that of the complete attacking midfielder rather than the mere pacy winger than Aaron Lennon became. High hopes for him.

FA Cup
It's a strange thing prediciting cup competitions. By logic of course the best team should win the cup and by that reasoning I'm going to go with Chelsea to complete the League and Cup double. Obviously there are surprises every year and it is very rare that the best team actually wins the cup but that's as good a pick as any.

League Cup
This cup is a little different in that nobody takes it all that seriously. I'll back Man United to win this one, pick up the first trophy of the post-Fergie era and hail King Louis as a genius.

Champions League
Of the English teams I think Chelsea have by far the best chance but the winners won't come from the Premier League this year so we have to look abroad. Champions Real Madrid have the strongest squad, boosted by the additions of Kroos, James Rodriguez and possibly Falcao. However the drive that was their to win La Decima won't be the same this year. Plus no one has ever retained the trophy. I'll go with Barcelona, spearheaded by the Suarez-Messi-Neymar attack, to secure El Quinto this year and get the trophy for keeps.

Europa League
Who the hell cares? Well more people than usually do because starting this season, the Europa League winners go into next season's Champions League. So there you go. Inter Milan maybe. Or any one of the eight teams that gets dumped in from the Champions League in spring.

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