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English Premier League Preview Part 3 - The Challengers
Who can break into the top 4?
Part 3 of my series looks at those teams who have a chance to break into the coverted top 4.
(Note - thanks to premierleague.com for transfer information throughout article).
Players In (major only) - Juanmi (Malaga), Cedric Soares (Sporting CP), Marten Skelenburg (Fulham), Cuco Martina (FC Twente), Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Steven Caulker (QPR - Loan), Oriol Romeu (Chelsea)
Players Out (major only) - Artur Boruc (Bournemouth -Free), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Dano Osvaldo (Released), Morgan Schneiderlin (Man Utd)
Last season many people, myself included, wrote Southamption off as having lost too many players and had them as relegation candidates. Enter dutchman Ronald Koeman who led them to a creditable 7th place finish and a place in the Europa league. This summer they lost two key players in Schneiderlin and Clyne but replaced them with Jordy Clasie and Soares. Furthermore, Koeman welcomes back striker Jay Rodriguez after long term injury and signed Steklenburg to step in whilst no 1 Fraser Forster recovers from long term injury. Having managed to hold onto the likes of Mane, Tadic, Pelle and Victor Wanyama Southampton promise to be a force to reckon with once again. Pelle will be expected to supply the goals and will be supported by Long and Rodriguez. England striker Rodriguez returns after missing the entire 2014/15 season and will be like a new signing. Whilst not hugely prolific, he does possess a creditable record of 21 goals in 68 games and his presence will be a valuable addition.
Koeman deserves a lot of credit for his management of Southampton. The addition of Clasie is a very shrewd one and he will prove a good replacement for Schneiderlin. Clasie signed for 5 years for GBP8 million and I would expect Southampton to make a substantial profit within the next 3 years. The man labelled as the dutch Xavi is just 24 and he has made 11 appearances for the Netherlands national team. Southampton also boast a very good youth policy which over the years has seen the likes of Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott graduate just to name a few. James Ward-Prowse and Harrison Reed are the latest potential stars and with Koeman being familiar with the famed Ajax youth model the young players are under good tutelage. Southampton will be hard to beat but ultimately their season will depend on how they handle playing in the Europa League this season with the games being on a Thursday and meaning that potentially they play their Premier League games on a Sunday should they qualify for the group stage. It is a fixture challenge that in recent seasons some clubs have found hard to manage with their squad. With Koeman's experience I expect Southampton to continue to flourish and their opening day 2-2 draw with an impressive Newcastle side was a solid start. I also expect Koeman to continue to add depth to his squad as he showed with the signing of Chelsea's Romeu and with just over two weeks left in the transfer window expect more of the same.
Players In (major only) - Kevin Wimmer (Cologne), Kieran Trippier (Burnley), Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid)
Players Out (major only) - Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande), Lewis Holtby (Hamburg), Younes Kaboul (Sunderland).
Manager Mauricio Pochettino will hope he can build on last seasons efforts and finally get Tottenham into the champions league for the first time since the 2010/11 season. Certainly Tottenham have the quality but whether they can find the consistency to get there remains to be seen. So often Tottenham have good result only to spoil it by losing to a side they should really beat. The signing of Toby Alderweireld over the summer will certainly bring solidity to the defense and with Hugo Lloris in goal, Kyle Walker and Jan Vertonghen also at the back they are a tough side to breakdown as Manchester United found in their opening game on Saturday despite their 1-0 victory. Going forwards much will be expected of playmaker Christian Eriksen and goalscorer Harry Kane. Both had great seasons last year and at 23 and 22 respectively have great futures ahead of them. Whether they will be at Spurs will depend on their ability to break into the top 4 and play in the Champions League.
Kane is a local lad and the Spurs fans always sing that 'he is one of our own'. He really broke into the side last season and scored 21 goals in 34 Premier League games. He also clearly has a great attitude and is enthusiastic about the game. Whilst Kane is a goalscorer his all round play seems to get better each time I see him. He has a big season ahead of him. Some are wondering if last season will be a one off and if he can score goals again this season. However, Kane has great self belief without being arrogant. He has been likened to Jurgen Klinsmann and an old fashioned centre forward. Kane has more to his all round game then Klinsmann and thats not saying the German was a bad player. More of a cross between Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham would perhaps be fair but he has time on his side and could end up being the best centre forward England has had since Wayne Rooney. With the European Championships looming at the end of the season, Kane will also want to make sure he is on the plane to France with the England team.
Elsewhere in the squad with the likes of Lamela, Chadli, Dembele, Dier and Mason Spurs have good depth in midfield and defense. They also have the talented Alli and watch for him to break through this season. Pochettino is short on forwards so expect another striker to join before the end of the window. Charlie Austin has been linked as has Javier Hernandez. However, I would expect any deal involving Hernandez would involve Kane going the other way and Spurs pocketing a whole load of cash too. I expect Tottenham to finish in the top six but I don't think they have enough to make the top 4 once again.
Players In (major only) - James Milner (Man City), Danny Ings (Burnley), Adam Bogdan (Bolton), Joe Gomez (Charlton Athletic), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim), Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton), Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)
Players Out (major only) - Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy), Glen Johnson & Brad Jones (Both released), Raheem Sterling (Man City), Rickie Lambert (West Brom)
It has been a busy summer for Brendon Rogers. He dispensed with Colin Pascoe and Mike Marsh from his backroom staff adding Gary McAllister and Sean O'Driscoll. He also lost Raheem Sterling and chose to let Steven Gerrard leave. He proceeded to bring in 7 players, 5 of which were linked with Manchester United and whether there was any truth in those rumors and the players really did choose Liverpool over United we shall never know. Certainly, Liverpool will never lose its attraction due to its history over the years. They are the most successful club in England but whether Brendon Rogers is the right man to lead them remains to be seen. Much has been made of the supposed tough start Liverpool have this season. Sure Stoke is a tough place to visit and Liverpool did well to win and they do have away games against Arsenal and Man Utd to come. However, with homes games against Bournemouth, West Ham, Norwich and Aston Villa there really is no excuse for a bad start. If Rodgers, the man who once described Joe Allen as the Welsh Xavi, has not won at least 4 games by the end of September it could be time for a change with Jurgen Klopp laying in wait and a man suited for such a stage.
As for his new players, Benteke and Firmino are probably the most notable ones. Benteke cost GBP32.5 million and is a powerful forward whose signing reminds me of the signing of Emile Heskey a few years ago. Benteke is more prolific (42 goals in 88 games) but Heskey was better with a strike partner. How Benteke will adapt when Daniel Sturridge returns from injury remains to be seen. Rodgers will also rely on the sharp shooting and creativity of Coutinho but if they miss out on the Champions League this season I expect he will be the next to leave. Certainly Firmino is an excellent signing but quite how he fits in the same side as Coutinho is open to question. Perhaps Rodgers will adopt a 3 up front with Benteke at the point and Coutinho and Firmino playing off him.
In midfield, Jordan Henderson is the captain and he will be partnered by Milner. I have never really thought much of Henderson and do not think he is a Liverpool player. Milner on the other hand could be Rodgers best signing. An energetic and enthusiastic player he will provide energy in the middle and was a good pick up. He scores the odd goal and creates and he could provide some of the energy that will be gone with no Gerrard. At the back the signings of Clyne and Gomez look solid ones and it will be interesting to see if Skrtel and Loveren can develop an understanding at the back. Liverpool are a tough one to call. I think they have some of the personal but the wrong man at the helm. With Klopp available it was somewhat surprising that the owners did not decide to make a change and that could be the difference between the riches of the Champions League and the mediocrity of the Europa League. Come the Arsenal game don't be surprised to see a top v bottom clash with Arsenal coming off two defeats and Liverpool off two victories. However, I expect it to be the other way round come the end of the season and Liverpool once again will miss out on a top 4 place.