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English Premier League Preview Part 5 - The Rest
The Remaining Teams
The final part of my series looks at the remaining sides in the Premier League and their hopes for the coming season. Four games in and we have a better idea about the chances of these teams and where they should be aiming to finish.
(Note - thanks to premierleague.com for transfer information throughout article)
West Bromwich Albion
Players In (major only) - James McClean (Wigan), James Chester (Hull City), Rickie Lambert (Liverpool), Salomon Rondon (Zenit St Petersburg), Johnny Evans and Anders Lindegaard (Man Utd)
Players Out (major only) - Graham Dorrans and Youssouf Mulumbu (both Norwich City)
At the moment WBA are sat in 15th place in the league but remember they have played both Man City and Chelsea. Manager, Tony Pulis is slowly putting together a side that is full of committed and hard working players, similar to the set up he had at Stoke City. West Brom are definitely a well run club and Pulis commands a lot of respect form his fellow professionals having been able to attract the likes of Darren Fletcher, Jonny Evans and Rickie Lambert as well as more recently Venezuelan international Rondon. With Chris Brunt, James Morrison and Jonas Olsson in the side and the likes of Victor Anichebe and Calum McManaman in the squad, Pulis has started to accumulate some well needed depth.
His more pressing challenge appears to be settling youngster Saido Berahino. The youngster has handed in a transfer request in a bid to force a move to Tottenham but WBA rejected it and chairman Jeremy Peace ultimately held on to his striker. This prompted Berahinho to suggest he would never play for the chairman again. It seems that the dust has settled a little and bridges are now being built between the club and the player. Berahino will no doubt eventually get a move and it may even be to a better side then Spurs. At just 22, Berahino was born in Burundi and saw his father killed in the civil war when he was just a young boy. He came to England as a refugee to live with his mother and the rest of his family who had already been given asylum. Even then he had to endure a DNA test to prove that he was related to them so for a young man he has endured many things the likes of which many of us will never see. He was also involved with agent Aidy Ward who is Raheem Sterling's agent and got him his move to Manchester City. A big Man Utd fan, Berahino was spotted at a United game last March with Ward and United have been linked with a move for him in the past. Berahino is quick and a good finisher but Pulis has acknowledged that he is a work in progress and if he gets the right direction he has a big future. It may be that the collapse in Berahino's move to Spurs may end up being a good thing for him in his footballing development and do not be surprised if it is United who emerge as front runners for his signature in the future. Under Pulis' guidance I expect big things from him this season and would not be surprised if he turns things around with the West Brom fans and eventually gets the move he seems to crave. Berahino has also become close to Ian Wright and he will give great guidance and mentoring to a promising and extremely talented young player.
For West Brom, I expect a mid to bottom half of the table finish but do not be surprised to see them take the odd big scalp particularly at home. Pulis acknowledged that he was to offensive in the game against Man City and has vowed to be more cautious in the future so I think that defeat will be a lesson well learned.
Players In (major only) - Jakob Haugaard (Midtylland), Philipp Wollscheid (Bayer Leverkusen), Joselu (Hannover), Marco van Ginkel (Chelsea - loan), Shay Given (Aston Villa), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Moha El Ouriachi and Ibrahim Afellay (both Barcelona), Xherdan Shaqiri (Inter Milan), Sergio Molina (Real Madrid), Marco van Ginkel (Chelsea - loan)
Players Out (major only) - Thomas Sorenson, Wilson Palacios, Andy Wilkinson - all released, Steven Nzonzi (Sevilla), Robert Huth (Leicester City), Asmir Begovic (Chelsea)
Mark Hughes has brought players to the Potteries that 5 years ago would have been viewed as unobtainable for a club like Stoke. The likes of Affellay, Diouf, Krjic and most recently Shaqiri are excellent acquisitions and will make Stoke a force to be reckoned with. Do not be misled by their opening results as they were unfortunate to lose to Liverpool and fought back from 2-0 down to draw with Tottenham. They also lost to WBA having been forced to play with 9 men for much of the game. Hughes clearly has a lot of respect in the game which is evident by the signings he has been able to make. Sure he has lost Begovic to Chelsea over the summer but had a ready made replacement in England youngster Jack Butland. Much is expected of Butland and you suspect this was something the club had been planning for. Shay Given will provide ample back up on the bench and the signing of veteran defender Glen Johnson (signed on a free) and with the likes of Geoff Cameron, Ryan Shawcross and Erik Pieters they have a sturdy and experienced back line. Always hard to beat at home, Hughes has brought a different style to Stoke having them play attractive attacking football with fast energetic players supported by a physical threat, taits that Hughes was familiar with in his playing days with Man Utd, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Chelsea.
Of all the signings, the ability to attract a player like Shaqiri is nothing short of impressive. The 23 year old Swiss international is coming off a somewhat disappointing spell at Inter Milan. Prior to that he managed 11 goals in 52 appearances for Bayern Munich and 18 goals in 92 appearances for FC Basel. He is two footed and has been nicknamed the 'Alpine Messi'. Shaqiri has played for the Swiss national team since 2010, appearing in two world cups and earning 48 caps and scoring 17 goals in the process. The GBP12 million Stoke paid could be seen as a bargain at the end of the season and Hughes should be lauded for his ability to attract such a player.
Overall, I think Stoke could crack the top 8 this season with the squad Hughes has assembled and exciting times could be ahead for a well deserving, well run club.
Players In (major only) - Tom Cleverley (Man Utd), Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona), David Henen (Olympiacos), Mason Holgate (Barnsley), Ramiro Mori (River Plate), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham Hotspur), Leandro Rodriguez (River Plate).
Players Out (major only) - Antolin Alcaraz (released), Sylvain Distin (AFC Bournemouth).
At the start of the season I thought Roberto Martinez’s side might struggle this season. Their opening day draw with newly promoted Watford certainly raised some concerns but then they managed an impressive 3-0 victory away at Southampton. Much of their season may hinge on them holding on to youngsters John Stones and Ross Barkley as well as keeping the likes of Romalu Lukaku and Arona Kone free from injury and scoring goals. Barkley looks set to stay for another season and the man, whose style is reminiscent of England great Paul Gascoigne, will want a good season in order to force himself in the England squad for next summers European Championships. Everton also held on to Stones rejecting his transfer request and Chelsea's rumored bids. Money talks however and depending on their league position come January it may be hard to knock back another bid in excess of GBP40 million for a player who is really coming off the back of one good season.
Everton welcome back Gerard Deulofeu who had an impressive loan spell with the Toffees 2 seasons ago. Deulofeu can be considered a direct skillful right winger who wanted to return to Everton after being impressed by the club and fans in his first spell. Having returned to Barcelona from his last loan spell he was under the impression that he would earn a chance to crack the first team but was unfortunately loaned out once again to Sevilla for the 2014/15 season. This led to Deulofeu permanently joining Everton for just GBP4.2 million in this summers transfer window. He certainly caused defenses some problems in his first season and I expect more of the same from this exciting 21 year old. Many will remember the brilliant goal he scored against Arsenal in his debut season and Everton fans will be hoping to see more of the same and he has an excellent tutor in Roberto Martinez.
Overall I expect a strong season for Everton and they will take points of some of the big sides. They have Chelsea up next and in view of how they handled the Stones situation Roberto Martinez will be keen to show that Stones is already at the right club and does not need to move on just yet.
Players In (major only) - Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV), Aleksander Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba (both Anderlecht), Florian Thauvin (Marseille).
Players Out (major only) - Jonas Gutierrez and Ryan Taylor (both released), Sammy Ameobi (Cardiff City - loan)
Having spent a reported GBP47.5 million in the transfer window, the perennial under achievers will be hoping for a better season then last when they lost their manager to Crystal Palace and came dangerously close to relegation under temporary manager John Carver. Carver slated some of his players for lack of commitment which was probably justified in the circumstances. Many felt otherwise but I often feel if the coach feels the players are cheating the club they should be called out. Much criticized owner Mike Ashley appointed former England Manager and Man Utd coach Steve McClaren to the managerial position and he has backed him in the transfer market with the excellent purchase for former PSV midfielder Georgino Wijnaldum and the lethel but hot headed striker Mitrovic. Back that with captain Colliccini, goalkeeper Tim Krull and promising mdfielder Jack Colback, McClaren has an outfit that he may be able to turn into a top 8 side once again. This season might be too soon but I do not expect them to flirt with relegation like they did last season. Their defeats came against Swansea and Arsenal when they had been reduced to 10 men but they picked up a creditable draw away at Man Utd and were held at home by Southampton which, based on the latters form last season, was a solid performance.
One interesting looking signing is Serbian centre forward Aleksander Mitrovic. The 20 year old was signed from Anderlecht after scoring 36 goals in 69 appearances. Prior to that he managed 20 goals in 53 appearances for Teleoptik and Partizan and 9 goals in 18 appearances for the Serbian U19 and U21 sides respectively. He is a sensational prospect and I expect big things from him despite his youth. He is strong, powerful and good in the air and could end up forming quite a deadly partnership with Papiss Cisse. Against Manchester United this season Mitrovic was unfortunate to see is brilliant header come crashing back off the cross bar. He could prove to be a very astute signing by McClaren and one Newcastle fans will enjoy watching. He certainly has a stage for his talents at the cathedral that is St James' Park.
McClaren has received much criticism over the years based on his managerial performance with England but the criticism can be seen as unfair given that the National team job is something of a poisoned chalice. Ask Graham Taylor, Fabio Cappello and Kevin Keegan to name a few. Whilst McClaren was sacked by Derby County after their failure to gain promotion to the Premier league when in a strong position, the Newcastle role is an ideal one for him and he is capable of making them a force to be reckoned with once again. Don't be surprised in the coming transfer windows to see McClaren return to Derby to claim the talented Will Hughes who would be a brilliant player for Newcastle and would be perfect for that stage. Things are looking bright for another set of well deserving fans.
Players In (major only) - Yohan Cabaye (PSG), Patrick Bamford (Chelsea), Alex McCarthy (QPR), Connor Wickham (Sunderland), Bakary Sako (Wolves)
Players Out (major only) - Peter Ramage (released), Glen Murray (Bournemouth)
Whilst Alan Pardew’s appointment as Palace manager last season was welcomed by the fans no one could have foreseen the turn around he has managed at the club. Last season he dragged them away from the threat of relegation and this season the Eagles have started superbly and sit in second place in the league after 4 games with an impressive victory away at Chelsea their most recent win. Pardew has managed to take Wilfred Zaha back from Manchester United and also captured Yohan Cabeye from PSG in the summer which is a superb buy when you consider that the French international was linked with Arsenal and Man Utd prior to leaving Newcastle for PSG. The fact that Cabaye wanted to work once again with Pardew like he had at Newcastle speaks volumes for the manager. Cabaye is a brilliantly gifted player who will sit in front of the Palace back four bringing composure and dictating the play as well as chipping in with the odd goal as well. At 29 it could be argued that the Palace number 7 is at the peak of his career. He is probably one of the best signings the Palace fans have seen since the days of Attilio Lombardo.
As a player, Pardew always wore his heart on his sleeve and he does the same as a manager, making his side very hard to play against. He has added smartly in the transfer window bringing depth to his squad and with Connor Wickham, Patrick Bamford and Bakary Sako he has added potential and increased his goal threat. Keeping hold of Bolasie, the speedy wide man, means that he has threat in the wide positions too. Palace are a counter attacking team and their clash with Manchester City on match day 5 is a top two match up following Palace's victory over league champions Chelsea. If they avoid injuries to key players they could certainly crack the top half of the table this season
Players In (major only) - Andre Ayew (Marseille), Franck Tabanou (St Etienne), Eder (Braga), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Heerenveen), Gerhard Tremmel (unattached).
Players Out (major only) - Alan Tate (Released)
The Swans are a side that continue to surprise and amaze most fans and pundits alike. When former player Gary Monk took over from Michael Laudrup many, myself included, thought they would struggle and they were relegation candidates for many last season. This summer it was suggested that last season was something of a fluke and they could no way repeat last seasons efforts. How wrong we were. Having beaten Manchester United on opening day last season, they repeated the feat on the 29th August and that was having held champions Chelsea to a 2-2 draw on the opening day this season. Swansea find themselves sat in 4th place in the Premier League after 4 games. The results against Chelsea and United are impressive and came after Swansea found themselves behind in both games. Monk deserves credit for being able to out fox both Van Gaal and Mourinho both seasoned managers. Van Gaal actually acknowldeged that his side could not initially deal with the changes Monk made when Swansea found themselves a goal down which ultimately cost his side the game.
Monk has a good balance to his squad and has been shrewd in the transfer market. Losing Wilfred Bony last season could have been a disaster but by having Bafetimbi Gomis in the squad he already had a ready made replacement. Ki, Jonjo Shelvey, Montero, Routledge and Gylfi Sigurdsson are all strong players in the midfield. At 26 years old, Sigurdsson is in his second spell at Swansea and can best be described as a playmaker/attacking midfielder. He originally played for Swansea in 2012 on loan and after 2 years with Spurs rejoined the Swans for the 2014 season scoring 7 goals in 36 games. He caught the eye whilst at Reading and Hoffenheim between 2008 and 2012 and is an Icelandic international with his national team having been one of the first to qualify for next years European Championship. At the back the defence is well marshalled by captain Ashley Williams. Williams is a superb player and very underrated. He is also captain of the Welsh National team who are within 2 points of qualifying for the European Championships at the time of writing. It is somewhat surprising that the likes of Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea have not made inquires on his availability given that he is a proven performer in the Premier League and all 3 sides arguably need some leadership at the back. Man Utd certainly have not had a player like Williams since Vidic left.
This summer Monk acquired Andre Ayew and with 2 goals already he is proving a good pick up. He is a powerful and athletic performer and will be a handful for most opponents this season. Monk appears to have a lot of respect in the football world with players seemingly wanting to play for him. He also deserves credit for getting the best out of Shelvey who has forced himself into the England side and has a chance of making the European Championship squad next summer. With no Europe to worry about Swansea could be an outside shot for a top 7 place. As the season progresses how they deal with injuries will become key.
What do you think?
Which of these sides do you think has the best chance of cracking the top 7?
With all the additions and the ability of these sides to stand up to the big teams in the transfer of their players, whilst I don't expect any of them to challenge for the title, I do think they will be competitive. They will all be hard to beat and will occasionally provide an upset or two. The fresh injection of TV money is making the English Premier league much more competitive and this year should be an outstanding season.